If she makes that sniffing noise one more time, I will go crazy, wrote one of my ancestors emigrating from Virginia to Arkansas in the early 1800’s. We don’t have much documentation of the annoying habits of pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail or those going to California in search of gold. Stories of starvation, disease, and massacres took precedent over repetitive habits, but you can bet they were there. And so will they be in any road trip you choose to take with friends unless you plan carefully.
1. Choose your friends carefully. No matter how nice someone is, if she clears her throat every 20 seconds or he smokes black cigars, you may want to think twice about spending time together within the tight confines of a car or shared motel or tent space. Pick only those friends you know really well. Avoid the person who carries a log with him who wants to document every bathroom stop, every statement, every roadside sign and who goes to sleep at night only after he has logged out, 10:43 pm. Pick friends with even temperaments, not the ones who take offense at good-humored jokes or any deviation from the plan. And even if you like all the people, make sure they like each other, too. A road trip is not the place for your best friend to meet someone else’s best friend for the first time.
2. Plan carefully. Anticipation can be half the fun of the trip so let your group meet often to lay out everything from the route to nightly stops to the budget. Agree on the sleeping arrangements in advance. Are two people going to share a room or a bed? Agree on it before hand. What about snoring? The person who makes 10 trips a night to the bathroom, turning on all the lights on the way? The one who sleepwalks or sleep talks? There should be full disclosure of all your bad habits, including gas
3. Money. What’s the budget for this trip and how are you going to pay for it? There are many reasonable ways to divide up the cost. You can have one person charge all the gas and then divide the amount among all those on the trip. The person whose car you use should get some extra for wear and tear on the vehicle. If you’re staying in motels or campgrounds, you can divide that cost, too, but payment should be on the road, not catch you later. Nothing builds resentment faster than being owed money. If you eat in restaurants, the easiest way is to ask for separate bills. That way you’re not paying for someone else’s wine or beer if you don’t drink, and if you ordered the grilled cheese sandwich, why should you pay for half of another person’s filet mignon? If you’re renting a place in a resort, you can each put the same amount in a communal pot for buying groceries. When the money is gone, then it’s time to put more in.
4. Time. If you’ve planned your route carefully as a group, there should be no arguments about how much time you’ll spend in a certain place. However, if you find a place, where everyone agrees (perhaps by a secret ballot) to linger an extra day, then you can do so. But if one person doesn’t want to, you should adhere to the original plan because that’s what you agreed to. If you go by majority rule, it can leave the one who voted against it very upset because that’s not what you agreed to.
5. Pack lightly. It’s not much fun riding in the backseat with someone’s suitcase in your lap for 500 or 1000 miles. The amount of clothing and other essentials you’re going to bring should be agreed upon in the planning session. As important as what you’ll bring is what you’ll leave behind: past disagreements and other emotional baggage. Instead, bring a spirit of adventure, a sense of humor, a desire to know more about each other, and a quest for relaxation and fun.
6. Share duties. Are you all going to drive equal amounts of time? Is there anyone’s driving habits which scare you? It’s fine if the car’s owner wants to do all or most of the driving but everyone should be comfortable with that. And if any of you are back seat drivers, fess up and shut up, as this practice is more dangerous than helpful. Good friends should trust the competence of each other. Duties like packing and cleaning should be shared as well. If you’re camping, who is responsible for the cooking, the dishes, the fire, etc? All duties should be discussed and delegated before setting out on the road.
Although we all hear horror stories of road trips gone wrong, the truth is that there are many more which are joyful events. A road trip with good friends can be a memory that will last a lifetime. If you plan, pack, play, and pay with consideration for each other, the miles that you travel together can lead to even stronger bonds of friendship.