Road Trips Don’t Have to be Miserable

Roadtrip map

I’d like to consider myself in the top tier of one particular skill, driving a car. In the last three years I have gone back and forth from Salt Lake City and Cleveland about 5 times and in 2011 I was on the road for 6 months, living out of a car, rock climbing, and covering the United States with 16000 miles. In those 30000+ miles I think I have a pretty good system to make sure that I am getting the most of my driving – gallons, time and enjoyment.

These are just the typical driving tips when driving your car whether you are going a short or long distance.

Objective 1: Save on gasoline

1)     Be easy on the gas pedal and the brakes.

By easing into your pedal when idling, you will use less gas, also trying to predict traffic stops, though a tough skill, will keep your car from the start and stop routine.

2)     Keep it at 65 mph for optimum efficiency at high speed.

It is still understood that the least amount of gas on the freeway is at 65mph. Once you get above that, for every 5mph higher it’s multiplied. So 75 drains twice as fast as 70. 80 is three times as fast as 70. And realistically, you won’t get to your destination any quicker. Taking my example above, at 65mph you will get a destination 1600 miles away in 24 hours, comparatively, at 75 mph you will arrive in 21 hours. Now that is just using the math behind it. Without real world factors this holds true, but remember there are traffic lights, construction zones, stop signs, pedestrian crossings, etc etc that have to be factored in. In the end, the difference in time is miniscule and not worth it in comparison to how much gas is being used.

3)     Fill up at cheaper gas stations.

Now this one is something that takes a little bit of science and experience. There are two things that you need to know when determining the cheapest: the average gas price of the state and the average of the biggest city in the state.

So while driving the route above, I try not to stop for gas anywhere near any major city like Chicago. With this path, there are not many major cities, but a ton of small towns that will also have extremely high gas prices because they know they’re the only one for at least 50 miles. If you know your gas tank and have about a quarter tank left, you can gamble and usually (USUALLY) get to another gas station with fuel to spare to reach a cheaper option. For those, “will I make it”, scenarios consult a GPS for nearby gas stations that are On My Route. If you see in 50 miles that you have a plethora of options with big names like BP, Flying J, Pilot, Safeway, Kum and Go, etc, instead of country folk ones like Mark’s Gas, Deli and Fill up, Pick and Pay, etc (not real names) then you know you are going to get a much probably even $0.40 cheaper option. If going on a short trip, it might not add up, but if on a longer trip you could potentially save enough cash for the food you are about to buy for the trip.

4)     Think about getting an oil change

If it’s been awhile since your last oil change, then get it before going on a long trip. Having fresh oil will help your car run more smoothly and in-turn use less gas.

Objective 2: Save on time

1)     Stop as little as possible

This is tough for some people who stop for food, stop for the bathroom, stop for fill ups, stop for the dog to go do it’s thing, etc etc etc. If you can limit the amount of stops that you take, you will cover more ground in a much faster time span. Just stopping for gas can put you back 10 to 15 minutes. Not a huge deal when you fill up twice, but if you cover a huge chunk of area you could be filling up more than 4 or 5 times adding an hour+ to your trip. Now add in all of the other stops and you might push yourself back a few hours.

This is how I do it, though it is a masochist way to travel. The example for this will be a 12 hour drive. Before starting the drive I eat a big meal and plan on not eating until absolutely needed. Most likely, it won’t happen in 12 hours, but I usually hit that point at about the 18 hour mark and I’m starving. While driving I’ll snack on things here and there that won’t upset my stomach, like pretzels, peanuts or Clif bars. While snacking I take in a minimal amount of water to limit the need of a urinal.

While driving, I only stop to fill up for gas. When I do fill up for gas, I can pump gas and have enough time to do everything I need to do outside of getting filled up: grabbing extra snacks, gatorade, going to the bathroom, etc; maximizing my use of time. So instead of stopping a bunch of times and adding 15 minutes here and there every 4 hours, you can travel for about 7-8 hours, and not add any time.

TETON Sports Gear

2)     Be packed and ready to leave the night/day before

This is something my parents forced upon me. They always wanted to have the car packed and ready to go so we they could get up at sunrise and hit the road, throwing us kids in the back seats. I did learn from it though, as I travel now I always try to pack the day before. It’s a pain to think that far ahead but it’s really nice to just wake up and go. Instead of trying to figure out where to put Jimmy’s suitcase.

This not only saves time but this saves your awake hours as well, which leads us to  number 3.

3)     Leave early in the morning

This is more of a safety concern than a time saver, but leaving early in the morning will give you more time to drive. Why?

Quick recap of what I do; wake up a several hours before sunrise, and drive throughout this first night until the sun actually rises. For those of you who have never driven at night, it’s sketchy and a little scary. You fall asleep much quicker and get tunnel vision, which can cause you to see things out there. Driving during the day is much different. The sun keeps you awake and you can drive for hours and hours at a time. If you can split up your driving so you are hitting the entire time the sun is up; boom you just saved some time and having to pay for a gross hotel room. Saving money and time is a great thing.

Objective 3: Save on the misery

1)     Carpool

Not only does this help you save money but also the misery of driving by yourself. It can suck have to put in a full 12 hours. Switching off driving duties is much safer and much more enjoyable. While your friend drives, you can sleep. Tip: to save on time, try to only switch when you are filling up gas.

2)     Make sure your iPod is updated

Nothing is worse on a long road trip than listening to local radio, especially when it’s all one genre typically country. It gets old and stale. Different music will help you stay motivated while driving and make the drive much more enjoyable. Plus it gives your road trip companion a chance to play DJ and didn’t everyone always have a dream of being one of those?

3)     Always have car/solar chargers

You got to keep that music going somehow. I actually don’t have a charger for my iPod so I have a Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar panel that sits on my dash to charge it. Also, remember solar panels don’t charge at night (shocker, right?) so make sure that you have a portable battery to charge and save for the night time. I use the Goal Zero Switch 8 for that purpose. It holds a full charge for an iPod and a little extra to charge my Sansa Clip MP3 player.

Goal Zero Solar charger

Goal Zero switch8

So there you have it. Some tips and tricks on how to make sure that on your next road trip, you won’t be at each other’s throats in misery, paying too much at the pump, and making a memory worth remembering.