“The concept of time, as it’s commonly understood by normal people with normal jobs and normal goddamn lives, doesn’t exist on the road. The nights spread out like the dark, godforsaken highways that distinguish them, and the days run together like Thanksgiving dinner smothered in gravy. You never really know where you are or what time it is, and the outside world starts to fade away.
― Tiffanie DeBartolo, How to Kill a Rock Star
Whenever I think ‘road trips’ my mind never fails to take me back to the days our family lived in UAE. Almost every vacation, short holiday, or long weekend, we’d pack up our stuff, pile into our Nissan Sunny (alright, there wasn’t much piling going on, since we’re only four of us), and set off. On an adventure. Usually with a couple of cars tagging along with us, and most times with a few more joining us along the way.
Most people come to UAE to see the ‘sights’ in Dubai, but what a lot of them dont know is that for the real jewels of the country, you have to travel deep into the territory, where there are untouched little spots that are known to few, and hence allowed to maintain their exclusivity and pristine state.
I think in more than the decade that we lived in that country, we managed to have some truly wonderful times, exploring the dunes, and crumbling forts – sentinels of bygone times, sparkling oases where we could splash around, with unexpected water tunnels burrowing deep into the ground beneath a mountain, coming across sudden green paradises with lush hills and hot springs surrounded by a sea of barren land, deep azure lagoons swimming with friendly dolphins, and a wealth of history and hospitality in almost every place. Every trip was worth documenting, and we did, taking dozens of photos with our Olympus camera and promptly getting them developed at the studio as soon as we returned (this was before the days of the digital camera). In fact, it was on a desert safari that I took my very first photo, of a stick stuck in the sand (hey, it was interesting for a 11 year old), and soon after got really into photography.
Ah… it is nice reminiscing about the good ol’ days…
But if that was all I did, there wouldn’t be anything for you to take away from here, except for a bunch of another person’s memories. So I thought… I’ll put together a sort of checklist cum tips list cum things to do cum do’s and dont’s post on what would make the Perfect Road Trip, incorporating my own experiences into it. What say?
So let’s get started!
1. Get The Car Prepped!
Seriously guys, this is super important. Well ahead of your trip (but not too much ahead, because then there’s a chance of something going wrong in the time between the service and the trip), send your car, or bike, or whatever to the shop and get it thoroughly checked. Like, check everything. I dont know all the mechanical/vehicle jargon, but the people at the service center should be able to help you with all that’s necessary. You DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, want to get on the road with a vehicle that’s not checked out; it can bail on you at any time, and then who’s the fool? Also, pack a basic repair/tool kit with you, just in case.
This one time, all of us friends were traveling from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in four cars. Right from the start, one of the cars was having some trouble, but the owner just fiddled around with the hood, and called it good. But nope, just when we entered the highway, it broke down. Thankfully, there was a repair shop nearby where we could fix it up, albeit temporarily. That wasn’t the end of the trouble. It ended up breaking down about four times along the way, and an hour and a half trip ended up talking 8 hours! Not kidding! And I missed some really awesome food because of that! 😦
Moral of the story: ALWAYS check your vehicle before heading out. If you dont, chances are, you might end up hungry 😉
And this goes without saying: Fill up the petrol tank to the max!
2. Plan EVERYTHING
Surf the net for convenient routes, scenic routes, road trails; whatever floats your boat. Map out a very detailed and clear route that you can refer to at anytime. You can make use of Google Maps or also apps like Waze (which, if I’m not mistaken, works in India) that can be downloaded on you mobile and are an incredible help with navigation.
But, DO NOT rely completely and absolutely on gadgets alone. That’s not a good idea. Instead, also have your route mapped out on a regular seeda-saada paper map; they’re always a safe bet!
And especially if your going to obscure places that aren’t very well known, try your best to get all information about the way before you leave. This way, you wont end up having to rely on every other passerby’s navigation skills. Trust me, not a good idea. Once, we wanted to go to this water fall we’d heard of in the Fujairah area, and ended up not finding it at all at the end of the day!
Plan your eat stops as well, but not too perfectly, because spontaneity is one fun part of a road trip!
3. Electronic Buddies
This is really basic, and you’d think it’s a no brainer, but it always surprises me the number of times one of us has forgotten to charge a phone or iPod or e-reader, etc. With the way we all are living nowadays, we’re really dependant upon the gadgets we surround ourselves with. So unless you’re planning to do this the old school way, with no e-stuff (Oh c’mon! Whom are we kidding?! 😉 ), then DONT forget to charge all your devices.
And DONT forget to pack the chargers in the bags once you’ve finished using them. No device battery will survive an entire road trip.
Also, App Up your device(s)! Be it your Kindle or you iPhone, load up with everything from Adobe Reader to Waze to Road Trip Weather (for iOS)/AccuWeather to TripIt. With their help, you can be all the more organised and hassle free!
4. Eat Smart
Yep! You read that right.
Most people prefer eating fast food while on the road (I know I did!), but it’s much healthier in the long run to take some time off to eat well.
Whenever we went on short trips, and lunch time came around, we’d stop by in a park or just some roadside lawn, and have our meal. All the mother’s would have cooked one dish each (my Mum always made her special curd rice. Yum!), and we’d all dig in. It would be like a one dish party 😀
And snacks! You cant expect there to be a convenient stop every time you feel hungry, and neither can you expect your stomach to keep geographical convenience in mind. So dont forget those yummy snacks while packing! Biscuits, wafers, cut veggies and fruits (you can keep them fresh in a cooler), juices are all great choices. And I know no one can resist stocking up chips, but try to have them sparingly and at spaced out intervals. The stuff ain’t no good for you, man! Always keep a flask of tea or coffee (whatever’s your choice of poison) with you so that you can drink some to keep alert.
And speaking of staying alert…
5. Give It A Rest!
I’m talking about your body and mind.
Like I mentioned before, plan your trip well, giving yourself enough time for sleep and recharge. Power naps are VERY important, so it’s always best to travel with someone who can take turns with you driving.
But if you’re traveling alone, or you’re the only one with a driver’s license, then suck it up! That’s the only advice I got. Keep alert with tea or coffee or something, but ALWAYS ALWAYS know your limits and STOP when you know you have to.
For this you’ll have to pay close attention to what your body and mind are telling you, and LISTEN to it. This, you can often lose track of if you’re alone, so keep checking in every few hours to gauge how much longer you have in you, and whether its better to stop or go.
6. Pack It In – But Only If You REALLY Need It
I dont know if this happens with guys as well (it never happened with my Dad), but I know women have the tendency to over pack. We always think of every possible scenario and try to pack stuff for every ‘what if’ situation.
Which can be both a boon and a bane when it comes to road trips. I cant count the number of times my sister, Dad, or I have asked my Mum for some random thing, and voila! out it comes from the cavernous depths of her handbag or some tucked away corner in the luggage.
But mostly, it best to travel light. Dont take more than what is absolutely necessary. You’ll have less of a mess to deal with while traveling, and less work putting back everything when you return.
7. Entertainment Factor
Who wants to travel for God knows how many hours with only you and your head for company? Even conversations with present company becomes so humdrum after a while.
Solution? Enter Entertainment!
Tune in to the local radio station in the area you are in (if they work, that is. Sometimes they dont), and listen in to what’s going on. It’s always fun to learn a bit more about the place you are in.
Before you leave, make a couple of playlists with all your favourite music, road trip flavoured songs, etc. and ask everyone who’s coming on the trip to do so as well, so that you can take turns and there wont be any cribbing about the audio quality.
If you’re a bookish freak (like me), stock up on audio books. I have to deal with anxiety issues if I go for too long without read a book. Like, really. I start thinking about all the books in the world that I haven’t read, like it’s one huge to-be-read pile that just NEVER ENDS because new stuff keeps getting added all the time! So yeah, get audio books! They’re great, and save time as well!
Another bookish tip: Bring books. If you’re a real book freak, I wouldn’t have to tell this, because you wouldn’t leave the house without this one staple item: a book.
Whenever we go on long trips, I always pack a couple of books in my bag (sneak it in, more like, because my Mum thinks it’s a waste of bag space and adds to the weight), so that I can whip it out and escape into it when the scenery (or conversation) is too boring. I carry an extra book also, so that I can choose depending upon my mood.
If you’re traveling with kids, think up of some kid-friendly games and activities for them, because kids, let me tell you, can get antsy real quick, and will drive you crazy.
This one time, we were traveling as a family with two of our friends along with us. My sister is a chatterbox, and Just. Would. Not. Shut. Up. So one of our friends, he told her, ‘Ok, let’s play a game!’
‘A game? Yes, yes! Tell me!’
‘Alright… and Fahima, you join in too, ok? Now, this is how it’s going to go… It’s a competition. Both of you have to keep quiet, not one sound, and I’ll see who can go the longest without talking. Ready? Go.’
So there, I just gave you a back up plan for when the kiddos in the car are way too rambunctious.
8. Timing is Everything
Make a schedule, and stick to it. But give some room for a little leeway.
One great tip for when starting out. Start early. That way you not only cover more ground, but there’s something special about traveling at dawn, you know. Getting up when it’s still dark out, all bleary eyed, and then a bit later, your blood starts pumping with the excitement of the day ahead. It’s great!
Traveling early makes for some really gorgeous scenic views as well. Watching the sun rise over the horizon and turn the sky a fiery red… you dont want to miss it. Trust me.
9. Keep Fit While On The Road
Fatigue can set in very easily while on the road. So take breaks, like I mentioned before.
Also, sitting on your butt in one place for a long time can lead to cramping legs, tired eyes, sore back and other unattractive results. To avoid this, stop every once in a while, and stretch!
Take a walk around the petrol bunk when you stop to refill.
Stop by the side of a field or some equally nice looking place, and take a walk.
Be creative. Take care of your body while on the road.
10. And finally, Take A Chill Pill!
I know I spoke a lot about schedules, and planning, and setting expectations and milestones, but dont let that get you all wound up tight and obsessed about sticking to a schedule while on the road.
Road trips should be about having fun. It’s not like school or office where you have set rules and are expected to stick to them.
This is for you. So make it about yourself, and dont bring it down to crossing off items from a list. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that, because that in itself can give a lot of satisfaction, but the main point here is that even if you dont, it’s alright.
Road tripping is as much about the journey as it is about the milestones.
Savour the view out your window while traveling. Take a moment to really look at the wonders of the creations around you, and spend a moment in appreciation of it. If you see a picture worthy sight, stop by the side of the road, and take it! Like I said, it’s your time, so use it the way you want.
Once, on our way back from a trip (I dont remember to where), we saw some awesome-tastic sand dunes, and we just had to stop. We spent more than an hour there, rolling down the dunes, clawing our way up again and playing around. It was exhilarating to say the least. I dont remember where it was that we actually went that time, but I do remember this stop in the trip.
So take a chill pill. Give in to the spontaneity of the moment. It might lead to one of those moments that will make memories that you dont want to miss.
So is that the recipe for the Perfect Road Trip?
I’ll let you in on a little something: there is no such thing as a Perfect Road Trip. It’s a hypothetical idea, really. I guarantee you there will be times when you will always forget something, or find yourself low on petrol, or find that your body decides it needs the loo when there isn’t one in the foreseeable distance, or find that the food you ate at that restaurant didn’t agree with you. But you know what? It’s the imperfections, the deviations from the planned and the ‘perfect’ that make a road trip that much more memorable.
So yes! There’s no such thing as a Perfect Road Trip.
But dont worry, your bubble’s not completely burst yet ;)… There is, however, such a thing as an Imperfectly Perfect Road Trip!
This post is written for “The Perfect Road Trip” contest organised by IndiBlogger and AmbiPur Car. For more information, check out their Facebook page.