A road trip is my favourite way to travel. The freedom and movement, the changing scenery, new places to discover and explore, all make a road trip a wonderful experience. While I am big on spontaneity in travelling (like just going off the beaten track because a place name sounds interesting), it pays off to be organised beforehand. Then once you are on the road you can concentrate on enjoying yourself. My husband Tony and I have been on a number of short and long road trips over the years, probably the most memorable being our trip to Namibia in 2010. We planned this trip to the nth degree – down to removing the back seat so that there was room for a large steel fridge/freezer we had borrowed to keep our drinks and meat cold, and taking spare tyres and a tyre repair kit for the rocky roads. We had four punctures so the planning was worth it! And in that hot, dry climate, those cold drinks were the best I’d ever tasted.
We are off on another road trip in January to the Eastern and Western Cape so I have been busy planning our route and accommodation.
Here are some tips to help you plan for a happy holiday:
1. Plan your route (even if you may stray from it to explore some little-known dorpie every now and then) – It helps to have a guideline idea of how far you will be travelling each day. We usually draw up a spread sheet in Excel with the date, start and end points, distance, estimated travel time and any details about where we are going (like things we would like to stop and see along the route). It is also worth doing some research on the internet or by reading local travel books to make the most of your trip.
2. Calculate daily travel distances – A useful tool that I have been using this time around is the AA’s online TomTom Route Planner (https://static.routes.tomtom.com/#.) You plug in the towns you are travelling from and to, and it calculates the distance and the time it will take between points. You can also set up your route in your GPS before your trip.
3. Take a map and GPS – Even though Tony is wholly committed to the GPS, I still prefer to rely on a map. We often tussle over which is more accurate! I admit that I have sometimes led us along the garden path with a map, but the GPS has also taken us on some ‘interesting’ roads, including the most potholed road I have ever seen near Randfontein a couple of years back. The AA has a great set of maps for different regions of the country that you can get for free if you are a member.
4. Ask the locals – If you are going off the beaten track or on a road you don’t know, ask the locals about the best route, road condition and safety. It is worth knowing ahead of time – a bad route can impact on your general mood and enjoyment of your holiday, leading to frayed tempers and a late arrival.
5. Leave early – It makes a whole lot of sense to make an early departure so that you arrive at your destination in daylight, and have time to relax before a well-earned drink and dinner. Arriving late and hungry is a travel experience to avoid. Even with the great distances that we covered in our three week Namibia trip, our planning meant that we never arrived at our destination after dark.
6. Don’t push it – Break your trip up into manageable chunks so that you are not sitting in the car for all day and all night. Even for the long Joburg or Durban trip to Cape Town, have at least one day’s stopover en route. Also stop at least every two hours for a comfort break. Your family will thank you for it.
7. Pack a good supply of provisions – Keep everyone happy by providing drinks and snacks in the car. I need to eat often so it is critical that I have snacks on hand to avoid becoming a grouch as we sometimes pass our normal meal times! Stopping for a meal is also a good way to have a break and to stretch those legs.
8. Get a plug-in cooler box – This was one of our best buys for a road trip. It keeps your cooldrinks at a thirst-quenching temperature, especially important to keep the driver happy!
9. Pack the car intelligently – Pack the car in such a way that what you will need during your trip – cooler box, snacks, sunscreen, camera – is right in front and easy to access. There is nothing worse than having to unpack and repack the whole boot to find something (although it was unavoidable in Namibia because our spare tyre was underneath everything!)
10. Other little essentials – Lastly, wet wipes, paper towels and plastic shopping bags for rubbish are all useful essentials to keep hands clean and the car tidy.
So if you are going on road trip these holidays, do some good planning ahead of time and have an inspiring and enjoyable trip.