Planning The Great American Festival Road Trip In 7 Easy Steps

Article by: Laura Braun|@everfest

Mon June 11, 2018 | 06:00 AM

Festivals are fantastic, but as anyone who has ever hauled ass across the highway to get to one knows, the journey there can be just as notable – and, yes, sometimes even better than the main event itself. Recently, two friends and I loaded up my thirteen-year old Toyota for a 5,000 mile round trip pilgrimage to Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. While this certainly wasn’t my first time at ‘Roo, it was the first time I traveled there all the way from San Francisco, California.

We learned a lot along the way, but mostly this: A good road trip to any festival requires strict preparation, followed by lots of flexibility…and a killer playlist. Here’s our guide to hittin’ the road, rather than the wall.

Pimp Your Ride

Festival Road Trip Bonnaroo Car Parke Jo Flickr Cc

Don’t forget the most important member of your road trip! While decking out your ride for the fest might be your first instinct, remember that your vehicle of choice deserves a little spoiling before a big trip, so be sure to take it for a full checkup at your most trusted mechanic (no shady shops!) and allow time for possible hiccups. Dropping it off the day before the drive leaves you and your ride at risk for delays if something is awry. Get the oil changed, check the tires (including the spare), and stock up on emergency gear like jumper cables, gloves, and roadside assistance protection. This isn’t the place to skimp on cash. Deck it out with washable window markers and signage on the last leg of your journey to the big show. Unfortunately, these can be a big giveaway to thieves and cops as to what’s inside your ride. Be cautious not to obscure windows, either!

...Oh yeah, and bring a spare key or two for your team to avoid the inevitable lock out.

Sort It Out

Bonnaroo 2016 Adrian Spinelli   01

Photo by: Adrian Spinelli

In the days or weeks leading up to departure, start a comprehensive packing list that can be shared with your other co-pilots. As random items like D batteries for the tent fan pop into your brain (not to mention the tent fan itself!), toss them on the list and divvy up responsibilities. Section off lists for the car, camping, or any other expected stops and don’t be afraid to add minute details: The small stuff is just as important as the big stuff. Festival essentials that can be picked up on the road like sunscreen, TP, baby wipes, and water may are also useful for the ride, so don’t wait until the last minute to buy them.

Before the time comes to load up the car, you’ll have a well-sorted shopping list and a decent idea of how much luggage to expect (and where you can trim the fat, if needed). Speaking of trimming the fat, if one of your trippers is clearly trying to pack too much unnecessary stuff, nip it in the bud. Everyone's got a friend who's the classic "over-packer," so look alive. You’ll want extra room for funky thrift store festival finds anyway.

Be a (Wo)man with a Plan

Road Trip Bonnaroo 2016 Adrian Spinelli   1

Photo by: Adrian Spinelli

Before gunning it straight to the festival, use Google maps to track your path and do some research about the towns you’ll be passing through. Chances are, you’ll find something worthy of a short detour. There are great resources out there like RoadTrip America to help find the best stops along the way, so you don’t miss your chance at a photo op at the kitschiest 1950s roadside motel in the country. What a time to be alive!

Stay Flexible

Road Trip Bonnaroo 2016 Adrian Spinelli   1

Photo by: Adrian Spinelli

Prepare to calm yourselves, fellow control freaks: Not everything goes as planned. Construction causes closures, traffic trips us up, and sometimes flat tires just happen. Take a deep breath and remind yourself from the very beginning that you will not let minor setbacks wreck your good vibes. The best you can do is come prepared and roll with the punches.

…Seriously though, pack extra underpants. You never know when you’re going to come across a crazy awesome impromptu party that requires an extra night out. That said, allow yourself an extra day for travel, ask locals about their favorite spots in town and just see more of the country while you can.

Pull Over

Festival Road Trip Roadside Attraction Ayleen Gaspar Flickr Cc

On that note, it’s important not to deprive you or your pals along the way. Follow the ol’ Homeland Security slogan and say something, if you see something! Spot a billboard for the best dry rub BBQ in the state? Pull over. Realize that you’re just a few miles from the Breaking Bad house? Screech those tires. Witnessing the most spectacular sunset over Utah’s salt flats? Stop the damn car.

Don’t just watch the world pass by through dusty windows. Make time for the world around you and enjoy the journey.

Plan Your Listening Pleasure

Bonnaroo 2016 Tom Tomkinson  For Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival 7

Music makes everything a little better and there’s no better way to get yourself pumped for the fest than with a sick playlist featuring the bands you’re traveling to see. It’s also an opportune time to brush up on the lower tier acts – you just might find a new must-see show of the weekend. Challenge your fellow road warriors to create a playlist the length of the trip, but stay mindful of car vibes: Sometimes an audiobook, podcast, or guided meditation is a welcome break from raucous steering wheel drumming.

The car is your temporary home, so keep the peace and collaborate on the songs and words filling everyone’s ears. Pro Tip: Time flies when everyone is singing along.

Picture This

Road Trip Bonnaroo 2016 Adrian Spinelli   1

Photo by: Adrian Spinelli

While we don’t condone the kind of exuberant photo sharing that makes friends hover over that “unfollow” button, we do suggest a unique hashtag that files all of those photos and tweets into one neatly organized view ready for reminiscing. Additionally, go analog with a paper map from the gas station to chronicle your landmarks and discoveries as you go. When the trip is done, supplement it with photos from an instant camera, matchbooks, wristbands, and whatever other goodies you collect along the way for a sweet keepsake.

What are your top road trip tips? Tell us in the comments!

Happy highways!

This article was originally published in June 2016.