A cross-country road trip can be an incredible way to get out and explore the country during retirement. Setting your own schedule and itinerary allows for complete flexibility, and many people enjoy cruising on the open road with their favorite tunes playing in the background.
But before you embark on a cross-country excursion, it's important to do a little preparation and planning to maximize your safety and enjoyment. Here are some tips for planning a road trip in retirement.
Do Your Homework
The beauty of a cross-country road trip is that you can go where you want, when you want, without adhering to transit schedules or arriving hours before a flight at a busy airport.
But that doesn't mean you can completely forego planning. Prepare for your trip by creating a general itinerary with your route and your plans for lodging.
Book hotels or vacation rentals in advance to ensure you'll have a place to stay. If you're concerned about flexibility, opt for lodging with flexible cancelation policies that will allow you to make changes to your dates without penalty. If you're taking a rustic vacation, tools like the Recreation.gov Trip Builder allow you to enter your destinations and travel dates and search for campsites and RV sites along your route.
Finally, don't forget to study your route before you get on the road. Take note of any long stretches without gas stations or rest stops so you can plan accordingly. If you'll be using your phone to navigate, download maps before you leave home so they'll always be accessible, even if you're out of range of cell phone service.
Prepare Your Vehicle
Nothing throws a wrench in a road trip like car troubles. Whether you're traveling by RV or car, you need to be sure your vehicle is up to the task before embarking on a long trip.
You can perform a DIY check of your car's fluid levels and inspect your tires, in addition to general maintenance and cleaning before you hit the road. If you aren't as comfortable with car maintenance, schedule a tune-up with a trusted mechanic a few weeks before your trip so they can make sure everything is in working order.
Once you're confident that your car is ready for the long haul, don't forget to stock your vehicle with safety essentials. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a full packing list with necessities like maps, phone chargers, first aid supplies, a flashlight, extra windshield washer fluid and jumper cables.
You may also want to pack a cooler with healthy snacks and beverages to keep you fueled along your route, especially as you tire of the fast food and gas station options.
Plan for Pit Stops
You'll inevitably need to use the restroom along your route, but don't cut your stops too short. Researchers found that when truckers took regular breaks of about 30 minutes, it helped reduce crash risk.
When you stop, give yourself time to stretch your legs — literally. Take pit stops every couple of hours to stretch out, take a walk and breathe some fresh air before you hit the road again.
Getting sufficient shut-eye is crucial for ensuring a safe vacation. Don't sacrifice sleep in order to push through long days of driving. Instead, break your itinerary into shorter legs, and give yourself plenty of time in each destination, including time for restorative sleep.
Travel can be disruptive to your sleep, so consider packing a few comforts from home to help you relax, like a favorite pillowcase or eye mask. If you'll be behind the wheel, be careful with alcohol or sleep aids, which can make you groggier the next day.
Enjoy the Journey
As you set out on your road trip, don't rush — embrace the journey and enjoy the flexibility afforded by a cross-country road trip. By following the steps above to ensure your safety and comfort en route, you can let the drive be just as enjoyable as the destination.