BEFORE YOU GO
Do Your Homework
Customize a road-trip route on Rand McNally's TripMaker Beta. You can set parameters like trip start date and duration. The tool will map out the best route and list lodgings and attractions along the way. Then you can print your customized itinerary.
Everything should fit inside the car. Strapping cargo on the roof creates drag, which dramatically saps gas mileage.
Crash a Pad
Look into staying on someone's couch, or in her plush guesthouse, by joining couchsurfing.org. You'll gain access to profiles and ratings of thousands of generous hosts from coast to coast. (Community members vouch for others in the network, so you know it's safe.) Best of all, it's free.
ALONG THE WAY
State welcome centers and city tourism offices stock coupon packets full of discounts on local attractions. Pick up a variety to cross-reference: One booklet might offer a better deal for the exact same motel.
Hunting for specific souvenirs adds a wacky challenge and sense of purpose to all those miles. Try bumper stickers, diner coffee mugs or retro-inspired postcards.
A road trip is one big, moving party, so a video camera is your best tool for capturing the action. We like the tiny Flip Ultra SD (theflip.com; from $150), which holds two hours of video. It's easy to use -- you'll download movies onto your computer in no time.
IN THE CAR
Invest in the Mountainsmith Modular Hauler system (mountainsmith.com; from $59), roomy, washable nylon cubes with clear plastic sleeves for labeling (snacks, toys, guidebooks and maps, etc.). The packed cubes are easy to move, stack and retrieve from your trunk.
Share laughs, not germs. Bring one water bottle per traveler, all in different colors.
Ditch Your Handbag
Treat the glove compartment like a big metal purse. Stock it with Ginger Hand Lotion (origins.com; $15) to ward off dry skin and soothe motion sickness, and a bottle of misting moisturizer, such as Vitamin C Energizing Face Spritz (thebodyshop-usa.com; $18), to keep your face dewy even if you decide to take the scenic route through the Mojave.
How to Clean Your Windshield
The next time you make a pit stop for roadside refreshments, save the last sip of your cola for the windshield. The fizzy carbonation in drinks like soda and seltzer helps cut through dirt and grime -- and squashed bugs! -- on the glass. Just pour a few drops over the problem area and scrub with a napkin or newspaper.
*Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in August 2009.