Second only to walking, driving through a country is perhaps the best way to understand it as deeply as possible. You’ll see small towns and big cities and understand how people living in both differ from one another. You’ll interact with far more locals than you would if you simply caught a flight to your destination. You’ll probably eat at mom-and-pop cafes, international chain restaurants, and shop at the local grocery store. You’ll also see more of the flora and fauna of the country than you would otherwise.
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But a roadtrip is no small task if you factor in long hours behind the wheel, possible bad weather, and getting lost in a strange country. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your next open road adventure:
#1: Communication WILL Be A Problem
No matter how many maps you carry or how much you trust your navigation system, you’ll end up asking locals for directions. It might be to find the best shortcut, determine how to avoid tolls or get directions to the nearest petrol pump or supermarket.
Download or print out a few key phrases in the local language and keep it on hand for those moments you need it most.
#2: Networks WILL Fail You
No internet or phone connection is 100% reliable, especially when you’re traversing states, going up mountains or into forests. You don’t want to be stuck late at night, trying to get to your hotel or campsite without an address, maps or directions.
Download all the important numbers and addresses you’ll need, and cache your Google Maps to be usable offline. Cafes, restaurants and malls may offer free WiFi, so keep your mobile charged and SIM in, even if you’re not using your number.
#3: There WILL Be Emergencies
Cars break down, weather predictions can go very wrong, and the route to your next stop could be longer than you expect.
Carry enough clothes for cold weather, and enough food to get you by a couple of meals. And always keep your phones fully charged.
#4: You NEED An Emergency Medical Kit
We hope you won’t ever need to use it, but carry one all the same. Don’t rely on that old one you have lying about in the back of your cupboard. Check that all the creams and tablets haven’t expired, and that the sticky plasters are all still sticky. Bug bite ointment, pain-killers, anti-allergy medicine, burn treatments, and emergency medications for bad stomachs, fever, flu, nausea and headaches are good additions to the kit.
If you’re prone to heartburn, skin rashes, menstrual cramps or other ailments that you think might creep up, carry the medications you’re most comfortable with. You don’t want to be driving around a strange town at 1 a.m. with a toothache, praying for an open drugstore.
#5: Being On The Road WILL Be Tiring
It’s best to share the driving duties, so be sure to travel with someone whom you can trust to drive if you need to grab a quick nap. Plan your route so that you’re driving only a few hours a day, and always in daylight. Things just get so much harder in the dark, and you’ll start to worry if the sun is setting and you’re nowhere close to your next stop.
If you’re on your own, make sure you don’t drive if you’re sleepy or unwell.
#6: Things WILL NOT Go According To Plan
You can have the best route, the best navigation system, and the most efficient vehicle ever made. But you’ll still have to give in to fate when things go awry. From iced over roads, cows crossing the highway (yes, that happens!), local fairs causing traffic jams, or a broken down vehicle, you’ll have to be mentally prepared for anything.
#7: You WILL Have “Off” Days
No matter how much you love driving or being away from the routine, there are gonna be days when you just want to stay in bed and read, watch TV or stare blankly at the ceiling.
Give yourself a day off when that happens. Look at those days as mini-breaks, when you get to laze about or not look at a guidebook. Wander around town, sit at a local cafe and enjoy a coffee with locals, or lie down in the grass outside your tent all day. You don’t have to be perky and gung-ho all the time.
#8: You WILL Have To Learn + Follow New Rules and Laws
Driving in a different country, or even in a different state, means dealing with new laws. Don’t tell yourself that you’re a tourist and don’t need to know those rules — you’ll be putting your own life and someone else’s at risk, or at least incurring heavy fines.
Spend some time online to read up on the laws of driving where you’ll be going. If you’re driving on the opposite side of the road from what you’re used to, put up a Post-It or a sticker or something to remind you every time you climb into the driver’s seat. Yes, it sounds silly but it may just save your life.
#9: You WILL Need Entertainment
Get your music sorted out, keep your Kindle stocked up and download movies onto your laptop when you have network. When you’re driving, it’s probably best not to have audio books playing as it could distract you, but your favorite music keeps the tempo going.
And the books and movies are a great way to unwind when you turn the ignition key off for the night.
#10: You NEED Your Comfort (… and Your Junk Food)
Take your time, stop and stretch, take some pictures, grab something to eat, buy yourself a coffee — do whatever you can to make the most of your trip. Have a bag of munchies ready to nibble on while you’re driving, with a mix of healthy stuff like granola bars, fruit and trail mix, and all your guilty sweet and salty pleasures. Don’t forget the water and soft drinks too.
And now you’re ready to get set and GOOOO!