Here you are, about to take a very long car trip all by your lonesome. Some people choose to do this, unlike me. For them, it’s a vacation, to see what the country has to offer. For me, it’s a bridge I have to cross. Because sometimes life requires you to move halfway across the country and squeeze all your belongings into every last inch of space in the Subaru—including the passenger seat.
Whatever the reason for your road trip, your first choice was probably not to go it alone. But, here you are. None of your friends were able to take enough time off to join you on the journey (that, or your sob story just repelled them) or you just don’t have the space for a pal. Bummer.
If you find yourself in this driver’s seat—whether for fun or not—you’re bound to get lonely. At some point you’ll want to turn to the person in the passenger seat and wake them up to show them the insane sunset or demand they navigate. Alas, the only thing in your passenger seat is a bag of Cheetos or laundry. Lucky for you, I’ve done this drive before and can provide the ultimate guide to not completely losing your cookies on the (very) long road ahead.
And hey—I get it. Some people dig 1,300-mile car trips alone. Some people find that to be a Zen thing. I (and anyone else who clicked on this) am just not one of them.
1. Grab a Real Map, Because You’re an Adult
Yep, we’re in the digital age, but however convenient they may be, Google maps don’t load everywhere. Before you begin your trip, pick up a real paper map at a gas station and (roughly) plan your path. Because you definitely don’t want to get lost in the boonies alone.
2. Buy a Jump Starter
Driving an older car? Just want to be on the safe side? While you should absolutely hit NAPA and get your car battery tested if you have any doubts, getting a jump starter can help you in a number of ways. The battery pack/jumper cable combo costs about $100, and it means you don’t need to involve a stranger (assuming there’s even anyone around to help at all) or spend hours waiting for AAA to get your battery up and running. Remember: you don’t have a witness or friend to kill time with.
3. Pack Easy-to-Grab Snacks
Let’s get real. After all this packing, you’re a-snacking. Plan ahead and get a small, freezable lunchbox to stow easy-to-grab treats and easy-to-open water bottles (like the ones with straws) in. No one’s around to open your soda or snack, and you don’t want to get in an accident because you were trying to open a bag of M&Ms.
4. Touch Base with Geographically Well-Placed Friends
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a chance to see and stay with some pals along the way. I’d recommend this not only because traveling alone and staying in hotels can be a little creepy (and expensive) and seeing your friends is much more fun/helps with morale, but because more likely than not, your car full of great stuff is a sitting duck in a hotel parking lot. If you do need to stay in a hotel, take care to cover your belongings so they aren’t an obvious target, park in a well-lit area close to the building and bring things inside that you can’t live without.
5. Make Achievable Daily Travel Goals
Do not drive exhausted. I repeat, do not drive exhausted! With no one around to take the wheel, nudge you awake or keep you entertained, this is crucial. In the interest of not becoming road pizza or endangering anyone else, set your destination and a limit on how many miles you’d like to conquer/hours you’d like to drive that day. Don’t push it, and be sure to get some quality rest when you reach your end-point.
6. Bring an Extra Car Charger
Most of us use our phones for hands-free chatting, navigation or entertainment on longer trips, but what happens when a beloved cable croaks when you need it most? Laws of nature say it will, so pop an extra one in your glove box before starting your journey.
7. Download New Music and Podcasts
When the hours of driving seem endless, even your favorite albums can fall out of favor (at least for the moment). Invest in some new tunes and podcasts to keep your mind active even while navigating the world’s most uninspiring landscapes alone.
Allie Early is a New York-, Connecticut- and Mississippi-based writer, editor and traveler with impressive suitcase-packing skills.