Close your eyes and picture your ideal vacation. Are you wandering through eerily beautiful forests covered in foggy mist while hunting for hidden waterfalls? Do you see yourself on the top of a snow-capped mountain or in the deepest depths of a narrow canyon? You may be thinking: “So many places, so little time.” But what if we told you there was a chance you could experience all these natural wonders on the same vacation, or even longer with some planning? Put your Crocs in sport mode and grab your GPS: we’re here to talk about road trips.
From heart wrenching films like “Into the Wild” to upbeat comedies like “Dumb and Dumber,” it’s safe to say that almost everyone has read a book or seen a film centered around a road-trip. With summer just around the corner, the time to plan vacations for the three-month break from school is upon us, and what more iconic summer vacation is there than a road trip?
Because of their nature, these kinds of vacations offer different opportunities and experiences than a traditional vacation to a single destination. Often, road trip vacations span over the course of several days and involve traveling hundreds of miles, with multiple stops at different scenic landmarks along the way.
One of the advantages to planning a road trip as a vacation is the customizability of the experience. After all, there are an infinite amount of road trips to be planned and infinite destination combinations ranging from famous buildings and metropolitan cities to national parks and natural wonders. At the end of the day, it’s all about what you’re into, which is a big part of why people fall in love with them.
Jaimee Getty, a senior at the University of Miami, says that her love of road trips stems from being in nature.
“Being in a road trip lets you be in nature 24/7,” said Getty. “You can get lost in the different surroundings and take in so much nature in such a short amount of time.”
Although the prospect of being stuck in a car for hours on end can be daunting for some, these kinds of trips can come with very high reward — if you maintain a positive mindset about the journey.
A road trip is a textbook example of the adage, “The journey is the destination.” Keeping an open mind and finding ways to pass the time in the car while awaiting your next stop are crucial parts of the experience — even during the most boring moments of awkward car silence.
Izzy Anderson, a junior at UM, has taken several road trips throughout her life. Anderson states that while she loves road trips, anyone gearing up to hit the road needs to have a positive mindset about the journey.
“Road trips can be very hard if you do not have an open mind and accept that they will take a while,” said Anderson. “They can even drive you crazy if you don’t fully accept and prepare yourself for the time of traveling.”
So, how can you best prepare for your first — or next — road trip vacation? It all comes down to thorough preparation, planning and safety.
Before packing anything, you’ll want to do some research on where you’d want to go and what stops you would want to make on your trip. Decide the number of days you’d like to spend on the road, your start and end destinations and where you’d like to stay in between.
When hunting for places to stop, use Google Maps or Roadtrippers.com to check the distance between locations. The miles between each of your destinations will determine the amount of freedom you have throughout your trip. For example, if you have a lot of ground to cover between destinations, you’ll need to be stricter with time management; if there’s less distance, you can take your sweet time.
Make sure to verify the safety of each location on your trip as well. Read up on other people’s road trips via online travel blogs to get an idea of the vibe, and make sure the destinations you choose aren’t going to put you in any kind of danger.
Anderson believes that paying attention to the general vibe of a location is very important, even when you’ll only be stopping for long enough to fill up your gas tank.
“Make sure you don’t stop anywhere that gives you bad vibes, and always look for gas at a quarter tank,” said Anderson. “If a place feels off, don’t stop unless you absolutely have to, and if anything, be quick.”
Next, you must decide how you’re getting from point A to point B, and what your days and nights will look like. Ask yourself the following questions: do you want to stay in a hotel each night, or camp out in your vehicle? Are you renting a vehicle for the drive or using your own? What do you need to bring with you to ensure you’re comfortable and safe throughout the drive?
Just like how some people get checkups at the doctor’s office before going on vacation, if you’re planning on driving your own vehicle, you should visit your local car repair shop or dealership for maintenance — you don’t want to be caught in a situation where your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.
According to an article published by freelance writer and van life veteran Brent Rose on Roadtrippers.com, “it’s best to have your vehicle inspected by a professional, or at least someone who really knows what they’re doing.”
A list of things in your car that you should check before road tripping includes your tires, engine and breaks, lights, wiper blades, the battery, wiper fluid and motor oil. Also, make sure you have a full gas tank before getting on the road and closely pay attention to your gas levels throughout the trip.
If you’d rather rent a car or a van, do a thorough background check of the company and read reviews about other customers’ experiences with the vehicles. Whether your vehicle is your own or rented, if you plan on sleeping in it, make sure that all doors and windows can lock and are secure. Also, bring blackout shades for your own protection.
Pack It Up
Finally, you need to prepare to pack. According to Rose, there are a few key items that are important to take on road trips including: flashlights, food and water, road flares, jumper cables, a first aid kit, a car charger and portable USB power pack, spare batteries, a multi-tool, blankets and warm clothing. From there, pack whatever clothing and items bring you joy, and get on your way.
Now, we can’t talk about road trips without talking about destinations. So if you’re still struggling to figure out where you’d want to go, we have you covered. 23-year-old Hannah Gebhart from St. Petersburg, FL, spent several years traveling with her dog in her van across the country and has a wealth of information on all the best destinations.
“I spent eight days driving from West Glacier, Montana to Phoenix, Arizona,” said Gebhart. “Another epic road trip on a smaller scale would simply be driving around Utah. There are so many national parks not too far away from each other, as well as so many beautiful landscapes in between, and would be so doable in a week. Rent a car or van and definitely be sure to hit up Moab, Utah. It is a magical place.”
Utah’s not the only state laced with gems.
“Honestly, Idaho is amazing too. Rent a car for a week and go hot spring hopping. That is what Idaho is known for — wild hot springs with beautiful hikes and a ton of public land for free camping.”
The possibilities associated with road trips are truly endless, making them the perfect vacation for college students. So whether you want to spend three days with friends in your car or three weeks living on the road in a van, give it a chance. You might just write your own coming of age story.
For some people, wanderlust is overwhelming. One or two weeks spent on the road simply isn’t nearly enough, and travel becomes something necessary to happiness. This is where the idea of van life comes into the picture. While Gebhart’s undeniable love of nature and travel likely influenced her decision to try van life, she states that her initial interest in the lifestyle was sparked by YouTube.
“I first became interested in van life when I saw Eamon and Bec on YouTube when I was 17,” said Gebhart. “I had planned all my life to go to college, but life happened, and I realized it wasn’t for me at that time in my life. I traveled and worked for three years and had planned on buying and building out a van with my ex-boyfriend, but then we broke up. A month later, I ended up buying the van on my own.”
For those of you who don’t know what van life is, the name pretty much explains the concept: van life is living out of a van, car, bus or other vehicle while on the road. Many people choose to renovate vans into what could be best described as tiny homes which can include stoves, microwaves, refrigerators, built-in beds, plenty of storage for clothing and outdoor gear and, in some cases, showers and toilets.
While this way of living has been popularized through platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, there are many pros and cons that come along with the lifestyle that can be left out of social media posts. Gebhart offered her insights into best and worst parts of the lifestyle.
“The best parts of living in my van were waking up in new beautiful places whenever I felt like driving somewhere else,” said Gebhart. “The van life community is also incredible, and I met many friends while on the road. As my friend says, ‘no one’s a stranger, they’re friends we don’t know the names of yet.’”
“The worst part of living in the van for me was in fact the loneliness,” said Gebhart. “Sometimes there would be days I didn’t see or talk to anyone but my dog. Also, I didn’t have a shower or toilet in the van, and I didn’t mind it. However, I’m sure other people wouldn’t be too fond of having to go out in the rain to use the bathroom or jump in rivers to bathe.”
If you have an interest in van life, Gebhart suggests trying it out in small doses and doing research before building a van.
“I would say, give it a shot,” said Gebhart. “There are so many vans for rent these days, and I would recommend living in one for a week and seeing what it’s like and if you even like it. It is very romanticized these days, and it’s not for everyone. And do your research. See what other people like and didn’t like from their van builds and use that information when building out your own.”
If van life interests you, think about how you want to use the van specifically.
“Also, know what you plan to do with the van — if you plan to live in it full-time on the road, or full time parked in a spot for certain amounts of time, or if you plan to be a weekend warrior. I would say those all would be different builds for me. Also, see how comfortable you are on the road — take a road trip in whatever vehicle you have now.”
Be sure to check out Gebhart’s Instagram and TikTok to follow her travel adventures: @Hansvanventures
Road Trip Driving Playlist
- adios by JAWNY
- Vices by Sarah and the Sundays
- strawberry chainsaw by JAWNY
- Fly Out West by Yot Club
- Long Lost by Lord Huron
- Castia by Goth Babe
- Cough Syrup by Young the Giant
- Sugar by Surf Curse
- Kilby Girl by The Backseat Lovers
- Let’s go to Hell by Tai Verdes
- The Balancer’s Eye by Lord Huron
- Nineties by Michigander
- Weekend Friend by Goth Babe
- Stick Season by Noah Kahan
- Evergreen by Ritchy Mitch & The Coal Miners
- God of Death by Susto
- Ends of the Earth by Lord Huron
- Wet Socks by Ritchy Mitch & The Coal Miners
- I Wanna Help Your Mind by Goth Babe
- Northern Attitude by Noah Kahan
words_nicole facchina. photo_ethan dosa. design_adriana león.
This article was published in Distraction’s Summer 2023 print issue.