As I walked around my house one summer day making sure I’d packed the right items for a six-hour road trip, I realized that I had excluded something crucial. The gas tank was full, my suitcase was stuffed into the trunk and I had enough ranch sunflower seeds to make my friends hate me a few times over (they are both delicious and unsanitary). But, what I had forgotten would have ruined the trip in a way nothing else could.

You see, I had neglected to add a road-trip playlist to my iPod. Shuffle doesn’t work; nothing will ruin a mood more than when “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers begins playing from your speakers. Not that I like that song or anything (get out of my face, it’s a classic). And when you’re driving, the music has to be perfect — hitting the road is a long ordeal, made even longer by misguided stretches of Boyz II Men. No one wants to hear that shit, man — put it away.

So if you’ve already decided you’re going to be the journey’s conductor, it’s vital that you pick a well-suited compilation of songs and albums that mesh with the open road. Here’s help for anyone who wants to custom-tailor the soundtrack for their next highway voyage.

Before I even begin to think about the people in the car, the mood I want to set or even the bands I may want to listen to, I always add one staple. Tradition should dictate at least one selection, and for whatever reason, I never drive longer than an hour without listening to LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean.” There comes a point in every car ride where the energy is low, and everyone is either in a bad mood or annoyed at your weird sunflower seed addiction (look, just get used to it — I’m not stopping). For me, that’s the signal to pop on “Dance Yrself Clean” — the nine-minute song begins almost too mellow, and you can barely hear James Murphy’s singing. Three minutes in, however, these massive synths take over, and you can hardly resist the temptation to dance, regardless of the stupid song title.

But it can’t all be thumping beats and party songs. Too much house music tends to make my brain hurt, especially when the hours begin to pile up and exhaustion sets in. The ratio of genres or “song flavors” needs to be precise, like baking a long-island-iced-tea-flavored cake. Why would anyone make that? I have no idea, but I’m sure some drunk idiot tried to, and probably set their house on fire in the process. In conclusion, don’t try to make alcoholic cakes.

Anyway, my recipe for the road-trip setlist goes as follows: Begin by mixing some hip hop and high-energy alternative music. Start with a layer of Kanye and the Strokes, and maybe a dash of Foster the People — the catchiness will set a good mood level as you first get on the highway. When you begin to tire of that, start transitioning to some ingredients that aren’t as hook-laden, but are still enjoyable for you personally. I like Iggy Pop here (try “The Passenger,” or “Punkrocker” by him and the Teddybears), but the Black Keys or Gorillaz are both suitable.

As you begin to settle into the pace of the road, it’s important to ditch all of the above for some mellower tunes. In my experience, Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues is a good album to listen through, as is Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More. The very soothing Bon Iver never seems to work for me — my friends tend to get mad at me because, oh no, I fell asleep again! (Wusses.) But the end goal here should be something subdued, just active enough to keep you interested.

The last leg of the trip should be unplanned. Yes, I described how dire a pre-chosen playlist is, but the final hour or so is when you start realizing what songs you forgot to include. Plus, those other losers you’ve been ignoring for the past few hours probably deserve some say in the music, or whatever. This is your chance to patch things up regarding the sunflower seeds by taking some requests. Just — dude, seriously, stop it with the Boyz II Men. It’s not happening.

And thus ends the strategy for your “Tripping Out” playlist (go ahead and pretend you came up with that — you know you were going to anyway). Do whatever else makes you happy on your journey — I like to take breaks to yell at the GPS lady for telling me what to do. I’ll show her one day!

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