Have you ever thought of hitting the road and heading off on a solo road trip? Going on an adventure by yourself is a liberating and exciting experience. I’ve done it myself in Iceland, Morocco, New Zealand, America and many more. There’s nothing like having the freedom to travel wherever you like, whenever you like. You can head to a random location spontaneously, take photos as long as you like, sleep in or drive through the night – whatever you want! You’re in charge.
Solo travel can be a real chance to reconnect with yourself and the world around you. But, taking the plunge and going on a journey alone for the first time can be overwhelming. How do I plan it? What if something goes wrong? Is it safe to do a road trip alone? I know how you feel, I had the same worries myself before I headed off on my first long drive alone. So I want to share with you some great road trip tips and advice, plus some solo adventure essentials so that you can set off on your first solo journey with confidence.
Why should you consider a solo road trip?
Going on a journey by yourself is truly an experience like no other. When most people think about road trips, they think of it as an activity to do in a group. While this is fun, with more people comes more decisions, more indecision and less of what you want. When you’re on a solo adventure, it’s all about you. You can use this time to let your thoughts wander, take in the smaller details of the landscape, listen to your favourite music, podcasts or audiobooks.
More than that, you’ll be able to really explore the region in a deeper way and get a real feel for the area. Going on a solo expedition teaches you to travel slowly and embrace the surroundings. As a travel photographer, the road trip is the most important journey you can do. Have you ever tried setting up a tripod while you’re with your family or friends? Forget it! To truly take great images and sink into an environment it’s best to be alone.
I remember one profound moment in this video where I realised how amazing the solo road trip is! See the full article from Iceland here.
You can take your time to plan your route yourself and stop whenever you want. So if you pass a roadside stall, or you want to linger over a stunning view, you can. There’s nothing more frustrating than being near a famous attraction or location you’ve dreamed of visiting but not having the time to capture it completely or wait for that perfect light (guilt-free). By heading out on a road trip by yourself, you can hit the spots that are the most meaningful to you.
Solo Road Trip Tips
Use Google Maps to plan your journey
Google Maps is a really handy tool for planning out your itinerary. You can select destinations, get estimated driving times so you can plan out your schedule, save routes in a GoogleDrive folder, and get turn-by-turn directions all within one easy-to-use app. To find out more about exactly how to use Google Maps to plan your road trip, check out this article with straightforward instructions.
Pro Tip: When you’re planning your route, search for “travel photography locations near …”. Travel photographers know all of the most beautiful spots to take photos. A lot of them (myself included) have made itineraries/videos to help you plan your journey.
Tell someone your plans
When you’re hitting the open road alone, you want to make sure that you’ve told someone your plans. You don’t need to inform them of exactly when you’ll be arriving each new destination, but if they know where you’re staying each day plus a start and end date for your trip, you’ll have the benefit of extra safety and security.
Pro Tip: Make sure you agree how often you’ll get in contact too, so they aren’t worrying unnecessarily whilst you’ve just got carried away taking in some spectacular mountain views or checking out some tasty local delicacies.
Stock up on supplies
One of the best parts of a road trip is the snacks, right? They add to the fun but also, if your car breaks down on a hot day in the middle of the desert, you’ll regret it pretty quickly if you don’t have any water with you. So the best idea is to stock up on some snacks and bottles of water before you head off. When you’re buying your solo road trip essentials, don’t forget to include a first aid kit too – it’s better to be prepared than caught out.
Pro Tip: Always buy more than you think you’ll need – you’ll appreciate it if you do break down or get lost. Keep your water bottles under the seat, where they will stay cool.
Pack an emergency kit
When you’re travelling solo, you’ve got to be prepared for anything. Road trips are great for pushing your boundaries and trying new things! It’s a good idea to pack a car emergency kit like this one so that if you have any minor car issues like a dead battery or you need to change a tire you can take care of it yourself.
Pro Tip: If you’re less experienced in car maintenance etc, get a handy friend or relative to come and talk you through the kit and show you how you could use each tool before you set off! You don’t want to pack the kit and then not know how to use it when you need it.
Prepare your vehicle for the trip – or hire one
Take your car in for a general inspection about a week before you head off. Everything from the cooling system to the tires and steering should be checked to avoid any unnecessary problems or breakdowns while you’re on the road. It’ll give you peace of mind and could save you money too! These links from Car Talk walk you through what you should check on your car before you take to the road on a longer trip.
Pro Tip: If you’re hiring a car for your trip, make sure you go to a reputable company that comes well-recommended. To get the best prices, try to book your car online in advance if possible – but make sure you check the car over to see if it’s in good shape when you pick it up.
Search for places to stay beforehand
I’d really recommend looking for places to stay before you head off. You can find affordable places near amazing locations this way, rather than being stuck with whatever is still available when you arrive in the area. You’ll skip any stress about finding a hotel or room for the night so that you can take in the sights, and you’ll have a goal for each day – to get to your next stop on your trip.
Once you roughly plan your route, you can plan out some places to stay on booking.com. Just type in the name of the place you want to stay, then, book a place. You can even cancel most places with up to 24 hours notice, so if your plans change, you’re not double paying!
Pro Tip: When you’ve planned ahead, you can make sure that you arrive at each destination before nightfall. You’ll feel safer and you’ll be able to capture those amazing sunset shots too!
Audiobooks are your friend
I always make sure I stock up on audiobooks before I head off on a road trip. It’s an amazing way to disappear into a story or explore an interesting new topic, plus you feel like the characters and the narrator are travelling along with you, keeping you company. You’ll hardly feel the hours slipping by when you’re engrossed in a great audiobook. Whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction, there’s something for everything.
Pro Tip: Listening to audiobooks has never been easier. Simply download the Audible app to your phone and with just a click or two you can be listening to the latest bestseller. Make sure you check out the Deal of the Day in the run-up to your trip to pick up some great titles at brilliant prices. You can get your first audiobook here for free with Audible.
Take the long way
Even if it takes longer, getting off the highways is so worthwhile. I love taking to the back roads – the driving is easier, the views are more scenic and it’s easier to stop whenever you feel like it. There are also some really interesting attractions away from the main highways that you’d miss otherwise. You’ll have a much better chance of seeing those amazing shots, that aren’t often taken.
When I was in Morocco, I picked up a Berber who was hitchhiking in the centre of the road. He has assured me that he was travelling no more than 15 minutes but ended up being over 2 hours. At the time I was a bit nervous, but his information ended up being invaluable. He showed me an alternative dirt road that would take me the same direction I was going. It added about 45 minutes onto my journey but I ended up seeing places like this!
Pro Tip: Did you know that the further from the interstates, the cheaper the gas? I learned this while driving through America. You might think it will cost you more to travel on the smaller, longer roads but it could work out about the same or even cheaper than filling up at gas stations on the main highways.
On a road trip, the journey is the destination! Take it slowly, don’t try to cover too much ground or it will be stressful and you won’t get the most out of it. You don’t want to drive to the Grand Canyon, only to be there for an hour and then onto the next stop. These might be once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so drive safely and take in the surroundings. That’s the beauty of a solo expedition!
Pro Tip: Stop off when you see an amazing photo opportunity – don’t assume there will be another like it further along or you risk regretting it later.
That’s it, our top road trip tips to help you plan and set off on your first solo trip! I hope you found it helpful. My solo journeys have truly been some of the best moments in my life, and I’d love you to discover the magic of a solo road trip. I’ve learnt so much more about myself and I’ve been able to grow, push myself, reconnect with who I am and take a few days to unplug from the manic lifestyle we all fall into sometimes – all while taking in breathtaking surroundings and exploring new places.
So let me know what you think – will you be heading off on a solo road trip anytime soon? Where will you go? Drop me a comment and feel free to ask any questions you might have, and please do share the article if you enjoyed it or you know someone who’d find it useful!
New Zealand travel photographer based in London, UK. He was taking photos from a very young age in the backcountry of New Zealand before moving abroad. Since doing so he has taken workshops and tried to help get as many people into this art as possible. Featured in NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz and many photography publications it’s safe to say he loves his photography!