“I find long drives to be therapeutic,” he says. “I put on something nice to listen to and just go.”
This summer, expect more road trippers like McDaniels. Interest in long drives is surging, according to Similarweb, a web traffic analytics company. It recorded nearly 2 million searches for keywords related to road trips in the first quarter of 2021 compared to a year ago, a 61 percent increase.
“The road trip seems as though it will be a staple of American travel this summer,” says Alisha Kapur, Similarweb’s lead travel industry consultant.
So how do you pull off a long road trip this summer? It turns out there are ways to approach lengthy stretches behind the wheel that won’t leave you feeling drained. There are also a few clever strategies for coping with the inevitable fatigue of an extended drive.
McDaniels’s secret to enjoying a long ride is to break it into smaller segments. He makes frequent stops to take photos and buy food. Good entertainment is also essential. He splurged on a Sirius XM radio subscription and keeps it on a station called Chill, which pipes downtempo ambient tunes into his car.
Road trips can be tedious, no two ways about it. Bring a friend or two. That’s what Katie Rowley is doing this summer. On a trip from California to Alabama, she is bringing her boyfriend, Sax, and her pandemic puppy, Asher, a chihuahua-German shepherd mix.
“We’re hitting White Sands and Big Bend, and also cities like Austin and Nashville, along the way,” says Rowley, an artist representative from Los Angeles. “I’m looking forward to this trip despite the long drives.”
Taking turns driving is essential. My best advice is to divide your trip into two-hour shifts — two on, two off. Rowley is lucky because her canine companion won’t allow her to sit in the car indefinitely. Frequent rest stops are a must (whether you’re traveling with your best friend or not).
Sometimes, you can’t avoid a solo drive. John Niser used to make regular runs between Indiana and New Hampshire — a 900-mile trek — every week. He did the 20-hour drive solo.
“The key to doing this kind of thing is having a very disciplined approach, planning stops, timing the passage of metro areas, refueling, hydration and food very carefully,” explains Niser, director of the school of hospitality, sports and tourism management at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
He says being in excellent physical shape helps, but there’s not much you can do when fatigue starts creeping up on you after 12 hours of driving. Niser doesn’t recommend going that long or resorting to caffeine or energy drinks.
“Research shows the danger zone is the early hours of the day between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.,” he says. “Dawn and dusk are the most dangerous times, from a visibility standpoint.”
Katy Kassian probably deserves a medal for the drive she recently made from Sacramento to Palmetto, Ga., in a PT Cruiser, with her grandma and her lap dogs, Mitzy and Sis. She did almost all of the driving and in just three days. “We even managed to stop for gambling in West Wendover, Nevada, and a little fair in Kansas,” says Kassian, a consultant from Sacramento. “That was a hard drive.”
Her advice for aspiring long-distance drivers: Bring lots of food. She packs a generous supply of green grapes, granola bars and water. “Depending on where you are, you may be a ways between cafes!” she says.
How else do you survive a long drive? As someone who is currently on a six-month road trip across the United States — yes, you read correctly, six months — I have a few more things to add.
There’s something to be said for peace of mind. Roadside assistance is a must. You can get it through your auto manufacturer, car rental company (if you can find a rental) or a membership organization such as AAA. Bear in mind that during peak demand periods this summer, you might have to wait a while for help. Although travel insurance won’t cover every aspect of a road trip, it can be useful. For example, my annual Allianz Travel policy offers a 24/7 helpline. So if one of my kids has a medical emergency, they will help me find the nearest doctor.
One last piece of advice from Niser: Stop frequently and “exercise at least five minutes on these stops.”
Okay, I admit it — I’m the guy doing yoga stretches at the rest stop. Meanwhile, my kids are in the car, doing eye rolls. But they don’t have to drive.
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