Road Tripping: The Seven Essentials

The road to Witsand, Northern Cape (© Briony Chisholm)

The road to Witsand, Northern Cape (© Briony Chisholm)

As you all know, my favourite road tripping ally, GM, and I travelled around South Africa for the happiest bits of April to October last year. Seven provinces, covering almost 10 000 km, on long, straight roads; over twisty-turny passes, my knuckles white; over/around/and – unfortunately – through potholes of every size and shape (one road in KZN was more pothole than road); and, mostly, on miles-and-miles of dust road through countryside that left us gobsmacked with its gorgeousness. Not one province let us down, each one exquisite.

I get (easily) distracted. This blog is not about South Africa’s superlative scenery. It’s about the practicalities of road tripping. Anyone who’s ever spent more than an hour in a car is well aware of the trappings: the claustrophobia and inexplicable emotions that can hit when you spend seemingly endless hours trundling along in a metal capsule.

Here are seven tips to prevent the unnecessary (and particularly unpleasant) throttling of your travelling ally.

1. Water

If you forget to pack sufficient water in the car, you will – as soon as you’re 50 km from the nearest garage/shop/tap, be hit with an insurmountable thirst. This is not a ‘maybe’. It will happen. Your tongue will dry up, making it difficult to enunciate, your lips will start cracking and you’ll start seeing mirages. Panicking, you may even attempt to shout: “Thtop! Wather!”, each time you see said mirage. Do not stop. It will just make the time and distance to the next water place longer.

limpopo-pool

This is not a mirage. Tingala Lodge, Limpopo (© Briony Chisholm)

Special Note: If you’re travelling long distances in the desert, this is not just silly, it’s ridiculous.

2. Snacks

A similiar phenomenon occurs with food. Always pack snacks. And by snacks, I don’t mean a small packet of peanuts – road rumour has it that the best of friends have been moved to murder over an airline-sized packet of peanuts, but don’t quote me on that. By snacks, I mean an entire (large) bag of things to gnaw on. The longer the gnawing lasts, the better. There’s no excuse for running out. Wonderful Cafés are scattered about the place, for regular replenishment.

Wonderful Café, near Ga-Raphalelo, Limpopo (© Briony Chisholm)

Wonderful Café, near Ga-Raphalelo, Limpopo (© Briony Chisholm)

Things to avoid:

  • Boiled eggs. Eggs of any description. That sulphuric smell will cause much trouble.
  • Sandwiches, except peanut butter and syrup/jam ones. Any other sandwich will fall apart and leave pieces of tomato lurking under the seats.
  • Confectionary with ‘hundreds and thousands’ on top. See point above about under-seat-lurkers. This one’s a ‘maybe-maybe’ one, though. I quite like a floor scattered with brightly coloured little full stops, but that’s just me. I’m not very precious about my car.

Handy hint: Keep an emergency packet of Jelly Tots in the cubbyhole. Always.

3. Music

A road trip without a huge, and preferably eclectic, choice of music is, to put it bluntly, hell on earth. As everybody knows (surely?), each landscape deserves its own soaring soundtrack. Like this road in the gorgeous, open, Karoo, deserved a good dose of ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo!’.

Equally important: a good music system. Road trip music needs to be loud. Or off. There’s a perfection to rolling down the windows and listening to the countryside flying past too.

4. Local Radio Stations

On the subject of aural delights, tune into the local radio station, wherever you are. The rewards are multiple: from getting Tannie Marie se Secret Melktert recipe, to hearing Thandi’s heartfelt dedication to her husband on their first anniversary, to 50’s-style jingles advertising the haberdashery shop on the corner of 1st Avenue and De Melker Street. And that’s beside hearing what great things are happening in the area while you’re there.

5. Clothing

Yip. Clothing. While you have your suitcase filled with everything you need (and, probably a whole bunch of stuff you don’t, that you threw in, in case), you’re not going to want to be rootling around in the boot looking for your swimming costume when you come across a farm dam that is shouting out to you for a swim. (Note: check that the dam is not in the field containing the stud bull, before you do this. Just sayin’.)

This is what a bull looks like. Ntabakandoda, Eastern Cape (© Briony Chisholm)

This is what a bull looks like. Ntabakandoda, Eastern Cape (© Briony Chisholm)

And when the mists roll in while driving through the perfection that is Magoebaskloof in Limpopo – you’ll need a jumper, as my Granny used to call it. Said jumper also acts as a great buffer when a nap comes knocking. Ball it up and place between head and window to prevent unsightly bruising … those roads can be bumpy. Especially when napping.

6. Games

‘I Spy’ gets boring after the second round. ‘Car Cricket’ may last slightly longer, but only slightly, and ‘I Went to Market’ lost it’s appeal after we could get from A to Z without forgetting. The good news is that, on a long road trip, you’ve got plenty of time to think up new games.

Like the “Replace ‘Love’ with ‘Snacks’ while listening to ‘Love Hits of the 70s and 80s’ Game”. Singing along, preferably with some interpretive dance movements while roadtripping is a given. This is just an add-on. Think ‘I wanna know what snacks are …’ Please take special note of point two (the snack bag), if you’re going to play this one. It’s guaranteed to make you hungry.

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with W (© Briony Chisholm)

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with W (© Briony Chisholm)

On my most recent road trip, with an extra favourite ally L in the car, we went slightly self help book, a pet hate of mine, but the game was fun. We all took turns giving each other compliments. For nine hours, on and off. We all arrived home feeling, possibly overly, good about ourselves.

A friend of mine took a book called ‘100 Dinner Party Conversation Starters’ on a road trip with a new boyfriend. 100 questions. She, admittedly, was using it as an excuse to find out the pertinent ‘new relationship’ questions. You know, the awkward ‘Do you want to have kids?’ (we were, at the time, heading rapidly toward 40), ‘Do you have a psychotic ex who’s going to try and run me down in the street’ and ‘Criminal record?’ questions. If you play this one, do be prepared for answers you may not like, so it may be better to play it on the trip home. Nobody wants to spoil a Romantic Weekend on the way there.

7. Sense of Humour and Adventure

This is probably the most important. Getting stuck behind a gazillionty-twelve metre truck on a pass that’s 32 km long can be tedious. The snacks may run low (horror!), causing unheard of tetchiness. Google Maps sometimes gets the alternative route (when an oil tanker spills its load on the direct route) very wrong, resulting in an extra 60 km of (admittedly beautiful) dust road in the Northern Cape, ending in a locked gate (I kid you not), adding three hours onto an already long day of driving.

A sense of humour and adventure is absolutely essential. The thing is, those wrong turns and dead ends so often turn out to deliver the things that make travelling such a treat. Like meeting fabulously friendly farmers, who bake the best cheesecake in the world, and close-up views of the spring blossoms that you otherwise would’ve missed.

blossoms

Blossoms, Northern Cape (© Briony Chisholm)

As clichéd as it sounds, every road really is filled with adventure, happy cafés, punctures that result in new friends and stories. Especially the little back ones.

 

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