Planning a Road Trip: the Essentials

Road trips are a classic vacation go-to. From the one's you used to take with your family as a kid to movies like National Lampoon's Vacation, road trips seem like an American vacation staple. Just think, you spend a few days in a car with your best friends and you see the wild American countryside, crazy roadside attractions, and plenty of unexpected wonders until you reach your destination. Then you do it all over again on the way back!

So if your student group is thinking about heading off on a road trip, there might be a few things to think about and plan before you go. Such as:

Plan a route/destination - Many who go on road trips plan on being spontaneous, seeing the country on a whim. can save a lot of travel stress, time cooped up in the car, and see more interesting things if you know where to go. You don't have to have every single stop planned out, just a general idea. Sites like Roadtrippers and OnTheWay help with planning routes or you can always go old fashioned with a paper map and a marker. In the days of GPS and smart phones, though, it's super easy to find your way again once you get lost - provided you aren't in the middle of nowhere without a signal.

Have a budget in mind - Budgets are key to any form of travel. You need to know how much you can spend and who pays for what. This will determine how far you can go on your trip, if you can drive from one end of the country to the other or just to the nearest city and back. Go even deeper and figure how much gas it will take to get to your destination and back, add in a little more for unexpected detours, and calculate the average cost of gas for the trip. Also, if you have several people in the car, make a plan of how you're going to split the gas bill, snacks, etc. This will help alleviate tensions when it comes time to pay.

Don't splurge - Road trips aren't notorious for fine dining establishments. Usually, when you're road tripping, you're looking for quick, cheap eats on the go. I'm not saying don't eat well, by all means be healthy, but don't spend your whole budget on a fancy French restaurant. If you have the means, go to the grocery store and fill up a cooler with fruits and vegetables, make restaurant stops at Denny's or Taco Bell (though they aren't healthy, they're cheap), and share meals with friends to cut on costs.

Check the car before you go - Many people forgo this little piece of advice but it's seriously important. Check your car's fluids, the tires, and the windshield wipers before you get caught on the road with a problem. Fill up the tank the night before to save time, always keep an emergency car kit where it's accessible, and if you're traveling in the winter, keep a change of warm clothes and blankets. Jumper cables and a jack are also recommended for anyone with a car, really, but are particularly important for those who are going to be driving away from familiar territory.

...Also, car insurance. Make sure you have coverage for your friends to drive your car. Most insurances have policies where non-insured drivers can be covered up to a certain limit if they're in an accident, God forbid. Just check with your insurance provider beforehand and see who will be allowed to drive.

Double check your packing - Each man for himself, right? Before you go, make sure you have all of your essentials so you don't have to run out and buy more the first night. Consolidate your bags and take only what you need. Don't pile in three suitcases per person or you won't have any room in the backseat and it'll be a pain dragging those in to the hotel every night. You can use smart packing techniques to make traveling easier, such as packing the clothes you'll need first (like pajamas and the next day's wear) at the top so you don't have to dig.

Have fun while driving - This could mean anything from the I Spy game to a marathon of Iggy Azalea on your iPod. Keep yourself and everyone in the car entertained on the trip, especially the driver, and it'll make the whole thing go a lot smoother. You don't have to plan out a bunch of road games, just have a general idea in mind when you settle into the car. Or you can divide and conquer, having every passenger come up with an activity in turn.

...If there are young kids traveling on your road trip, make sure they're occupied with something like coloring, video games, a movie, anything to keep their minds off the fact that they've been in a car for eight hours.

Make a driving schedule - This will cut down on animosities when you're cooped up. Not everyone enjoys driving so it really sucks to be the person stuck with a five hundred mile stretch and no break. You can rotate drivers by distance or by time or whatever you all agree is fair, just don't stick someone with the whole trip just because they own the car.

Remember that road trips can be very challenging but they're certainly rewarding. Spending time in close quarters with your friends can bond you even further, just don't give in to the tensions of long distance car travel. Make frequent stops, and whenever you see something interesting, go see it. Don't be driving straight past Mount Rushmore just because you're on a schedule. Road trips are great fun, so plan one for you and your student group!