As a not so big fan of flying, I would opt to travel anywhere by car, bus or train, any day. Road trips however, seem to have a tendency to go either way. They can be the highlight of your holiday, or they can go disastrously wrong.
Here are some handy hints for a successful road trip, from someone who knows. I am an Aussie, after all. ‘Tis in my blood.
Pick your travel companions wisely
You are going to be cooped up in a car for possibly days on end. It would definitely be in your best interest to cruise around town or country with people whose company you know you will be able to tolerate for quite some time.
This excludes family, as they fall into their own special category. You have absolutely no choice in the matter, yet you don’t care anyway. As I often say to my brothers after having spent an extended period of time in their company:
“It’s weird. I have this strange desire to hug and nipple cripple you, simultaneously. You know what? I’m just going to follow through.”
And if you’ve timed your trip during the warmer months, don’t forget to pack these summer road trip essentials.
Do your research when it comes to car hire
I was so excited about my visit to Iceland last year, that I researched everything well in advance. As a result, I was able to find a car company that not only quoted us a decent price, but offered 15% off the total if booked online.
When I drove around Ireland a couple of weeks later, I was incredibly lazy and just went with a better known car hire company. They consequently charged us an arm and a leg. I wish I had taken the time to have had a thorough search on the interwebz, as I feel I could have scored us a ride for a much fairer price.
From my experience, I would tend to stay away from the well-established brands. It seems the lesser known ones, those that are eager to get a foot in the door, are more likely to cut you a good deal.
Here are some rental car safety tips worth considering before you make any decisions.
Draw up a rough itinerary
The beauty of the decision to navigate a country by car, is that you have the option to just get lost. Take it as it comes. Follow the road, wherever it may take you!
On the other hand, a car is not the most comfortable place to sleep. I am speaking from many night’s worth of experience.
You do not have to plan your itinerary to the nth degree, but it doesn’t hurt to have at least a basic idea of where you wish to spend the night, or even book accommodation well in advance. Likewise, if you research the country you are driving through prior to your trip, you are less likely to miss out on all the cool things there are to do and see there.
Have some form of navigation
GPS is obviously a good resource to have on one’s side. Yet, in the case of the absence of 3G, may I offer an alternative solution?
Maps! Yes Generation Y, you finally have an opportunity to learn how to use a map!
We spend our lives being told what to do and where to go. THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO SIT IN THE LITERAL AND METAPHORICAL DRIVER’S SEAT OF YOUR LIFE.
Plus, you’ll have such a great sense of achievement when you reach your destination, aided only by a handful of road signs and a piece of paper.
Be wary when driving on the “wrong” side of the road
Our ride in Iceland – “Trusty Steve”, was a formidable beast. For me at least, as although Steve was a manual and I have driven stick my entire life, I was used to driving on the left hand side of the road.
Driving on the side of the road that you are not accustomed to, can be utterly terrifying. I found this out the hard way when I panicked as I changed gears and ended up popping out the clutch. It was a little mistake that cost us $50 to repair. Thank goodness it happened near a town and not in the middle of nowhere.
Take it easy and take it slowly. It’s not a race. As long as you concentrate and don’t get too cocky, you will be okay!
Make sure you have something to entertain you along the way
We must have stopped at every single petrol station in the Westfjords, yet we couldn’t find one that sold a USB cable that we could use to connect our iPods to the car. This didn’t prove too detrimental in the end. We sang without music. We tormented sheep from the side of the road, slowing down and “baaaah-ing” at them until they ran away. We shared stories about past loves and life, discussed our hopes and dreams. In short, we made our own fun.
That being said, thanks to endless trips back and forth from Newcastle to Sydney in Australia, I now know all the words to Barenaked Ladies “One Week”. This has proved handy on multiple occasions involving karaoke.
If possible, share out the driving equally
I learned my lesson from our road trip around the Emerald Isle last year. Being over twenty-five and keeping with Irish road rules, I was the only one in our merry band of three who could legally drive the car. After two weeks of navigating Ireland’s tiny twisting roads and getting stuck behind multiple tractors, I was shattered and snappy.
Driving is an exhausting endeavour and if the chore is shared out equally, it makes for a better chance of everyone enjoying the journey.
If you see a petrol station, take advantage of it!
This isn’t such an issue in smaller countries (with the exception of Iceland). In massive countries like my own, it is always wise to stop and fill up when you have the chance.
This is also an opportune moment to witness residents of that particular country in their natural habitats. On a long drive from Atlanta to Memphis, we stopped for “gas” and snacks at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi. Due to the remote location, it boasted a cafe, an endless assortment of sweet treats and showers for the truckies who chose to make a pit stop there.
I was standing with my best bud’s housemate, an Irishman, engaged in a serious discussion. I had happened upon a packet of Pretzel M&Ms, the existence of which I had previously been unaware of. We were considering whether it would be best to purchase and sample the M&Ms, or leave them behind, just in case they ruined pretzels for us both, forever. Always a risk, when American chocolate is involved.
The Ameristralian came to join us.
“Turn around,” he hissed out the side of his mouth. We obliged.
Everyone in the cafe was staring at us, their jaws essentially hanging loose. Possibly because this was the first time they had heard what probably sounded like a deep-voiced leprechaun and a female version of Crocodile Dundee having a conversation in rural Mississippi.
It was our turn to gape when we were served at the counter.
“I didn’t think people actually talked like that. I thought it was a made up, exaggerated typecast,” I said to the Irishman, on our way back to the car.
For the record, Pretzel M&Ms are not a thing that should exist.