how to have the best road trip ever

photos by liz riccardi

fasten your seatbelts.

Someone very wise (or maybe very lost) once said: "It's not the destination, but the journey that counts." While it is generally believed that this saying is a metaphor for life, I believe it to be a literal reference to road trips.

A few weekends ago I escaped the frozen tundra that is New York City in the month of March and, courtesy of Ford Mustang, spent the weekend cruising around the California desert in a convertible with my BFF. I know, I know—but hate me not. Along the road I picked up a little bit of wisdom (and many, many In-N-Out burgers), and I'm here to share what I learned.

Click through the gallery to find out how you too can experience: The Best Road Trip Ever.

#1 Pick your trip wisely.

Real talk: Paying rent in NYC can make it hard to see the rest of the world.  For the last couple of years I've tried to make travel a priority in whatever small way I can. It helps to be flexible—maybe you can't take weeks off from work or afford to hop a plane to an exotic location. But chances are you can do a weekend.

I'd never even been to Cali but had wanted to road trip it up the West Coast FOREVER. So when Ford decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mustang by inviting a bunch of editors to drive from LA to Palm Springs, I was in.

Our itinerary was:

  •  Friday night in LA
  •  Saturday drive to Palm Springs
  •  Sunday drive out to Joshua Tree
  •  Monday drive back to LA

If you're trying to cover miles this is not the way to go. But for us it turned out to be the perfect ratio of driving to chill time, and it was cool to experience three distinctly different environments in such a short timeframe. If you only have a weekend this should be your approach, too.

#2 Map yo route.

Even though our trip wasn't super-long in terms of miles, I didn't know the area at all and it really helped to see it on a map. Plus I needed to chart the exact location of all the In-N-Outs along the way. (You can easily go hungry sitting in LA traffic, people!) Set your route on your smart phone, but remember you're the one with the real smarts (hopefully). I got lost immediately when my phone GPS and car GPS decided to fight it out (they're still not speaking). Luckily my BFF/co-pilot was able to assist in the nav. But this brings me to my next tip, on the next page. 

#3 Choose your co-pilot.

Who would you like to spend hours trapped in a small space with? Who likes Taylor Swift as much as you do? Who knows how to read a map and change a tire? These are the questions you must ask yourself when selecting your road trip partner-in-crime. Of course going it alone is also super badass. But some of us need a little support in high-speed merge situations, and that's okay. I brought along my best friend of twenty years who is also my roommate of ten years, because she is da bomb and there is no such thing as common-law divorce.

#4 Pack your bags. And pack them well.

I have a packing problem that I feel is pretty common: It just seems impossible to pack anything before the absolute last minute and then I either throw everything or nothing into a bag. This trip taught me a few things:
  • Don't over-pack. "Yes," you think, "I'll be in a car, I'll have all the space in the world." No.  FALSE. The sunglasses you want will inevitably be in the trunk, your over-stuffed bag will spill all over the back seat, and you'll want to switch shoes after driving 10 minutes in your weird-yet-adorable clog boots. Just bring the basics.
  • Annnnd maybe a few cute accessories to glam up your selfies.
  • Chargers and Chapstick. Do not forget.
  • Check the weather and pack accordingly. Make sure you have one "just in case" outfit/item should the forecast be wrong. Just one, though. Not ten. 

#5 Ladies, rev your engines.

I've lived in Brooklyn for a decade. I don't own a car. I never drive. When the Ford crew handed me the keys to the car I didn't know how to start it. (It’s 2015, you just press a button.) Yes, after a quick tutorial on How To Drive from a terrified Mustang rep, it was like riding a bike. If you're driving your own car you should, you know, make sure it works. If you're renting a car, aside from how to start it, you're gonna wanna know which side your gas tank is on, how to turn your lights on, how to change the radio station, if it has a USB connection, and of course, how to put the top down.

Obviously, if AT ALL possible: drive a Ford Mustang.

#6 Pump up the jams.

A good driving playlist can make or break your trip. Mustang actually made us one that we ended up playing on loop. We added a few of our own favorites and voila: The Best Playlist Ever for The Best Road Trip Ever.

#7 Fuel up.

I'm talking food, people. Snacks! All the snacks. When you're out on the road for half hours at a time you're gonna get hungry. In our early morning haste to get on the road we kept forgetting to stock up on snacks/coffee/water/meat. We actually drove miles into Joshua Tree National park before realizing we had no water. And it's a desert in a drought y'all! All small snacks aside, if you're living the YOLO lifestyle, road trips are a great time to indulge in some good old fashion fast food and sit-down-diner dinners. One of our favorite meals took place at a local diner that had come highly recommended to us as, "the best place in town—they have everything Denny's does!" Sold.

#8 Choose your accommodations wisely.

I'm sure some people enjoy researching this kind of thing. Not me; I really can't emotionally afford to open another browser tab. The key to figuring out where to stay (and living life in general) is: Know your hard limits but keep an open mind. If you're doing a quick road trip you won't be hanging around your hotel/motel/holiday inn for extended periods of time. We debated—should we splurge because we're only staying for a couple of nights? Or should we "rough it" because we're only staying a couple nights? In the end we spent two nights in beautiful hotels courtesy of Ford and one night at a rustic inn known to be haunted by the ghost of Gram Parsons.

Variety is the spice of life.

#9 Plan activities, and try to have the most fun possible.

I'm not into over-scheduling my vacation time. And after all, when you're road-tripping, THAT is the activity. However, if you're checking out a new area it's definitely worth doing some sight-seeing or at least setting aside some lounge time. Even if you're not far from home chances are there are some landmarks you've never investigated. Do it. Have fun, be goofy. And don't forget: Pics or it didn't happen.

Drive safe!