I rarely have to travel over the river and through the woods to get anywhere, even my grandmother’s house, but this year, my sister, Courtney, and I took on the open road and drove from Toledo, Ohio to North Carolina. Most of my mom’s family lives in Ohio so I’ve grown up making the 5 hour trip from Chicago frequently. (No one tell my grandma I shared any of her personal information on the Internet or she’ll kill me.) At this point it doesn’t even qualify as a road trip in my mind, probably because it’s such an uneventful route and I mostly sleep the whole way there.
Courtney and I have come a long way travel-wise. I was the quintessential annoying younger sister and honestly a straight up brat when I was little, so it’s actually pretty wild that my sister was willing to take a nine hour car trip, just the two of us. This trip took us over a handful of rivers and I guess technically we kind of drove through the woods most of the time.
We planned to leave at 7:00 which of course means we actually left at 8:30 and I had the honor of the first shift of driving. First stop: Tim Horton’s, at which Courtney and I both made the mistake of getting sickeningly sweet cinnamon lattes. 3/10, would not recommend. A few hours later we passed a flaming car on the side of the road, but rest assured someone pulled over to help. Driving through mountain tunnels is my second least favorite thing, the first being driving over really long and rickety bridges. Thank god there was one bridge and it was stable, but I wasn’t as lucky with tunnels. We almost made it all the way through West Virginia without offending anyone, but Courtney’s sailor’s mouth got her a dirty look from an old man in the Starbucks line. The scenery on this trip was beautiful but I’m always excited to wind through mountains since I’m used to cornfields and cow farms being the most eventful roadside attractions. If we weren’t in such a hurry there were some little towns that I would’ve liked to have taken a closer look at. Just as we were starting to get a little stir crazy we hit a very twisty road covered in a thick fog. By some miracle and Courtney’s expert driving skills we arrived in Durham in one piece albeit hangry.
Here are some essentials for having a glorious adventure of your own:
I’m a self proclaimed music nerd and I’ll give any genre a chance, but personally I think country is a road trip essential. Really what makes a good playlist is one that varies enough in genre and tempo to combat highway hypnosis and mainstream enough to prevent your sister from forcing you to listen to her audio book. If you don’t want to waste time making your own playlist, and you like the 70’s, country, and rap then you can just use the one I made on Spotify. Podcasts like Planet Money and The Moth are also a solid choice or of course Harry Potter on audio. Just not whatever Courtney was listening to for two and a half of our West Virginia hours. In case of audio-emergency, pack headphones, but part of the fun of a road trip comes from actually interacting with the other people in the car, so use this as a last resort.
Snacks & Coffee
This is an especially important one for us because my sister is terrifying when she’s hangry. I get nauseous if I’m in the passenger seat for too long so I always like to have ginger ale and water with me. Court and I wanted to keep our trip to 9 hours, which looking back is a little comical because it turned into a 12 hour trip, so we packed bagels from our grandma’s instead of stopping along the way for food. You can usually find some gems right off of the highway though, like the best key lime pie in the world on the way from Miami to Key West (ooh baby that pie was worth the drive.) The Roadtrippers app is perfect for finding and/or recording places to stop along your route. Also, keep in mind how long you personally will have to be driving and how much caffeine that translates to because no one likes a sleepy driver…especially the police.
Some sort of non-electronic activity is key. Right now I’m reading China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan which is the sequel to one of my favorites: Crazy Rich Asians. These two are especially appropriate for traveling because the plot line follows a couple on vacation. I also love to crochet and knit and usually bring a project to keep me occupied. Not only do I want to avoid using any more data than necessary for the obligatory snaps with each state/city’s geofilter, signal goes out pretty frequently when driving through the mountains. Honestly it’s nice to be a little disconnected for a bit, you know, in an intentional way not in the “getting murdered on the side of the road because my phone died and it was my only means of directions” kind of way…in other words, bring your GPS or good old fashioned paper map just in case.
Bonus Items for the Deluxe Experience
- A pillow/blanket: if it’s winter and you have a puffy coat with you it’ll work as either in a pinch
- Layers: a sweatshirt can prevent an argument over whether to have the AC on the whole time or not
- Cash for tolls or small roadside businesses
- Comfy shoes and warm socks for when you inevitably take off your shoes to nap
- Phone charger
- Journal to keep track of your adventures
Thanks for reading and happy trails!