13 Tips on Planning Your Solo Road Trip

Tammie Dooley from Solo Road Trip

This is the second post by Tammie on the topic of solo road trips. Read her first here: Why You Should Go On A Solo Road Trip.

Driving in Yazd, Iran

Driving in Yazd, Iran. Photo by kavanadb.

So you’re at least considering a solo road trip? Good! First, realize it’s not brain surgery. The logistics are simple, subjective, and subject to change – a beautiful thing. And keep in mind, SOLO road trips and road trips have little in common in the way of either experience or preparation.

Now that we’ve covered the touchy-feely side of solo travel, let’s talk about the practicalities, most of which revolve around safety. Until 2007 my solo road trips were taken in a 1994 Mazda MX-6. No 4-wheel drive, no GPS, no OnStar, no AAA membership, and just enough clearance to not be a turtle killer. And I had a fantastic time, no matter what happened, and a lot happened.

1. The single most important component: your mindset. Make sure you’re ready to consider everything that happens part of the adventure.

2. If you can afford it, purchase a AAA membership.

3. Inform close friends and family you’re leaving and what general direction you’re headed. Yea you’ll have to hear all the crap about it, and listen to your Mom tell you not to sleep in your car, but do it anyway.

4. Designate one person as your daily contact (and tell the others who that person is). Make that call once a day, without neglect.

5. Purchase a recent Atlas.

6. Pack a warm blanket in the car, heavy duty gloves, a rain jacket, jumper cables, ice scrapper, a pair of boots, and all the tools required to change a flat. Make sure you’ve got a good spare.

7. Have the oil changed, tires and basic fluid levels checked.

8. Place a first aid kit in the vehicle.

9. Never allow your fuel to go below ½ tank.

10. Know the territory you’ll be in. If hiking, know the rules, the dangers (are there bears in the area, snakes, etc.) and be prepared for those. If you don’t know, don’t go. Actually, unless you’re familiar with survival techniques, I’d caution against going into any backcountry situation alone. With quite a bit of experience under my belt and some near misses (a run-in with a full grown mountain lion comes to mind), I now avoid most wilderness situations unless I’ve someone accompanying me.

11. If you have any alcohol to drink, drink it after you’ve checked into your lodging for the night. Besides not wanting to drink and drive, you’ll also have all your capacities and wit about you during the time you’re out and about.

12. Take both a car charger and a wall charger for your cell phone, and keep it charged.

13. My own rules: No fast food. I pack sandwich fixin’s, snacks and drinks in an ice chest before I leave home. And I limit major highway travel. I’ve seen few things of note at 75 mph. But if you’re contemplating your first SRT and you’d feel better staying on major freeways, then do it! You’ll get all the benefits of solo travel and you’ll feel safe (VERY important).

Get out there!

About the author:

Tammie Dooley’s preferred mode of travel is on foot or by 4WD. All done solo, of course. Her blog, Solo Road Trip, is an attractively designed invitation to follow along on her journeys.

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Discussion »

  • #1Beth Whitman

    Thanks for all the great tips but what about Goldfish crackers? I never travel by car without Goldfish :-)

  • #2Lyns

    Or a box of cereal! Best car snack food ever and if you’re taking a solo trip, no one can get annoyed by your munching!

  • #3fm

    i am with you about fast food – it is best to avoid it

  • #4Rich Whitaker

    I think #1 is very important…and you can’t forget the pretzel goldfish.

  • #5Caroline A.

    Hi Tammie,

    I like the picture of the car on the road. I can almost hear the radio. Thanks for sharing the tips!

  • #6Marius

    Tammie,
    You’ve mentioned every necesary thing but..how about a friend, or at least a dog?!! :)

  • #7Tammie

    mmmmmm….. goldfish crackers! I knew I left something out. I love the multi colored ones.

    Thank you for all your comments.

  • #8Joie

    Very inspiring! Will try to make a solo road trip down to Texas sometime this spring! I’m curious, do you listen to music? Books on tape? Or just the lovely sound of your car on the open road…

  • #9Clay Mama

    Safety factors are soooo important. Good tips. Don’t forget the corn nuts! Only time I can eat them is when I’m alone. Too much noise!!! I feel like you have something else to say…kinda like I hear an and… Don’t leave us hanging! Give us more. How do you select the motel you stay in or the route you take?…the road less traveled? ….don’t want to even think about staying in the car. I’m 65 and you have me so charged up about taking a solo road trip. I have Santa Fe on my mind in a month or so. You are as refreshing as lime juice!!

  • #10Lisa

    Great points!! By George, I think you covered it all…Now, just tell me what direction to point my compass and where are the Best Places to go?

  • #11JJ

    Great stuff!!
    to those of you who inquired about pets, friends, or suggestions on places you ‘should’ see. A pet, depending on its level of maintenance could detract from the notion of solitude…man’s best friend is still a friend. Another person would totally destroy the whole concept of a ‘solo’ road trip. And to Lisa, being told where to go is SRT sacrilege. ‘Best’ is a subjective term…Go wherever the hell you want to…this is about you.

  • #12Tammie

    Wow!! sounds like the subject of SRTs has the power to inspire, intrigue, and induce comment exchange. SRTs are a curious thing, and you really have to experience a true SRT (with nothing breathing in the vehicle except you) to see the difference between being totally alone with your thoughts and the spontaneity that results from that, and having even a pet on board. There’s a definite difference. As JJ said though, it’s all about you, so do what you want! I also agree it’s not about where to go. What’s amazing is what you find along the way to anywhere.

  • #13Tammie

    To Clay Mama, I’ve never been compared to lime juice. But I kinda like that!

    To Joie, I do listen to music and sometimes a good book on tape. However, I’ve noticed I’ll have them on regularly at the beginning of the trip, but as the trip proceeds, often I have no desire to hear anything but the cogs in my head.

  • #14Tourism Radio

    All fantastic tips!
    A lot of people might think they sound like common sense but when you’re excited about a trip there are some things that can easily slip your mind.

  • #15JB

    I think everyone needs to take 1 SRT per year at a minimum. But this depends on a person’s set of family responsibilities. If you’re married and have young children or a single parent, you face additional challenges. You may have to start with a day long journey somewhere, anywhere. To the guys out there who need to take a SRT, offer to support your wife to take the first SRT and help her (if she wants) get ready for travel following Tammie’s tips above. But before she goes, make sure you’ve selected a date/time for your own SRT, and soon after her SRT. Seal the deal by taking her to dinner and proposing this idea. I’m in the process of trying this since I’ve been inspired by Tammie! Good luck to all of us who remain SRT wannabees.

  • #16JB

    Hey Marius, don’t take the dog on a SRT. Take JJ’s advice on that one. I once did that driving from Oklahoma to Washington D.C. with a Siberian Huskie. Thought it might be cool. After he ate the first bag of treats (chicken and shrimp flavor), the war was on. And about Tennessee, the electronic motor that controls the window on my side died. LOL. Seriously, we have to leave people and pets behind so we can hear those cogs in our head. For me, that’s when I get things straight, set priorities about my life and think about what’s most important. One of the questions I’ve asked myself to get my cogs going is: If I died tomorrow, do I have any regrets? That tends to help me focus. Good luck.

  • #17JH Snowfish

    Hey Girl: I think sometimes in life we have to travel our own solo road trip internally as well as the wonderful adventures that you post. I know without actually travelling, I feel that I have been on a solo road trip sans the serenity of the road. Sometimes life takes us on those journeys as you well know. Self discovery is the ticket, but a world awaits us ahead–maybe just over the horizon?

  • #18Tammie

    JH Snowfish, your point is exactly why I began the solo road trip website. While it’s taken off in a literal direction, the initial vision was something less literal. Eventually, I hope to take it more in the direction with which you identify. We do each walk a solo journey, regardless the number of people we manage to connect ourselves to along the way. Life is a solo road trip. And that fact seems to be most appreciated by those who recognize it, aren’t afraid of it, and embrace it. I’m hopeful the serenity that’s absent in your current solo journey, is indeed just over your horizon.

  • #19Pops

    Goldfish, cereal, dog, no dog… SRT’s are just one of those times when no one but you and fate sets the agenda. BTW, my personal SRT is topped off with Corn Nuts and a carton of milk. (Whole milk, if my consience will let me). What I like about thes tips are the fact that there as deep and as simple as the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared”. So whether your SRT is in your mind (I often do that), 5 hours, 5 days, or 5 months long, the point is to always be ready to set your “own” compass to discover yourself as you discover new places and things. Well done.

  • #20JH Snowfish

    I believe and have deep faith that the serenity is just over the horizon and my next SRT begins. Hopefully, it’s not the bug on the windshield. Oh Wait-I’ve already been the bug on the windshield. You know me too well.

  • #21Lisa

    Great points for all…and JJ, I recognize that these trips are just as you spoke, SRT’s and just do it! I also encourage that we need to not forget about the good beef jerkey to pack or the great (and remember when) SlimJims? Anyhow, so I get on this SRT and the truck just takes me to where it should point…How the heck do I find my way home??? Tammie, do you suggest a great Atlas for us that can help us find our way home, that is if we want to return, LOL.

  • #22Tammie

    Lisa, I’d purchase an Atlas with the spiral binding. They’re great! Another suggestion is to use a yellow highlighter and mark everywhere you’ve been. It’s fun to look back on. The state of Wyoming is almost solid yellow. Makes me proud!

  • #23Gecko

    Tammie, I agree with you in fast food. It’s better to avoid them. Also we can carry a box of cereal while traveling alone. It’s a nice pass time having them and we really don’t have to bother about the annoying noise. We can enjoy munching!

  • #24alyse

    Tammie, I admire you! I want and need a SRT so badly right now. I’m a 21 year old girl though and everyone I know thinks I’m insane and that it’s too dangerous for me. I’ve always been good taking care of myself, but everyone’s doubts are starting to get to me. I don’t know where I want to go, I just want to drive. I’ve had small trips before on my own but nothing like what I’m thinking now. How young were you when you had your first SRT, did people say the same things? How do I go about this and stay safe?

  • #25Tammie Dooley

    Alyse, I was about your age. And yes, I’ve heard the same comments. And you know what? Getting older hasn’t changed the rhetoric. So don’t wait for that to help you out. I don’t do a lot of planning as to “where” before I begin a road trip – other than a general direction and an up to date Atlas in hand. But here’s what I believe to be the most important things you can do – make sure your vehicle is in tip top shape, keep your cell phone charged at all times (that means both a car and outlet charger), check in with someone at least once per day and let them know your whereabouts, and seek lodging well before dark. My favorite time to SRT is the fall, which means dark comes pretty early. Even if that means getting a room at 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon, that doesn’t mean you can’t walk around town/explore a bit after that. For the first time out you may want to do a bit more planning. GO. GO. GO. The things you’ll learn about yourself and the world will rock YOUR world.

  • #26Pat

    Leaving on the 6th of July for my first everl solo trip. I’m 56 years old and could not be more excited. Like the spiral map book idea. Everything else on your recommended list is checked off my list. I would add taking a flashlight, duct tape and extra batteries. Wyoming, Montana, Idaho here I come.

  • #27Puri

    a recent Atlas??? thank God, GPS is my guardian angel!!!! maps and girls don´t match!!!!
    LOL

  • #28Kelli

    ave ALWAYS wanted to travel. Well now at the point that its time. I’m 29 and single. I have no set amout of time but plan on being gone for a while a year or more. I’m a nurse so i know i could get a temp job wherever i go. I’m wondering how much $$ i would really need to start off. Do you have a way that you calculate how much to start your trips. ALYSE: Don’t wait I’ve waited and regret all the time I’ve wasted.

  • #29Jane

    Some great general tips which should be obvious but often we forget when building up to a road trip. I have travelled solo many times, and although I usually feel completely safe in the countries i travel to, common sense dictates there are some rules that must always be followed. Thanks for the info. Great post.

  • #30Summer travels

    Great tips, they give me some ideas what to do on my next trip, because usually I miss most things and especially to tell anyone where I was going. And the awkward moment when I get home happy, and my mother is in the mood to strangle me for that I’m not warned her that I leave. But anyway thanks for the tips, they can really help me. Sometimes save my life, probably :D

  • #31B. Jean

    Thanks for the great tips Tammie. I hadn’t thought about getting a car phone charger.

    Here’s another tip for those who are traveling solo…. including men. Unless you are carrying a gun, you should have some form of protection, just in case. Carry a can of Hornet and Wasp Spray – available at any hardware store, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target, Kmart, Walmart.

    It’s better protection than pepper spray as it will shoot up to 25 feet and once it gets in the perpetrator’s eyes, they can’t get it out until they go to an emergency room where they can help him/her. It will give you time to get away.

    Keep it in the console of your car between the seats and carry it with you wherever you go, especially if you’re camping in a tent or staying in a motel – or find yourself in the bad part of town somewhere.

    The problem with Hornet and Wasp Spray is the size of the can when you want to carry it with you somewhere. You’ll need a large purse.

  • #32Christi

    I LOVE traveling solo. I agree with the fact that threre is no agenda. Oftentimes I will find neat things wherever I end up, and if you are traveling with someone less adventurous, there can be rumblings from the peanut gallery. Frustrating!!

    To Alyse (and anyone else worried about their first solo trip), you can take baby steps if you’re not comfortable hitting the open road alone (or your mom will have a panic attack about it..been there!) A nice solution I found when I was (lots) younger was to pick a destination and go the more traditional route, but alone. When I was 18, I hopped on a Greyhound bus to Seattle and had the time of my life. I stayed in the coolest hostel (do your research, some hostels are full of creepers) and made friends from around the world that I am still in contact with, ten years later. By having a destination, you up your safety factor. In my opinion, it’s good for your first time. This is also a great solution for those who have an, ahem, less than reliable car/truck/vw van, whatever. Then, when you do get your more reliable vehicle (or feel more comfortable), you can head out without a destination. Or with a destination, either way.

    Whatever you decide, get out and do it!!

  • #33cassie

    I was not allowed to travel alone. Yes, I can but I have this sickness, that I might collapse any time. :( But I love to travel. :)

  • #34Frances

    Thank you for the tips. I am taking a road trip from Wisconsint to Oregon with my sister and then driving back alone. I am really looking forward to the time alone. Great advice, I will definitely use some of these tips. I didnt think of heavy gloves and I already have AAA.

  • #35Canadas Boomergirl

    Like your list and like you, we always pack water to drink and we never let the gas tank get low especially on off-the-beaten track road trips where corner stores and gas stations are few. A region’s latest road map is a reliable tool. So’s the sun for direction. GPS often doesn’t cut it in rural locations.

  • #36Jim

    CHECK THE WEATHER BEFORE HITTING THE ROAD.

    I started the trip in the morning with great weather, but ended up driving into an ice storm. I had to sleep in my the first night. All the motels where full. Luckily, I was near an all night gas station and had blankets.

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