Road trip: What I learned going from Texas to California

When you find yourself driving from North Texas to San Francisco to help your friend move back home, minor details like making a budget or, perhaps planning a route, might slip your mind. Maybe it’s just me. Here are the biggest mistakes I learned to never (again) make on a road trip, planned or spontaneous.

  1. Apple Maps is all you need to navigate from point A to B, right? That is until you lose your signal. Or your aging phone enters an infinite shut-off-boot-up loop any time you so much as breathe on the screen. The solution? Bring maps. The paper kind.
  2. Not all routes are created equal. Some give you this:

    and some give you this

    Use the Internet. And those maps I mentioned. Even if you’re on a lot of time constraints with no chance to stop and sightsee, you don’t want to find yourself driving half an hour on fumes with no gas station in sight.
  3. Make a budget. Seriously, a real budget using math and everything, so that when you and your travel buddies all decide to go for the 72 oz. steak at Amarillo’s Big Texan Steak Ranch you don’t have to sleep in the car that night to be able to afford the gas you will need to actually make it to San Francisco.

    Remember to leave enough space in the car for the to-go box.
  4. Oh yeah, and bring travel companions. You’re going to want to split the driving responsibilities and have someone to share the inevitable stretches of nothing. Don’t forget to account for that friend you’re going to be driving across the country and leave space for all of their stuff. It’s no fun driving 1,700 miles with a minifridge digging into your backseat.
  5. The seventh time through Radiohead‘s Kid A may be just as wondrous to you as the first six, but eventually your friends will tire of it. Never underestimate the sheer quality and quantity of music you will need for any extended voyage. To be fair, such a spacious, ambient album might be nice to nap through, but not if –
  6. – no one brought any blankets or pillows. Even with split responsibilities, the 16th hour of driving is draining if everyone’s tired because the window isn’t quite as soft as anyone hoped.
  7. Nothing reveals how magnificently abominable double cheeseburgers are quite like the toll they take on your insides over the course of three days. Put a bunch of sandwich ingredients in a cooler and eat those instead. Your belly will thank you later.
  8. Sort of an addendum to No. 7, but crucial enough to warrant its own item on the list: Don’t bring anything less than a small pond of water with you. Especially if your route takes you out of Texas, into New Mexico, and rounds out the journey with a final stretch through Arizona before ever touching your destination’s state border.
  9. Bring some way to document your trip, even if that just means clearing out space on your phone to take pictures. You don’t want to have to go through Google images to reminisce over the places you saw, however briefly.
  10. Never assume your car can handle the journey. Tune it up before you leave — change the oil, inflate the tires and make sure you’ve got a spare along with the tools and knowledge to put it on. Get your vehicle inspected if you have to.
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