How do you embark on a multi-day road trip with your family and manage to stay sane? Take some advice from these off-road competitors.
Road trips conjure up nostalgic scenes of cruising down Route 66 and stopping at bizarre roadside attractions. But road trips are also stressful—between troubles navigating and arguing over the playlist, a difficult journey can spoil the destination. So how can a couple of people crammed in a car for days on end not only survive but thrive and have an incredible vacation? These rally raiders have some ideas.
What is a rally raid, you ask? It’s a long-distance, off-road race that can last a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Teams (comprised of a driver and navigator) must hit certain checkpoints each day, but here’s the catch—no GPS allowed. They use only a compass and a map to plan their route.
The Rebelle Rally is the longest competition of its kind in the United States, spanning 1,200 miles from Lake Tahoe in Nevada to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California. These participants have lived to tell the tale—and to share their best road trip advice for staying sane on a getaway with your loved ones.
Anticipate What the Other Person Needs
“For staying on talking terms with the folks in your car, part of it is just knowing what that person needs,” Rachael Ridenour said. She has competed with her nonprofit, Record the Journey, every year of the Rebelle Rally and always sponsors a new teammate. “It’s finding what that person needs that you’re riding with, and what you’re trying to help them get through.” Maybe they need a regular coffee break to feel refreshed, or a solid playlist of ‘80s tunes to keep them going. Whatever it is, as a road trip buddy, try to determine what will make a long journey for your tripmates more comfortable.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Driving With Kids? Behold the Power of Your Local Library
Ridenour’s teammate Kristie Levy added that anticipating the needs of your children means keeping them busy for long periods of time. She’s relied on her library to rent items that have kept her sons busy on road trips. These can be books and movies solely for entertainment, or they can also give kids a chance to learn more about where they’re heading. “Videos from National Geographic can help them learn about the flora and fauna and what kind of amazing things are there, and you can let the kids make a list of their favorite things that they want to see when they get there.”
When in Doubt, Snacks Are Almost Always the Answer
One thing that almost all of the Rebelle competitors mentioned was to have snacks readily available. “Hangriness” is real, and if you find someone in the car—or even yourself—getting cranky, it might just be time to pull out a baggy of Goldfish or some carrot sticks. Even something small can keep the energy going and moods high.
Figure Out the Goals for the Trip
Are you wanting to hit some of the best roadside attractions on your trip, or do you want to make great time and have the opportunity to relax at your destination? And more importantly, what do the other people in your car want? “You want to have a similar endgame,” Erica Martin said. She competed with Jovina Young on a team called Fearless Fillies, but they never expected to win the grueling eight-day competition. “We had a shared goal, which was that we wanted to have a good time and we wanted to finish.”
If everyone has a different idea of what the trip will entail, then that can lead to frustration and disappointment. Being aware of those different goals from the beginning, though, and trying to accommodate everyone in the ways you can will keep the whole car engaged and happy.
Plan a Route for Your Road Trip—but Be Flexible
Syndiely Wade is a Rebelle competitor originally from Senegal, and for her first time, she planned to road trip in the Lake Tahoe area. It was a dream trip come true, but she couldn’t have done it alone and instead accepted help and suggestions from friends who knew the area better. “I didn’t know much about the parks,” she admitted. “It was nice to plan the route with some advice from people who knew the places.” She added that, by not having her itinerary set in stone, she was able to change plans when she felt like she wanted to spend a little more time at one of her stops.
Something that makes travel special is the people you meet along the way, and these people may have suggestions for you to make your road trip even better. While it’s a good idea to have a plan of where you want to go and the stops you’d like to make, sticking to a too-rigid plan doesn’t allow for spontaneity or local advice.
Being Familiar With Your Vehicle Will Make Your Journey Less Stressful
“The car is the third teammate in a competition like this,” said Chris Mayne, an Original Rebelle. The better the driver knows the ins and outs of the vehicle—from how to adjust the radio’s volume to how the steering handles in different weather situations—the more confidently they can drive. If you’re renting a car you may not have that luxury of knowing all the small details of your car, but taking it for a quick ride around the block before you embark on your trip can help you to get comfortable.
Be Prepared and Know Where You Are at All Times
Rebelle Rally Founder Emily Miller warned to not rely on technology. Technology can fail—and it can fail at the worst possible moment. To avoid this kind of disaster, make sure you have everything needed in the car in case of an emergency, like a first aid kit, spare tire, and a toolkit. For navigation, save your route offline or even print off your plan like you did in the days of Mapquest, just to be on the safe side.
Nobody’s Perfect, So Own up To Your Mistakes
Sitting next to someone for days on end during a road trip can feel a little bit like a pressure cooker. When problems arise, many competitors said it’s best to tackle the issue head-on rather than ignore it. By having open communication, it means that there’s less opportunity for things to fester and lead to an argument. “If things aren’t going quite right, just take responsibility for it,” Chrissie Beavis, the Scoring Director and Head Judge advised. “It’s actually very empowering to take responsibility for whatever is happening between you and that other person. And when you do that, you can fix the problem and feel great about it.”
Always Make Time To Laugh
Fearless Fillies’ Jovina Young said that even in the most challenging part of the competition when their car needed maintenance, she and her teammate still managed to crack each other up. “You just try and diffuse the situation,” she said. “That’s all you can do in a situation like that.” Despite the wrong turns, the questionable diner food, and the obnoxious commercials on the radio, a road trip is a family trip you’ll remember forever. It’s meant to be fun—so even if things aren’t quite going according to plan, remember you can still laugh and enjoy it.