Road trips are a quintessential part of the American experience. So much so that it has produced some of the key books in American literature. Who could say that stories and films like Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” William Least Heat-Moon’s “Blue Highways” or “Easy Rider” don’t express something true and central to the American concept of self?
The open highway has often meant freedom to the individual — a metaphor for personal choice and determining one’s fate — and that tradition carries on today in the rite of passage of the road trip.
Preparing for a road trip, like all adventures, requires a certain number of prerequisites to make sure all goes smoothly. In this post we’ll cover how to plan a road trip, what to pack for your road trip, how to drive safely, and how to be safe once you arrive.
Planning for Road Trips
Decide What You Want to See
A road trip can sometimes be like a trip to the supermarket: If you don’t have a list of what you’d like to get it can become overwhelming to have so many choices. Asking yourself what you’d most like to experience with a road trip — whether it’s that view of Big Sur you’ve always longed to see for yourself, or the ability to experience a close encounter with an enormous variety of wildlife right outside your car in Yellowstone’s hallowed environs, a good idea of what you’d like to accomplish with your trip can be immensely helpful.
Once all your travel safety basics are covered, it’s an important task to plan what all you want to see in the places you visit. One, it will save a lot of time; second, it will help you in maintaining a budget. It’s best to be mentally prepared regarding how much time you should spend at a place, what is the entry and exit time of a place, and any not-miss sites. Many of the places are while en-route. In this way, you get on the best of everything.
Plan Your Route As a Family
Sit down together as a family to discuss the plans for your road trip. Planning a route together is a very special way to include your children in the preliminary stages of a family adventure. Give your kids options about where to stop and what to visit. Children and teens will be far more engaged by the experiences that you encounter when they’ve been involved in them from the beginning, it’s easier for them when they know what to expect and what to look forward to.
Double-Check Your Insurance
Never travel without car insurance and travel insurance. Know the coverage, terms and conditions and whom to call when in a situation. In case of any mishaps, insurance may reimburse the doctor fees, medical expenses, any bodily injury claims, car protection, loss or theft of car…you get the idea. Some travel insurance even covers your travel cost in case of an emergency.
Pack a Real Map
Whether you’re a member of Triple A or another good automotive institution, finding what maps are available to you is a great way to plan your trip — especially if you’re looking to get off the beaten path. The book “Blue Highways” refers to the smaller routes off the main interstates, that can provide access to small-town American life, for example. You’ll probably discover many new things on your trip, and maps can often clue you in to areas you didn’t even know existed.
Stay in Touch
Let your loved ones know about your travel plans. Give them a rough idea of travel dates with arrival timings and a daily itinerary. If mobile roaming charges are a concern, then get yourself a sim card on your arrival at the location. Call, drop a text message or an email to tell them that you have reached safely.
Study Up On Your Destination
Research well about your destination. The culture, etiquette, safety measures, and clothing matter a lot. Respect the place’s culture by following it. If you don’t understand, then it’s always safe to be conservative. Women travelers must know the safety measures to take in case of any harassment. Be aware of public transportation for visiting local spots. Feed your mobile number with the local emergency number.
Prepare Your Vehicle for a Road Trip
Make Sure It’s Road-Worthy
Before loading up a vehicle with amenities and potentially useful items, consider the vehicle itself. If it’s experiencing issues, it may be untrustworthy. If it is prone to overheating, it may fail on a long drive. If your vehicle has electrical issues, it may fail to start when needed. Any significant issue with the vehicle should be corrected prior to taking the vehicle on a road trip. If you cannot correct the issue prior to the departure date, take another vehicle.
However, if your vehicle is currently trustworthy, then you should perform some basic maintenance and an inspection.
Top off Fluids
Get your oil changed, if the road trip will be spanning several thousand miles, even if the oil is presently of good quality.
You should also include topping off all other fluids, including windshield washer fluid, antifreeze, transmission fluid, and brake fluid. Inspecting all lights, inspecting the windshield wipers, and replacing any worn tires or brakes are also prudent acts.
Check Your Tires
Make sure there is enough tread left on your tires to complete the trip. You can put a penny head first into the grooves of your tires. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, then you need new tires. If it’s close, consider how far you’ll be driving. You don’t want to deal with a blowout, far from home, owing to old tires.
Or just bring your vehicle to a service station or a good mechanic for a full vehicle checkup, including tires, oil, lights, gas, and wipers. Then you’ll feel more comfortable knowing you have all the bases covered.
Before Your Leave for Your Road Trip
Have Someone Watch Your Home
If no one will be staying at your home during your road trip, try to arrange with a friend or neighbor to watch your home for signs of criminal activity or fire. And of course, arrange for someone to care for any pets that will be left behind.
Research Where You’ll be Driving
If you will be passing through any major cities, researching the city online before you leave. Most cities have high-crime regions, and stopping after dark in an unfamiliar area with a car loaded with valuables may not be prudent.
Allow Plenty of Time
It’s hard to have a good time when you’re feeling rushed. If you’ve created an unrealistic trip plan for the amount of time you have, you’re far more likely to become agitated and impatient. When the driver is stressed or worried, it’s easy for the entire group to become withdrawn or sullen. Avoid this from the get-go by allowing yourself plenty of extra time for pit stops and wrong turns.
Depart with an Adventurous Spirit
Often times on road trips, things don’t go exactly as you plan them. Sometimes construction, road closures and traffic pattern changes can affect the route you wanted to take or the time in which you plan to take it. If you mentally prepare for the likelihood of delays, you can be ready for anything! If you’re traveling as a family, remember your kids take their cue from you. Being in a happy, go-with-the-flow mood and the kids will be too.
Packing for Road Trips
Good Tires, a Spare, and a Car Jack
Nothing quite says good car health quite like a sturdy set of tires. Even so, it’s always a good idea to have a spare tire and car jack in your car. You could hit a pothole or some kind of object in the road that flattens your tire. If you don’t know how to change a tire, you could either call a tow truck or get someone to pull over and help you, but at least you would have the necessary supplies.
Don’t Forget Your Jumper Cables
What would happen if you spent the night at a motel during your trip and forgot to turn off the lights inside of your car? You’d have a dead battery and would have to figure out a way to recharge it. By having a set of jumper cables, you just need to find someone else with a car to give you a helping hand — not a big stretch while traveling!
Pack an Emergency Kit
Every vehicle should have an emergency kit, especially before going on any road trips. There are certain areas in America where if you break down, they may be stranded for hours on end. Being prepared with an emergency pack can easily turn what could be a tragedy into a few warm hours of waiting for a tow truck.
Any emergency pack should have a first-aid kit, warning lights or flares, a fire extinguisher and foam tire sealant. There are also some items that would almost seem common sense. A vehicle should always have a flashlight and jumper cables inside of it. Gloves can also come in handy.
If you’re traveling during the winter, bring warm clothing, blankets and a small shovel. Kitty litter or sand should also be brought to put under the tires if they get stuck in the snow.
Stock Up On Food and Water
Carry non-perishable food and extra water bottles. Keep energy drinks to keep you awake if you are planning to have a long road trip. It’s always a good idea to carry healthy and nutritious snacks that are light and doesn’t keep you bloated. Avoid munching on salty snacks as they will dehydrate you.
Electronics and Chargers
A discharged cell phone is just like a saddle without a horse. Make sure you keep your cell phone fully charged and keep it in a battery saver mode. Carry extra power banks – again, fully charged. Carry two car chargers, so that you can charge your cell phone and power bank simultaneously.
When traveling to a new place, research the weather there and pack accordingly. Carry your medications and an extra set in case your travel plan changes. Are there too many insects? Don’t forget hand sanitizer. You get the idea!
Safety On the Road
Did you know that even slow-speed car crashes can send an unbelted person into the dashboard or window? You might not believe it, but properly worn seat belts can literally save lives. Although being harnessed to your seat for hours can be grueling, don’t forget that safety belts can prevent you from being thrown out of the vehicle during accidents.
Get Plenty of Rest
It’s more important than you may realize to get a good night’s sleep. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 100,000 car crashes annually are caused by tired drivers. Try to get to bed early the night before you leave for your trip. You’ll be more alert and have a better attitude. Don’t start your trip in the middle of the night after you’ve slept half the night, you’re more apt to drift back to sleep when it gets a bit monotonous; no amount of “fresh air” blowing into your window will help!
Drive at the Right Speed
Everyone knows this: speed driving kills. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Administration says that even in 2008, speeding was a contributing factor in 30% of fatal crashes. To stay safe, obey speed limits. I tell you, the time you’ll save by driving 10mph faster is inconsequential compared to the risk of crashing. Leave early if you want to arrive early.
It’s wisest to do the majority of your driving during the day. Having the sunlight obviously helps you to see more of your surroundings, and you may even feel more awake while driving. Remember that you’ll probably be driving on unfamiliar roads, so you need every advantage that you can get, including sunlight.
Avoid Large Meals
Do you know the feeling that you have after eating a large meal? It tends to make you feel lazy and tired. Instead of eating big meals, you should try to eat smaller snacks throughout the day. You could prepare some food before leaving for the trip, like sliced fruit, trail mix or anything that’s easy to eat in the car. Bring plenty of bottled water, just in case you break down.
Take Breaks as Needed
Sleep and rest are very important when it comes to road trips. It’s very important that you get your full 8 hours of sleep before you start for your trip. And while on the road, stop by every 1 or 2 hours to stretch and revive. Understand your car limits very well, like for how many hours can it run continuously, on which terrains can it run, and how far your vehicle will take you with the given fuel.
Turn Off Cruise Control
Have you ever been driving for a period of time and actually forgotten that you were driving? When you turn on cruise control, you sometimes lose your focus and become less alert. You might check your glove compartment, look for a CD or glance in your rear-view mirror while talking to someone in the back seat. To avoid this, turn off the cruise control and keep your focus on the road.
Take Turns Driving
If you’re driving with your spouse or a friend, there’s no reason why you can’t take turns driving. This is a great chance for you to sit back and relax instead of worrying about the road. Driving for long distances can be stressful, so you have to take time to “recharge your batteries” before getting behind the wheel again.
Carry with you books, music, podcasts, or audiobooks that you can play over your car speakers. That might be in the form of CDs, DVDs, or your phone. These activities will keep you engaged, entertained, and alert. You can also tune in to the local radio station. As long as you are happy and not bored, that’s okay.
Know how to Handle Hydroplaning
Hydroplaning is one of the easiest ways to get into a wreck during a rainstorm. The first thing to do is try to prevent hydroplaning. There is no need to drive a vehicle fast during a heavy downpour; wherever a person is heading will still be there after the rain. It is also best to avoid sitting water when safe to do so. Sometimes avoiding this hazard isn’t possible, so knowing how to handle them is the next best thing. Check out this post on handling hydroplaning.
Don’t Text and Drive
Many states have now passed laws against texting and driving. This is because it greatly increases the chance of a person getting into an accident. The chances of getting into a crash while text messaging have been equated to the risk associated with drinking and driving.
Consider that this also means the use of your phone for purposes other than texting, too. Don’t check email or social media while you drive. If you need to consult your GPS or map application, pull off to the shoulder or on an exit first.
Don’t Drink and Drive
Driving under the influence puts the driver, all of their passengers and every other driver on the road at risk. Even if a person doesn’t feel intoxicated and doesn’t cause an accident, they can still be pulled over, and if they blow over the legal limit, there could be dire consequences. DUI penalties vary from state to state and some states can have stricter rules on blood alcohol content, which is a measure of an individuals’ level of intoxication. So be especially careful on the issue of alcohol consumption, even more so if you are driving across state lines.
Once You Arrive at a Destination
Ensure Your Lodgings Are Safe
When it comes to lodgings, it’s very important to be a keen observer of the surroundings. Check how many entrances are into your room, and see that you can lock all of them. Keep the reception phone number handy. If you are not expecting anyone and you get a doorbell, don’t answer.
Tell Your Loved Ones You’ve Arrived
Especially if you are traveling solo – but even if not – alert your loved ones that you have arrived in your destination. Making sure someone knows where you are is important to your own safety. It will also help your family and friends not worry about you, which is always considerate!
Before You Head Home
Before you leave to return home, if you’ll be driving back, make sure to perform a mini-check of your vehicle once again. Check the oil level, and make sure the tires are filled to the optimum pressure. Gas up before you leave, and follow all the same safety tips on your way home, too.
We hope this guide gives you confidence to set out on a road trip this year. Road trips can be an amazing way to see the world, spend time with family and friends, or get out solo and find yourself. Enjoy!