Planning for the Perfect Road Trip

It’s summer, and that means hitting the road on a quest for fun. Before you go, you’ll need to assemble the essentials — including Community® cold brew coffee.

A great road trip is about the journey, not the destination. So, what else should you pack to make this time memorable? We talked to some hardcore road-trippers to ask what they bring to turn a long car ride into a party on wheels.

Settle on the Right Soundtrack

Many seasoned road-trippers put music at the top of their lists. But how can you avoid squabbles over which tunes to crank up?

“For me, every road trip is really all about creating the right iTunes playlist,” says Greg Weaver, whose family has taken numerous road trips from their Shelbyville, Ind., home to places such as Charleston, S.C., Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. “Everyone in the car contributes an equal number of songs. You put it on shuffle, and no songs can be skipped. So, of course, my son always finds a way to torture me with ‘Islands in the Stream’ by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.”

All that time in the car is also a good time to catch up on your “reading.” “We tried to get books related to where we were going, and when we couldn’t find any on audio, I’d record me reading them so we could listen while I drove,” says Karla Coreil, an experienced road tripper who lives in Baton Rouge. 

But Coreil discourages relying on visual entertainment to occupy passengers. “Extremely limited screen time was the rule in my car: I wanted my kid to actually see the country as we drove through it.”

Eat — and Drink — Local

Half the fun of a road trip is seeking out the best in regionally produced food and drink, says Matthew Socey, a radio host in Indianapolis who used to manage a coffee-shop manager. “When we're staying in a town or road-tripping, [we] always try to find local independent coffee shops,” he says. “I like collecting coffee and spirits from wherever we are road-tripping.”

His family’s longest road trip was this past summer when they traveled to New Orleans -- “Nothing but fine food and music for four days” — with stops at Mississippi blues milestones along the way.

Beth Michalski Dequeant of Baton Rouge says her family doesn’t pack food for meals when they hit the road. “Researching interesting food stops and eating local specialties is part of our vacation. We have a trip planned later this year and we already started watching foodie videos for some of our stops.”

Don’t limit yourself to Yelp when seeking out great eats in an unfamiliar town. When you find a place you like, ask the chef where they eat on off-hours. Not only will you nab a recommendation for later, but the next place is likely to treat you well when they find out you were referred by a colleague, says Geoff Rogers from Portland, Ore.

Get Lost and Love It

The perfect road trip strikes a balance between planning and flexibility.

“Explore the route before you go so you don’t miss anything you really want to see, but be flexible enough to stop for amazing surprises,” Coreil says. “We did a road trip to Yellowstone a few years back, and I researched every site in the national park system along the way -- including the parks, historic sites, river systems. We stopped at nearly everyone we could, staying in several. But then there were things like the giant jack-a-lope and a drive-thru grizzly bear park that we happened upon ... and that became highlights of our trip.”

Terri Singleton has driven from her home in Baton Rouge to California and up the coast to Washington State and across the ferry through the San Juan islands and back down the middle of the country (5,200 miles over 4 weeks, for those keeping count). She says she plans to drive no more than six hours each day — and preferably no more than four. “I Google Map it to find the back roads that only add an hour or so of drive time. You find cool unexpected places and it’s easier to stop in time to catch them if you are not barreling down the interstate at 75 mph. And we are talkers so we visit with folks wherever we are and get great tips from them of sights to catch.”