5 smart tips to prepare for your road trip
Traveling for long distances in a car can be exhausting or exhilarating — it all depends on how you prepare. Ensure your trip goes smoothly and safely with this helpful checklist to get you on the road.
1. Preparing your car
The most essential part of any road trip is the car you make your trip in. The delay and expenses associated with a breakdown or trip to the mechanic en route can sour any trip, so it’s best to give your car a thorough inspection before you hit the road.
First, check that all of your fluids are topped off. Your oil should be full and fresh — don’t start a road trip if you need an oil change! Fill up your wiper fluid, and change your wiper blades if it’s been a while — nothing is more annoying than driving with a dirty window when you’re miles from the nearest store to pick up more fluid.
Next, check your tires. Make sure there are no leaks and see how your tread looks. If your tires are a bit bald, a long drive isn’t the best idea. You should also check your tire pressure, and fill them if necessary.
If your car has been making strange sounds or hasn’t been driving as well lately, you should see your mechanic before you go on your trip. The middle of nowhere is the worst place to find out that funny noise you’ve been ignoring is actually a catastrophic problem.
Nowadays, most of us navigate using our phones. For short trips around town, cell phones and a data connection are enough. For road trips, however, it’s safer to download your map or copy down your directions ahead of time.
The farther you go from urban areas, the more likely you are to encounter dead zones. If you haven’t prepared ahead of time for traveling without data, you may lose access to your map entirely. Being stuck in an unfamiliar place with no connection to your only map isn’t just stressful — it’s dangerous.
In addition to your digital map and written directions, physical maps are also important backup tools. If you’ll be driving anywhere with uneven terrain, a map detailing geographic features is a good idea. Mountain roads or other risky terrains can be frightening if you’re not prepared.
3. Know your route
This may sound the same as preparing your maps, but knowing your route goes beyond knowing what turns to take. Knowing your route also involves accounting for weather, timing, navigational delays, and what other routes are available.
Checking the weather ahead of your drive is always an invaluable step before you set off on your road trip. Unexpected bad weather can cause travel delays or dangerous accidents if you’re not prepared. Knowing ahead of time if you’ll need to drive in rain or snow is very helpful.
You’ll also want to know how long your drive will take, and around what times you’ll be where. Many small towns have businesses that close early. For example, if you prefer to drive late at night to avoid traffic, you may have to prepare for stretches with no open bathrooms.
You should always choose the road trip route that meets your needs, not just the one that shows up as fastest on our maps. You may want to prepare your own route if you’re looking for a scenic drive, for example.
Choosing roads based on size, speed limits, tolls, and the number of available rest stops isn’t a bad idea. Knowing which way you’ll go ahead of time also lets you plan for detours if necessary, or search ahead for construction that may cause delays.
4. Pack smart
When we travel locally or fly somewhere, we pack for our destination. Road trips require you to pack for your journey as well. You’ll need to remember your ID as well as any insurance cards (for auto and medical) in case of an emergency.
You’ll also want to bring cash in addition to debit or credit cards in case you need to make a purchase somewhere cards aren’t accepted, which may be more likely on the road. Cash can also help if your credit card company decides that your out-of-state purchases are suspicious, and you aren’t in the mood to convince them over the phone that your gas station purchase isn’t fraud.
You should pack with the intention of making your drive comfortable and minimizing stops. Bring a cooler loaded with snacks and drinks, or pillows and blankets if you’ve got passengers or need to stop to rest. Travel games for children, a good playlist, or some downloaded podcasts are good ideas. You’ll want to keep yourself awake and entertained and your passengers comfortable and happy.
5. Prepare for emergencies
While no one likes to think about the scary “what if’s” before a vacation, it’s critical to remember that road trips have some unique dangers. Time on the road and distance between towns means you need to prepare for a situation where your car breaks down and you need to wait a while to get help.
Make sure your car has a good spare and any tools required to change it (and make sure you know how to do so). You should also have an emergency roadside kit and first aid kit in your car. Items you should always have include a tire pressure gauge, flares, and cones. If you’re driving somewhere with extreme weather, blankets or sunscreen are also good things to have.
Preparing for an emergency also means having familiarity with your insurance coverage. Ask your provider if roadside assistance or towing is included in your plan in the event that your car breaks down, and make a plan to arrange for those things if they’re not. Once you’re packed and prepared, safe travels and enjoy the view!