I have always said that the best way to explore destinations is to take a road trip. A road trip is not just about getting to a place but is a journey where companions discover & bond with each other, where adventures and detours lead to memories and where you discover the undiscovered. Having traveled with the road trip experts, made me realize this even more for till then I had taken these aspects for granted. With the last two epic multi-stop trips – the Indo-Nepal road trip & the Ladakh Trip, there were so many little incidents that brought forth the importance of being well-prepared for a road trip – for only if you are, you are bound to enjoy everything that comes along your way!
With my numerous travels, there are a few things I realized that seemed obvious to me but were not so to many others. This struck me, even more, when we were out on our latest road trip to Ladakh. This, of course, became a cue to put it all out in this post for anyone who is planning a long road trip, especially in hardened terrains or a cross border trip. While my travel tips for a road trip are not exhaustive, I do believe that these 10 are extremely essential for a memorable one.
1) Planning your road trip route
First, of course, is your destination and then, you figure out how to reach there. The most obvious source is the Google maps that give you the distance and the drive time on the various routes to reach the place. However, the one extra thing that I have always found that I needed to do was to do further research on the route in terms of –
- Road Conditions – can your current vehicle handle it? Or do you need to hire another?
- Places that I can stop along the way – you never know if you stumble upon a hidden destination
- Food stops along the way – everyone including the car needs to fuel up.
I often, found that I needed to go through multiple information sources to get an idea on all these points. However, that is worth your while as you need to plan an entire route from start to finish assuming a lack of internet connectivity when on the go. With this research in place, you will be all set to battle any kind of terrain.
2) Packing for the road trip
It is a natural tendency to go all out and carry every possible thing when you know you are going to be partially living out of your car. In my opinion, this may not be such a good idea as you will have to keep loading and unloading your luggage, every single day when you make a halt for the night. Heavy suitcases can be cumbersome as I quickly realized from my Nepal road trip. For the Ladakh trip, we were asked to stick to backpacks and rightly so, for I realized how much easier it was with the frequent loading and unloading.
Besides the personal belongings, keep aside space for plenty of water and some food that you may need along the way. Adding to this, are possible containers for spare fuel that you might have to carry and the essential tool kits that your beasts (vehicles) may require. The essential tool kits must contain all your tyre changing tools, an emergency cone, engine coolants, torch or flash light for the nights etc. While it is nice to be optimistic that you may not need all these, it is even better to be prepared nonetheless. We discovered this on the Ladakh trip along the Zojila pass and the Changthang route when our Bolero encountered a flat tyre.
3) Starting early
I have always been an advocate of driving in the daylight. I personally, find night driving quite a challenge with the glaring lights of other vehicles hurting my eyes. Besides this, if you are on the no-road, stream filled terrains as Ladakh, you better be seeing where you are going. Starting early also, helps you buffer in time that you might lose owing to your detours, pit stops and sometimes, emergency situations. It also, helps you pace your drive so that you are not speeding with unnecessary risks.
4) Keeping cash handy
Toll booths and smaller food places along the way are yet to be connected with technology. This is where you need your cash handy for not everyone accepts a card or an electronic transfer. This was evident as we drove through the roads of Ladakh and Nepal.
Again, it is the prior research that saved the day for we realized that certain Indian denominations were better accepted in Nepal as against the new 500 Rs notes. Thanks to this tip, we were able to fill our bellies at the road side restaurants instead of starving all the way up to Kathmandu.
5) Essential paperwork
Ensure all your car papers – vehicle insurance, car registration documents and emission certificates are updated and in place when you start your road trip. In addition to the same, you will also, need to factor in additional documents that might be required if you are taking a cross border road trip or a restricted area one. For Nepal, we needed all of the above as well as an ID proof of the driver to get us border permits. For Ladakh, we required Inner Line Permits for we were traveling very close to the Indian borders.
A prior research as I suggested in the first travel tip, will throw enough light on what will be required on a trip.
6) Pitstops & Detours
What is a road trip without any detours? Planned stops are always a pleasure like how discovering Sonamarg was enroute to Kargil. Or how I discovered Kumbhalgarh enroute to Udaipur. These kinds of pit stops put smaller destinations on your map which otherwise, we tend to ignore – all in the bid to get to the main destination quickly. Pre-plan them as much as possible. You can choose these places by the theme that interests you and the distances that you need to take for those detours.
Having said that, sometimes, it is all about forced detours as we discovered on the Nepal road trip. When we found the planned route through Narayanghat. Though we did reach there on time, we were told that the road was shut for repairs and we had to re-route through Hetuada. The re-route took us through the non-existent roads of Nepal and showed us sights which we would have otherwise missed in our bid to get to Kathmandu straight.
The important thing here is to make the most of these detours and enjoy them as a part of your road trip experience.
7) Staying connected
Increasingly I realized that I have been relying on Google Maps to navigate me around. However, a few lessons along the last few trips got me to note that not every route Google mentions are motorable and well, sometimes Google maps are not accessible. Remember to always download an offline version of your map. Cross check with the locals on the direction in which you are going. And if you are traveling in a group, stay together.
We learned the importance of this during our Ladakh trip when we were separated by distance without any network and at one point, one of the cars gave way at the Chang La pass. Thankfully there were two other vehicles along with this vehicle and we were able to sort out the situation.
In another situation, we were back on the highways of Punjab when the vehicles got separated. Thankfully we had enough network to send out a Google pin to the others so that we could all again, converge and set out together. If you are traveling solo, ensure that someone from your friends or family know where you are before you set out and call them up once you have reached your destination.
8) Emergency on the road
Vehicle break downs can happen to the best of us. As can motion sickness and in our case in Ladakh – AMS. The important thing here is to recognize it and take action on it. On the Vehicle break downs, keep information on the mechanics and break down services handy.
For those who need a medical aid, always keep your list of medicines handy in the car. Alternately, keeping numbers of emergency medical services along your route is also, a good idea.
9) Fuel breaks
When setting out for the day, ensure that you have made a note of your fuel situation for the planned distance. It could also, happen that the particular bunk you have earmarked is out of fuel as we discovered in Tandi during the Ladakh trip. Speak to the locals and get going on the next nearest bunk instead of braving it all the way to the destination. In our case, we had to retrace our way back to Darcha before continuing onward to Manali.
While we talk of the Fuel breaks, remember to also, check the air in your tyres before heading out. If you are headed to a sparsely populated terrain, keep a portable tyre inflator with you.
10) Stays along the way
Ideally, we all like to book our stays well in advance. Typically in a road trip, you need a good comfortable room for a nice sleep and any budget room is perfect for this. There are plenty of options to help you with these like OYO rooms. Some of the OYO properties that we discovered along the way on the Ladakh road trip, were way beyond the basic bed and breakfast facility. Take the one in Hunder as an example. Set amidst the hills, built over a stream, this property tempted us to halt our road trip for another day – just so that we could experience more of that natural beauty.
Another property that I loved was the OYO rooms in Manali with my room overlooking the River Beas. It was absolutely scintillating to wake up to the sight and sound of the gushing water.
Be prepared to take up a stay, sometimes in the most unplanned manner. A case in point being our halt at Ramban during the Ladakh trip, owing to a landslide along the road. We had no option but to book ourselves in the first possible hotel but we were lucky! For we did manage to get a room with a view.
There is no denying that you can never be prepared for everything. However, with these tips, I am sure you can just be prepared to handle anything that comes your way. This is what made these road trips special and enjoyable. Don’t you agree? Pin this up on your board as a ready reckoner for a memorable road trip.