In the summer of 2012, I decided that I would travel over 3,700 miles in my Rav4 from Washington, DC to my new job in San Francisco. I also decided that I would record the whole thing. After all, I’d be alone for over 2 weeks on my northern route that would take me up to Yellowstone before heading down through California. I’d need something to do.
The video I recorded wasn’t perfect. It didn’t suck, but it also didn’t blow me away like I wanted it to. If I was going to go on another road trip tomorrow, here’s what I wish I would have known the first go-around.
1. Give yourself more time than you think you need. You don’t want to feel rushed on your road trip. When you plan your trip, make sure that you build in some extra time in case you want to stay longer in one place or take a detour. Undoubtedly, you will discover something new on your trip, which is often the best part. For example, I love roller coasters and discovered this tiny little theme park on my way out. Roller coaster detour? Yes, please.
2. Test out your equipment on the road before you leave. And no, I don’t just mean taking pictures in your room with your DSLR. I mean that you should really, truly test your equipment. However you plan on recording your trip (I set my camera up on my dashboard to avoid bugs), do exactly that before you leave. I spent way too much time fiddling with my setup for the first fourth of my journey.
3. Prepare for loneliness. I thought I was prepared to spend 18 days by myself. I wasn’t. Not only did I get to experience those spots of the United States that aren’t on the Verizon coverage map, but I also went days only speaking to waiters and hotel staff. Additionally, before you leave, download tons of podcasts, music and movies. You’ll need something other than your thoughts when you’re driving and you’ll absolutely need something better than basic cable in your hotel rooms.
4. Distractions are more interesting than landmarks. You know what ended up being the least interesting parts of my journey? The destinations I felt obligated to see. Sioux Falls, Mount Rushmore, the Space Needle… I didn’t feel like I was discovering something new. Why would I expect people to watch me record these places when they’ve already been documented so thoroughly? Instead of spending ample time on landmarks (which are, of course, helpful in establishing place), do a little bit of discovery.
5. Perfect time lapse photography. The most useful technique you can use for a road trip is time lapse photography. Time lapse clearly demonstrates the passage of time and can quickly show how much ground you cover. Make sure that whatever camera you have can do this technique easily. Practice in your backyard looking up at the stars. Understand what tools are out there to help you stabilize your shots since you’ll be filming on more than a few rough roads. Do everything you can to become an expert in this before you leave.
6. Don’t be shy. Remember how I said that you should prepare for loneliness? Well, you should also be prepared to make new friends. If you plan on hiking, chat up people on the trail. Waitresses in restaurants often know a ton about whatever bizarre town you’re in. Make friends with them for the insider scoop about where you are.
7. Watch your progress. Imagine making it alllll the way to your destination only to discover that you made a minor error (like forgetting to remove a filter) early in your trip that renders most of your footage unusable. You’re going to have a lot of time in hotel rooms on your journey. Bust out that laptop and review what you’ve recorded so far before trucking onward.
Go forth. Set out on an adventure. Be open to both people and distractions. Document everything. You’re going to have a great time!