Notes on surviving a holiday road trip

I recently returned from a cross-country road trip with one of my best friends from college. We drove from Connecticut to Colorado, so that she could start afresh among the mountains, and it was just me, my friend, and Tina Fey on the wide-open road for five days (more on Tina later).

Road trips are interesting. The last time I was in a car for an extended period of time was in the fourth grade, when my parents, sister, two cousins, aunt and uncle, grandparents, and Chihuahua drove down to Florida in a big, white van. My sister had an ear infection, my cousins kept stealing our American Girl dolls and making them wrestle, and surprisingly, Griffy (the Chihuahua) was no trouble at all. Starting our trip to Colorado, I’d forgotten about the leg cramps, fights with the radio, and creeping feeling that the car was getting smaller and smaller.

Road trips are especially interesting during the holiday season, when everyone and their grandmothers (literally) are speeding through the states, trying to avoid black ice and hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” one more time. If you’re going to be stuck in a seat for more than twelve hours this season, too, here are some tips to make it more bearable:

Take turns

My friend and I each drove 2-3 hour driving shifts. This worked for us. As one person drove, the other would Google places to stop, pick the next playlist, and, well, nap. Don’t feel bad about napping (in the passenger seat, not the driver’s). You might be able to go 4-6 or, heck, 16 hours—just make sure it is equal and you aren’t over-extending yourselves.

Snacks on snacks on snacks

When trapped in a car, your stomach expands at the sight of every sign for McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell. You might have just had a hearty breakfast at the hotel or a doughnut from the sketchy rest stop, but it won’t matter. Your stomach will let out a monstrous roar for more. I’ll be the first to admit that we caved—and I enjoyed every single one of those chicken nuggets, darn it—but if you’re trying to stay on some sort of schedule, bring bags of food to eat between destination stops. We munched on Cape Cod Potato Chips, GF pretzels, veggie sticks (the Styrofoam-y chip, not the actual vegetable), granola bars, clementines, grapes, and butterscotch candies during the drive so that we could pig out on barbecue in Kansas City, MO. (I’m still full.)

“If I hear that song one more time, I’m going to. . .”

Burst. Scream. Explode. Turn into an elf and fly away on a snowflake (never heard that expression before?). Don’t depend on the radio. It will promise you a variety of songs and a limited number of commercials, but they are lying. I love listening to the radio on my way to the gym or going to visit someone, but not for eight hours on end. You can’t depend on Spotify or Pandora, either. During my driving shift through Kansas, I was bopping away to She & Him on iTunes Radio, when all of the sudden the signal was lost and HEY I WANTED YOU TO STAY AWHILE. Ahem. So maybe bring some CDs. Here’s a few that we brought:

  • Bossypants audio book by Tina Fey (It felt like she was in the car with us, swapping stories like old pals. Thank you, Tina, for keeping us sane through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.)
  • 1989 by Taylor Swift
  • BEYONCÉ by Beyoncé
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack by Various Artists
  • (500) Days of Summer soundtrack by Various Artists
  • Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash
  • Dr. Suess’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas soundtrack by Various Artists
  • Some burned playlists, for the sake of 90s nostalgia (I still love you, Smashmouth.)

And stretch (1,2,3)

Pit stops are important. As much as you love your friend, brother, uncle, or Chihuahua, you’ll need some time apart, out of the car. So we stopped in West Virginia for a quick lunch, spent two nights in Bloomington, IN (GO HOOSIERS), said hello to President Lincoln in Valdalia, IL, rode to the top of the Gateway Arch in Missouri, and checked out President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Library and Museum in Abilene, KS. My favorite parts of the trip were walking around towns that were so different from my hometown, and meeting people who were glad we stopped by. Also, there’s no shame in doing a Warrior II pose as you wait for your gas tank to film up—it might look weird, but it will feel good.

Oh, the weather outside is weather (aka plan ahead)

This was my first big road trip without any parents around. So it was on us to get gas, check the tires, watch the roads, keep an extra map, and look at the weather report before heading out. When it started raining buckets in Indiana, we had to slow down, and when there was endless construction in Colorado, we had to pay attention to traffic. There’s a lot that could happen on road trips, but as long as you are organized, proactive, and safe, the thirty or so hours of driving should go by smoothly. Happy Holidays, and drive safely! Try to not let Grandma get run over by a reindeer.

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