The Dos and Don'ts of the Road Trip Playlist

Essential Ground Rules for Scoring Your Next Big Drive

By Thompson Brandes ·
New Line Cinema

The curation of your impending drive’s original soundtrack has long been a sacred practice. In far forgotten times, this consisted of spending hours alongside a radio in order to record your favorite tracks to a blank cassette tape. Then came the burnt CD, of which you would promptly jam into the sun visor of your sedan before rediscovering it three months later—often to much delight. Then it was the iPod (judge, jury and executioner of the music industry) which evolved posthaste into the smartphone streaming services we carry with us today.

All of which is to say: creating your own personal travel playlist has and will remain a fun and effective tradition. And we’re currently driving through its prime. But endless options can often trigger costly mistakes, especially when you’ve got company in the car. Which is why we’re here to run through some basic (yet very essential) Playlist Dos and Don’ts—the musical commandments of a perfect road trip.

Do: Maintain a Strong Variety

Nobody pops open Netflix to watch the same exact episode of Friends over and over, right? (Though if this is something you do do, please email me and let’s get an interview on the books.)

The shuffle button exists for a reason.

Don’t: Cast Too Wide of a Net

Break your playlists off into distinct vibes or genres instead of piling everything into a big incoherent mess. In fact, going as far as bunching entire albums together—so long as they are good—is perfectly acceptable.

Do: Get Cliché

Sometimes the very best songs are the ones custom-built for shouting out of a window going 80 mph.

Don’t: Get Too Cliché

Spare your co-pilot the dramatics.**

**Unless it’s The Dramatics—an A+ road trip band whom you should never spare anyone of.

But By All Means Do: Get So Cliché That It’s Perfect

Do: Utilize the ‘Add to Queue’ Function

A fun thing to try on a group road trip is the Pass Around, wherein everyone in the car takes turns adding a song of their liking to one phone’s streaming queue. It ends up serving as a musical fantasy draft of sorts—a game of pretend-DJ that keeps the car guessing yet satisfied.

Don’t: Fuck Up the Feng Shui of the ‘Add to Queue’ Function

A wild card every now and then is fine, but try to be mindful of others’ musical tastes. Basically: If the car is throwing a Classic Rock no-hitter, don’t blow an air horn into the pitcher’s face with a 15-minute Skrillex set.

Do: Enlighten Others With New Music

Introducing quality unaccustomed music to others is always a good thing. Go for it.

Don’t: Shove Your New Music Down Everyone’s Throats

A great way to send a road trip into a sound slumber is to play like, twenty-something indie-alternative songs no one has ever heard before. I advise against it.

Do: Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

The weather, the landscape and your destination should all factor into the soundtrack. No one has ever said no to a little “Banana Pancakes” whilst cruising down the Florida Gulf Coast. Whereas I’m pretty sure a lot of people have said no to “Banana Pancakes” whilst careening down an icy Rocky Mountain highway, you know what I’m saying?

Don’t: Neglect Your Instincts

After all, it’s your road trip. Play whatever speaks to you. So long as it abides by the prior prerequisite Dos and Don’ts, of course...

Thompson Brandes

Thompson Brandes is getting sucked into another Jurassic Park movie on AMC right now.

Elsewhere on the Daddy

More Culture