We love a good road trip. You know, the kind with only a loose itinerary, a vague general idea of a route and enough time to drive the speed equivalent of a saunter from one point to the next. That kind of road trip. Well, we recently took one around the American Southwest, from Texas to New Mexico, Arizona to Utah, and Colorado to New Mexico and back again and loved every minute. Well, maybe not every minute. There might have been three or four minutes that we decided we were sick of the desert (hence the unscheduled detour to Colorado), but that’s pretty much it. We love good road trip tips almost as much.
We backpacked in the Grand Canyon, went sledding on the dunes at White Sands, jumped through windows in Arches National Park and ate as much vegan food as we could find. But while destinations are one thing, the journey between them is quite another. It can be a beautiful, fulfilling thing, or it can be a nightmare. It all depends on your attitude and how prepared you are for the long drives between point A and point B. But that’s why we’ve compiled this handy list of road trip tips and hacks: to help you celebrate the journey. If you’ve road tripped before, you certainly know the basics (have lots of water, don’t let your gas tank hit E in the middle of the desert, have a killer playlist…), but maybe you hadn’t thought of these road trip tips:
1. Don’t pay for ice
It’s just frozen water. You don’t pay for water do you? If you do, cut it out. The stuff from the tap is free and is just as good for you as that overpriced plastic bottle. Plus, you’re probably not recycling it when it’s empty, so you’re wasting precious resources, too. You don’t hate the planet, do you? I didn’t think so. So ditch the Dasani and get yourself a Nalgene (or whatever reusable bottle that strikes your fancy). Fill it up for free. With water, yes, but also with ice. If you’re not staying in a hotel every night those ice packs you pulled out of the freezer the day you left have thawed by now and won’t freeze again on their own! So fill up on ice at gas station or restaurant soda machines and keep your hummus and veggies and dark chocolate cool without shelling out $3 for a bag of frozen water every day. You’re smarter than that.
2. Ask a local
Sure, you can Google Things to do in Austin if you’re visiting for a few days or just passing through, but who’s to say those are really the coolest experiences? Instead, stop in an outdoor store, coffee shop, or juice bar and ask a local what their fave things are to do. They live here, so they ought to know. Just make sure to ask someone who looks like they might be into the same stuff as you. Want to go hiking? Chat with the guy selling tents at the local outdoor store. Want to find the best coffee? Look for a lady with hipster glasses and a Macbook. Obviously this is stereotyping, but sometimes it serves a purpose, OK? You might just end up listening to free bluegrass and sipping a local beer at an outdoor concert or exploring underground lava tubes in Flagstaff.
3. Camp for free
Road trips sometimes involve either pitching a tent in random places or sleeping in your car. It happens. We often choose to do one or the other because a.) it’s free, and b.) we can’t be bothered to find a real campsite and pitch a tent. Hopefully, you have a comfortable car. Our Prius is actually pretty comfy. Fortunately, in addition to Walmart and some outdoor store parking lots, there are rest stops, fuel centers (you know, the ones for long-haul truckers?) and dispersed camping or boondocking. That’s free overnight camping on public land, often Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Mostly that’s on the Western half of the U.S., but you’re allowed to pull off on many numbered forest service roads and pitch a tent or park for the night. We liked the website freecampsites.net as it helps you locate where this free camping is and how to get there.
4. Be prepared (for unconventional sleep spots)
Road trip tip numero cuatro: If you are sleeping in your car, especially in a parking lot, there are a few things you might want to have with you. That includes a sun shield for your windshield to keep out light (especially if parked in a parking lot), earplugs to keep out noises ranging from other vehicles to the raccoons fighting over the berries in the bushes nearby, and an eye mask to block out extra light. A few towels to hang over the windows to give you some privacy are also a welcome addition to the packing list (plus they have so many other uses!).
5. Make instant coffee more palatable
I’ve never had instant coffee that I actually enjoyed. I imagine it’s akin to when a smoker tries to use an e-cigarette: it does the job, but it’s just not the same and all you can do is daydream about when you’ll get the real thing again. I don’t know. I don’t smoke. But I do love coffee, just not instant, and not usually black. But almond milk doesn’t remain drinkable for long without refrigeration (although it will last longer than cow milk). I’m too cheap to pay for those single-serve soy or almond milk shelf-stable cartons, so I picked up a bag of Coconut Cloud coconut milk powder. You can make coconut milk with it, obviously, but you can also add it to your coffee as creamer. They even sell it in little single-use packets. And now they even make a vegan hot chocolate mix! What?! Can’t wait to get my hands on some of that. Did someone say mocha? Use code “terradrift” for 10% off your order when you purchase here.
Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. alishamcdarris.com