Crafting the Perfect Road Trip Playlist



by John Ellis

What makes a good road trip playlist?

Over the years, I’ve been asked that question multiple times. Even more frequently, I’ve been asked what songs should be included on a road trip playlist. Well, this summer, I’ve been asking myself those same questions as I compile a road trip playlist for my family. Below are a few general rules that I’ve given myself as I’ve put my nose to the grindstone of the all important task of planning my family’s road trip playlist. After the rules, I’ve included some sample songs from my family’s playlist and my reason(s) for including them.

1. You should like the songs you choose. And by “you,” I mean everyone who will be in the car. So, while I’m the one compiling the list, I am taking into consideration my wife and kids’ preferences. For example, my son and I are fans of Queens of the Stone Age’s “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar.” On top of that, I believe that it makes for an excellent driving song. However, my wife and daughter HATE the song, so “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar” failed to make the cut. On the flip side, and to be fair, my wife is a fan of the band Rend Collective. I can’t stand that band. Listening to their music is like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Our playlist will not include any Rend Collective.

Now, obviously, some of the songs chosen are going to be more to the liking of some family members than other family members. There are songs on our playlist that I wouldn’t include if it were just going to be me in the car. Songs like “Roar” by Katy Perry and “Believer” by Imagine Dragons. One of my family members loves those songs, I’m while I’m not really a fan, those two songs won’t make me want to drive the car into a tree to get the pain to stop. If I had to listen to Rend Collective, the chances of me driving a car into a tree skyrockets to “probably going to happen.”

2. Get feedback and input from the rest of your family. As I wrote above, everyone in the car should like the playlist. There are songs that members of my family like and that I don’t mind listening to but that I would never think to put on our playlist. Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” is one such song. “How Can It Be” by Lauren Daigle is another such song.

3. Vary the type of music on the playlist. If I were making a playlist just for myself, alternative bands from the late 80s and early 90s would dominate the list. However, and depending on the length of the trip, I know that I would probably tire of listening to Gen X angst being screamed out of my speakers. Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” would be slipped into my playlist. Adhering to rules one and two ensures that my family’s playlist is quite varied. While driving around the country, we could go from listening to Frank Sinatra croon “Fly Me to the Moon” to Veruca Salt wailing “Seether.”

4. Have a long list. At the moment, my family’s playlist is 112 songs. I haven’t averaged it out, but assuming that most pop songs are around 3 minutes in length, that’s almost 6 hours of music. That’s important, because at best guess, we’ll be in the car for around 47 hours. If my math is correct, that means that we’ll listen to each song at least 7 times. Even at that, I’m fairly confident that we will get sick of several of the songs on the list (especially since my phone’s algorithms may undermine my math and decide to play “The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones every time we get back in the car).

Four simple rules that will help ensure that your road trip playlist is a hit. Now, to help make sure that your playlist is successful, below is a short list of songs that I believe should be on everyone’s playlist.

“Thunderstruck” by AC/DC – This is the greatest driving song ever produced. The only downside is that it may increase the driver’s odds of getting a speeding ticket.


“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey – Everyone loves this song. Male. Female. Young. Old. Liberal. Conservative. Introvert. Extrovert. Everyone. A must have on your playlist.


“Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynerd – There’s a reason why people always yell out “play Free Bird!” at concerts. And the reason is that the song is awesome. Plus, it has a great, mellow yet not-too-mellow guitar solo that is great for when cruising on the interstate.


“In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins – No explanation needed. Simply watch the video below.


“Life Is a Highway” by Tom Cochran – This is an obvious choice. But being an obvious choice doesn’t mean that it’s not a correct choice. And “Life Is a Highway” is most definitely a correct choice for any road trip playlist. A note – make sure it’s Tom Cochran’s version and not the Rascal Flatts’ travesty of a cover.


“Mysterious Ways” by U2 – This is the best driving song off of the world’s best band’s best album.


“Take On Me” by A-ha  – You’ll want some great sing-along songs on your playlist. “Take On Me” fits the bill. Plus, it’s one of the best pop songs of all time.


“And We Danced” by The Hooters – “And We Danced is a fun, upbeat song that is an almost perfect summer-break song.


“Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Speaking of songs made for summer-break, you can’t leave “Summertime” off your road trip playlist.

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