How to be a Great Road Trip Companion

Share the love!

road trip pacific coast highway

How to be a Good Road Trip Companion

It’s a weird situation I find myself in. I’m a guy who loves nothing more than the open road and a good old-fashioned road trip, but I don’t drive.

You read that right: I just completed a five week cross-US road trip and my hands never once touched the wheel.

Despite this obvious disadvantage, I’ve taken more than a few unforgettable road trips in my life. From San Francisco to New York and along the legendary Karakorum Highway of western China, I’ve honed my skills as a passenger.

I like to think I’m pretty bloody good at it too.

You see, even when you aren’t the one behind the wheel, you’re a vital cog in the creation of an unforgettable trip.

If you’re doing your job right, it will be unforgettable for all of the right reasons.

What does it take to be a good road trip companion? Let me tell you…

Stay Awake!

I can’t stress this one enough. Just because you’re riding shotgun, doesn’t mean you can take the opportunity to doze off or catch up on your old friend, Jamie Lannister.

Your driver is being kind enough to do the driving, so the least you can do is keep your eyes open and keep them company.

Don’t fall asleep on the job! It’s tempting to drift off on long journeys when you’re not the driver but stay awake and keep your driver company – Bethaney, Flashpacker Family

ALWAYS stay awake. This is your most important job as co pilot – Tara, The Traveling Waitress

It’s not just about courtesy either. Your life is in another person’s hands, and all you have to do to keep yourself (and your friend) safe is make sure they stay awake.

How are you going to do this if you’re fast asleep?

road trip sleeping in car
It goes without saying, but your driver should definitely not be sleeping. Image courtesy of smlf

Be Entertaining

As a good passenger, you need to do more than just stay awake and stare listlessly at the road ahead of you.

Driving can be a tedious task, especially when you’re barrelling through West Texas where everything is painted in the same shade of depressing.

Keep up the conversation, make sure the driver is fed and sufficiently caffeinated, and generally be the fucking glorious social animal you are.

couple in tractor
You just know she’s telling him all kinds of awesome stories. Look at that stony faced stare! That’s the German equivalent to hysterics. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

We had a good playlist, we sang along to all the songs, always had good snacks and plenty of water around and kept the conversation flowing – Tiia, Fangirl Quest

Part of being a good companion is also knowing when to shut up.

Know when to stop talking, there’s a lot to be said about having comfortable silences with your travel companion – not only will they appreciate your consideration when having a bad day, but you will too when they return the gesture – Derek, No Hanging Around

You’d better believe me when I say that after five weeks sharing hotel rooms and the tight confines of a Mustang convertible, there were more than a few times when silence was fucking golden.

There were also times, like when we were winding our way down the Pacific Coast Highway, where talking would have taken away from the show nature was putting on.

Pick your moments, kid. A captive audience doesn’t mean you can recite all of your poetry.

Be a Good DJ

A good playlist is a vital part of any road trip.

Whether we were singing along to David Bowie’s “Dance Magic Dance”, listening with sombre reverance to Nils Lofgren’s “Black Books”, or rocking out to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, we were almost always accompanied by some good tunes.

wayne's world bohemian rhapsody
Legally speaking, it’s not a road trip until you’ve rocked out to Bohemian Rhapsody.

Always have a solid playlist at the ready. No Bieber – Edna, Expat Edna

When late night radio isn’t cutting it and you sing late 80s early 90s cheesy songs to keep the driver awake – Alexandra, The Florentine

Be an awesome DJ nothing moves a road trip along like great tunes – Tara, The Traveling Waitress

While I wouldn’t go so far as to completely ban any one artist (I suffer from a guilty enjoyment of The Biebs’ new album), the playlist is definitely something that needs to be open to negotiation.

Your driver might not share your love of The Corrs, and you might not have his fondness for the complete works of Kate Bush.

(Seriously, James, I liked Wuthering Heights, but the rest can fuck right off)

Know How to Navigate

Perhaps the single biggest role you have to play as passenger is that of the navigator.

Unless you want your driver to be wrestling with maps or have his head buried in his phone, you’re going to have to be the one making the calls when you’re out on the open road.

Once in town or approaching town, navigate! – Chris, One Weird Globe

Be a good navigator. Don’t tell the drive you should have turned back there but you missed it because you were checking Facebook – Tara, The Traveling Waitress

reading a map
I think you’ve fucked up, Jeff. We’ve lost the car. Image courtesy of CIFOR.

It’s easy to get complacent when the miles are unfolding behind and ahead of you, but you’ll need to be on your game when you’re navigating busy streets and annoyingly hard to find side streets looking for that hotel in LA.

You might be a map person. You might be a Google Maps person.

Whatever you are, make sure the driver knows where they’re going, and do it without too much sass.

Keep your eye on the bumps, not the beauty – Ruth, Exploramum & Explorason

Keep a Positive Outlook

We’ve all been in a car when the driver has lost their temper or had a bit of an emotional meltdown.

Maybe they missed a turn and they’re frustrated. Maybe they’re getting hangry. Maybe they are uncomfortable driving in the rain.

If he takes a wrong turn, just go with the flow – Billie, Sante Fe Travelers

Whatever the reason, it’s important that a good passenger plays the cheerleader and the optimist.

I don’t mean being a relentlessly glass half-full idiot with a shit-eating grin. I mean knowing when to sympathise and when to put on a happy face.

tony abbot shit eating grin
Our very own former prime minister does his best shit-eating grin.

Stay Loyal

This one’s a bit out of left field, but my old friend Jessica at Family in Faraway Places brought it to my attention and I definitely agree with it.

She had the experience of listening to two travel buddies bicker and have their friendship dissolve because Girl A had liked Boy 1, but Girl B had slept with him despite knowing this.

I’m not telling anybody what to put into what holes, but if you’re going to be stuck with somebody for an extended period of time, it’s probably best not to make them unhappy.

You don’t need to be wingman of the year to be a good travel companion, but probably don’t cut your mate’s proverbial balls off, especially if he’s the one in control of the high speed object you’re stuck in together.

wingman
Wingman Level: 10.

Be Prepared

Like a good Boy Scout, it pays to be prepared.

If your friend is doing all of the driving, use your extra time to make sure you have the essentials.

Snacks? Check

Red Bull/Coffee/Water? Check

Car charger? Check

energy drink
My doppelganger shares my enthusiasm for energy drink. Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

On our recent trip, we faced a mini-disaster when we learned only one of us could charge our phone at any given time. The driver needed his to play music, and I needed mine to relentlessly post on SnapChat, Twitter, and Facebook about my every thought and desire.

We avoided a dissolution of the Commonwealth because I had a ZUS Car Charger, which not only charged two devices and charged them quickly, but had an in-built GPS to help us find the car after parking it in a strange place.

You can use the promo code ZUSROADTRIP to get $5 off your own ZUS Car Charger.

Your Say

What do you think makes a good road trip buddy?

I’ve written at length about the worst people to travel with before. Do you have any horror stories about awful road trip companions?

Disclaimer: ZUS provided me with a free ZUS Charger. Opinions are entirely my own.

Want an Aussie in your inbox?

Who doesn't?

No spam. Just awesomeness. Powered by ConvertKit

From Facebook

8 comments

  1. Chris, thanks for putting together a great list for passengers in road trips! So much of what you have said is so true to enable both the driver and passenger to have a more enjoyable and safe trip.

  2. Haha – very amusing. I am the perpetual companion – not because I don’t drive but because I am a woman married to a man and most men won’t give up custody of the steering wheel to any woman for any reason. I’m pretty sure the last time I was allowed to drive on a road trip my other half had two broken arms and had temporarily gone blind.

  3. Our family does at least one big road trip a year, and our friends think we’re bonkers…why don’t we just fly, they ask? We undertook Sydney to Perth at christmas time, and it was incredible! One important role of the passenger that you missed which is particular to Aussie road trips is wildlife spotter…hit a roo, and it’s game over!

    • I haven’t done as many Aussie roads trips as I should have, but that’s definitely a good one. In the US we were all prepared to deal with deer, but didn’t encounter a single one in our entire five weeks.

  4. Thanks for including my road trip comment in your post. Good road-tripping is an art. We agree about the ZUS charger and car-finder. Great little tool! We got one from them, too.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: