This is how to prepare for a road trip alone
For even the most seasoned of solo-travellers, the prospect of taking a road trip alone can seem way more intimidating than just hopping on a plane and running along well-worn backpacker trails.
Perhaps it's the thought of breaking down alone on the side of some backwater road, or idea that if it all goes belly up then there really is no one else to blame. More than likely though, it's probably just a lack of knowledge about how to prepare for a road trip alone that stops people from getting behind the wheel.
As a big fan of solo travel, I'll be the first to shout about the many benefits to going it alone in the world. Knowing that you can do what you want, when you want, without having to worry about upsetting anyone else is liberating; plus, there's the fact that it'll make problem-solving your superpower and boost your confidence too.
To write off this opportunity simply because of lack of preparation means missing out on so much adventure. After all, everything seems less scary when you know what to expect.
So, how do you plan for a solo road trip?
In short, it's best to prepare for a road trip alone in three stages: by planning your route and accommodation, getting your car road ready and getting yourself all sorted. Before you set off you should have a decent idea of where you're going, how long it's going to take you, how to do basic vehicle maintenance, the kit you'll need along the way and the things that'll keep you occupied.
Yes, that's about it. For a bit more of a comprehensive run down about what all of this entails, here's a step-by-step guide with everything you need to know. As always, if you've got any questions at the end then just let us know!
Plan your trip before you leave
Decide what you want to see
As much as we all love the idea of just hopping in the car and taking off half-way across the country without a care in the world, there's very few people for whom this actually works.
And while over-planning can be as limiting as not planning at all, having a good grounding about where you want to go and when you're going to do it will allow you to get the most out of your trip.
Just because you're on a road trip doesn't mean you have to spend the entire time cooped up in the car, so spend time researching fun activities to do and sights to see along your planned route.
The magic of road tripping alone is wrapped up in the fact that you can stop where you want, when you want - take full advantage of it.
It might be that you're limited as to the time of year that you can take your trip, but if not then also look up when is the best season for the things you want to do; stopping to hike up a mountain alone is all well and good, but to do so in the middle of winter is pure stupidity.
See what other travellers are saying
In the modern age, just about everyone and their mum thinks of themselves as a travel blogger. And while this can get irritating when it's just your aunt Mabel popping up to moan about her latest five star holiday, blogs can prove an incredibly useful planning tool as they provide a personal account of the route you're thinking of taking, or at the very least bits of it.
Although everyone is going to have their own opinions about each place, it's a good way to get a feel for roads that you should be cautious on, a heads up for places where petrol stations are few and far between and find out about those tiny practicalities that can make a big difference.
We've taken a fair few road trips ourselves, so check out our road trip guides to see if we can help by offering you any tips or even a little inspiration!
Build a schedule
Once you know where you're going and when you're going, you can start to put a schedule together, with a rough idea of where you'll go from day-to-day.
Before you start, read our 10 step guide to planning the ultimate road trip. Most of the principles are exactly the same, but know that when you're doing it alone there are a few extra things to consider:
Be realistic about how far you can travel: Without a co-pilot to share the driving, you'll find that you get more tired more quickly and can cover less distance in one day. Squeezing a trip that should take you a month into 10 days is neither enjoyable nor safe.
Your budget won't stretch as far with no one to split car hire and fuel prices with. Make sure you leave some extra pennies in case you encounter any unexpected costs, as you'll be fitting the bill for these too.
You'll need to put more thought into booking hotels: Forget spacious showers, check to see if other people have described them as safe and sociable.
Book your accommodation in advance
No matter what kind of trip you're taking, it's always a good idea to book your first few nights accommodation in advance - there's nothing worse than having to go from place to place begging for somewhere to sleep, only to end up hiding under your sheets in a bug-infested hovel out of sheer desperation (trust me, I've been there).
But when you're taking a road trip alone it's even more important to make sure you have somewhere comfortable to stay every night, as driving while overtired just isn't safe. After being at the wheel all day you're going to need your rest like never before.
Having a room booked will also give you somewhere to aim to end each day of your trip and provide a bit of structure. Just remember not to overstretch yourself by making the distances between them too great - this is supposed to be a holiday.
How to choose a hotel
When you're choosing which hotels to book, consider the fact that if you're going to spend all day alone in the car, then you probably want to make sure you're staying somewhere sociable in the evening to balance it out a bit.
If you're planning on staying in hostel dorm rooms then make sure to book into a private room at least every few days so that you have some undisturbed sleep and fully recharge your batteries. This is also wise advice if you're planning on sleeping in your car for any amount of time.
If possible, select a hotel that includes parking - not only is having to find somewhere else to park annoying (and it often works out expensive), you also don't want to risk ending up walking alone through dodgy neighbourhoods simply to get to and from your vehicle.
Sort your car out
Get your car serviced
No one wants to break down in the middle of nowhere, but you especially don't want to do it alone in the middle of nowhere, so get your car properly serviced by a qualified mechanic (i.e. not your mate's-neighbour's-dad) before you leave.
Not only will they do all of the odd jobs, like changing your oil and making sure your tyres have enough tread on, they'll also be able to tell you if they see anything that may go wrong in the near future.
Learn the basics
No matter how great your preparation is though, there's still a chance that once in a while things will go awry, probably when you least expect it.
What's worse though, is then taking your car to an overpriced mechanic only to discover that the problem is something so simple that you really could have fixed yourself. See where I'm going with this?
Before you leave, get someone to teach you the basics of car maintenance. As a rule you should really know how to:
Change a tyre
Check your oil
Check your tyre pressure
Jump start your engine and charge your battery
Refill your radiator, wiper fluid and oil reserves
Ideally, you'll be able to do the slightly more complex stuff too, like changing your brake pads or your oil.
The kit you need for a solo road trip
It might sound obvious, but when you're on a road trip by yourself you're the only one responsible for making sure you've got everything you need, and that it's all in working order. There'll be no one there to steal jumpers from on this journey.
We won't be patronising enough to tell you to bring sensible clothes and sturdy shoes, but there are a few other bits of kit that you really shouldn't leave home without:
As much as you're going to want to pop those mountain road shots straight onto Instagram, a solo road trip is a great time to take a digital detox and disconnect from the world for a few days. That said, there are still a couple of electronic devices you may wish to bring:
Your phone: Even if you keep it in flight mode it's still worth having with you - it's essentially your portal to being rescued, should the need arise.
A phone mount: Okay, so not technically an electronic device, but being able to just look up at Google Maps while your hands are still in the ten-and-two position is crucial. In some countries, just touching your phone whilst the engine is on - even if you're already pulled over - can land you in hot water.
A battery pack and USB: You never know when your phone is going to need an emergency burst of juice.
A dashcam: Like a GoPro to capture bad drivers and horrible moments, these are particularly useful if you're driving through countries known for corruption. Note that in some places (e.g. Switzerland) they are frowned upon because of privacy concerns, so do your research before you switch it on.
A wearable GPS tracker: Letting people know where you are will make you feel so much safer - find more information on GPS trackers further down.
A camera: It may sound a bit 2004, but having a physical camera rather than just relying on your phone will totally add to your Indiana Jones vibe.
Needless to say, make sure you charge all of your devices every night - sod's law dictates that it will be the one day you throw caution to the wind and set off with 20% battery charge that you end up needing rescuing.
Create an in-car essentials car kit
It's not only a tyre that you should take a spare of when you're on the road; you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain by having things like gloves, wrenches, oil and jump cords with you. As a rule, it's always beneficial to take a small first aid kit, wet-wipes and toilet tissue too.
When you're creating your kit, check if there are any items that you are legally obliged to carry in your car in each country that you're planning to visit - in France, for example, you must always carry a yellow reflective jacket for every passenger and warning triangles.
Before you head off, purchase a quality guide book or two so that you can look up sights or monuments that pique your interest without draining your phone battery.
They serve a secret double purpose too, because letting other travellers borrow them when you're stopped at service stations and restaurants is also a great way to make friends.
Sleeping bags and an emergency kit
Even if you're not planning on spending any nights in your car, it's a good idea to invest in a warm sleeping bag in case you do end up having to nap on the side of the road somewhere.
Teaming this with your emergency stuff kit, which should also include non-perishable food and drink, means that you can set off safe in the knowledge that even in the unlikely event of finding yourself stranded and alone, you'll be able to handle it.
How to make safety preparations for solo road trips
While the old adage may say that safety is found in numbers, there's absolutely no reason why travelling alone can't be perfectly safe too.
That said, you probably need to make a few more arrangements than you would if you were travelling with a friend; you'll be surprised by how much more confident you feel when you know that everything is taken care of.
Choose a nominated person
The golden rule is to keep in contact - always tell someone where you're going and when you expect to arrive. Although no one can know ever know exactly where you are every second of the day, it's still useful if someone has a rough idea of what your movements are going to be. Leave them a copy of your schedule and let them know if you deviate from it.
While you're updating your nominated person on your progress, be sure to also tell them who you're with. If you've picked up a hitchhiker then stop and let someone know asap.
Purchase a wearable tracker
For an added sense of security you may wish to purchase a GPS tracking unit, which will use global satellite systems to follow your movements. Although these can drop in and out of signal and so are not foolproof, they will allow friends or family to check in on where you are, should there be any concerns about your whereabouts.
When you're selecting a GPS tracker pay special consideration to the battery life that it provides - if you're having a 'long drive day' then finding one that lasts for all of it may be more of a challenge than you think.
Scan your important documents
It's also a good idea to scan your important documents - including your passport, driving license and car insurance policies - and save them to your Cloud or email system. You never know what's going to happen on the road and when you might need a second copy of these.
For double security, leave another copy with someone you trust.
Check your car insurance
Wherever you go in the world, you'll need to have car insurance; make sure yours meets the standards required for the country you're travelling in and covers you to drive outside of your home country.
Place a copy of these details, and any roadside assistance schemes you may be part of, in the glovebox of your car.
How to avoid boredom when you road trip alone
If there are five whiny words that every parent has heard before it's these: "Are we nearly there yet?!?!" But kids aren't the only ones prone to experiencing the odd bout of boredom on the road, and when you're travelling solo you're going to be even more vulnerable to it.
While the words "road trip" might conjure up romantic images of wide desert roads and breathtaking views, the truth is that there's also often quite a lot of dull motorway driving involved. For this reason, preparing for your solo road trip should also include having a plan about how to keep yourself occupied.
So what can you do?
Prepare playlists and podcasts
Any top road trip needs a sweet soundtrack and the good thing about driving alone is that there's no one there to argue with your music taste. Before you set off, spend some time sorting out your Spotify so that you have a playlist for every mood - future you will thank you for including that Shania Twain classic.
Alternatively - or additionally - seek out some engaging podcasts to listen to during your drive. If you're not sure where to start with podcasts, you simply download a podcast streaming app, such as Apple Podcasts or Castbox, choose a category that interests you and see what's trending.
It's also worth taking a selection of things to do when you're stopped at hotels or even just rest stations. Chilling out in a roadside cafe with a good book can be an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours, while offering a stranger a game of cards is a great way to start conversation.
Take your pet
Even if you've resolved to make your road trip a solo adventure free from all other humans, that doesn't mean man's four-legged friends can't come along too.
Taking a dog (or even cat) on a road trip will give you someone to natter with as you drive (someone that can't argue, no less), as well as providing you with a much needed reason to get out and stretch your legs every so often.
If you do choose to take your pet, make sure that you take all the food, medicine and toys you may need, as well as some as spare, and set up your car so that your pet is as secure as possible.
If you're still not sure where to start with making your pooch a passenger, check out our guide to how to do a road trip with your dog.
Pick up a passenger
If you did want some human connection, consider using ridesharing apps such as BlaBlaCar which allows you to advertise your intended route and let people apply to join you on your journey. This is also a great strategy to claw back your fuel money.Alternatively, you could pick up passengers as you meet people along the way.
Realistically, as a solo driver you must use more caution than you would have to if travelling with a friend - at the end of the day, you're agreeing to be trapped in a metal box with a stranger for the next however many hours.
However, using the most basic of common sense rules - if it doesn't seem right, it's probably not - should steer you in the right direction.
Well, that's about it. We hope you have an incredible solo road trip experience!