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Essentials for Planning a Road Trip

WORLDWIDE | Friday, 31 July 2009 | Views [8313] | Comments [2]

If you poked your noggin into a hostel and screamed "roadtriiiiiip!” you'd be - literally - struck by the response. The ingrained midday silence would be smashed by a giddy boulder of excitement, rising to a fever pitch.  A willful German couple urgently wiggle their bicycle through the hallway, cutting across an Indian motorcyclist, who slams on his only brake just by the bookswap, causing a Dutchman to swerve his dented campervan dangerously close to the hitchhiking Canadian who has her thumb raised by a sofa, which saves her from a small brown saloon that's drifting side-on towards her, while a trembling Mexican driver hails Mary... yep, universally, everyone loves a roadtrip!

Who’s In?

For travel addicts, road trips are the quickest fix out there. Unless you’re retracing your granddads war story or your Uncle Mick’s coming-of-age campaign, the planning stage should be kept to a beautiful minimum. Simply arm yourself with some wheels and some moola, and start considering potential passengers. I've road-tripped with horny lads, with my budgeteer parents, with my intrepid girlfriend and even by my grumpy self. They have (thankfully) all been completely different experiences. Consider the length of time you're planning to be away, and envisage yourselves together in confined space for hours on end.

If you're already flying solo, the best places to find road trip buddies are hostel notice boards and quick fire online forums, such as the LP Thorn Tree or get straight to the point with sites like Liftshare.com (other sites are available – just Google: Carpooling).

Photo coutesy of abhisawa/flickr.com

Choose your Weapon

Another vital detail of your road trip is the vehicle. Up until now you've probably been picturing a flowery VW campervan, or a clapped out estate car crammed with pungent Tupperware. With global infrastructure improving a mile-a-minute, there are endless online resources to plan an alternative road trip. I've met cycle-tourists who have covered every nook and cranny of the planet, and they all wave away the notion that “you must be super fit”.

Similarly, journeying by motorbike shouldn't be reserved for your dad’s midlife crisis – there’s plenty of time to secure your license, and in this era of global gridlock, there’s never been a better time to switch to two wheels. People have crossed continents on everything from tuktuks to camel trains, so it’s worth going with that initial buzz and fully researching an opportunity (carpe diem). If you’re going for a shorter length of time and don’t have your own wheels, you probably won’t want to buy a vehicle:

  • Rental companies offer the most obvious solution (unless you’re insisting on camels). Ensure you read the small print; you probably can't actually take that shiny off-road 4x4 off the road, as it's probably not insured. Most countries accept your national driving license; however don’t skip the five minutes of priceless research.
  • Relocation is a great option if you’re travelling in the right country. Many rental companies in the US, Australia and New Zealand offer vehicles for as little as AU$1 a day; certain time and distance constraints apply, but are nearly always flexible.
  • Carpooling is a simple A-B method, though you lose the option to pull off the highway and shimmy up to a little known wonder. Unless you’re paying half the petrol, then you can try.
  • Hitchhiking is a more hazardous, and unreliable. It has obvious risks, as well as idyllic pluses. If you insist, then the main thing to check is the local legalities.

Choose your Poison

Another idea is to theme your road trip. I know a girl whose dad spends his entire year planning his annual horseback holiday, which always follows a war in which Britain was involved. Naturally this takes him pretty much everywhere, but the magic is he comes face to face with a passion.

If you like the English Premier League you could score highly working your way through the league. Check out China by visiting the provinces in your Friday night takeaway or bore your mates silly with a slideshow of Australian Big Things. Dave Gorman took the ethical road trip, America Unchained to explore the possibilities of swerving The Man, while Hunter S. Thompson’s infamous journey battling Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was somewhat more debauch. You don’t have to be original, it’s perfectly fine to take inspiration from the tried and tested. My personal dream is to retrace Che’s Latin American pilgrimage (though preferably not on a Norton).

3 Classic Road Trip Destinations with a Twist

Have you got the gyst? Then give it a twist, these three bullets should give you the right idea for thinking outside the box:

  • USA: ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’. Can you cross the country in the greatest number of vehicles? Hitchhike to Houston, pedal it to Portland and borrow a lorry for a trip to Louisiana
  • UK: ‘Yorkshire Pudding Trail’. Everyone in England claims their mums Yorkshire Pudding are the best. Beg, steal and borrow your way around my motherland with a fork in one hand and a gravy boat in the other as you're passed from mother to mum.
  • Australia: ‘Catch Me if You Can’. Dress up as a rabbit and grab yourself a 4x4 then cruise the inner deserts evading the hunters. Bump into the rabbit proof fence and nibble on some bush tucker, and if you're single, well, do what rabbits do best and take a young rabbitress to the Carrot Café.

Your road trip should be designed to incorporate all the things you love about regular journeys: intriguing, encouraging, educational, and spontaneous. Whatever your wagon, the right kind of road trip can take you on a spiritual journey.

Serial road-tripper, Jonte Oldestam from Sweden has just completed an extensive tour of Asia and Australia, when I asked about his various road trip adventures he concluded “I think they can be quite personal. A perfect way to really test your boundaries and maybe to realise that you dont actually have any”.

In the right regions, you’ll cross paths with strangers and leave trails of friends. There’s no right or wrong way, but an hours pre-trip research can enhance the journey from a fumbled, spluttering jaunt into an unforgettable march up the motorway.

5 Kit List Essentials for a Road Trip

  • iPod & FM Transmitter: Conversation needs fuel as much as your rusty ride. Think 'Michael Jackson's Greatest Hits #128', think podcasts, think audiobooks.
  • Local Simcard: “Hello! Can you hear me? I'm in the middle of nowhere and my camels just run away” Signal saves lives. Do the right thing and go local.
  • Inverter: Electricity means power.
  • Spares: Even if you don't know your inner tube from your intestines, or your locking nut from your coconut, stock up and practice the art of looking helpless.
  • Sunglasses: Come rain or shine, sunglasses make you cool. When the antsy cop pulls you over and insists you bend over the bonnet, or the mother-of-two, whose SUV you just rammed turns and glares at you, you can perform some funky eye-dancing behind the lens, and they won't have a clue.

Photo courtesty of modenadude/Flickr

Hunker Down

At some point you have to pull up and put your head down. Unless you’re in a campervan you’ll have to consider your accommodation options:

  • Slinging up a tent and boiling up some pasta is more satisfying than it sounds. You stay in tune with your journey. Better still, go Aussie and roll out your swag.
  • Stoke up your Couchsurfing account and be welcomed by a strangers’ open arms.
  • Bed down with your budget. You won’t come across many hostels between the Western cities, but the hotels won’t give a sheet about swiping your plastic.
  • Mix & match. For all you wild-childs, mix it all up. No, don’t pitch a tent with your Couchsurfing host in the hotel. Just, swap and change.

The beauty of the road trip is in fact none of the above, it’s ‘the unknown’, and wherever your road trip takes you, I urge you to travel safely.

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Ant Stone

Written by the footloose Englishman, Ant; World Nomads very own guest blogger and the solo scribe of the charismatic travel blog Trail of Ants.com. Ant's currently drenching a thirst for travel during his third year of dragging a smudged and odorous backpack around the world.  You can occasionally track Ant down via his Twitter feed.

Tags: ant stone, australia, campervan, carpooling, driving, friends, hitchhiking, road trip, uk, usa

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