By Trudi Mehew on 23 February 2015

What makes the perfect road trip? Is it just luck - or is there a secret formula you can use to make the most of your journey?

Road trips, like haircuts, don’t often go wrong - but when they do, it’s disastrous. We’ve often called up friends after they return from ‘the trip of a lifetime’ and asked them how the road trip section went. “Oh. That,” they’ve said. “To be honest, it was a bit of a washout.”

The summer’s here, and with it comes the need to hit the dusty road with our friends and/or family. Here are ten tips and tricks to ensure your road trip is a journey to remember - for all the right reasons.

1. It sounds painfully obvious, but make sure that you’re sure about the people you’re travelling with. If there’s one person who you know will wind you up, think carefully. If you can’t stand them for a few hours in the pub, how will you cope when you’re trapped in a hot car with them?

2. Swallow your pride and invest in a GPS, if you don’t have one. It’s very romantic and cool to pretend that you’ll make your way across the country by map, but let’s face it - can anyone actually read a map any more? By making sure you can’t get lost, you’ve already done away with a major source of discontent. Well done, you.

3. Taking turns to play a song each is both irritating and hard to organise. You’re better off compiling a playlist each and agreeing that each playlist gets an hour of airtime. Don’t try to be clever if you know that a member of the group hates certain songs, and include them on the playlist. It’ll be funny after the first one but by the time you reach ‘Young at Heart’ they will probably not be speaking to you.

4. Don’t forget snacks and water. You’ve made all these plans to eat at roadside cafes and take regular breaks to stretch your legs, which is all fine and dandy, but we bet you haven’t considered the drivers’ major pet peeve - traffic jams. Getting caught in a sweltering traffic queue without any water or food is no joke.

5. Sorry to sound like a killjoy, but this is one of the times in life when substance definitely wins over style. You’ll want a vehicle that you’re all comfortable driving (goodbye, gears!) and something with as much space as possible. Don’t set off with the mechanical equivalent of a racehorse that’ll break down at the first set of traffic lights and start belching smoke if you take it over 70km/h.

6. On the subject of cars breaking down, here’s an idea - learn the basics before you set off. Learn how to check the oil and water, jump-start the car, replace the windshield wiper fluid, change a tyre and carry out general maintenance. Still unsure? Ask a friend or family member to help out, or check out YouTube; there are plenty of video tutorials from people in the know. If you're hiring a car, check the rental company's excess in case the car is damaged or stolen. Do this before you pick up the car, so you can shop around for insurance that covers this to the level you feel comfortable with. Our policies include up to $4,000 cover for damage to the rental vehicle that was due to a car accident that happened while you were the driver or if the car/van was maliciously damaged or stolen. Right, shameless plug over. Onwards...

7. Don’t drink too much alcohol after hours. Once you’re checked into a hotel after a long day’s drive, it’s tempting to hit the bar in a big way. Take it easy with the booze, though - especially if you’re lined up to drive the following morning. You don’t want to be getting behind the wheel still feeling a bit wonky. Even if you’re not driving, who wants to be hungover in a hot car? Not us. Not even with the windows rolled down.

8. Be flexible. It’s good to have some structure in place, especially if you’ve all decided beforehand that there are certain things you shouldn’t miss, but it’s OK to deviate from the plan slightly. Go on, give that beach a go, and while you’re at it, stop for something to eat at that steak restaurant you all gaped at. You haven’t eaten since breakfast, remember?

9. Be realistic about the hours you’ll be driving. It’s all very well to sit down with a spreadsheet and optimistically declare that you’ll be driving from 10am until 4pm every day, but factor in traffic, tiredness, issues with your vehicle and getting sidetracked by one of the world’s many wonders. The best road trips don’t tend to go to plan, and arrive at their destination way after the pre-ordained time. Easy-to-drive targets are the way forward.

10. Finally, don’t let familiarity and/or grouchiness get the better of you. If you know that there are certain topics that cause friction and you’re a bit bored in a traffic jam, avoid the urge to bring them up. Just because you’ve been on an amazing journey with these people doesn’t mean you can now discuss how much you fancied their ex or how you hate their washing habits. Ever tried to walk away from a row in a moving vehicle? Exactly. Keep your mouth zipped.

We can’t guarantee it, but if you try to adhere to all of these rules, you should have a fairly successful recipe for a brilliant road trip. Now’s the time to get out there and embrace the road - and don’t forget to let us know if you think of any more handy hints that we’ve missed out...

Have you been on an awesome road trip or maybe a road trip from hell recently? Share your story on our Facebook page.

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