Road Trip Essentials

Obviously, the most important thing to a road trip is a car – and I just recently got a new one! After having many struggles with my first and only car, a 2006 Kia Sportage with over 200,000 miles, I made the jump to a 2016 Subaru Forester. I rented one when I drove to the Oregon coast and loved it so much,  I had my eye on it when car shopping. Of course, I got green! I picked this size because it’s not overly big but still fits my road trip mattress in the back. I talked about road trips quite awhile ago, mainly focusing on car camping: The Good of Roadtrips, the Bad of Car Camping. But today I’m sharing some things I always try to have on a road trip! Always be prepared.

Instead of blowing money on whatever mediocre snacks I can find at the gas station I stop at, I always try and get snacks a couple of days before a road trip. Not only does this help me save money, it helps when I know I have something I’ll want (that’s also healthy!). I will usually bring protein bars, like Clif, RX, or Lara. I love bringing a bag of apples because that freshness is always welcome when you’ve been in the car for a few hours. And weirdly enough, chips and salsa is one of my favorite road trip snacks! It’s easy enough to dip straight out of the jar and easy to keep mess-free if you’re careful (or not driving). I’ll also pack pb&j ingredients because it’s my favorite hiking food, but after a terrible mishap in California I’ll never make another sandwich while on the road again.

The truth of road trips is you’ll probably have to have fast food now and again if you’re trying to save time and want something warm. Being a vegetarian, it’s not always easy to get something good. I’ve definitely learned where my favorite stops are. The market base salad at Chik-fil-A is great because it’s cheaper without the meat and is full of yummy fruits and nuts. I’ve also become a fan of the simple egg biscuit at McDonald’s. I’ve learned that too much fried food when stuck on a road trip is a bad idea, so I definitely try and stay away from fries and hashbrowns even though they’re so delicious. Of course, it’s not always easy to count on a certain fast food place to be around on the route, so I’ve learned to be flexible with the side items on the menu.

There’s only a couple of comfort items I keep on hand, mainly because I usually have a bed made up in the back. It’s an old futon mattress I cut to make it a single or double sized depending on how many of us are on the trip. We usually make it with one sheet, one pillow, and one blanket so that stuff doesn’t take up too much room. (Especially when we also have our sleeping bags with us.) One of my most important items is a pair of easy slip-on shoes no matter the weather. Getting out for a tank fillup without shoes – or having to put on boots – is so obnoxious that I always throw some sandals in my door side. It’s a no-brainer and I have a few pairs at all times in my car, but sunglasses are obviously essential for any road trip.

One of my favorite thing about road trips is discovering new things you hadn’t even thought to  look for. It’s important to know in your trip itinerary when you have extra time for stops. It’s when I leave this time that I love looking for billboards or shops that look fun or interesting. These random stops are responsible for me checking out the Georgetown caves in Texas, stopping to pet a baby alligator in Louisiana, and  the cute coffee shop find in the middle of nowhere New Mexico.

It’s important to note there’s a few things I bring just in case of emergencies. I always have a lot of stuff for the car: spare tire, automatic air pump, various fuses and tools for easy fixes. I always have lots of water just in case. (Water! Yes! Always water, usually in jugs that I pour into the two different water bottles I have with me.) I always have my taser just in case. (Especially if I’m camping or doing a lot of night driving.) I also always have my mini first aid kit with me because accidents do happen. I got a splinter at a gas station once (gross) so I was glad to have the medical tweezers.

What do you bring on your road trips?

Drive through Nowhere to Hidden Organic Haven

After the awesomeness of El Malpais, we were fine that El Morro was a little disappointing. The El Morro National Monument is most known for its sandstone cliffside. Deciding our drive up to its massive edge was good enough, we got our stamp and continued on.

Here, something crazy happened and my scheduling was off by almost two hours. I know! And after I’d gotten so good at road trip timing. Driving almost the whole west border of New Mexico was quite a feat for one day, but in making the itinerary I’d cut the time it would take by a third. So after our day of fun, it was time for some driving off the grid.

Lola, Jenna, and I were very much out in the middle of nowhere, not even able to map our Airbnb on our faltering GPS. We knew the roads and the vague area though, so we went after it. The sun was setting and it was drizzling, so when we passed the first sign of civilization we decided to stop to try and connect to satellites and our Airbnb host’s directions.

Not sure we’d find another chance, we stopped at a little mart to look at snacks and then decided we might as well grab a full sit down dinner at the cafe next door. Everyone was so friendly – it was a nice little reenergizing stop. We got the directions we needed and got going even though it was so dark and we were following hand written directions (like the old days ha!) to get to our beds for the night.

We arrived and met our hosts, D & D, a cute couple who owned the bed and breakfast that we’d found through Airbnb. Immediately there was so much about the place I was in love with. The couple had spent the day picking the vegetables from their backyard to can the next day. The whole house was fragrance free and full of organic and vegetarian-friendly foods in the kitchen.

After a day of hiking and driving, we were delighted to find out there was a hot tub out back under the stars. A hot soak was just what we needed! Then I took a shower with all natural bath products and nerded out living my best clean hippie life. I definitely tried every item because it was all sulfate-free, vegan, and unscented. And maybe I took a sample of locally made coconut moisturizer.

A great night’s sleep and then I was up with the sunrise. Mostly it was hidden by the cloudy sky, but as the sun brightened the surrounding landscape beauty emerged. Ah, New Mexico sure is gorgeous. I munched on one of the homemade morning glory muffins and brewed local coffee in the pot, realizing why bed and breakfasts are so popular.

It was time to head home. After a leisurely packing and hitting the road, we began our drive. Only an hour or so later and we hit the “beginning” of our road to the day’s stop (and our last New Mexico National Park site!) the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This road winded through curving roads and a bunch of trees. While I had a great time driving and enjoying the scenery, there was some motion sickness from my travel buddies because of the continuous twists and turns.

Finally, though we passed back and forth between Gila National Forest and Gila Cliff Dwellings NM, we arrived at our visitor center, a secluded spot in the middle of vast nature. We were excited to get out and stretch our legs. However, well to be honest, the park ranger scared us about time. Looking at our itinerary she said we were misjudging our following drive by two whole hours and we wouldn’t have time to see the cliff dwellings.

We didn’t have GPS to check our route and because of the mishap the day before judging driving times we trusted that if we stayed to hike we wouldn’t have time to get to our next destination before it closed. Bummed, we spent a bit of time checking out the surrounding valley and then headed back through the twists and turns of road. It would turn out the ranger was wrong. We would’ve had time for our hour hike and if you can believe it our next stop (to see the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns) ended up being a total letdown.

Sure, there was still lots of amazing views on our drive home, but missing out on that midday hike made the final leg of our trip feel dreary. So even though I’ve learned to accept surprises when I travel, the lesson here is to appreciate the things you didn’t count on from the original itinerary. Sometimes taking the risk, brings the higher reward. We should’ve stopped to do the hike, risking missing that final stop. As always, I’m learning to take my time on road trips.

Lead to Hot Water Hills by a Reiki

It was time to venture into Arkansas! Even though the temperatures were easing up only slightly in Dallas, I’d been dreaming of taking a bath in some natural springs. I thought the Hot Springs National Park was the obvious venture, but I’d soon find out all you’d find there were some cool bath houses with fancy spa packages – not exactly the hidden adventure I’d expected. Fortunately, there was still plenty of adventure to be made!

After an early start to get on the road, we headed to the Arkansas Post National Memorial. While mostly another battle site, it also offered some great views of the Arkansas River, which had once been a famous trading post. I’d not explored much nature in Arkansas, but this was a great introduction.

Next stop was one of America’s most iconic stops, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. While the high school is pretty much an average high school, the history behind it was amazing to revisit. As the building most known for our country’s desegregation, it was really touching to get a closer look at the Little Rock Nine – the students who went through the hardship of this necessary education equal rights.

This National Park site was honestly the one we scoured the most. I wanted every detail and enjoyed the personal stories so much. Even if you’ve heard of the (in)famous nine in passing, following their journeys in detail through the years was much more eye-opening. In class you think of this education desegregation as one day, when in reality just this event took years.

It was time to head to the Hot Springs and we were pretty excited. Even though we wouldn’t get to bathe in healing waters in the wild, after arriving we found ourselves in a run-in with a karmic Reiki healer who lead us to a “pure natural source that hadn’t been tarnished by the rusting underground pipes” where I quickly filled up my whole water bottle. He kept talking about the energy he felt and how he swore his body felt stronger, and I couldn’t help but think we were just as enchanted as they’d been years ago when the Springs had claimed to heal all sorts of terminal diseases.

We took a quick tour of the old bath houses, but after our authentic healer-taught experience by an actual spring, the commercialized spas and large bath houses just weren’t as impressive. Luckily for us, that night was the annual Hot Water Hills Festival, which was sure to offer us more of the strange and mystic.

They’d set up the festival in the middle of the town square, putting up lots of local craft and artisans, delightful food trucks, and a score of live bands. It was a lot of fun to look at everything and y’all with the locals. I certainly looked at close to a thousand crystals and enjoyed sipping my blueberry-infused draft beer. The music was pretty great too, and you could tell people were enjoying letting their “weird” out more than usual.

After an eventful night with a hard rest, we got on the road and headed to our last stop before home – President Clinton’s birth home. It was kind of weird to us that this little house was a National Park site, but we checked out Clinton’s family photos and headed on our way.

No matter what I go in expecting, I’m never let down by these adventures! I may not always get what I picture, but I always find something new and unique to experience. At this point I’ve hit a lot of National Parks site and I can’t wait to see where I’m going next!