Earlier this year, Peter and I got a sweet new van. It’s been pretty awesome, and super helpful. So much better than cramming all of our stuff in the back of my old truck, especially when we’re on the road for a few months at a time. We still haven’t quite kitted it out fully (yet), but we have driven it across the country and back again. And in the last stretch—from Whiskey 50 in Prescott, Arizona to New Jersey—we drove 36 hours in 48 hours. It was a lot of time in a van, especially one that doesn’t have any sleeping space in it (yet) and one that was so jammed with stuff that the seats couldn’t recline at all.
But even forgetting the sleeping situation, anyone who’s done long road trips knows that the toughest part of the trip is staying (somewhat) sane and not tossing your fellow traveler out of the car, or abandoning him or her at a gas station. Even when you love someone and love traveling with him or her, after around hour 25… well, all bets are off.
We’ve done the cross country drive a few times now and we travel a ton in between, so how do we survive? I thought about it a lot today and came up with a few of my most practical tips.
Accept that it’s a long trip and settle in. For the first 12 hours, I refused to really consider the clock. And, for me, the worst few hours are the last few where you’re back in familiar territory and home is so close, but so far away—so I tried to be philosophical about it and ignore that we were almost home.
Respect bathroom breaks. You might not have to go when your partner does, but trust me—it’s a much more pleasant trip if you just take the 2 minutes to stop, stretch, refuel/refill water bottles while your partner runs to the bathroom. Nothing breeds resentment faster than the urge to pee and a partner with a lead foot dead set on avoiding stops.
You don’t have to constantly talk. We had a few audiobooks downloaded, and since we both work online, we spent a fair amount of time silent while one of us drove and the other was working on his/her laptop, or napping.
Resist the urge to snap. There are times when things just aren’t working out, or you’re tired and hungry. It’s corny, but it’s cliche because it works: count to 10 before you say something if you’re about to say something snarky. You’ll probably calm down, or at least tone down what you were going to say.
Respect sleep. You need it. If you’re beat, pull over and nap, or get a hotel—even if it’s just for a few hours. And a shower—at a hotel, at a truck stop or even with a portable solar shower—can be a huge help both physically and mentally.
Never, ever start a sentence with “And the other thing you always do…” Just trust me. You will regret getting into any kind of argument like this. If you’re going to argue, keep it confined to the task at hand, i.e where to eat/when to stop. Don’t make it about your relationship or any kind of long term argument.
Share music control. My stay-awake-and-psyched playlist is admittedly terrible. So when it’s time for me to play it while Peter works or naps, I know it’s not pleasant for him, but he puts up with it. And whoever is driving should be in charge of what’s on: I think the biggest argument we had the entire trip was when Peter wanted to play a new album while I was driving, and I hated it.
Respect hygiene. Again, showers are awesome, but every time you stopped for gas/food/naps, at least take a minute to wash your face and hands, use deodorant, brush teeth, change clothes etc.—especially on trips that last more than a day. Treat the day like you would if you were up and active—you wouldn’t sleep in what you wore all day, right? Plus, you feel so much fresher with a change of shirt and underpants, and a clean face. (And your partner will thank you.)
Mistakes happen. Sometimes, the internet says a restaurant is open and it’s not and it’s 10 PM and you’re starving and 5 miles off an exit you took strictly to get to that place. This is not a time to get in an argument, since honestly, it’s no one’s fault but the internet (thanks, internet.). I know, I know, you’re off route, you’ve wasted time and you’re starving and that sucks, but blaming each other or getting super grumpy is only going to make this mistake SO much worse.
Realize how your partner operates (and know it’s not the same as you). This is a life thing, but I think 20 hours in a van exacerbates it. If you get really quiet when you’re tired, but your partner thinks you’re angry because you’re not talking, just explain calmly that you don’t hate him/her, you’re just tired. And vice versa: if your partner is quiet, don’t assume he/she hates you. (But talk about it before you enter a huff of resentment.)
New Google Maps is rad. I have to say, the best thing on this trip was Google Maps’ new Search function that pulls up stuff along your route. Game-changer.
It’s not about the drive. Lastly, when you’ve been stuck in the car for 12 hours and you’re tired, stiff and grumpy, remember why you’re driving in the first place. Because views like this aren’t everywhere, and you’re on the road seeking them. Welcome to #vanlife.