Taking road trips is one of life's great joys, or one of life's great hassles, depending on who you are. We love to take road trips, and there is nothing more exciting than driving through both familiar and unfamiliar territory for some distant destination. But the most critical part of your road trip plan is making sure you are awake and ready to tackle the task of safe driving.
For some, there's a strong temptation to drive through the night to make better time. For others, it's just nearly impossible to get proper rest in little hotel rooms or boondocking in the car. So we're dedicating this exceptional blog to drivers staying well-rested on the road. Whether you're a night owl who pushes too far or a home-body who can't sleep well away from home, we've got the answers.
1. Preparing For Your Road Trip
Every road trip should start with smart personal sleep maintenance.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
Before you head out, make sure you get a nice long sleep the night before. Schedule yourself an extra hour or two to 'charge up' on rest by going to bed early or staying in bed later. If you're already feeling tired a few hours before your launch, catch a cat-nap. It can help to get an extra hour or two in your bed before getting behind the wheel.
Make Your Bed for a Sleepy Return Home
Then do your future-self a huge favor: make the bed. Change to clean sheets, fluff the pillows, and turn down the covers. The chances are that you'll be exhausted when you get home and will want to dive directly from your post-road-trip shower into bed. So make that luxuriously easy on your future-self. You'll thank yourself later.
2. What to Pack for Good Sleep on the Road
A lot of people sleep poorly on road trips because they don't know how to pack to make sleep possible. It's pretty hard to nap in the car or an unfamiliar motel room without comfort, safety, and the ability to ignore outside lights.
Pillows and Blankets
Whether you're napping in the car or discover that your hotel has scratchy sheets, bringing a couple of pillows and a blanket from home is a great way to make sure you can catch the Zzz's you need along the way.
Bedding from home can make it ten times easier to fall asleep for the same reason you might bring a pet's bed with you on a trip. It's comfortingly familiar and can help ease some of that "can't sleep travel stress."
Earplugs and Eye Masks
Just in case you need to block out the whole world to catch a few hours of sleep, bring earplugs and an eye mask. Even if you don't usually sleep with them.
Local White Noise File on Your Phone
If you usually sleep with white noise, you might find it impossible to sleep well without the white noise. Bring an offline copy just in case you're napping outside the wifi and cell-signal zones. White noise is also helpful for not-so-peaceful hotel nights.
3. Be Careful Driving Past Your Bedtime
If you're still driving past your regular bedtime, you will feel a wave of sleepiness because your body is used to sleeping around this time and expects you to be lying down, not driving through.
If you intend to stop for the night, make plans to boondock or catch a hotel room around the time you'd typically go to bed. Catch at least a short nap, or sleep until morning. Some people have accomplished late-night driving by napping through bedtime, then getting up again when the circadian urge to sleep has passed.
4. Book Hotels Before 8:00 pm When Possible
If you do plan to stop at a hotel, you no longer have to book ahead of time. Let your speed and traffic flow take you as far as you can go, but be sure to book before 8:00 pm local time for wherever you'll be stopping that night. Then log into a travel planning site like Orbitz or Hotels.com to find the cheapest room to crash in for a few hours that you can reach around the time you're ready to collapse.
Booking before eight ensures that you're safe from any arbitrary cut-off booking times that sometimes apply in more rural areas. Cities almost always have somewhere to book even late at night.
5. Traveling with a Second Driver
It's a good idea to travel with a second person who can drive, then take turns napping in the passenger's seat. This is, in fact, the safest way to drive through the night by ensuring that there is always at least one person awake and alert for driving.
But if you do have a second driver, be sure also to have a second blanket and pillow in case you both decide to crash at the same time in the hotel or in the car. After all, you're both ordinarily awake during the day and asleep at night.
6. When It's Okay (or Necessary) to Take a Car Nap
It is always better to pull over for a quick car nap rather than put yourself at risk. If you start feeling sleepy at any point, even in the middle of the afternoon, it's better to nap than to crash. After lunch and near your bedtime are the two most dangerous times to drive even if you're getting decent travel sleep.
If your eyes start blurring or crossing or if you can no longer remember what the last road-sign was, it's time for a quick car nap. If you have a passenger, but they're not up for driving, you can both recharge. Now, let's talk boondocking.
7. How to Take a Car Nap Safely
Boondocking is the casual word for vehicle camping, made popular in the RV crowd. It means finding a safe place to park and camp or sleep.
The safest places to sleep in your car are government-run rest-stops and sizeable commercial parking lots. You can almost always find a Walmart or a shopping mall with lit, security-guarded, and otherwise, unbothered parking spaces to nap in. Park in the 'boonies' near the edge of the lot and away from other cars so as not to bother anyone or be bothered. Lock your car doors, even so.
If you have a sun shield, put it up. Then kick your chair back or crawl into the back seat, whichever is more comfortable. Grab your blanket and pillow, gear up with your eye mask and earplugs, and set your white noise playing softly. The white noise can make all the difference. Then snuggle up for sleep.
8. Getting a Good Night's Sleep in a Cheap Hotel Bed
Finally, there are cheap nights in a motel or hotel. If you have the time, funds, or inclination to sleep indoors instead of catching naps in the car, there are a few tricks that make this a better night's sleep as well.
First, grab your sleep gear. Bring in the blankets, pillows, eye masks, earplugs, and white noise. Set the AC to how you like it. Close the curtains as best you can. If it helps, turn on the TV. If it doesn't help, cue up your white-noise with your phone plugged in.
Grab a hot shower, then step out into the cold room. Chances are, sleepiness will hit you like a ton of bricks. If you trust the bedding, jump right into bed with eye mask and earplugs (remember, hotels can be noisy in the morning) and drift off. If you don't trust the bedding, curl up in your blanket and pillow. These items also offer familiar comfort, so you may want to use them either way.
If all goes well, you'll be waking up reasonably refreshed and ready to hunt-and-gather that continental breakfast before getting back on the road.
Contact us today for more great tips on how to sleep deeply and stay safely rested on the road!