Top 5 tips for successful road trips

Claire Allison
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More and more travellers are opting to kit out their trusty 4x4, dust off their hiking boots and two-tone shirts and arm themselves with a healthy dose of mosquito repellent before heading off the beaten track to experience a more enriching side of life.

If you’re planning on venturing off the beaten track for your next holiday, here are five things you need to know before you hit the road:

1. Decide on your route

You’ve organised time off from work, the kids are literally bouncing off the walls and the sense of excitement is palpable. Make a list of places you’ve always wanted to visit and group them. Since you’ll be on the road a lot, choose a route that takes in as many attractions as possible to help cut costs and make your trip as enriching as possible but avoid travelling every day - take time to experience each destinations properly.  

2. Assess your vehicle
When you’ve chosen a route find out about the condition of the roads as you may require a proper 4x4 (or high-clearance vehicle at the very least). Rocky mountain passes with steep inclines and jagged stones round every turn are no place for your low-slung convertible Mercedes SLK but most SUV's these days are equipped with all-wheel drive and have high clearance which may be suitable for your route, provided you have researched the condition of the roads. In sandy or very muddy conditions a 4x4 vehicle with a lockable differential* is preferable so look into renting one for your travels rather than risking your family car in the great outdoors.

*It means all four wheels turn together at the same speed.

3. Essentials

Fuell is expensive so take this into account when drawing up your budget. Supporting local businesses will help you to keep your costs down - as will stocking up on supplies in bulk before you depart. Always carry plenty of water in your car, if not for your parched throat and dehydration in the hot African sun then for your vehicle should the radiator give you any problems. Keep a few rolls of toilet paper handy in the car – you never know when you may hear the call of nature!
If your insurance company doesn't include roadside assistance then becoming a member of roadside services such as the AA is a good idea so that regardless of what car troubles you may encounter help will always be just a phone call away.

4. Support local enterprises
When heading off the beaten track, travellers should not be expecting five-star luxury, all-you-can eat breakfast buffets or towel art and mints on the pillows at night. Staying in local home, B&Bs and camp sites adds an authentic and enriching flavour to your travels. Mingling with the locals and sampling traditional food is part of the ride, should be approached with great gusto and is recommended. After all, it’s all about the journey not the destination and supporting developing enterprises will help sustain livelihoods as well as encourage tourism to the area.

5. Only leave your footprint

When travelling into rural and undeveloped areas with pristine natural flora and fauna don’t drop your Coke bottle and cigarette butts out of the window and ruin it for everybody else. Always keep separate packets for glass, plastic and paper and put them in the correct recycling bins in the next town. As they say, 'Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.'

For a list of self-drive travel routes in your province in South Africa, check out Open Africa for more information.