The Car-Camping Guide: Road Trip Tips and Tricks

subaru gauges

Before I left on The Pacific Northwest Tour, I shared my road trip essentials… the things I do to prepare from a safety standpoint.

Now for a random selection of road trip tips and tricks I use on the road that help make the trips more manageable and fun.

Urban stops…

For myself, I could quite do with minimal hotel stops but since the minions are less inclined to camp non-stop, I have to strike a balance on longer trips. Even though I generally don’t enjoy hotels, I still try to use them to my advantage by placing those stops strategically. They come into play when we have a lot of ground to cover so we need to maximize driving time rather that taking hours to pitch and break camp. These stops often allow me to dry tents, do laundry, and catch up on work by making use of free wifi.

drying tent
Scoring a hotel room with a balcony? A total bonus when you’ve got soggy camping gear to dry.

The quick bag…

I haven’t detailed my packing strategy for you yet but one of my little tricks is having a duffle bag that I can throw in just what we need for a quick overnight at a hotel instead of having to bring in all of our bags. A change of clothes and our personal toiletries are really all we need to be dragging into the hotel aside from our valuables like computers and camera gear.

This duffle also serves as our day bag when we’re camping. Since our main clothing duffles are in the tent once we set up camp, this bag then holds rain gear, a couple of towels, and a change of clothes should our explorations take a turn for the excessively dirty or wet.

duffle bag
My multi-purpose quick duffle bag.

Laundry…

The short version is leave your jeans at home. Heavier cotton clothes take longer to dry. Public laundry facilities are highly variable and dryers notoriously unreliable. And when you’ve been on the road all day and all you want to do is go to sleep, having to keep plugging quarters into the machine to get everything dry is a misery. So stick with lightweight cotton or synthetics that won’t leave you cursing the laundry gods.

In between laundry stops, I use a mesh bag to contain dirty clothes. The air flow keeps the clothes from becoming rancid and it’s much better for them than being sealed in a plastic bag that many people seem to favor on road trips. I also carry small mesh zipper bags for washing delicates and small items so they don’t get lost or destroyed in public machines.

mesh laundry bag
Mesh laundry bags preserve clothes in the long stretches between laundry days.

Quarters…

Yep. I stock up on quarters. One of my pet peeves is scrambling for them to get laundry done so now I just bring them with me. For the seven-week Pacific Northwest Tour I took four rolls. In addition to laundry, they’re useful for parking meters and pay showers. Having them on-hand preserves my cash flow as well as removes the hassle-factor of having to break bills and what-not.

quarters
A stash of quarters reduces the laundry/pay shower/parking meter hassle on road trips.

Backroads…

I’ve mentioned my love of backroads before. Taking them adds a deeper element to our travels. Sometimes we do have to blast through some serious highway time but when at all possible we bring it down to the backroads. It keeps me alert, breaks up the monotony, we find amazing geocaches, and we get to see more interesting, unique places.

Stay gassed…

I have a policy of filling up at a quarter tank on road trips (and around town as well since January’s local “adventure”). Obviously it means I fill up more often but usually I need a stretch break anyway long before a tank of gas is run out.

subaru gauges
Know your car and don’t push your luck. Fill ‘er up at a quarter tank.

When you’re on the road, especially out west, you can get into some pretty serious no-mans-land situations where you can’t rely on a fuel station being where you need it. That quarter-tank buffer can be crucial. Even so, there are times when I’ve inadvertently pushed my luck but I’ve never been stranded for running out of fuel.

Another key factor here is knowing your vehicle well. You need to know the size of your tank and the mileage it gets under various conditions so you can anticipate your fuel needs for your route. Because when you see a sign that says something like “No fuel for 100 miles” you better know whether or not you can make it or you’re setting yourself up for a very unhappy trip. Filling up more frequently to avoid that is well worth it.

Packing a lunch…

Aside from the obvious cost-saving benefit, keeping food on hand gives you options. That’s important when a trip starts to go sideways or when you’re pressed for time. You also aren’t relying on restaurant availability in far-flung and unknown locales.

packed subaru
When the car is packed full there is an added hassle factor in stopping to make lunch so I do it before we leave camp.

Beyond just keeping food supplies with me, I often pack a lunch before we leave camp. This removes the hassle of having to dig through a fully packed car to make it in an unknown and possibly less-than-ideal location. This also shortens the time needed for stops when you’re trying to cover a lot of ground. It really is that much easier to do before leaving camp than on the road.

Having meals already prepared also means you are less likely to succumb to an expensive restaurant stop because you’re tired or stressed. It’s an entirely different story to deliberately stop for food somewhere that adds to your travel experience but it casts a pall over your trip to fork out for any old road food simply because you weren’t prepared.

Keep cool…

For shorter trips or starting out on longer trips, I freeze 1-gallon jugs of water, creating homemade block ice. Not only is it often difficult to find, but by doing this instead of buying block ice, I can still drink the water once the jug melts. This maximizes use of the very limited space in the adventure-mobile.

National Parks Pass…

One of my favorite tools is the National Parks America the Beautiful Pass. If you’ll be visiting even a couple of park units the next year, it pays for itself quickly. For $80 a year, you have access to National Parks as well as many other federal lands. I even use it at my local National Recreation Area that I visit several times a week.

national parks pass
My ticket to fabulous adventures across the country.

And now for your moment of green…

dinosaur national monument
Getting out to explore the vast treasures of the U.S. is no problem if you think ahead just a bit.

Comments

  1. Those mesh bags are great for socks and delicates (no drying). Getting some of that high concentrated liquid soap (from a place like REI) and washing a few things in a sink works really well. Love the freezing a gallon of water tip!

    1. Yep, lots of great ways to extend your laundry on trips. Quick-drying items are so helpful!

  2. Solid tips, Val. Thanks for sharing! One thing I did often while on the road and between washes was to use a dry bag (like for kayaking or boating) fill it up with water, toss in a few dirty clothes and shake and agitate and wash it inside the bag. I was able to keep my limited supply of clothes slightly cleaner between stops to civilization and the laundromat.

    1. I like that one! Crafty. I will definitely be adding that to my camping hacks. Thanks, Ryan.

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