1) Always, always bring water and/or other non-sugary drinks with you rather than rely on stopping and buying them, at least for the first day or two. Unsweetened ice tea works pretty good for me when I get tired of just plain water. Staying hydrated when you’re sitting for hours is a good thing for many reasons. I have to admit, though, I really enjoy the Coke with lots of ice at the first McDonalds along the way.
2) Never pass up the opportunity to stop at a rest area, because the next one might be 60 miles away. (And after drinking all that water/tea/whatever, you’ll need to stop frequently!) Getting out and stretching avoids muscle cramps and road fatigue and gives your eyes a rest. In some states (like Iowa), we’ve found rest areas are not far apart. In others (South Dakota, I’m talking about you), not so true.
3) Don’t bypass the scenic lookouts you see along the way. Who knows if you’ll pass this way again? You will learn a lot about a particular area if you just stop and have a look at Points of Interest.
4) Have a planned route in mind, but be willing to vary from it if you have the time. A side jaunt we made while driving through Nebraska (another long state that can rather bend your mind) was to go north to see the Scottsbluff area and Chimney Rock. It only set us back a few hours and turned out to be someplace very scenic that we’d never visited before. Plus, they had lots of books at the visitor center.
5) Visitor centers are a rich source for information, sites of interest, and did I mention books? The folks who staff them are usually friendly and willing to talk about their area and answer any questions you may have. They’ll tell you the best places to eat, where to get pizza, and when places open and close.
6) Maps, tour books, pamphlets and brochures will proliferate overnight, on their own, and without your permission. They will soon take over your vehicle. I’ve tried to limit myself on what I pick up, but they often just jump into my hand and insist they go with me. Using my phone has helped reduce some of the paper, but there truly is nothing like looking at a real honest-to-goodness map. I’ve learned how to fold them so I only see what I need to for a few hours. By the end of the trip, they’re often well-worn and have served their purpose.
7) Sometimes you just need to get off the Interstate if you want to see America. In doing so, you may give up the nicer motels and chain restaurants, but you’ll see how other people really live, good or not.
8) Keep a log or journal of what you saw, where you stayed, what you did. Even if it’s just a few lines jotted down at the end of the day, it’s fun to look back later and remember the trip with more than photos.
9) Speaking of photos; take lots. Take more than one of the same thing. You can always go back and delete. Post some on social media as you travel. It’s another way of keeping track of where you’ve been.
10) Last, but not least in any way, make sure the companion/spouse/friend/kids/pets you are traveling with are people you can spend hours with, in close spaces, for days at a time, without wanting to strangle them. Okay, I confess, the strangling part does enter your mind about day three. I’ve traveled with all of the above, and it’s hard to remain in a good mood all of the time when you just want to get the heck someplace where you don’t have to leave for a couple of days. Traveling with kids and pets deserves its own list of tips, and since our kids are grown and we’ve opted to leave the pets at home, we didn’t have to worry about that. But I do have a long memory for how we coped with them.
For myself, the destination has been very worth the journey, but to stay sane you want to make the journey as pleasant as possible, too. Meltdowns will occur, and the best way to overcome is to remember that we all get tired and frustrated (especially when you realize you’ve driven 50 miles in the wrong direction), but some of the worst times become the ones we laugh about even years later. The last place we stayed on the trip home, the motel clerk said, laughingly, that he couldn’t count the number of couples who check in, saying, “Just give us two beds. Doesn't matter what size. I’m not sleeping with him/her tonight.”