The great American Road Trip is a rite of passage and thing of beauty. It’s also a necessity if you’re planning any kind of holiday in the U.S. that’s not restricted to a city break. People are always amazed when I tell them that my first year of university I would regularly drive back home for the weekend — 7 and a half hours each way.
What I know from road tripping in the U.S. with the kids that there are some very definite Do’s and some very strict Don’ts. Here, rules to live by when you set off.
…Plan a route.
While just setting out on the open road sounds like a cool, Jack Kerouac kind of moment, in truth it means you will inevitably blow by a cool destination just a few miles from the highway you’re on. You’ll miss out plus everyone will keep asking you how you liked the Cadillac Ranch when you were in Amarillo and you’ll have to admit you never went. On our trip we used the Hertz Road Trip Planner, a fab site that has routes all around the U.S., with cool stops and authentic experiences highlighted along the way. (For my Jenography trip, Hertz covered the cost of the car, we chose the route.)
We were driving round the heart of Texas in a comfortable Hertz rental, discovering the best the state has to offer, from cities to little towns, on highways and farm roads. The helps you plan trips all around the U.S., with cool stops and authentic experiences. Whatever your source, sketch out a plan beforehand.
…Hit towns both small and large.
In our tours of the Deep in the Heart of Texas route, we visited Boerne (pronounced Ber-nee) and Graham — both interesting small towns with grand downtown squares, great little casual eateries, even an old-fashioned drive-in cinema. Many of these smaller towns benefit greatly from your visit, and if you don’t mind a few questions about where you come from and your accent, you discover an entirely different side of the U.S. from the big city.
…Read the road signs.
Not just those ones that tell you the highway number and when to stop. Also check out historical markers, those little signs that tell interesting stories about the places we’re passing. With names like ‘Gamblers & Gunfights’ and ‘Indians poisoned at peace meeting’ you can bet there are anecdotes that will entertain the children while everyone also stretches their legs. You can also find out about markers near your route using the website and an app.
…Pick a theme song for the trip.
Every summer early on in our road trip we settle on a new song that becomes the theme tune. We like to pick one from the top 40 radio stations for timeliness, but we’ve also loaded up some contenders on our phones and chosen a ‘winner’ by consensus. It’s fun to get to the point where everyone can sing the words together, and when we hear the song months or even years later, it brings memories flooding back. Some recent ones with our teens: I Wanna Get Better by the Bleachers and Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People.
…Pay up for a good-sized car.
You’ll be eating up the miles on roads filled with massive trucks, monster SUVs and recreational vehicles that could pass for 2 bedroom flats in London. We’ve learned the hard way that you need to invest in a comfortable rental car with adequate heating and air-conditioning and cupholders. Don’t be afraid to go back and exchange it if you feel it’s not quite right. (There’s one common make of rental car that we refuse to take even if it’s the last on the lot.)
…Drive for too long before a break.
The road can get long, especially in America where in the countryside it’s less about fighting traffic and more about combatting ‘highway hypnosis’, where the black ribbon unspooling in front of you, dulling your reactions. Stop, change drivers, stretch your legs, go to the loo. Your kids and your back will thank you.
…Be a slave to your schedule or route.
See a billboard advertising the best milkshakes ever? Curious about what the Natural Bridge Caverns are? Don’t make your schedule so jam-packed that you can do little side trips for fun. Your detours may be underwhelming, a highlight of the trip or a funny story to laugh about when you get back home.
…Underestimate the fun pitstops can be.
“You have to get a lot of snacks,” my 14-year-old advises. Part of the fun is setting out with some packed snacks, then stopping to pick up water, healthy nibbles and a few treats. When we’re on the road, the kids get to choose a slushie. But we also love perusing the regional snacks we find. In Texas that means beef jerky, Chick O Sticks, my mother’s favourite Bit-O-Honey… Snickers is great but there’s nothing quite like finding foods that give you a taste of local.
…Take the ‘Business’ route
You’ll often see, when approach a city, a sign with your highway number and the word ‘Business’. It’s an alternative route that takes you through the middle of town before rejoining the road again outside the city limits. I’ve taken them by mistake and they can be a killer when it comes to eating up time, especially during rush hour. You find yourself in a maze of stop signs and stoplights, dealing with commuters. Unless you want to launch yourself into the middle of a city to explore, avoid the ‘Business’ route.
…Forget the headphones.
Sometimes the most important part of being together is being apart. When the only thing that separates your kids is 8 inches of banquette seat, they sometimes need the mental space that their own music or show on their tablet or phone gives them. We always keep an extra set of headphones in the car because some inevitably go missing.
What are your do’s and don’ts for road trips?
Disclosure: This post is part of our #hertztrip, promoting the U.S. Road Trip Planner on Hertz’s website. The U.S. Road Trip Planner plots out routes in regions across the U.S. My family and I are following parts of the Deep in the Heart of Texas route, highlighting family stops along the way. Hertz UK has covered the cost of our vehicle rental; all opinions are my own. See more adventures on the road with Hertz with the #hertztrip hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.