Updated on September 20th, 2021
I love a road trip! And for me, hitting the road alone is the ultimate in freedom. But a solo road trip can be a daunting prospect. I have taken the plunge in Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand & the Dominican Republic & picked up lots of tips along the way. After my most recent adventures in the UK, I felt it was the perfect time to share my solo road trip essentials. So, here is everything you need to know before you take to the road on your own terms.”
Anywhere in the world…within reason!
I love a road trip! Through the years I’ve been lucky enough to drive along some of the world’s most iconic roads, such as the Amalfi Coast in Italy, Highway One in California & the Garden Route in South Africa. There is nothing like being on the open road, stopping whenever you want, when you want & for however long you want. And especially when you take a solo road trip. Not having to consult, negotiate or compromise. This to me is the ultimate in freedom!
However, taking a road trip alone does mean that you only have yourself to rely on. It’s just you in charge of navigation, driving, looking after yourself, staying safe & keeping entertained. I have taken many solo road trips across numerous continents & felt now was the time to share my solo road trip essentials.
This post may contain affiliate links. By using these, Sue Where Why What may receive a small commission. You will not pay any extra charges for this. My opinions, reviews & recommendations remain my own. For more information see my disclosure.
The official definition is “a long trip or holiday taken by car.” However, with this, there is no mention of how long either in terms of distance or time. To me this means that it could be a one-day trip, covering some distance & with several stops along the way. Or a long drive broken up over days, weeks, or months.
When discussing my style of road tripping, I’m not talking camping or travelling by RV or campervan. For me, it’s about having my car as a base, during the day but staying in hotels or guesthouses along the way.”
Where to go?
There are a lot of factors that come into play when you are deciding where to go on your first solo road trip. For example, have you considered which side of the road they drive on? What kind of roads are there in terms of highways or terrain? How confident are you as a driver? What time of year are you going & will this impact the driving conditions? In addition, how challenging do you want the driving to be?
Tackling some iconic routes can be exciting but also a little scary. For small & winding roads (like the Amalfi Coast), distances will require more concentration & you will tire quicker. Driving around the Isle of Mull in Scotland is mainly single-track roads. What looks like a 30-minute drive, can easily become 2 hours. The same applies to the state of the roads, a lot of potholes will make the journey more challenging.
I have written numerous guides on some of the trips I’ve taken over the last few years. Check out the following if you fancy tackling any of these:
- Milford Highway in New Zealand
- Scotland’s Highlands & Islands
- The Peak District in the UK
- South Wales
- Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
- Americana Music Triangle in the USA – Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans
Planning is key when organising your solo road trip. You cannot rely on anyone else to take over the driving if you are feeling tired. Therefore, consider how long or how far you drive each day. Never put pressure on yourself & try to avoid driving at night. A road trip is about the journey, not just the destination. Include lots of stops & points of interest along the way & plan to drive no more than 2-3 hours each day. Trust me, you will enjoy it more if you do!
Use a paper map or mark pins in all the places you want to visit (I do this on the Maps.me app). Check distances & travel times using Google Maps to make sure you are being realistic about how long each drive will take.”
Book accommodation in advance
There is nothing worse than arriving in a new location, alone, not knowing where you are going & then having to find somewhere to sleep for the night. This is especially not fun after a long day of driving. Do yourself a favour & book ahead. It takes out the worry & uncertainty to help you to enjoy your day. When you are looking at accommodation options, check the parking arrangements. Ideally, you want to be booking somewhere with easy onsite parking. And of course, free. Parking costs may significantly add to the expense of a trip. As can parking fines, so if there are no facilities on-site, double-check the situation for street parking with your hotel as soon as you arrive.
If you are not in your home country, then you will be hiring a car for your solo road trip & as such there are several things to consider. For example, what route are you planning? Is it a one-way trip or a loop? Bear in mind that if you drop off the car in a different place to where you picked it up, you will incur additional charges. Here are a few considerations:
- What size car are you looking for? Parking & driving a small car is best if you are heading to cities.
- What is the terrain you will be driving on? This may also depend on the time of year. For example, Iceland in the summer is not a problem but in the winter months, you will need a vehicle that can handle the extreme conditions.
- Understand the rules of the road, especially if you will be driving on the other side than you are used to.
- If you are planning on crossing any borders you will need to make sure you are able to take the car & will be covered by insurance.
Speaking of insurance, you will always have basic cover included. However, without exception, they will try & upsell your excess cover for those ‘just in case’ incidents. This can increase the cost of your rental car considerably. Check out this article to learn more about this & tips to reduce car rental costs.
Taking out a yearly excess cover may be a better option for peace of mind & longer-term savings.”
Dull though it sounds, don’t forget travel insurance. Ever. If you are undertaking a solo road trip, or any solo travel adventure, travel insurance is essential. In addition, you need to make sure that whatever happens, you are covered by comprehensive car insurance, whether you have a rental vehicle or you’re using your own.
Check out Travel for Singles over 40 – Everything you need to know before your First Trip for more.
What happens if you break down? This is where I must admit to being embarrassingly useless. Even a flat tyre is a baffling experience for me. For that reason, I always make sure I have 24-hour breakdown assistance. Can you change a tyre & know where your spare is kept? If not, then try asking a friend to show you or check out this simple 10 step process before you leave.
There are a number of key checks to do to your vehicle before you leave. For example:
- Oil levels
- Windscreen washer & fluid
- Tyre pressures & tread
- Fill up with petrol
Additionally, consider checking your battery, lights, seat belts & airbags etc. However, if like me it is not your area of expertise, then take it to a local garage for a once over. Better to be safe than sorry.
Refilling the tank
In some places, like the UK, where you fill up with petrol is all-important for the cost of your trip. The most expensive are service stations on motorways, the cheapest are supermarkets. This is where a quick search on Google Maps can help to find the local supermarket for the cheapest petrol.
Never leave it until the last minute to refill. The last thing you want to do is be on your own & desperate for fuel.”
If you are worried about safety while travelling, then check out all my top safety tips HERE. In addition, consider signing up to Empowerful. Empowerful is an “always-on” female festival of all thing’s safety, wellness & sexual wellbeing. On the site are over 30 sessions, involving 35 experts across 50 hours of content. Therefore, if safety is one of your concerns, signing up will gain you access to all these resources.
Music on the journey can make a big difference. I often like to tune the radio to a local station to feel the vibes but also ensure you have plenty of uplifting tunes to help keep you focussed along the way. Put together a few playlists, download your favourite podcasts & stock up on audiobooks. Whatever you feel will keep you stimulated. And don’t leave anywhere without a USB cable in the car to recharge. Using Apps can drain your battery very quickly & leave you stranded in more ways than one.
Stay tuned for my upcoming FULL Solo Road Trip Packing List.
No matter where you have chosen for your road trip, have cash for parking, toilets & tolls. On my recent trip to the Peak District, I will be eternally grateful for a friendly warden who lent me 20p for the toilet after a 3-hour drive! It was also not a pleasant experience to have run out of cash for tolls in the Dominican Republic.
Luckily there was an airport nearby & I was able to get more. However being greeted by armed guards, with no money & very rusty Spanish was a very daunting experience!”
There are several Apps that are invaluable on a road trip so make sure you have these downloaded before you start your journey. My favourites are:
Maps.me – essential for both planning & navigation. You can pin all your planned stops & when all others fail, Maps.me always comes through for me.
TripAdvisor – For recommended tours, attractions & restaurants en route.
Google Maps – the best for navigation with up-to-date traffic information.
Get your Guide – is great for picking up tours & attractions.
TripIt – to keep everything on track as you go.
Check out my full list of recommended Apps & websites HERE.
Also, consider where you are stopping & if joining any local or national organisations may save you money. For example, in the UK, English Heritage & the National Trust are charities that maintain thousands of parks & historic places of interest. By joining you get to visit & park for free which can save you money while also contributing to these important national treasures along the way. Click the links above to explore the properties & membership options that would suit you best.
One of my most important solo road trip tips is don’t just rely on one map or app for all your navigation needs! Use multiple resources & expect them all to malfunction at some point. To avoid being totally lost, a paper map can also be a useful resource to pack in your car.
For example, on my recent visit to Wales, at various times, I used my car sat nav, Google maps & Maps.me to navigate my way around. My car sat nav was most convenient but not always accurate for journey times. For those, I relied on Google Maps & had it running as I drove in case of traffic issues.
There were then times when my car sat nav did not have the specific places I was aiming for, or when I didn’t have a signal, so Google Maps became useless. That’s when I turned to Maps.me.”
No matter what the terrain, don’t rush the journey & give yourself plenty of time. If the drive is a spectacular one, stop regularly at viewpoints to avoid being distracted as you drive. Expect that a 2-hour drive will take 3 ½ & enjoy that it does. Taking breaks is also your friend, not your enemy. Look for opportunities to take short walks or hikes along the way to stretch your legs & keep you fresh. If you need one, stop & take a nap. They say that 20 minutes is the ideal time to increase your alertness & refresh yourself.
Driving at night is not fun, especially on unfamiliar roads, when you are the sole driver & navigator. Plan to always arrive in daylight hours. This will also keep you fresh for the next day’s adventure. Avoid late nights & get a good sleep whenever you can, especially before a long drive.
Stay in touch
For safety, it’s important to stay in touch with loved ones. Let them know before you start each day where you are planning to go, what time you are intending to arrive & when you do. And make sure you do this before you leave for your trip & have a reliable Wi-Fi signal. Ideally, do this with more than one person in case there is an issue with them receiving your messages.
Make sure you have plenty of drinks & snacks with you on the journey. These can help to keep you alert & refreshed. For water, take your refillable water bottle & fill it in any restaurant or café that you stop at during the day. The more you can avoid buying plastic bottles everywhere, the better.
On that note, try & focus on staying healthy during your trip. Break the days up with hiking, walking, or cycling opportunities to enjoy your environment more & keep your energy levels up.
What you eat is vital & will impact your alertness on the journey so make sure you don’t overindulge in food, alcohol or sweets, all of which will impact your energy levels.”
I hope that you have found my solo road trip essential tips useful. Taking to the road alone can be a daunting prospect but it is also the ultimate feeling of freedom. The most important thing is to not plan too much, be kind to yourself & don’t overstretch on the driving. But most importantly, enjoy the journey as it’s so much more than the destination.