Long distance driving is one of those things that is easy to learn, but hard to master. Throughout the years, I did weekly 3-4 hour drives and 6-7 hour monthly drives. All of this driving was either round-trip from Santa Barbara to NorCal or to SoCal. All of these drives have built up my driving tolerance to an ungodly level. The goal of this guide is to help the average driver understand how to drive long distances without feeling too tired at the end!
When you realize that you will have to make a road trip soon, many people don't go in with the right mentality. This is singlehandedly one of the most important aspects of getting through a car trip because a bad attitude will affect your perception and thought process. Ultimately, you'll end up feeling more drained, tired, and irritated. Therefore, preparation is key!
A few days before the drive, make sure to do these things:
1. Look up the route you're taking beforehand - This is really important because you want to know roughly what the directions are. You can just wing it and use Google Maps on the go, but having a rough picture of your route can help you in case you make a wrong turn or an impromptu stop. Then, you can rely on what you remember instead of fiddling with your phone or your GPS as you're driving.
*** Ask yourself ***
Are there any toll roads on this route that are cash-only?
Am I going to drive through heavily populated/sparsely populated areas?
Are gas stations equally spaced on your route, or will you need to research where to get gas ahead of time?
How is the terrain on this route?
Although you probably don't need to go into as much detail as I just did, it is worth the investment to do some research on the freeway you will be traveling on, just so you know some information on it.
*** Will you need to get to your destination by a certain time? ***
If yes, keep reading.
If no, skip to step #3.
2. Give yourself enough time to get to your destination - I cannot tell you the number of times where I grossly miscalculated the driving time and was late. Anyone that tells you "it only takes X amount of hours to get here if you leave at X time" is LYING to you. Traffic is highly variable, especially in California. Although there are predictable patterns and times when it is better to drive than others, it takes thousands of hours of driving time to really know a particular area's traffic patterns.
In the black and yellow circle of the image above, you can use Google Maps to predict when you will arrive at your destination given an estimated departure time. You can also give Maps a desired arrival time, and it will give you a departure time range. This feature is very valuable because in my experiences (1000+ trials), it's about 95% accurate. You can also do this on your phone, but it's a little harder. When you are setting up your directions, you should see three little ellipsis somewhere. You'll want to click on that and then go to "Set a reminder to leave". There, it will give you roughly what's in the picture above.
Example A: You need to get to place Y at 10pm from place X, which are 100 miles apart. Maps says it will take you 2 hours. You use the feature above and it says it will take you 1 hr 50 min - 2 hr 40 min (leave between 7:20pm and 8:50pm). 30/100 miles is through a downtown area notoriously known for bad rush hour traffic. You should leave at 7pm, giving you 20 minutes for any unaccounted accidents or additional traffic you might encounter.
Example B: Use the itinerary in the photo above as the parameters for this example. You need to get to your destination by 10pm, and you know your route will have minimal traffic towards the end. You should leave at around 2pm-3pm (no later than 3pm) to make it on time. This is because you may stop for food or bathroom breaks, and any deviations from your route will add to your driving time.
The moral of the story here is that always overestimate the time you will need. If Maps says 2 hours, give yourself 2.5 hours. Usually a good, conservative estimate to add is half an hour but it depends on how far you are going. The further you're going, the more time you'll want to leave yourself. Trust me on this one.
3. Get some good rest beforehand - The last thing you want happening is that you get drowsy and fall asleep on the wheel. You want to make sure that you are getting an adequate amount of sleep so you're feeling refreshed for the drive! This is very obvious, but lots of people think that they can rely on coffee or an energy drink. This is the wrong mentality because there's no good substitute for sleep!
During the Drive
Today's the day of your 7 hour drive, and you're not feeling too thrilled - why is that? It could be for multiple reasons, but my experience has taught me that it boils down to 2 essential points - fatigue and boredom. We'll tackle both these points individually below, and how you can ensure you have a safe road trip.
This is easily the biggest issue on a long drive - mostly because you are forced to concentrate on multiple things going around you at the same time. Also, it's not even interesting! Think of it as a boring class - if your professor is not very engaging, you'll most likely doze off. The same thing applies here.
If you get nothing else from this article, please remember this: if you are feeling drowsy or sleepy, pull over/make a stop and take a rest! This is hard to do because you'll probably want to get to your destination ASAP and stop driving. I've been guilty of this multiple times too. But for everyone's safety, pull over or exit to "refresh" your mind. The mentality here is that you want to shift your focus to something that isn't driving a car, so that your focus can "reset".
The best thing you can do to prevent fatigue from affecting your driving is to lie your seat down and take a mini nap (15 min - 30 min). You don't even need to actually fall asleep for this to make you feel more awake. Just closing your eyes will do wonders. Some alternatives to this include going on a bathroom break, getting a bite to eat, or walking around/stretching your legs. Even pulling over on the side of the highway and replying to a message or watching Snapchat/Instagram stories can reset your mind (but please do NOT do this while you're driving!).
If you are feeling experiencing driving fatigue and CANNOT pull over or exit for some reason (usually because you're in the middle of nowhere or driving on a one lane highway), then you can try these methods - but your FIRST resort should always be pulling over and getting some rest.
1. Pinching yourself - Sounds silly, but it works most of the time. Pinch yourself where you feel it hurts the most (it's different for everyone) and keep repeating until you feel a little more awake.
2. Opening the windows, even at night - Again, sounds silly but the cold and noise from the wind will probably perk you right up. The key is to leave the windows down for as long as possible so that you'll get a little annoyed, which should wake you up for the time being. It's super effective if it's raining.
3. Hitting/slapping yourself - Now, this sounds a little extreme but it's oddly effective. At first, it's all a mind game because intuitively, you don't want to hurt yourself. However, a few slaps here and there will wake you up. For this method, I usually just slap myself in the face or give my head a few taps here and there. But you really don't want to do this unless you've run out of options.
4. Turning up the volume of your music to the max - Think of it as making your car the centerpiece of a rave/EDM concert. Your ears will hurt, but you'll definitely perk up a little after that. Keep the volume at MAX for as long as you need it, then turn it down. Bonus points if you sing along with your music like you're the lead singer at a sold-out concert.
5. Changing lanes - This one sounds a little odd, but chances are you've gotten drowsy because you've been driving in a straight line for 100+ miles. By making a safe lane change once and then again to go back where you were, sometimes it does a mini "reset" in your brain where it changes your focus - that might be all you need to stay awake.
A combination of all these options should tide you over until the next exit, but you should only use these as a last resort - I am NOT advocating driving when one feels extremely tired. Rather, these options are designed and tested for a short-term fix.
If you are driving with your friends, then you should NEVER feel bored - force your friends to talk to you and always make sure one person is awake throughout the entire ride. No one should be allowed to just sleep the entire ride because it's disrespectful and unsafe for you and everyone else. The best option is switching drivers throughout.
However, if you are stuck on a solo road trip, there are plenty of ways to pass the time. Here are some of my favorite tips:
1. Listening to podcasts - I recently discovered podcasts, and it has been a game changer. Find what interests you and download lots of episodes of that! I personally listen to a traveling-related podcast which basically follows two people as they travel to different places.
2. Having a playlist, and then changing up the music when you get sick of your playlist - The key to getting through a long car ride is a good playlist - you know what your music taste is! But what if you're getting tired of your playlist? What's happening here is that your mind gets accustomed to your playlist, so the effectiveness decreases over time. The trick here is to constantly change up what you're listening to so that your mind doesn't get used to a particular list of songs. You want to pick something that makes you slightly annoyed or not too comfortable (bonus points for something that is very obnoxious). When I have this problem, my top favorites is anything from the Glee Cast, Lady Gaga, or death metal. Honestly, anything slightly mediocre will do which is dependent on person to person. Also, on a side note, songs that are easy to sing along to are also great ones to keep you engaged on your drive.
3. Snacks - A good snack can make all the difference! When picking snacks, you want to choose something that is relatively healthy but easy to eat. You don't want to eat anything that's too sugary or fattening.
Don't go with: Chips, candy, anything that requires a utensil or lots of crumbs
Go with: Mixed nuts/granola, fruit (preferably sliced for less of a mess), carrots (basically just think of foods that you would eat if you were trying to be healthy!)
General Road trip Tips
Here are some tips to help you out on your journey!
1. Never pass up the chance to go to the bathroom. This is because it is hard to find a nice bathroom on the road, and you will regret passing up the chance when your bladder needs attention an hour or so later. If your buddy needs to go, or if you're stopping to get food, just go to the bathroom even if you're not feeling that urge.
2. Ignore aggressive/unsafe drivers and you do you. Now, this one may be a tough one to swallow but nothing good can come out of you getting road rage at someone else because they made a lane change in front of you. Ideally, you would be desensitized to people's questionable decisions so it doesn't affect your safe driving judgment (it takes a while to develop this mentality). If someone does something unsafe around you (tailgating, excessive honking, etc.), just let them get past you and don't get mad about it. It is not worth the mental capacity to get angry, because you need to keep your focus on being safe on the road!
3. Don't speed (to a certain extent). Now, this one is clearly obvious and we all do it but going 90 in a 70 mph zone is dangerous for you and the people around you. You can probably get away with going the speed limit plus 10 mph, but anything beyond that and you're asking to get pulled over. It's very easy to forget how fast you're going on long drives, so just check the speedometer every once in a while.
From a non-safety standpoint, California highways are filled with cops just waiting for you to break the law so they can issue you a ticket. Speeding is especially risky on highways with long stretches of nothingness (US-101 from Santa Barbara to San Jose & I-5 from LA to Sacramento) because cops like to hide behind structures or nature. The risk increases at night because lots of cops like to camp out in a place that is away from your peripheral vision and turn all their lights off in their cars. If you are speeding, they will catch it on their radar and immediately pull you over. Now, we can kind of expand this topic into a subsection...
Avoid Getting Pulled Over by Cops
1. Know what's around you at all times - If you are 100% focused on the road and checking your mirrors, etc. to see what cars are around you, then you shouldn't be worried about getting pulled over. If you see a cop car, doing an "all around inspection" should put the cop car in your radar, and you can immediately slow down if you see one on the side of the road or behind you.
2. Assume every motorcycle is a cop - This may seem a little ridiculous, but I can't tell you how many times I was driving at a safe speed, and a motorcycle cop drives past me. The tip here is that if you see a motorcycle coming up behind you, just slow down and play it safe.
3. Don't even THINK about touching your phone - This is a hard one to do because we are so reliant on our phones these days. But, if you are holding your phone or have the keyboard on your screen and get pulled over, you have NO legal grounds in terms of getting out of the ticket. The law explicitly states that any sort of texting or phone-holding is illegal, so you will definitely lose in court (check with your state's law on this though). There is a one swipe/tap rule that is allowed (don't quote me on this), but I'm too risk averse for even that. I personally will only have my phone mounted if I require the GPS and I won't touch it in any circumstance, and you should too.
4. Learn what cop cars look like - We all know what they look like, but somehow we don't see them most of the time until it's too late. What you want to do is to memorize what the headlights (front and back) look like for cops around your area. By memorizing this information, you can recognize if a cop is coming up from behind or ahead and therefore react appropriately. By driving an extensive amount, I've learned that cop cars tend to have similar lights and a shape - so whenever I think a cop is coming up, I make sure that I will be seen as a safe driver. Although you sometimes may be wrong, it's better to be safe than sorry.
*** IMPORTANT ***
I am NOT encouraging unsafe driving, but the purpose is to educate you so that you don't get punished for making a rare mistake. Many of us get pulled over just purely out of bad luck or the 1% of the time we accidentally make an "unsafe" decision. The goal is to make sure you're aware of your surroundings so you can be safe 100% of the time! But in reality, you can forget the past 4 tips I shared if you just be a safe driver - it's that simple. If you are making safe decisions and practice safe driving 100% of the time, there is no reason why you should get into an accident or get pulled over.
I hope you found this helpful, but this whole section can be summarized into a few points. If you prepare ahead of time and practice safe driving, any long drive will be a piece of cake! Please use the "Contact" tab if you have any suggestions or questions, and have a happy and safe road trip!
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