Commuting over 60 miles round-trip to middle and high school made me incredibly comfortable with driving. Add in regular four-hour trips to my mom's hometown, six hours to visit relatives in Milwaukee, and the occasional vacation drive even farther, and road trips are basically ingrained in me now. (Twice one summer I drove from Minnesota to Columbus, Ohio—once alone! No problem. Bring on the open roads!)
The trick to a successful road trip is being prepared. Here are my top five must-haves:
1. Mood Music
Music is an obvious option, but key in on "mood." Variety is key to work your way through a long journey. Often I'll listen to a little mellow Enya or classical as a journey begins, because I either want to think about my work day or plot the fun weekend ahead. It's the lack of distraction that's really desired. Then there's music as an activity, where I want to really sing along with the artists. And of course, if traveling with others, a variety of options is good based on many tastes.
2. Mental Stimulation
Music can only get you so far, though. I like books on CD for really long trips (a recent great find being "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. What drama, and great voices doing the reading! It's a play, with your own imagination as the set). And podcasts captivate too. You kill time and learn something! Recommendation: "Stuff You Should Know" podcasts from Howstuffworks.com, available on iTunes for download. They spend about 30 minutes examining a particular issue, explaining the history behind it, and how it works.
Don't forget the kids: Movies are nice, but kid-friendly apps can often distract even better, and teach a thing or too, if not dexterity. Try apps from Toca Boca, Duck Duck Moose, Night & Day Studios, loudcrow and Thump Makes Games.
Again, obvious, but keep in mind: Food can distract! Sunflower seeds are always a nice no-hands "task." But overall, think easy (tricky packaging bad!) and little-to-no mess (do you really want cheesy Dorito-or-Cheeto fingers all over your driving wheel?). Also, something warm and cold to drink is nice, based on season, mood, and level of awakeness!
Phone chargers. First Aid kits. AAA. Maps! They may sound old school, but are absolutely essential and worth lugging in your trunk year-round for the one and only time you need it. Plus, Internet can be spotty once outside the metro. Be prepared.
In the end, rushing isn't fun. And we all know life is full of surprises...and flat tires. A trip is always bound to go better if you're not rushed. Take the pressure off and work in extra time than it takes. Then you can make an extra stop, stretch your legs, or even pull over for quick snooze if your eyelids are getting too heavy.