How to make a road trip less miserable: En Route Montréal


There are a lot of practical concerns that go into executing the perfect road trip, but I don’t care about them.

Sure, it’s nice to have a car with air conditioning, or a starter that definitely works, or a driver’s side door that always closes. But this summer, my best friend Gracie and I made it all the way to Montréal and back in a car with none of those things. What we lacked in automobile safety we made up for in other, less tangible ways. Here are a few things that will make any road trip less miserable — because, if we’re honest with ourselves, they’re only fun for a maximum of three hours.

  1. Good company.

This isn’t as cheesy as it sounds. In fact, it’s practical. If you’re going to be spending five-plus hours in a cramped space with a person, make it someone who won’t incite your primal urge to kill the third time they ask you to pull over to find a place to pee. Miles and miles of road lay ahead, so spend that time with someone you like.

Patience and sense of humor also help. The morning we left Montréal, Philip, my ancient red Saturn, overheated and broke down in the line at the border to get back into the U.S. Gracie could have yelled at me for being an idiot who thought that my junk car could make the whole trip, but instead, she patted my shoulder and told me it would be okay. It didn’t stop me from banging my head against the steering wheel, but she was right, and we made it home fine.

road trip - Montreal - streettrotter
Montréal’s Mount Royal, with the Monument a Sir George-Étienne Cartier in the distance.
  1. Play some Tunes.

Music sets the vibe of a road trip and, in my opinion, determines its overall success. If there isn’t a song that reminds you of your road trip for the rest of your life, then you have failed at road tripping.

Once again, my Montréal road trip serves as a cautionary tale. Philip the Saturn, was born before AUX cords, and the iPhone radio adapter I bought for the journey to Canada stopped picking up a clear frequency an hour into the ride. So don’t be like me. If you don’t have an AUX, curate a music selection before you get in the car. Make a playlist or a mixtape that all passengers will enjoy, but don’t rely on the radio. I know from experience that once you hit a certain part of New Hampshire, all you’re going to get is dad rock, country music, and static.

My recommendation: start off with some upbeat bops, let the playlist get slower and quieter as you settle into a highway groove, and time the songs to pick up again as you reach your destination. Match the music to the mood and feel the miles melt away.

  1. Stop often.

Montréal is more than a five-hour drive from my house. Gracie doesn’t drive, so I was going to be behind the wheel for the entire trip, there and back. No way was I going to make it without breaks, so we planned stops along the way.  In our case, we pulled off the highway to hang out in Burlington, VT for a couple hours. We ate a huge, delicious breakfast at Henry’s Diner and walked up and down Church St. before wandering to the shores of Lake Champlain.  Not only did it give us a break from the road, but at the end of our three hours there, I almost didn’t want to leave.

road trip - Montreal - streettrotter
At the end of Church St. in Burlington.

I’d like to say we did the same on the way back. We planned to — we were going to hit up the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, VT. Then the Great Border Breakdown of 2016 happened, and we were in no mood to stop anywhere but our own driveways. 

  1. Choose a good route.

Interstate 89 cuts through almost 200 miles of New Hampshire and Vermont, weaving up, down, and through the Green Mountains all the way to the U.S./Canada border. We drove its entirety on a hot day in July, in a car with no air conditioning. Opening the windows and sunroof mitigated the heat only slightly.

road trip - Montreal - streettrotter
The docks of Lake Champlain

When we got to Burlington, I was so sweaty and heat-dazed I came close to jumping into Lake Champlain. Thankfully, the beauty of the drive made up for our suffering, if only a little. Where Gracie and I are from in Massachusetts, the population is dense and there’s none of the unbridled wilderness there is along I-89. Our car hugged the curves of mountains and huge green ranges rippled before us. We drove along roads of such high altitude that our ears popped. On that road, it was easy to forget our back pain and heatstroke.

Of course, you shouldn’t forget the essentials on your next road trip: a spare tire, snacks, a gallon of engine coolant (trust me on this one). In addition to those, though, you’ll need these four things to make your road trip bearable, if not actually fun.

Got time to read another quirky on-the-road experience? – Read Amruta Tendolkar’s diary entry to HITCH-HIKING Europe.