While road trips can be enjoyable for people of all ages, you may be wondering about the best road trip activities for adults in particular. Having gone on countless road trips both before and after having kids, I thought I’d put together a list of my favorite road trip activities as an adult.
Some of these activities are probably easier if you are road tripping without kids, but many of them can also be incorporated in a family road trip as well.
Your own individual road trip route and itinerary will influence which of these will work best on any given trip. You’ll also want to take your own particular interests into consideration. My hope is that this list will provide you with a great starting point from which to choose the best activities for your trip.
1. Try Your Hand at Photography
Many people have expensive cameras–even DSLRs–that hardly get any use. This can be a great opportunity to dust off the camera and experiment with what it can do. You don’t need anything fancier than your smartphone camera for this one, though.
Photography can be a great way to preserve memories of the places you’ve visited or passed through on your road trip.
Personally, a lot of the time I avoid taking pictures of famous sights and landmarks; those are easy to find anywhere. I prefer to take pictures that have meaning to me personally.
Maybe it’s a lonely cactus in the desert or rain pouring down the car windows. It could be something as mundane as a Walmart Superstore in the Midwest, made beautiful by the view of the mountains in the background as the sun sets. These types of photos help me remember my thoughts and feelings on a road trip.
2. Check Out Local Independent Restaurants
Spending hours in the car can be exhausting. Sometimes it’s tempting to rely on tried and true fast food chain restaurants, as opposed to spending time perusing new menus and trying to decide what to order. Trying new local restaurants is one of the road trip activities for adults that I would recommend for almost everyone, though.
If you know you’ll be too tired to look for restaurants after a long day in the car, try to plan things in advance. I usually map out what route I’ll take and which cities I’ll stop over in before ever leaving on my road trip. This can be a great time to also look up the restaurants available in each location.
Many cities have foods they are famous for. Think Buffalo chicken wings, Philly cheesesteak, and Chicago pizza, for instance. You can always search online if you don’t know what foods your stopover cities are known for.
Many smaller cities and towns aren’t famous for any particular food. However, that doesn’t mean there you should gravitate toward the nearest McDonald’s.
Look for small, independent restaurants you’ve never heard of. On one road trip, we ended up having dinner at an amazing vegetarian restaurant in Laramie, Wyoming. You never know what hidden treasures you may find.
3. Listen to a Podcast While Driving
Podcasts can be a great way to eliminate boredom on long, monotonous drives. Catch up on a few you’ve been meaning to listen to, or try out a new one you’ve never heard of before.
If you aren’t a regular podcast listener, try asking friends for recommendations or check out online lists of popular podcasts focused on topics of interest to you personally.
Before your trip, consider making a list of potential podcasts to try out. If you end up disliking one, you can always shut it off and try another.
4. Read Up on the Places You’re Visiting
Knowing about the cities and towns you visit can make your road trip more meaningful. You don’t need to bore yourself with histories and details that aren’t interesting, but try to find out a bit about each place.
If a certain city really fascinates you, consider reading a novel that takes place there. If no such book exists, you can at least read a bit online about even the smallest towns. Look up basic facts such as the town’s population or where its downtown or liveliest street is located.
For a lot of basics on US cities and towns, check out a simple site like City-Data which has population info, crime stats, cost of living, and such.
5. Go Grocery Shopping in New Towns and Cities
Going to famous tourist spots can be fun, but I really enjoy trying to get a feel for regular life in the places I visit. Grocery shopping might seem like an unnecessarily mundane activity for a vacation, but I find it provides an interesting view of normal everyday life in a place.
In addition to providing the opportunity to people watch, grocery shopping gives you a glimpse into what life would be like if you actually lived in the city you are visiting. How do things compare to your grocery store back home? Are the prices the same? Any differences in what’s available?
If you find an independent grocery store, this can be even more interesting, but I enjoy visiting the regular chain stores in new locations as well.
6. Create a Road Trip Journal
Journaling can be a great way to preserve the memories of your road trip. If you already have a journaling habit, this will of course come naturally to you. But, if you’ve never journaled before, resist the urge to feel intimidated about starting on your trip.
In the worst case scenario, you’ll find that journaling just isn’t an enjoyable activity for you personally. At least you’ll have given it a shot, and you can always try something else in the future.
On the other hand, there’s a decent chance you’ll find that writing in a journal really enriches your road trip experience. In addition to providing you with something you can look back on in the future, the journaling process itself is a great way to process and contemplate all of the new things you are seeing and experiencing as you travel. For more detailed suggestions about journaling on a road trip, check out these road trip journal ideas.
7. Spend Time in Nature
For some, going out in nature comes naturally. If you are someone who already spends a great deal of time camping, hiking, or fishing and such, then you can probably skip this tip.
Many of us, however, have become kind of disconnected from nature and the outdoors, in general. Maybe you work in an office and get home late every night after a long commute. Or perhaps you’re a student who spends hours in the library. Whatever the case, If going outside and enjoying nature isn’t part of your normal routine, it might not come to mind right away when you’re thinking about road trip activities.
If you are unsure of the location of the nearest national park, check out this webpage from the National Park Service which allows you to search by state to see lists of all national parks in any given location.
Fortunately, with a bit of planning, a road trip can actually be a great way to reconnect with nature. It’s also important to remember that spending time in nature doesn’t have to mean moving way outside of your comfort zone.
In fact, I’ll let you in on a secret. I actually NEVER camp on road trips, though I know others who do, and I’ve learned a lot from hearing about their experiences and tips.
Personally, I stay in hotels, motels, or occasionally, the homes of family we’re visiting along the way. Is this because I hate nature? Absolutely not. What I do hate, however, is forgoing a proper morning shower, even for a day. The idea of roughing it and washing up in a river is just not at all appealing to me. In fact, I’m certain I would hate such a trip.
However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy experiencing nature while on a road trip. I love spending hours in parks and taking in the beauty of the natural world. I just do so within the confines of what I feel comfortable with. So, my suggestion is to find ways to incorporate time out in nature into your road trip, but remember that spending time in nature doesn’t have to be an all or nothing endeavor. Spend some time thinking about what works best for you.
8. Visit an Open House
I’ll admit that this activity probably isn’t for everyone, but I actually love going to open houses while on road trips. The styles of homes tend to differ depending on where you are in the country, though the difference isn’t always substantial, particularly with newer houses.
It’s also really interesting to see what kind of homes are available at different price points as this differs so widely depending on where you are in the country. I find going to open houses to be a great way to really imagine your life in a place. For me, traveling always means envisioning what my life would be like in the places I visit.
9. Catch Up on Small Tasks You’ve Been Meaning to Do
Of course, a road trip is a time to relax and enjoy some free time. Once in a while, however, you might find yourself with a bit of time that can be used productively toward catching up on something you’ve been meaning to do.
These opportunities often open up for the person riding in the passenger seat. On long drives, you can sometimes find time to do small sewing projects, reconcile your budget, or jot down a meal plan or shopping list for when you get back home.
10. Brainstorm Ideas
Being away from home, in new and possibly exciting or interesting cities and places, can be a great way to stimulate your mind to think outside of the box. Maybe you will see possibilities that you didn’t previously. Try making a simple list of ideas–for your future, for ways to improve yourself, for increasing your income, whatever comes to mind.
Even if you don’t come up with anything earth-shattering, this list will be something you can look back on in the future and possibly build upon.
11. People Watch While Having a Cup of Tea or Coffee
This road trip activity is one of my favorites. I love to grab a cup of tea, sit down, and spend some time just watching the people walking past.
If the weather is nice, you can sit at an outside table or even find a park bench. If it’s too hot, cold, or rainy, opt for a spot indoors. It can be fun to just sit on a bench inside a shopping mall and take in the scene for a bit.
Going on a road trip as a family with kids can be great, but it’s important to remember that there are a lot of road trip activities for adults as well. Hopefully, this list will get you started. If you have any ideas to add, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear what activities you enjoy doing on road trips!