Summer is vacation time, and some of the most popular vacations are road trips. They call for some serious bonding time no matter who you’re with, be it family or friends. They also call for some heavy-duty planning.
Whether you’re traveling across the country in an RV or spending several hours in a car, the situation calls for some forethought. Sure, you could climb into your vehicle with zero preparation and simply hope for the best. Or, you can recognize that what you do before you start the engine can effectively make or break the trip.
Given that our reviewers have undertaken several road trips over the years, here are our Pro Tips.
This is one of the most important aspects of a road trip and starts with a trip to your dealership or favorite mechanic to see if your vehicle is in good running order.
• have your oil checked, consider a tune-up to improve gas mileage, have your tires and brakes inspected, test the air conditioner/heater, and have any strange squeaks or leaks dealt with before they turn into something troublesome. A quick diagnostics test can be the difference between arriving at your destination or sitting on the side of the road and waiting for a tow truck. Also, be certain you know how to change a flat tire (and have a spare tire), or have instructions printed out just in case.
• Keep a set of spare keys in your travel bag, just in case!
• Make sure you have all proper documentation with you, including driver’s license, passport, car insurance card, and contact numbers, as well as any contact numbers for roadside assistance. Prepare a roadside emergency tool kit and be sure to include: flares, a flashlight, and fresh batteries. A jug of water in the trunk couldn’t hurt either.
• Wherever you’re headed, take a map! Whether you have a GPS, cell phone GPS (maps app), a traditional map, or a map that you printed from online, you will need it. Even if you think you won’t need it, bring it. It’s better safe than sorry!
• Food and/or snacks: If your trip is a relatively short one, consider packing some small snacks, including fruit, vegetables, crackers, granola bars, and a couple of bags of chips. If you’re facing a lengthy trip, consider something a little more substantial such as some sandwiches. If you are traveling with kids, aim for non-gooey/greasy, crumb-free snacks such as grapes and baby carrots.
• Beverages: Pack a cooler filled with ice and water bottles (and other beverages you may desire). If you’re stopping at a hotel, you can refill your cooler with ice using the hotel ice machines.
• Clothing: If you’re easily chilled, considering putting a sweater inside the car for easy access, particularly if the driver favors air conditioning. If you’re the type to overheat easily, consider layering clothes so you can quickly remove them without much fuss while driving. Knowing that you will be sitting for long periods of time, wear shoes that you can slip on and off and comfortable clothing that you can move around in (avoid tight jeans/pants). Moreover, if you’re traveling with children, make sure to have an accessible change of clothes in case of spills and accidents in general.
• Pillows and blankets: Whether you’re the adult in the front of the vehicle or the child in the back, a pillow and blanket are always a good option for staying comfortable. On the subject of pillows, a neck pillow might be something to consider as well.
• Toiletries and others: These are the most basic items that tend to be the most easily forgotten, including a box of tissue, a roll of paper towel, wet wipes (good for sticky fingers and a quick refresher), hand sanitizer, several rolls of toilet paper (you never know at gas stations!), garbage and grocery bags, prescription medication, basic pain relievers, something for motion sickness, sunglasses and sunscreen and a basic first aid kit (in a Ziploc put: anti-bacterial cream, band-aids and bandages, pain relievers and motion sickness medicine). Among these items, be sure to include your toothbrush, toothpaste, hair products, and hairbrush in case you want or need to freshen up when stopping at a restaurant or rest area.
• Depending on who you are traveling with and what suits your needs, the list of electronics that you bring along will vary. The basics to consider are a cell phone, camera, tablet, portable DVD player, and laptop. Of course, with all of these items, you’ll want to bring the corresponding charger for each. Also, if you decide to take a camera, make sure to pack backup batteries and memory cards.
• Helpful tip: Smartphones are very good when it comes to a multitude of helpful travel apps that can do everything from giving you weather updates to helping you locate exits, rest areas, hotels, restaurants, and places of interest along the way. Since you will rely on your phone for so very many things while you’re away, consider contacting your provider before you leave on vacation, in order to arrange a data package plan that will suit your needs.
Fun & Games
• Music/playlists: You cannot go on a road trip without listening to some good music. For this, you might want to download a music-streaming app such as Spotify or Apple Music. You can create playlists on Spotify or just simply create playlists straight from your iTunes library. You can hook up your device to the car through an aux cord (if your vehicle is compatible) or you can burn your playlist to a CD. Click ‘shuffle’ on your whole iTunes library for a long-lasting playlist.
• Apps: Smartphones and tablets are ideal if you want to download a few gaming apps for the kids to keep them entertained for a long period of time. Portable DVD players and handheld electronic games are also good for helping kids to pass the time instead of constantly asking, “Are we there yet?”
• Audiobooks: You can download audiobooks from iBooks on iTunes or from various sites such as Audible.com. Consider bringing several pairs of earphones/headphones for the kids or you can plug it into the car for everyone to enjoy. If you don’t have a paid account, go to your local library and rent audiobooks on CDs.
• Sports equipment: Bringing along a Frisbee, ball or a jump rope may be a good idea for the kids so they can stretch at rest stops.
• If you’re traveling cross-country, print off a picture list of all available license plates and have the kids cross them off as they see them. See who can check off the most.
• Get an empty DVD case and fill it with a pad of paper on one side and pencil crayons on the other side. This also provides for a hard coloring surface.
• Purchase a bunch of small toys from the dollar store, wrap them up, and every few hours have your child unwrap one. This will keep them entertained and is a great incentive to keep them on their best behavior!
• Print a couple of fun activity sheets including Mad Libs for kids.
• Buy word searches/crossword puzzles and coloring books.
• To keep a water bottle cold for a long period of time, fill it halfway then lay it on its side and put it in the freezer. After a couple of hours (when it’s frozen), fill the rest with cold water before you leave.
• Keep an open box of dryer sheets in your vehicle to keep a fresh scent.
• If you’re parking your car in a large area (for example: if you’re going to a theme park), open the maps app on your cell phone and drop a pin of where you are. Or, take a picture of where you parked.
• If you’re using the maps app for directions, make sure to take a picture of the list-view of the directions in case you lose connection on your cell phone.
• Hang an over-the-door shoe organizer on the back of the seat to keep small items accessible and organized.
• Make sure you have change and small bills handy for tolls. Put the change in a jar or cup then place it into a cup holder for easy access. This will help you to avoid the frustration of searching your wallet or purse for change while the traffic piles up behind you.
• If you’re going to be crossing any country borders, be sure to put your passport somewhere accessible, like the glove box or inside a pocket of the console, dash, or storage panel of the car door.
• Use a bead organizer to store small snacks (such as cereal, popcorn, pretzels, grapes, etc.).
We hope these tips will help your road trip to be the best one you’ve ever had. Have a great summer and Happy traveling!