The Ultimate Guide to Planning your First Solo Road Trip
This past winter, I spent three months traveling around New Zealand in a van. This was my first-ever solo road trip, and I learned a TON of helpful road trip tips in the process – from how to plan, what gear to pack, and how to eat well on the road.
Since returning to the states, I put many of these road trip tips into practice, most recently during a week long solo road trip around Nevada in my Subaru.
Your first solo road trip can be scary – especially as a female – so I wanted to share some of the things I learned from my experiences being alone on the road. With my Ultimate Guide to Planning your First Solo Road Trip, you can travel smarter and safer, all while having a blast in your own company.
ROUTE PLANNING FOR YOUR SOLO ROAD TRIP
Get off the main highways
Seek out the back roads! During my trip to Nevada, my goal was to get as off-the-beaten-path as much as possible, and the old country roads ended up being the best part of my trip. Fewer cars meant less stress, I could focus more on the scenery, and I could pull over wherever I wanted.
Don’t just sit in the car
Road tripping isn’t just about sitting in the car. It’s about finding fun stuff to do along the way. Make sure you give yourself enough time for your route and know that it’s probably going to take you longer than you expect to drive the miles. If you are feeling rushed, alter your route so you can cover less ground and actually have time to do stuff along the way.
Finding cool stuff to do
- Looking for the best intel on cool spots to check out? Or craving a good meal out? Gas stations, diners, and park information centers can be great places to seek out beta from the locals who know best. Also, don’t pass up quirky roadside attraction or an intriguing sign pointing down a dirt road. Stop to check it out! Some of the best stuff you won’t find in a guidebook.
- Once I’m on the road, I also like to use apps like The Outbound and AllTrails to find cool stuff near me.
- While being spontaneous can lead to some of the best memories, you’ll also want to have a few stops in mind. National Parks are a great place to start. If you don’t have one already, consider getting an America the Beautiful Pass which grants you free admission to all national parks and public lands for $80 a year.
- Invest in a couple of guide books. Hiking books, national park maps, and regional guides like Lonely Planet can also help you plan your trip.
Shop my Favorite Road Trip Books
**Get more info on the America the Beautiful Pass**
WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR SOLO ROAD TRIP
Pack light, but don’t forget creature comforts
Bring clothes that are functional and can be worn multiple times. You also want your clothes to be comfortable and to breathe well. Think yoga pants, tank tops, a down puffy, rain jacket, etc. I also always like to pack a hoody. If there’s a chance you’ll want to go out to a nice meal, bring one nice outfit that won’t wrinkle in your suitcase. As for shoes, I like to bring a trail shoe and my trusty Teva sandals which I can wear in water or with socks at camp…so fashionable, I know…;).
Shop my favorite road trip clothing
As far as gear, a comfortable sleeping pad and a real pillow is a must, whether you sleep in your car or a tent. You’ll also want a camp chair that you can lounge around camp in, a good cooler, and a two burner camp stove.
Shop my favorite road trip gear essentials
When you are traveling alone, you won’t have anyone to entertain you, so bring something to keep you occupied once you are at camp. Like to draw? Bring a sketch pad. Photographer? It’s a great chance to practice and work on your creativity? Musically inclined? Throw a ukulele or guitar in the car. I also like to keep a few cold beers or a bottle of wine in the cooler to enjoy while I’m watching the sunset and cooking dinner.
Bring a Road Map
Don’t get lost. Always carry a map in your car for cases when you are out of service and you can’t use the GPS on your phone. I have this Adventure Edition of the National Geographic Road Atlas which not only has maps for all 50 states (plus Mexico and Canada) but also suggestions for scenic routes and cool outdoor activities.
Tunes / Playlists
- Load up your phone with plenty of tunes to pass the time. Sing loud, bang on the steering wheel, and have a blast. If music isn’t your thing, download a couple of audio books or a bunch of episodes of your favorite podcasts. Here’s a list of our favorite outdoor podcasts.
- I’m a HUGE fan of Spotify. The Premium Membership is $9.99/month and allows you to save music and listen to any song on demand on your phone, even when you have no cell phone service. You can see what your friends are listening to (if they make their playlists public). And for folks who don’t want to put in too much effort to create their own playlists, Spotify also has tons of playlists organized by genre (everything from “Afternoon Acoustic Chill” to “Legendary Guitar Solos”).
Extra Water / Food
During my Nevada road trip I found that many of the free campgrounds don’t have any potable water available. Invest in an inexpensive 5 gallon water jug to make sure you always have adequate water supply both at camp and in case of an emergency. Fill it up before you leave and when it gets low, you can refill it at most truck stops.
Many of the campsites require a small fee and the only way to pay is cash. Keep a small wad in your purse so you aren’t caught empty-handed when the ranger asks you to pay up.
SOLO ROAD TRIP SAFETY TIPS
Know the basics of auto repair
- I’m a complete idiot when it comes to mechanics. I barely know how to check my oil (my dad cringes). But in the case of an emergency, it’s a good idea to know a few basics and have things like a set of jumper cables in your car.
- Always carry the owner’s manual – that’s the best book you can have in your car.
- Before you leave, you also want to check to make sure your spare tire has air in it. The last thing you want is to get a flat and then find out that your spare is flat too. Before you go, it’s probably also a good idea to sign up for AAA or some other roadside repair service.
Carry a communication device for when you are out of service
- If you will be traveling on the backroads or anywhere where there is no cell phone service, you should always carry some sort of device that you can use to communicate in case something goes wrong. I have a SPOT GPS transmitter which allows you to send pre-programmed messages to your contacts. I have my buttons set up to send messages to my parents like “I made it to camp” or “my car broke down” – that way if my cell phone doesn’t work, I can still get in touch if necessary. It also has an SOS function that can send a help signal to rescue authorities in the case of a life threatening situation.
- The Delorme InReach is also a popular device that has more advanced capabilities, such as the ability to send and receive custom texts from the boonies. I just got one of these and am in the process of testing it out. So far, I’m really liking it.
- You should also make sure someone close to you has a loose idea of your itinerary and check in with them via text or phone when you roll through a town. And definitely let someone know if you are going hiking or doing any other sort of solo activity away from your car.
For more info on how the SPOT Gen3 GPS Transmitter works, watch my video below or read my full review here.
Feeling safe at night
- If you don’t feel safe, you won’t be having fun, and choosing the right campsite can make all the difference. When I was on my first solo road trip in Nevada, I tried to choose campsites that had a handful of other campers there. I didn’t want so many people that it felt crowded, but having a few families or couples around assured me that it would be hard for a weirdo to go unnoticed. I was also friendly to my neighbors, but not so friendly that I could be interpreted as inviting unwanted company to my campsite.
- As far as sleeping, I used to drive a Subaru, and I slept in the back of my car. Now I travel in a Sprinter Van. Sleeping in a vehicle, as opposed to a tent, helps me feel more secure because I lock the doors, and if something goes wrong, I simply hop in the front seat and drive away. My car also has a loud alarm that I could set off using a button on my door key if I wanted to cause a commotion.
- If you don’t have a car you can sleep in, think about what you need to protect yourself and to make you feel safe while you are sleeping in your tent. Whether that be a loud alarm that you can sound off, pepper spray, or something else to give you peace of mind – have it within arm’s reach.
- If you don’t feel safe, opt for a hotel (see below)…and have a cushion in your budget just in case.
Keep an eye on the gas tank
This may seem obvious, but if you are traveling in rural areas and you don’t know how far it is until the next gas station…fill up. Nothing can ruin your day faster than running out of gas in the middle of nowhere when it could have easily been prevented.
Have a hide-a-key
What happens if you accidentally drop your car key when you are out on a hike? Having a hide-a-key stashed somewhere outside your car could save you a lot of hassle. Just be smart about where you stash it so it’s not super obvious.
FINDING ACCOMMODATION ON YOUR SOLO ROAD TRIP
Finding good campsites
I recently discovered the All Stays Camp & RV app. At $10, I thought twice about whether to download it, but it turned out to be a great decision. It has all of the campsites mapped out, and you can filter by type – from free BLM and National Forest Service campgrounds to KOA facilities and Walmart parking lots. The app also has images, directions, and contact info for each campground. Using this app in Nevada, I camped at some super cool (and free) spots that I would have never found on my own. And it also allowed me to look down the highway and decide whether it was time to stop for the night or whether there was another option up the road. Fore more tips on finding good free campsites, see my post: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Free Campsites.
Finding a last-minute hotel
- If you’d rather stay in a hotel, Hotels Tonight is a great app for finding last-minute deals…although you won’t always find a room especially in smaller towns. If there’s nothing on Hotels Tonight, check Hotels.com and Booking.com.
- Check Airnb. Again, you won’t always find something in smaller towns, but Airbnb can be great for solo travelers. For the most economical option, check “Private Room” when searching which means you’ll get your own room in a home where someone else is living. When I’m going this route, I always try to find a place where the host has good reviews, and in lucky cases, you might even get some good local intel from your host.
Get $40 off on your first Airbnb stay using my referral code! Click on the image below to sign up!
CAMP COOKING TIPS FOR YOUR SOLO ROAD TRIP
Make Meal Prep Easy
- Cooking for one during your road trip can be tough. Depending on the length of your trip, consider precooking a few of your meals. Things like spaghetti sauce, soup, and other saucy dishes can be portioned out, frozen, and reheated at camp. This makes dinner prep and cleanup easier and you’ll probably eat better than if you are making everything from scratch at camp.
- Using non-stick pots and pans will simplify cleanup. For dishes, pack a small dish brush and some soap in a ziplock, and remember to always practice Leave No Trace principles.
- If you like cooking at camp, consider making one-pot meals. My friends from Fresh off the Grid recently wrote a guest post with 6 killer one-pot recipes perfect for road tripping.
Pack healthy snacks
Bring plenty of healthy snacks to help avoid binging on chips, candy, and other gas station junk food.
Read More on Road Tripping
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