Belting out 90’s classics, posing with the world’s largest meteor crater, fist bumping as you roll up on fumes at a gas station. The camaraderie of road trips is hallowed ground, a setting where shared experiences become legend. Keep things running smoothly with these pro tips from a seasoned digital nomad.

The author's husband paddling in Armistad NRA. | Credit: Carla Francis
The author’s husband paddling in Amistad NRA. | Credit: Carla Francis

1. Maintain the Relationship

The secret sauce to road trips is a mixture of teamwork and compromise. Be a team player by divvying up tasks like navigating and driving, and by supporting the driver when you’re riding shotgun. Feed them, water them, DJ for them, and stay awake. Compromise is a bit harder, but the give and take is what transitions you from comfort zone to adventure mode. I never imagined that my first trip to Mexico would be by kayak, but my husband convinced me to swing by Amistad National Recreation Area“on the way” to Big Bend National Park. It was just the two of us and a row of buoys marking the border. And lastly, most of us aren’t used to spending so much time with someone, so restore the balance by striking out on your own when you need some alone time.

2. Organize Your Home On Wheels

Repeat after me: a place for everything, everything in its place. Pack the car as a team, so everyone knows where to find the passports, raincoats, and snacks. Think about what you’ll need to access from the cockpit (food, water, cell phone charger, etc.) and pack those items within reach of the passenger. An organized car takes more work up front, but cuts down on overall chaos. Scroll through The Best Gear for Living Out of Your Carfor advice on what to pack.

3. Entertain Yourself

There’s nothing more annoying on a road trip than when your “Shake it Off” singalong gets cut short by a lost cell signal. Keep yourself entertained and save data by downloading content when you have Wifi. We use Spotify Premium, our local library’s audiobook catalogue, and when we learned that the first download was free, Audible. Otherwise, remember those games you used to play in the car with your family? Ones like the license plate game, cows and graveyards, and the alphabet game? Dust those off and let the games begin. Bonus points if you see a Hawaii plate.

Credit: Carla Francis
Credit: Carla Francis

4. Talk to Strangers

I know, it’s the antithesis of “new number who dis” culture, but the isolation of your car makes human interaction a luxury. Leaving behind your social network, from Instagram feeds to real life friends, requires putting in more effort to interact with people. Seize the opportunity to meet a real Vermonster, Southern Belle, or Midwest Flatlander. They might give you a recommendation for the best maple creemee in town, or if you promise not to tell, their favorite swimming hole. To get started, I recommend browsing alt-weekly publications like Seven Days(VT) and DigBoston(MA) where you’ll find local gathering spots and events.

5. Stay Connected, If You Want

Living out of your car doesn’t require being off the grid 24/7, unless of course that’s where you want to be. Camping apps (Campendium, iOverlander, etc.) often describe cell phone coverage, but unearthing that information can require a deep dive into user comments. Otherwise, libraries and coffee shops are the easiest, cheapest places to plug in and connect. These days, some libraries even sell coffee (shout-out to Waterbury, VT and Sierra Vista, AZ), blending the best of both worlds. My last tip is to bump up your cell plan to unlimited, which on my carrier (Verizon) also gives full coverage across Canada and Mexico.

6. Embrace Instability

Need tinder for your campfire? Start with the pages of your planner. Even the best laid plans are impossible to follow when you’re road tripping. Flexibility allows you to carpe diem, like the time my husband and I day-tripped to White Sands National Monument then decided to backpack into the dunes for sunset, other camping plans be damned. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ll ever see. Embrace instability by boondocking (free, primitive camping) or by booking lodging as you go. Worried about availability? Here’s a pro tip: shoulder season travel.

Getting a tow. | Credit: Carla Francis
Getting a tow. | Credit: Carla Francis

7. Subscribe to Roadside Assistance

Subscribing to a roadside assistance program is worth its weight in ultralight titanium. We’ve used ours twice this year alone, once for a stubborn flat in Guadalupe Mountains National Park and again in the Mad River Valley when mud season trapped us in a roadside ditch. Boredom as we waited for service trucks replaced what could have been anxiety and fear, all thanks to AAA’s quick responses. The annual membership cost has payed itself off and then some this year.