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Solo Female Road Trip Tips: All By Myself

A Girl's Guide to the Open Road for a Solo Trip

by Rachel L. Miller

CAUTION: You are now leaving on a solo road trip -- are you prepared?

"You're doing what?"

My mother's voice, usually calm and relatively soothing, was neither of those on this specific occasion.

You see, I had just casually mentioned that I was planning on going on an 1,400-mile, 22-hour road myself. I knew the nonchalant way in which the trip was mentioned did little to quell my mother's fears. I could tell that, of course, by the way her left eye twitched every so slightly, the way her lips pursed in that way all mothers do when they disapprove -- a trait they must develop as soon as a baby passes from the womb.

"Why not take someone with you?" she suggested.

"Because, Mom, like I said, I'm doing this on my own," I replied, trying to keep my voice level.

After all, it had been years since I'd moved out, gotten a job and declared my independence -- not like that mattered to her, of course. Just because you grew up doesn't mean I've stopped being a mother, I remembered her saying. When I saw a raised eyebrow joining the pursed lips, I added a bit too hastily, "It'll be fun. Definitely something to write about."

"If you manage to make it back in one piece," she pointed out quickly.

I sighed, rolling my eyes dramatically, suddenly feeling like a teenager again. "Of course I will."

And although I intended to make it back to Michigan unscathed, the truth was I was a little trepadacious about embarking on my first solo road trip. After all, I was accustomed to the luxury of always having a traveling companion -- someone who could split the driving duties with me. Someone to talk to on those long stretches of highway. Someone to take a turn pumping gas. Someone to join me in wretchedly belting out the lyrics of Aerosmith's "Dream On" as we drove up a twisting mountain road.

"It'll be an experience," I was fond of saying those days (and hours) before hitting the road last June. "If nothing else, it'll be an experience."

But before the experience actually got underway, I had a lot of preparing to do. Which leads me to the following list for my fellow potential solo female road trippers:

  • Take a dependable vehicle. You don't want to be going anywhere (long-distance road trip or not) in an unstable car. There's nothing worse than constantly fearing a breakdown (and your subsequent meltdown). I drove our long-term road test vehicle - an '03 Subaru Outback that only had about 5,000 miles on it. The car handled beautifully, its solid V6 managing the Smoky Mountains without breaking a sweat. It hugged curves, stopped on a dime and had hardly any wind noise whatsoever.

  • Get a pre-trip check-up for your car. It can cost as little as $20, but it'll give you major peace of mind while you're trucking away on the interstate. Get the oil changed and most places (such as Jiffy Lube) will do a quick inspection of the rest of the vehicle, as well as top off fluids. Our oil change and checkup at Jiffy Lube cost $30 and took only five minutes, not counting the extra five minutes the technicians used to drool over the Subaru's engine. ("It's so pretty," one said. Since when do tough-as-nails car mechanics use the word pretty, anyhow?) You also might want to mention the terrain over which you'll be driving -- desert driving is much different than tackling the Rockies (click here for more information).

    Map out your route -- and be familiar with it. Shoot off an e-mail to AAA (if you're a member) and request maps of the areas through which you'll be driving. Always have a road atlas stashed in your car -- they're cheap (Rand McNally's is about $12) and will save you from all sorts of trouble if you get lost. And make sure to study the route for at least a few minutes -- if you're anal like me, you might even pinpoint an exit you'll want to use for a gas or food pitstop. I discovered a great road trip tool in the guidebook "Along Interstate 75" by Dave Hunter ($21.95, Mile Oak Publishing -- it's usually on sale on for $16), which has amazingly detailed mile-by-mile maps of I-75, including tips on speed traps (take that, Ohio!), tips on avoiding rush hour traffic (a-ha, Cincinnati!) and places of interest along the way (mmmm, real Tennessee moonshine!).

  • Have an emergency kit in the trunk. I don't drive anywhere without a trusty nylon bag containing all the essentials in case of vehicle trouble. Make sure yours has the following: a flashlight, bottled water, batteries, jumper cables, a can of Fix-A-Flat (in case of the dreaded flat tire), first aid supplies, flares or a reflective triangle and enough change to make a telephone call, if necessary. I also always throw a blanket in with the kit -- you just never know when it could come in handy.

  • Know how to use your car's personal assistance options. One in three female drivers feel uncomfortable driving alone. If your car has OnStar (or a similar service), you're a lucky soul. The friendly operators can easily help you if you get lost while traversing the country. They can assist you with other matters, too -- OnStar, for example, allows you to make and receive calls in your vehicle with a fully integrated, hands-free, wireless phone that uses voice-activated commands. So make sure to read up on all the benefits your particular service before you hit the road!

That said, it was time to hit the road. I was completely excited about beginning my adventure that I left right after work on a Wednesday. Which leads me to my first piece of advice about the actual road trip:

  • Try to avoid driving during peak hours. Leaving at 7 a.m. or 5 p.m. on a workday -- not so smart. I sat in Detroit's traffic for an extra hour or two, not a good thing when you want to get as many miles under your belt in the shortest amount of time. And the traffic (in addition to miles of orange construction barrels) quickly put a damper on my excitement.

But eventually I made it out of the city, past the Ohio border and into the most boring stretch of road imaginable -- three hours of nothing but Ohio farm country. It also meant a small selection of radio stations, which unless you're fond of static-enshrouded Barbara Streisand (and I am not), it's good to:

  • Have a decent number of good CDs stocked in the car. I had a CD for every mood, every environment -- hell, every mile. Burn a few mix CDs before you leave, ones that you know will keep the excitement flowing. The Subaru's six-CD changer was ready to accommodate my fickle (and often-fluctuating) tastes, and the car's superb sound system surrounded me with glorious good music all the way to my destination in North Carolina. Just be careful when changing CDs -- you might want to wait until you've stopped for gas -- it's easy to be distracted while shuffling through discs. And if you bring a lot of CDs, make sure to keep them hidden from view in the car; you don't want to give a thief any reason to target your vehicle.

So with night falling and my music helping me to the edge of the Ohio-Kentucky border, it was time to stop at a friend's for the night. Driving at night, at least for me, is much more strenuous than driving in daylight. For one, it's easier to feel tired, with no companion and the constant motion of the car threatening to lull you to sleep. Secondly, stopping at rest areas and gas stations at night leave me feeling a bit uneasy. And third, it's just harder for me to see at night -- period. Use your own judgment as to when to stop, but keep in mind:

  • Stop driving when you feel tired. It's really that simple. I know you want to drive as far as you possibly can, but another 100 miles is not worth risking your life. Driving drowsy is a major problem in the U.S., with 100,000 reported sleep-related accidents each year, resulting in more than 71,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths -- please don't let yourself become a statistic. Baymont Inns & Suites is running a great program called Drive Revived™, offering 180 Baymont locations across America at which travelers can stop to enjoy a safe, clean and comfortable environment. Pull in to any Baymont for a rest -- and the hotel even provides free coffee or bottled water while you no obligation. Drivers have access to the cozy comfort of Baymont's warm and friendly lobby, 24/7, and if you decide you need to get some sleep, they offer a reduced Drive Revived™ rate that is very reasonable.

After a solid five hours of sleep, I woke up early to start the remaining seven hours of my journey. Learning from my earlier mistake of hitting rush hour traffic, I managed to skim by at the tail end of the morning rush in Cincinnati. The hills and mountains beyond beckoned to me and by the time I reached Tennessee, each curve in the road offered yet another gorgeous vista.

  • Bring a camera -- and don't be afraid to use it. Many freeways post signs advising an upcoming photo opportunity. Take advantage of the freedom of being a solo traveler; you have only yourself to please. So stop and shoot a few photos of the view...and ask a fellow traveler (preferably a family) to take a quick shot of you in front of the scenery. You'll be grateful for it later. But be smart about where and when you pull off the road -- you don't want to cause an accident or be struck by a passing vehicle while you're admiring the view.

The author at her final destination in North Carolina - Biltmore Estate.

Despite my mother's dire predictions, my first solo trip was a complete success. The hardest part was the exhausting 11-hour drive home, but I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. The feelings of euphoria, relief and pride I felt when pulling into my driveway at the end of my journey have no comparison.

That said, I'll leave you with two final tips from my solo road trip treasure trove:

  • Carry your cell phone and keep it charged. Sure, people nowadays are loath to ever be parted from their precious cell phones, but you'd be surprised how many forget to bring along (or buy) a charger for the phone. Being on the road for a long period of time, your battery is bound to get drained. A simple charger that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter costs less than $20 and will keep your phone charged for the duration of your road trip. Believe me, you'll be glad you brought it.

  • Make sure to check in back home. Your loved ones may be worried about you...or perhaps you just want to make sure your teenager hasn't burned down the house. Either way, it's a good thing to check in with your home base during the trip. Not only is it good for family to know where you are in case of anything, they might also get a kick of learning where in the country you're currently passing through (at the posted speed limit, of course). My mom, despite her earlier apprehension, loved my "guess where I am now" phone calls. And even though my call while passing the exit for Kentucky's Big Bone Lick State Park was pretty much a string of snickers and giggles, she was still glad to know I was OK.