20 tips for surviving a summer road trip, courtesy of touring musicians

Road trips are made for summer. Summer is made for road trips. I’m a musician with several tours under my belt so, yeah, you guessed it, I love road trips and summer. But braving the heat while living in an automobile isn’t very cool if you aren’t prepared. Before you pack your vehicle so tight you can’t open the backseat doors without spilling pillows and sun block all over the scorching rest stop parking lot, make sure you have your summer road trip bases covered.

Summer’s biggest pitfalls aren’t mysterious. Mostly there’s the heat and the sun, which can be two separate problems to combat. Precisely how to conquer the road while dodging the wrath of summer is a practice best perfected by experience, so here are some tips birthed from experience, not in any intentional order.

1. Plan your route wisely.
Where you’re going matters. As you might suspect, planning a summer road trip that will take you through the South is dangerous territory. With that said, I’ve done it, plenty of people have, but be mindful of the regional summer climate when planning your summer trip. Give yourself more time for rest than you think you need. The heat has a way of corroding away a traveler’s soul. If you think you can manage full-day drives during the summer, that’s fine, but make sure your schedule is flexible.

%Gallery-121060%2. Prepare your vehicle.
It’s absolutely essential that you make sure your vehicle is adequately prepared for a summer road trip before embarking on one. If your air conditioner is broken, get it fixed. If the car’s interior material is the kind that easily gets sticky and hot, bring thin sheets to cover the seats with. And oh yeah, those windshield sun blockers? Definitely a bright idea. Aol Autos has a good round-up detailing how to prepare your car for a summer road trip here.

3. Pack the right stuff.
What you pack will prove to be important during a summer road trip. During any road trip, no matter the season, what you bring along with you more or less accounts for your home for the trip. When road tripping, your vehicle is your home. Remember that. Aside from the regular to-bring items (first aid kit, anyone?) a few essentials to remember when packing for a summer trip are:

Sun block
Sun hat
Bug repellent
A cooler
Swim suit
Beach Towel
Sun glasses
Light clothing
Aloe
Water bottle
Umbrella

But the real question to ask yourself is: what helps you feel comfortable in the summer? If having an on-the-go folding beach chair around has been handy for you in the past, go ahead and slide it into your trunk if there’s space.

Dean Herrera, guitarist for metal band, The Human Abstract, is especially behind including a swim suit on the pack list.

“Always have some swim suit ready to go. You never know when you might drive by an unexpected river or lake that would be perfect for a quick dip”, said Herrera when I asked him for his own summer road trip tips.

4. Avoid afternoon driving.
Tolerating the heat, especially in the South, can be a challenge. Avoid driving in the height of the afternoon if you have a chance. People siesta for a reason in warm places! You should take this tip via tradition to heart. Drive at night, dawn, or dusk for the most pleasant temperature and traffic-free experience. Not only will you be more comfortable, but you’ll probably save a little on gas money while you’re at it (it takes less gas to cool your car when the outside temperature drops).

5. Stay clean.
It’s easy to become a stinky sweaty mess when traveling during the summer. Deodorant is important, but it won’t ward off all of the nasty scents of summer road tripping. I used to always have my shampoo, conditioner, and a jug of water around so I could quickly wash my hair in a parking lot if necessary. But public showers do exist.

Truck stop showers are typically very clean”, says Anthony Shustak. “Don’t be afraid to use them if you need… just be sure you’ve got some sandals”. Anthony Shustak is a touring veteran who has traveled with acts like Meg and Dia and LIGHTS as an engineer, tour manager, and general-good-guy-to-have-around.

6. Protect your engine.
“If your van or car is on its way to overheating and you don’t want to or can’t, stop, blast the heater and open the windows. It helps keep your engine slightly cooler”, says Herrera who, at this point, has probably circled around the United States in a van enough times to equally circle to world a few times.

7. Stay rested.
“Sleep!”, says Shustak. “Coffee only does so much. So, before you get to the point on that 14 hour drive when you’re on your fourth cup of coffee in six hours and your arms are shaking, pull the car over and take a nap! Even if it’s just half an hour”.

8. Tune in and tune out.
Shustak has some advice on which electronics matter. “Have a fully stocked mp3 player, a camera at the ready, and turn your phone off for a day or two–or at least limit yourself to one or two “message checks” per day. Your e-mails will miraculously still be there when you wake up the next day”, he suggests.

9. Embrace the road less taken.
“Make sure to go off the beaten path, advises Shustak. “Don’t be scared of the locals. Ask questions… especially when it comes to finding out the best places to eat.

10. Get some alone time.
You’re much more likely to want to strangle your travel companion, be it your spouse, colleague, or Craigslist rideshare partner, while crammed up together in a hot car for hours upon hours each day. Make sure to take breaks from your road buddy as frequently as possible, even if just for 15 minutes.

11. Know your territory.
And know what comes with that territory. Read up and know the dangers of the area at hand. If the bear population is high, for instance, be sure to be mindful of where you place your food and trash while parked.

12. Stay hydrated.
Keep yourself hydrated with cold beverages while driving. Think about it this way: every cool drink you down is another step up and toward a cooler temperature–particularly important if your car has an irreparable broken air conditioner (which is incredibly inconvenient if you live in Austin, FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE).

13. Use an umbrella.
Protect yourself from the sun’s rays, especially mid-day. If you hate lathering on sun block and don’t see the point in covering your body with it when you’ll be in the car most of the day, just use your umbrella when you stop for a walk to stretch your legs. It’s much easier than worrying about the lotion.

14. Pack light.
Shustak’s packing tip is all about how much you pack.

“Mainly, for me, it comes down to packing lightly and efficiently. If you are on a trip longer than a month in duration, pack for 10-14 days and use your opportunities to do laundry during any downtime”, says Shustak, who undoubtedly knows the value of staying with a washer/dryer-owning friend on the road.

15. Eat healthy.
An easy way to make sure you feel like crap while traveling is to eat crap. I realize old habits die hard, but some fresh fruits and vegetables just might be your answer to staying happy and healthy on the road.

16. Entertain yourself.
Cruising across states is fun and the landscape views are great. But you’ll eventually get sick of looking out of the window and when you do, you’ll need a way to entertain yourself. Be sure there’s no shortage on entertainment options. Books, notebooks, sketchbooks, jewelry-making supplies, knitting tools, dvds for your computer, video games, iPod and headphones… you know what you like, so pack accordingly.

17. Bring camping supplies.
Sometimes you need to stop in towns where you don’t have any friends you can stay with and your money needs to go toward gas, not hotels. It’s no big deal, just camp! If you can squeeze at least a tent and a sleeping bag in your vehicle, do it. Having the ability to sleep comfortably anywhere when you need to stop will enhance your overall road trip experience this summer.

18. Have your contacts saved.
Phones get stolen, broken, and lost. Make sure you have a list of your contacts, especially your emergency contacts, saved elsewhere. I suggest online, on your computer, and in a notebook.

19. Keep someone in the loop.
I was a little annoyed summer of 2007 when the folks who care about me back home called Wyoming hospitals to see if I’d been in an accident after not hearing from me for days. Truth be told, I was just camping in Yellowstone without phone reception and I should have kept someone in the loop. But at least these folks, my parents, were in the loop enough to know which area of the country I was in. Make sure you’re keeping someone you trust up to date on where you are and where you plan on going.

20. Bring an actual atlas.
“Have an up-to-date road atlas”, says Shustak. “Surprise, surprise… the GPS and/or Google Maps are not always accurate”.

Have some tips I missed? Let us all know in the comments.

What to pack in a carry on – ten things Gadling readers actually use

What to packSo, you’ve got yourself the ultimate carry on for your upcoming air travel. Now, you have to figure out what to pack in it.

For those of us who check a bag, it can be hard to decide what, exactly, to bring on the plane with us. Valuables and documents are a must, for safety, but do you really need that computer cable? Do you need Bandaids? Did you splurge on a stupid gadget you’ll never use? Traveling light is key; it’s no fun lugging a full, heavy carry on around. We asked our readers on Facebook what they actually use during their flights. Take a look at this list before you overpack and weigh yourself down.

Ten things Gadling readers actually use from their carry ons:

1. Kindle – Marsha, Christine, Martha and Max

2. Book and/or magazine – Saadia, Amy, Karen, Despina, Norma and Nicole

3. Noise canceling or other headphones – Christine, Arun, Norma and Shelby4. Knitting – two Nicoles

5. Hand sanitizer or wet wipes – Candace, Saadia, Karen and Anna

6. Lotion – Saadia, Amy, Arun, and Karen

7. Neck pillow – Stephen and Norma

8. Contact lens gear – Max

9. Music device – Stephen, Arun, Despina, Martha, Ben and Max

10. Snacks or gum – Norma and Shelby

So. When you look at that carry on bag and wonder where to start, put in your valuables and documents, then take a look at the list above. Don’t cram it full in dire fear of boredom, and don’t worry about “emergency” stuff like Bandaids. They have those on the plane, you know.

What else do you use? Want to join in the conversation? Visit the Gadling Facebook page!

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Photo by ahhhnice via Flickr.

Top 10 things you must pack first before going abroad

In two days, my husband, 4-year-old daughter and I are going to be leaving for a two-week trip to visit my in-laws in England. And I am panicking: not because I don’t like my in-laws (I do) or because I don’t like the cold (I don’t, but I’ll deal) …

… I’m panicking because I haven’t finished packing.

I know some of you are thinking, “Dude, you have TWO DAYS. What’s the rush?” And, in fact, you do have a point — two days should be more than enough time to pack for a two-week trip. But the thing is, with a four-year-old little girl and a 39-year-old husband, who, if “Being Forgetful” were an Olympic sport he’d handily take gold, all of the “remembering what to pack” rests on my shoulders. Luckily, (1) I’m a list-maker, and (b) I like to share. So as I make my packing list right now, as I type, I thought I’d share with you the Top 10 Things I Pack First Before Going Abroad:
10. A book/magazine/or any other type of riveting reading material. The thing about travel? There’s a lot of sitting. And waiting. And sitting while waiting. It seems like a minor thing to pack right now, but trust me: when you’ve got hours to kill on the plane or in the train, and the too-friendly greaseball sitting next to you wants to talk (and talk and talk), you’re going to want that book to tune him out. And good luck buying any reading material in your native language when you’re in a country where no one speaks it.

9. A universal plug adapter. Nothing is more annoying than arriving at your destination and realizing that you’re not going to be able to plug in your laptop, phone, or blow dryer because your plugs won’t fit into the wall sockets. I’m a big fan of this one. But also, remember — before you use this, it’s not only the plugs that might be different, the power supply might be different too. Be sure your appliance has a transformer on the power cord before you plug it in, even with the adapter. If it doesn’t, then you might be better off asking your hotel if they have a blow dryer you can borrow.

8. Medicine. Okay, if you’re on prescription medicine, hopefully I don’t have to remind you to take this with you, right? But the same is true for over-the-counter medicine: I always take at least a pain reliever and an anti-diarrheal (in case I get more adventurous with local cuisine than my stomach is ready for). Of course, you can probably get over-the-counter medicine wherever you’re going; however, often dosages in different countries differ. And don’t forget the pediatric versions if you’re traveling with a child.

7. Camera and related accessories. Okay, so I’m a photographer, and related accessories for me include my laptop with Adobe Photoshop installed (since I like to download images every day), a few camera bodies, a few lenses … but I realize that for most, this might be a bit of overkill. If you’re not like me, at least remember to take an extra memory card, if you’re not planning on downloading images while you’re on holiday. Just don’t lose it. And while we’re talking about it …

6. Chargers. There is nothing more disappointing than arriving at your destination, ready to get out there and see the sights, and realizing that your camera is dead, and you forgot your charger at home. Or you want to send a text message to your friends back home telling them what a great time you’re having, and you forgot your charger at home. Or you want to send an e-mail to your friend who is picking you up at the airport that you’ve met someone and you’ve decided to stay in Kuala Lumpur another week, but your laptop is dead, and you forgot your power cord — which charges your laptop — at home. Moral of the story: don’t forget any of your chargers at home.

5. Guidebooks/phrase books/maps. Yes, of course, you could probably pick up a mediocre map at the front desk of your hotel or at the rental car kiosk, but why, when you’ve been so excited about your trip? Do yourself a favour and grab a couple of guidebooks (or download some maps and other local information from your favourite online source), and tuck them into your carry on. I’ve found some of the best restaurants, scuba diving spots, and places to watch the sun go down in the world primarily because I’m fastidious about taking some research with me. And by the way, this goes for phrase books to help teach you a few idiomatic expressions of the local language, too — in my experience, nothing opens doors like showing an effort to learn the local tongue.

4. Travel documents, and photocopies of travel documents. If you’re going to travel overseas, you’re going to need a passport. Without exception. If you’ve never applied for a passport, be sure to give yourself plenty of time ahead of your trip to apply for one. And then once you have it, hold on to it like Grim Death: this is your way in and out of foreign lands. Also, be sure to check if you are also required to have a visa to visit your vacation destination — in some countries, such visas are mandatory. Check with your country’s state department to see what countries require a visa (often this information is available on the web).

What if, however, you lose your passport? That’s where your photocopies come in: Make copies of your passports and keep them in some back other than the one you’re keeping your passports. A friend of mine is careful about doing this, and when, one day, he was robbed, he was able to contact his local embassy and get a temporary passport issued relatively quickly, primarily because he was able to show proof of citizenship (albeit a copy).

3. Cell phone. It might seem a bit staid to carry a cellphone on vacation — after all! you’re immersing yourself in a whole new land! a whole new culture! — but even if you never plan to turn your phone on while you’re vacationing, it’s good to have it, if only to make sure your ride will be pick you up when you return, or you plan on meeting someone locally, and they need to contact you, or, God forbid, you find yourself traveling during a state of emergency (I was traveling both during the chaos during September 11, 2001 and when Hurricane Ike hit Houston a few months ago — it was good to be able to stay in touch).

2. Small travel bag. This is something that I never leave home without. I’m not talking about carry-on luggage; I’m talking about a small bag that holds nothing more than my wallet, my cell phone, my travel documents and my passport. With the number of times you have to whip one or all of these out just in the airport alone, I find a small, accessible bag is much better than trying to rummage through the bottom of my backpack looking for my wallet. And when it’s time to go through security, and I get a glowering look from a TSA officer, presto-change-o, I shove the small bag into my backpack, and I’m down to the number of carry-ons I’m permitted on the plane.

And finally, the Number 1 thing you must pack first before going abroad
:

1. An open mind. Remember, you’re traveling because you want to experience a whole new culture — and sometimes, that whole new culture doesn’t include things like a fast New-York pace, or McDonalds, or even Starbucks. Relax, and soak it all in. Plan your travel agenda with contingencies (delayed flights, unreliable rental cards, etc.), so that if things go wrong (and they just might), the result isn’t catastrophic. And when all else fails, just remember: the experiences will all make great stories in the future.

Incidentally, I asked several friends what they would add to this list, and some items were so good, I think they deserve an honourable mention:

  • Lip balm and moisturizer. It was startling how many people, men and women, said that they would die without their lip balm and hand moisturizer. “It’s the airplane air,” was the common statement. “It dries me out.”
  • Earplugs and/or MP3 player. If you’re a light sleeper, these can be invaluable. If you’re a person with an uncanny ability to sit next to boorish greaseballs (see #10, above), ditto.
  • Journals. There’s something about travel that brings out the Ernest Hemmingway in everyone. Even if you’re not much of a journal writer, go ahead and toss a small one in your bag — you never know when inspiration might hit. In fact, check out these from Moleskine — not only does it provide a place for you to capture your memories on your trip, they include maps and space for other information about your city destination, before and after your journey, rendering it a great keepsake of your trip, and resource for a return visit.