What you need for a fun and safe road trip
When you think about a road trip, what do you see? Is it the big blue sky, the blur of the road, wind in your hair? Friends, music, laughter, the worlds biggest stamp or ball of twine?
These images of Americana and open road adventure elicit a feeling of appreciation for the journey and often a thrilling or relaxing destination is only the icing on the cake.
While the romanticized view drives a whole industry of roadside attractions and gives ample work to mechanics, there are some things to consider to make sure such escapades go off without a hitch.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and what you need varies on each trip but this will serve as a good template and covers all the main things you should address.
Here are things you should consider while planning a road trip:
Before you go:
- Firstly, you should actually plan it! You should know when you are going to leave and what you need. This sounds easy enough but there are many considerations when driving a far distance.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to pack your things.
- Have your car fully inspected; you wouldn’t go for a run dehydrated, would you? Make sure your car is full on all fluids and you aren’t about to need major work. You can also check your owner’s manual and see what the recommended maintenance is for your current mileage.
- Do not assume the mechanic is checking all of this, tell them your concerns. Mechanics are often very busy, and inspections are often a free courtesy so if you help them by describing any noises or symptoms, or alert them of your intention to go on a road trip, they will better advise you.
- Buy a backup battery to charge your phone and jump your battery. I have one that can charge a big phone battery multiple times and start a dead battery. The terminal clips have a digital readout to check the battery health as well. It is best to not rely on the DC charging port for charging devices as it puts strain on the battery and often is not ideal for the battery health of your phone either.
- You should be sure you have a spare tire and tools to change it if need be. Even if your tires are new one errant nail can ruin your excursion.
- It is a good idea to study your basic route, so you don’t need to rely on GPS. This applies to attractions and not just avoiding getting lost.
- If you plan on bringing your firearm, be it for concealed carry self defense reasons or hunting, know the laws of the states you will travel through, not just the destination state.
For good reminder lists of items you should bring with you, see the end of the article.
Book any hotels, tickets or rentals ahead of time.
- The longer you wait to buy tickets, the more expensive they become, and you increase the risk of them selling out.
- Check for deals on discount travel websites on hotels and tickets but read the fine print, often in exchange for the low price you cannot cancel your booking, so make sure you are sure.
- If you are renting a car, get a credit card with primary insurance coverage. This is an excellent perk and means you do not have to buy the extra insurance from the car rental place. These car rental add-on insurance plans are beneficial in case of an accident. Even if it is not your fault, if you don’t buy it, you’ll need to go through your own insurance, whereas if you buy the add-on, you are free and clear. This applies even if it IS your fault. Getting a credit card with primary insurance coverage and paying for the rental with it saves you the high price of this insurance plan. It adds a high amount to the total.
- I suggest checking Atlas Obscura for interesting sites along the way if you aren’t in a rush to get to a destination. There are unique and strange places to visit in every state.
- You should consider the time of the year and how it relates to how busy your destination will be. Hotels are cheaper when it is less busy and less crowded.
Establish the roles of driver, co-pilot and any other ancillary duties to any other passengers.
- Having a co-pilot to chart your course, check blind spots, act as a DJ for the radio and hand you drinks, and snacks is borderline mandatory for long drives. If you are going a distance farther than 3 hours away, I highly recommend you make sure whoever sits in the passenger seat understands this role is sacred.
- Resist the urge to play games like punch buggy and I spy as they may keep you mentally engaged but will distract you from driving.
- Adjust for any time zone changes and establish a driver rotation. A driver should be fresh and alert, if you must be the only driver resist the urge to drive all the way through even if you want to get there faster. Take a break and stretch every 2 hours or so and don’t go more than 8 hours a day.
- Make a playlist, download music and podcasts so you don’t have to rely on cellular service. This is also safer than trying to decide on the fly.
- Do an inventory and assess unnecessary baggage. Added weight decreases gas mileage and that adds up to a lot more spent fuel over a long distance!
After all this advice, most importantly, have fun!
It is wise to plan ahead and make sure there isn’t too much left to the last second, but don’t get too bogged down in the details. Remember to appreciate the views and don’t be afraid to alter course or adapt your itinerary on the fly. It is good to have a balance of organization and whim. You want a rough idea with the important safety issues addressed but flexibility too. Any journey will have surprises and that is what makes them fun and exciting. They are organized chaos. You know generally where you are headed but don’t know for sure what you will see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Don’t hedge all your expectations on one destination, heck, don’t have any expectations. Just appreciate the journey!
Now as stated above, here are some lists of items you will thank me for reminding you to bring with!
A list of essentials you should have:
- Good shoes for the right occasions (don’t bring flip flops to a hike)
- A backup physical map
- a blanket if its cold, an umbrella
- healthy snacks and water
- A good flashlight, with rechargeable batteries
- A first aid kit or at least bandages and disinfectant
- Extra socks
- Tell your family where you are going
A list of gear I recommend you bring with you:
- a backup battery for your phone
- fix a flat, make sure you have tools to change a tire
- extra water and food
- a compass
- a money strap to avoid getting stolen from
- Chewing gum, helps you stay alert
A list of recommended gear non safety related:
- Binoculars for sight-seeing
- A pair of walkie talkies for hiking
- A pocket knife
- A better camera than your smart phone has
- a travel journal
Now get out there and explore the open road!