There’s nothing more American than packing up the car, loading up on jumbo jars of cheese puffs, and hitting the open road. But for the modern man, road trips aren’t all fun and car games — especially when you’re in the passenger seat and the driver is someone with whom you share a bed/child/dog.
Help is here. Below are a few tips to guide you through unfamiliar highways, so you can get to your destination on time, and avoid a catastrophic fight that one person will definitely bring up five years later at dinner with your grandparents.
As a passenger, you should navigate and pay attention, so the driver can focus and avoid wrong turns. No one wants to get lost and end up spending the night in a motel with no hot water but plenty of questionable stains on the walls. (“Blood or Paint?” is not a fun road trip guessing game.)
- Avoid spending a night in the murder motel by following the nice GPS lady like a hawk. That means looking ahead at directions, so you can give your SO significant warning on exits and turns. One mile in advance gives your partner enough time to plan ahead without forgetting what’s next.
- Most modern cars come with a GPS system, but double-check directions with a trusty map (they’re not just for your dad). That way you can avoid arriving at your destination two minutes before dinner with your wife frantically applying eyeliner in the rear-view mirror (read: pissed).
- Stop, collaborate, and listen (groan). Don’t play into gender stereotypes and make your partner ask for directions every time you’re lost. Man up! Just like everyday duties (e.g. laundry, dishes, cooking), annoying tasks should be equally divided and conquered. Find a friendly stranger (note: not a creepy one) and ask questions. These friendly strangers can also give solid suggestions for good restaurants or hotels.
- If your partner is always convinced they know the way, tread carefully. Avoid an unnecessary argument AND getting lost by double-checking the directions. Yelling at each other on the side of Unfamiliar Highway 23 does not make for a cute vacation story.
Hey — Look Alive!
A passenger shouldn’t be passive. A passenger should be fun! Nauseous? Bored? Just generally not feeling it? Search deep inside of you for that long lost morsel of pep. Here’s why. Your partner has been nice enough to claim the annoying task — driving. Roadtripping is a team sport. Combat an early-onset road argument and the potential stress of arriving late by talking rather than snoozing or staring into the deep depths of your phone.
- Talk about things you usually don’t discuss at home, like politics, favorite books, or television shows. But don’t go overboard, Chatty Charles. You’re both careening down an unfamiliar road in a rental car and your partner WILL get annoyed with you.
- Avoid big relationship discussions. You don’t want to bring up your SO’s inability to commit when you’re trapped in a moving vehicle — and she’s at the wheel going 80 mph.
- Or even just listen — in a relationship that’s always a good idea.
Pick Good Music (or Podcasts, or Audiobooks...)
Good music takes the pressure off having to make incessant chatter and alleviates the stress of driving down strange roads. Since your partner has volunteered to do the hard work of driving, you can at least entertain.
- Prepare for the trip by making a playlist beforehand. That way, you don’t have to scroll through your music library or fiddle with the radio dial trying to find something solid in the mess of talk radio, static, and bad alt-rock.
- Make sure you’re playing songs that she enjoys. Hopefully you’re in a place where you know you’re partner’s taste. If you’re with a music snob, alternate between your favorites and hers, so everyone stays happy.
- Throw on a podcast or audio book to fill up some hours. This will come in handy when you find yourself far from civilization, in a radio wasteland. Deadcast or Ask a Clean Person are both good options.
- Think of this as a good time to try out something totally new, whether a podcast or playlist. A car trip is an intimate time for the two of you to explore new things, and that needn’t end once you’ve seen the World’s Largest Cheese Wheel.
Feed the Driver
Nothing says hangry like a stressful car ride, the fact that you’re running late, and signs that say you’re 100 miles from the next combination fireworks store and fried chicken stand.
- Don’t cheap out on snacks. They’re the keystone of a good road trip. Keep your vehicle well-stocked with snacks and your driver well-fed. Sandwiches in those little baggies are standard fare as are giant bags of chips. Time to let those cheese puffs shine!
- Be mindful of your SO’s needs just like you are at home. If you or your girlfriend has to eat every few hours, keep an emergency ration in the trunk to avoid any hunger-induced blowup.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
- If you have the time, pull over for your three main meals. You’ll need the energy and the breaks. Lunchtime should not consist of beef jerky and that stray bag of chips you just found underneath your seat. Fast food on a picnic table? Don’t mind if I do.
Be a Navigator, Not an Enforcer
As with any other stressful relationship situation, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You might not need to take a bathroom break, but suck it up. Be a good boyfriend and let your SO pee/eat/stretch her driving leg.
- While you should have a planned route, it’s okay to veer away from your set path if you have some hours to kill, especially on the way home. Relationships are about growing and making new stories together. If that means seeing the world’s biggest rubber band ball, do it.
- The driver should make the decision about when to stop for the night. She knows best how close she is to nodding off.
- On the other hand, if you can tell she’s on the verge of passing out, and you’re in danger of veering into traffic, you should suggest (gently) that a good night’s rest will make tomorrow’s trip more enjoyable.
Always Be Ready to Take Over
If you’ve got a license, always offer to drive. That will lighten the load on your partner so she can relax.
While road-tripping through unknown areas at 80 mph can be stressful, it can also be fun if you stay cool and polite. You likely know your partner’s needs better than anyone, so keep them in mind to avoid unnecessary arguments. Your newly acquired road-tripping confidence paired with some Gillette Clear Gel, ensures you won’t sweat through your shirt. #NoSweat
Illustration by Rob Dobi.
Nandita Raghuram is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gawker. She tweets here.