I intended to write this immediately after the road trip, but forgot. My memory was jogged by this thread over on AnandTech Off-Topic. Rather than responding directly in that thread, I decided that I’d write a post here, so that I can easily find it in the future, for both personal reference and recommendations for others.

Here is some randomly-sorted advice, some of which may not be applicable to short drives (and by “short” I mean a couple of days or less):

  • Snacks. For one direction of the trip we had too much, for the other we had too little. You don’t want to be constantly eating (because that leads to needing to use the restroom constantly), but you also don’t want to have to stop if you’re just slightly hungry (if you even can stop, depending where you are).
  • Make sure your vehicle is in proper working order. You don’t want to be 250 miles from the nearest city, without cell service, when your car breaks down. Get it checked out at some shop that is actually capable of doing so.
  • Beverages. Bring a cooler, and plan to fill it with ice every morning, to keep your beverages cool. Most hotels/motels have ice machines that you can use for this purpose. Failing that, a small bag of ice at a convenience store is usually only a dollar or two. As for suitable beverages, I’m of the opinion that it’s up to each person - I don’t care for the advice given on many road-tripping sites that advise you to drink only certain types of beverages, for dehydration and restroom reasons. Everyone should know their own body well enough to know what will be able to keep them hydrated for relatively long periods of time, without needing to frequently use the restroom. Soda/pop, then Gatorade, then water, are my preferences, in descending order, and I specifically avoid coffee as though it’s toxic. That doesn’t work for everyone - Lawson seems to prefer coffee and Gatorade, but definitely not soda/pop.
  • Make sure that you have the ability to charge your phones, laptops, or whatever else you might be using, en route. That means bring the chargers, and also make sure that there are enough outlets to plug them in. You should probably make sure that doing so won’t overwhelm the vehicle’s electrical system, too. Or you can avoid all of that and bring a spare USB battery pack or two, and just recharge those at night, which is what I discovered is the much easier way to do things. Just don’t forget to recharge them, or you’ll be fucked the next day.
  • Depending on where you’re driving, do not rely on any services for entertainment. Services includes all broadcast radio (AM/FM/HD), cell network, and satellite radio. Satellite will work in most places, but there are some where it won’t, and that effect is exacerbated if your antenna is mounted in a suboptimal location. More problematic than that is that Sirius (the satellite radio we were equipped with) tends to repeat their music both in-channel and across channels - meaning that you’re going to be hearing the same thing repeatedly. If you want to listen to music outside of the flavor of the week on Sirius, it needs to be offline in some manner.
  • Along those same lines, do not rely on services for navigation. That is to say, you need to be able to get where you’re going without relying on the cell network. GPS will work reasonably well everywhere in the US, exceptions being if you’re in caves, very deep valleys, driving through a forest, and anywhere else that nearly completely blocks the sky. Driving downtown, around skyscrapers (and other very tall structures), can also be problematic for certain devices, but not others. GPS devices built in to the vehicle are generally better about those problems than are “offboard” solutions, because built-in devices generally are able to make assumptions about where you are on the map, based on trajectory, speed, etc., if the GPS lock goes away. Maps are not a bad thing to have on hand too, particularly if you’re going to be driving a route that is rural and not on the interstate.
  • Don’t forget paper towels, tissues, a first aid kit, your preferred pain killers, and any other necessary medications. This needs to be in the cabin at all times.
  • Pack your luggage wisely. This largely depends on how heavily you pack; I sweat a lot, so need to pack a full change of clothes for each day I’m on the road. Others are able to get by with re-wearing clothing for potentially a few days without problem. The way I packed, since I packed a lot of clothes, was modularly - each day’s clothes was in a (very) small bag, and a final small bag held the toiletries that I’d need every day. Those all fit into a (much) larger duffel/suitcase. The result was that when I got to the place we were staying, I just grabbed the two small bags, and we were on our way. The next morning, I just put those two small bags back in the car, and put a piece of tape on the small bag that indicated that it now held dirty clothes, so I didn’t grab it the next time.
  • Pack the vehicle wisely. If there’s any chance that it’ll be needed before the next time you stop, make sure you put it in the vehicle’s cabin. A passenger (not the driver, excepting for no or handicapped passengers) needs to be able to reach everything in the cabin that might possibly be needed while en route. That includes food, beverages, battery packs, cables, GPS devices, phones, maps, pillows, blankets, towels, tissues, etc.
  • Mind your electronics. If you’re traveling with external battery packs, you need to check their charge level (and charge them, if necessary) every night. If you’re taking a lot of photos, and your workflow warrants it, remember to move those files from your removable media and onto your laptop (or external drive, or whatever you’re using). Phones, GPS devices, tablets, laptops. Charging is vital; cannot stress that enough.
  • Speaking of electronics, find a way to organize them, within whatever bags will be holding them. My cables (many, many USB cables, power cables, thunderbolt cables, etc) were just thrown into a bag, and were a pain to find. Find some solution to that problem. I hear that there are small cable organizers that make this easy.
  • I didn’t do this, but I will next time: if you’re going to use your laptop in the car, take a spare charging cable, and leave it in the car. Connect it to your AC inverter in an out of the way location, and route the cable to your seat in the least obtrusive manner possible. I had a ton of crap in my lap and at my feet for most of the trip, and doing this will go a long way to avoiding that in the future.
  • If your AC inverter is connected to an always-on circuit (as opposed to switched with engine state), then make sure that you power it off when you’re not in the car. A dead battery would not be a fun time.
  • If you’re traveling on a tight budget, take disposable plates and cutlery (perhaps sandwich or gallon bags, too), and stop at grocery stores to get food, rather than fast food places. The cooler full of ice will help you make a couple of meals for the least money possible.
  • Big ziplock bags (gallon-size, ish) can be useful for unexpected things. I’d throw a few in the car, even if you don’t anticipate needing them. They take up very nearly no space, if you don’t need them. If you’re traveling with kids, or people who get carsick, perhaps even a couple in the cabin.
  • Traveling alone, or only with men, and on tight schedule (read: emergency and fuel stops only)? Contemplate ways to avoid restroom stops. Protip: Gatorade bottles are wide-mouth.
  • Set expectations. Everyone in the vehicle will be much more comfortable if they know what the others want to see and do along the way. Tired of the same music over and over, to the point that you’re about to destroy the speaker nearest you? Speak up. Even if you’re extraordinarily introverted (like me) and setting expectations seems like a huge hurdle, do it. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Don’t set daily destination goals that will push you too hard. I recommend setting realistic limits for how far you intend to drive each day. IMO: eight (8) hours is an easy day, ten (10) hours is a good day, twelve (12) is possible but not preferable, and fourteen (14) is definitely not advised. If you (everyone in the car, but the drivers in particular) require time to “wind down” between getting out of the car and being able to sleep, make sure to take that into consideration. Don’t forget to give yourself time for breakfast, either.
  • Don’t be afraid to “play it by ear”. Not everything has to be planned out ahead of time. So long as your budget and time-frame allow, take a detour, see the sights, do something you think might be fun. I had no idea that the Grand Coulee Dam even existed, but stopping to see it was awesome. And free.
  • (Added 2015-11-01) If you’re going to want to know exactly what route you took, find an application for some device you will have with you, that logs your coordinates periodically. This will use very little data and storage space, but will probably be very hard on its battery, so make sure you have some way to keep it plugged in full-time.
  • (Added 2015-11-01) You will, from time to time, want to know what time it is, wherever you are. That can be more difficult than you’d expect, given that some devices automatically adjust their time based on network connectivity, including application of timezone changes. You may not care, or you may only be traveling between two timezones, in which case it might be obvious from which one you’re being provided time. I thought that I took this into consideration adequately, but found after the fact that some of the log entries I made were not sane. In the future, I’ll ensure that some device is set to always reflect a specific timezone, and not automatically update its time, so that I have a steady reference.
  • Enjoy yourself, and don’t sweat the small stuff. It’ll all be fine. :)
I used a few products during our road trip that made it easier for me to accomplish the above:
  • I swear that I have no affiliation to Anker, but I’m a very big fan of their PowerIQ-equipped products. Regarding the 2014 road trip:
    • I used Anker’s E3 Ultra Compact battery to power a GoPro Hero 3+ Black, which was shooting in time-lapse mode, every 0.5 seconds. I got one full day of driving out of that battery; I was not comfortable attempting a second day without recharging it, because I doubt it would have made it.
    • I used Anker’s 2nd Gen Astro Mini a few times, to charge one of my smartphones (I traveled with two; one to control two GoPros, and the other for me to use).
    • I used Anker’s 24W Dual-Port Rapid USB Car Charger to maintain power to the GoPro that was inside the cabin, as well as to use the other port for whatever needed power at the moment.
    • I used Anker’s 40W 5-Port Desktop Charger to recharge the battery packs, and maintain charge on my smartphones, at night.
    • I did not use Anker’s Premium Micro-USB Cables, because I had existing cables. Since the road trip, I’ve bought a pack of Anker USB cables, and now prefer them. It’s also surprisingly nice that you can get cables close to the length you need, rather than having to coil up excess length, while you’re in the car.
  • I have no product recommendation here (the product I prefer is discontinued), but if you absolutely cannot tolerate the music that the driver prefers, and you becoming unavailable for discussion will not be detrimental to the driver, use earbuds or headphones to listen to whatever music you prefer. I view this as a bit of a last-resort, because it isolates you from effectively everything around you. That can, circumstantially, be a good thing - particularly if you’re taking turns driving, and it’s your turn to sleep.
    • If you’re driving, don’t wear earbuds or headphones. Period. It’s not safe for you, your passengers, and others on the road around you.
  • Because I had two GoPros running in time-lapse configuration for close to the entire drive, I needed a lot of reliable storage. I bought a WD My Passport for Mac 2TB drive, specifically for this purpose. It worked well, never skipping a beat, despite being used almost exclusively while the vehicle was in motion. We were on interstates most of the time, so it wasn’t bumpy back-roads, but a moving car is still a lot rougher than sitting on a desk. That’s just one of many WD My Passport devices I own, and I’m thoroughly impressed by them. And no, the “for Mac” designation doesn’t mean you can’t use it with a PC - it’s just pre-formatted for Mac. Buy whichever is least expensive at the time (the Mac was $3 less than the PC version, the day I bought it).
    • Sidebar: I’d rotate microSD cards in and out of service for GoPro use, and I would move the media from the out-of-service pair onto the external drive as soon as I swapped cards. That was the theory, at least. I got lazy and distracted by the scenery, a few times, which IMO is more important than moving media around. If I ever have another similar situation, I’ll have more microSD cards in rotation, so that it doesn’t matter as much if I’m not in the mood to have my laptop sitting in my lap, chugging away moving media, for about an hour every 6-8 hours.
  • GPS/navigation. Earlier, I mentioned that you must not rely on the cell network for navigation. For the westbound part of the trip, I thought that there would be enough cell service that we could get away with using Waze and Google Maps. That’s what we did, but I got a bit anxious (yes, I need to enhance my calm) when we lost cell service a few times, for extended periods. Still… we were almost entirely on the interstate, so getting lost was inordinately unlikely. Nonetheless, while we were on the west coast, I downloaded two navigation apps that still work when you don’t have a cell signal: CoPilot Premium and Garmin’s viago. They work by downloading maps directly onto your device’s storage (internal or external, depending on your device), which uses a lot of space. For the eastbound trip, we used both Waze and those two (we had several devices), and when they offered differing routes, took whichever one we felt like at the moment. Because we didn’t rely exclusively on either CoPilot or viago, I’m not prepared to offer a quality comparison between the two, but I feel safe saying that they’re both quality products (as of the time of the road trip).
  • Yelp is awesome for finding places to eat and sleep, along the way - either the phone app or the website. Sometimes its reviews are worthless, but you’ll find that anywhere. It’s just another (free) tool, among many.
  • TripAdvisor is decent for finding hotels, reading what others have to say about them, etc. Same cautions as with Yelp.
  • SnapChat is a horrible application that nobody should ever use. Unless, of course, you, uh, enjoy sending lewd photos of yourself to your friends, as you visit each new state or territory. >_>
Apologies for how disorganized this post is. I intended this to be a few short paragraphs, when I started. Oops. Perhaps one day I’ll tidy it up a bit.