On Her Own

Beyond road trip safety

We’ve talked about road trips a time or two before here on On Her Own. Travel is one of the most common settings for having to manage by yourself because even if you’re traveling with another person or three, you’re likely away from the space where you are most comfortable. When you’re home, it’s easy to know where to stop for gas, what snacks you have stashed in your pantry, how to keep yourself entertained, what spare clothes you have stuffed in a closet. When you’re living out of your car in an unfamiliar place, it’s a little bit harder. Safety is one thing, making sure you get to where you’re going without being foiled by poor directions, a broken-down vehicle, your own safe driving abilities, or a bad actor. Comfort is another and, I’d argue, nearly as important because long drives shouldn’t be a total chore and certainly, making them a bit more fun and enjoyable is worthwhile (and safer) no matter what the reason for your journey. With thirty-plus hours on America’s highways on the schedule for me over the next few weeks, here are a few of the things I’m doing to make the drive more pleasant:

Paying full attention to the road means you need audio and not visual forms of entertainment. Audiobooks and podcasts are popular, and music is also great. You’ll want to plan ahead for changing moods and lack of reception, so make sure you have plenty of options available to you and downloaded to your phone or on other offline media. Take a few minutes before your trip to make sure you know how to get all of it working on your car’s stereo system too, especially if you think you might use apps that you don’t normally use on your daily commutes or other regular drives. You don’t want to be distracted by the controls when you should be driving.

When you’re on really long trips, think about roadside attractions and detours for more scenic routes. They may take you a little extra time but if you aren’t in an extreme rush, why not take an extra hour? For drives over a half day or so, you will need to stop for gas and other breaks anyway, so why not stop somewhere a little more interesting than a regular rest stop or gas station? At the same time, see if you might be a short side trip away from stopping to see a friend along the way. Planning your trip this way adds variety and waypoints to look forward to, and helps you not skip over some of the cooler parts of the country that you might not see any other way.

The joke for car ride snacks is that you should look like an unsupervised child was left alone in a gas station convenience store with $20. Certainly that’s one of the approaches you can take, picking up junk foods you would only eat when you’re behind the wheel. Personally, I find some of the healthier options to keep me a bit more alert behind the wheel, but you should figure out what makes you happiest with the frequency and amount of driving you’re doing. Variety can help with the monotony either way, and some treats can help mark the time as you inch towards your destination. Regardless of what you pick, make sure you can safely eat with one hand, and don’t forget drinks. Staying hydrated can help your alertness just as much as caffeine.

Climate control in vehicles is usually pretty decent, especially in the kind of car you’d want to take several hundred miles or more. Because of that, it’s often tempting to go with the most comfortable outfit you can think of, and not dress appropriately for the weather you’ll be driving through. However, outside weather will affect how you feel inside, especially if you want to be efficient with how you run your heat and air conditioning. You’ll also have to go out in it for planned breaks, let alone any emergencies. Better to dress for something approaching the weather outside, or at least keep what you’ll need within easy reach. Likewise, if you plan on traveling armed, figure out a way ahead of time to keep your weapons on your body rather than risk them floating around loose or even forgotten.

All this assumes you are driving alone and, of course, many of you might not be. You could be traveling with others, leading or organizing the trip with folks who are headed to the same place, or having dragged someone along to keep you company. You don’t need to have kids along to play “I spy” and similar games and you can even play them all by yourself. And thanks to the magic of cell phone reception and hands-free systems, long trips can be the perfect time to catch up with someone at a distance. As long as they understand that driving is your first priority, you can have some wonderful conversations that might be difficult to carve time for in your everyday life.

But at the end of the day, don’t forget to just enjoy the landscape. Even in some of the most boring parts of the country, there are some interesting vistas for at least a few miles at a time, ones that aren’t what you see normally and that you might never have a chance to see again. Instead of just looking for the next exit or being annoyed that your GPS just told you to continue straight for 300 miles, maybe take look through the windows and absorb the scenery as you mull through the things you’ve had on your mind but have been too busy to think about. Windshield time is its own special kind of meditation, one that I’m looking forward to enjoying this month and one that I hope you get some of too (but maybe not quite as much).

Hi, I'm Annette.

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