A Beginner’s Guide to Taking a Road Trip Alone
Here are 10 tips to help get you started on your first solo adventure
Congratulations! If you’ve clicked on this article, you’ve probably decided to take the plunge and embark on a solo road trip journey. It’s a huge step toward furthering your independence, getting to know yourself, and creating memories you’ll have for years to come.
With that being said, taking your first road trip alone is daunting; being on your own can be scary at first, but don’t let that stop you from setting off on your next adventure. Here are 10 tips that help ease my nerves on a solo road trip — and hopefully yours, too.
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10 tips for taking a solo road trip
- Plan Ahead
- Have a Backup Plan
- Pace Yourself
- Have Your Car Inspected
- Be Prepared
- Tell Someone
- Don't Tell Strangers
- Carry Cash
- Be Aware
- Enjoy the Moment
#1: Plan ahead
If you’re an organizing nerd like me, you love to plan. If not, now is the time to start. While you might thrive on spontaneity and living in the moment, there are a few things you need to plan out before your first solo outing. Start by planning your general route. You should know which cities you’d like to hit, the roads that will get you there, and what major cities and stops are along the way. I prefer to map out each day’s stops ahead of time, sometimes down to my snack and bathroom breaks. At the very least, map out where you’d like to be at the beginning and end of each day. From there, you can book your hotel stays and decide how long you’d like to spend in each city.
#2: Have a backup plan
Remember that plan I just told you to make? It’s not going to happen. Nothing ever goes exactly the way we want it to because, frankly, that’s life. Make sure you have a backup plan, whether that’s alternate routes to avoid tolls or construction (I recommend bringing paper maps as well as a digital GPS in case you lose service in more remote areas), marking sites you’re willing to skip if you run low on time, or bringing snacks along with you in case you don’t want to stop for a full meal.
#3: Pace yourself
An important part of planning your route is knowing your limits. Seasoned road-trip veterans can often drive up to 12 or 14 hours in one day, but you might want to cut back on the drive time for your first trip. If you’ve never been behind the wheel longer than four hours, don’t try and cram 9 hours of driving into one day. Ease your way into it and don’t be afraid to stop and continue the driving the next day (that’s why you have a backup plan, remember?).
#4: Have your car inspected
You can’t go on a road trip if your car isn’t in good health. Schedule an oil change and an inspection a few weeks before your trip. This way, if the mechanic runs into any issues that need your attention, you’ll have some time to fix them before you head out.
#5: Be prepared
Cars are unpredictable and tend to break down at the most inconvenient times, even if you’ve had them inspected beforehand. Consider investing in a roadside-assistance program so if you end up with a nail in your tire, you aren’t stranded 500 miles from home. For non-car-related problems, put together an emergency kit before you leave with essential items such as a blanket, a first aid kit, extra phone chargers, and water bottles.
#6: Tell someone
While you’ll be physically alone on your road trip, it’s important for someone to have a general idea of your whereabouts. Let someone you trust know where you’re going, when you’re going, and keep them updated along the way. This could be a simple text when you get to your destination or a phone call every day or so to chat. Either way, make sure someone is looking out for you.
#7: Don’t tell strangers
This is an interesting contrast to my last tip, but it’s just as important: don’t tell random strangers that you’re traveling alone. While you might be desperate for conversation after six hours alone in the car, telling the person in front of you that you’re driving cross-country alone is not a smart move. Whether that person has ill intentions or someone who overheard you does, advertising that you’re in an unfamiliar area and traveling alone makes you look like an easy target.
#8: Carry cash (just not too much)
There are plenty of reasons to carry cash on your road trip, including toll roads. On my first solo road trip, I didn’t bring any cash with me. It wasn’t until I hit a toll booth and began digging through the bottom of my purse for loose quarters that I realized my mistake. The woman at the toll booth graciously accepted my palmful of loose change (not nearly enough to cover the toll) and pointed me to the nearest ATM. Under normal circumstances, they will take a picture of your license plate and mail you a ticket. I was lucky. At the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to be carrying too much cash, either. It can get lost or stolen too easily. My rule of thumb is at least $20 and no more than $60.
#9: Be aware
Whether you’re pumping gas or exploring the first city on your journey, avoid getting lost in distractions. You’re still in a new and strange place, so be conscious of your surroundings. Sitting on your phone in the parking lot makes it easier for people to sneak up on you. As you walk around a new city, make a mental note of where you’re going and where you’ve been, and keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
#10: Enjoy the moment
At the end of the day, this is an adventure for a reason. Soak in every moment of your solo journey and use it as a chance to regain your sense of independence. Take some time at each place you visit to really soak in the atmosphere and live in the moment. As scary as diving into something new might be, it’s incredibly rewarding on the other side.
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Meg Thomson is a writer, photographer, blogger, and activist. When she isn’t writing, Meg can be found immersing herself in television scripts, adopting and playing with animals, or updating lists of her dream travel destinations (the list never ends). Meg believes writing is power, and equality is essential. She is determined to make a difference in the world, one word at a time. See more articles by Meg.