The United States has more roads (paved and unpaved) than any other country in the world, and with access to almost all of North America by vehicle, it seems almost a shame to not take a road trip or two this summer! But before you go on a long drive, a little preparedness can help make for a lot better (and safer) trip for you and your car’s occupants. Some proper packing and a little preplanning can go a long way when it comes to the difference between an enjoyable road trip and something like what the Griswolds took! That’s why we compiled a quick list of 12 tips for a great summer road trip.
Before you embark on your trip, don’t just look at your intended destinations and count on your GPS to do the dirty work. You might be passing up a lot of good stuff along the way—national parks, historic sights, great shopping spots—there are a lot of great reasons to detour! Having a loose plan and intentions will help make for a better trip. Also, having required permits or reservations ahead of time will definitely make your trip more enjoyable.
2) Inspect Your Ride (prior to departure)
Your chariot should be in peak condition prior to departure. Fluids should be topped, tires should be checked, and nothing should be “in need of maintenance” when you leave your driveway. Temperatures can vary 60 degrees or more in a day as you travel through different regions of the country. Road conditions can change, as can traffic conditions. This can all be hard on your car, and you should make sure that your car can handle it. The basics start with checking your tires (of course!) and making sure they are inflated to proper pressure and have sufficient tread to safely navigate the terrain for at least a few thousand miles. Also, make sure you’ve done a recent oil change on the engine, verified the radiator is full (when cold!), and topped off the windshield washer fluid.
3) Maps—GPS and Paper!
Yes, yes; we all have GPS units in our phones, on the dashes, and most of us probably still have a windshield-mount GPS unit in a drawer somewhere, too. But paper maps can be really nice, too. Oftentimes maps can show topographical features your GPS may not, and good old fashioned paper is a lot easier to draw on or make notes on with a pen. Also, paper maps don’t run out of batteries or stop working in tunnels or in storms. Definitely bring the GPS units, but don’t forget to tuck a paper map in the glovebox.
Bring some food and water. This goes beyond snacks. Of course we’re gonna munch while counting down mile after mile (hey, we’re Americans!), but you want to have some safety rations in the back, too. With all the common communications devices we have these days, it’s rare to be without help for longer than 10 minutes, but there are still a lot of no-reception places in this country where you could be stranded for a day. Make sure you have enough food and water to safely and comfortable survive that, at all times.
5) Rags/Clean Wipes
Spills can happen, as can clean-ups and fluid checks. A couple rags will save the T-shirt that you had worn yesterday from becoming the go-to. Beyond some rags and napkins, some wet wipes can be wonderful when your hands or something else gets sticky.
6) Double Down on Footwear
Don’t count on one pair of shoes for road tripping What if you step in a giant puddle? No one wants to drive in soggy shoes for three days. Bring lounging shoes, sandals, hiking boots…whatever variety of footwear you think you’ll need for your trip.
7) Change for Tolls/Parking
Sounds silly, but not having change can put a damper on a trip. Don’t make us retell the story of the unmanned toll gate at 2am that required more change than we had….
8) Cell Phone Chargers
It’s no biggy if you forget them because most gas stations and convenience stores carry charging cords these days, but try to remember them when you leave the house. And if you do forget it, make sure you grab one at the very next stop. You don’t want a dead phone if there’s an emergency.
Make sure you have at least the basics in tools. A screwdriver, some pliers and wire cutters, a couple wrenches, and electrical tape should be in your vehicle at all times; not just for road trips. Even if you don’t know how to use the tools, there’s often a helpful fellow road tripper or roadside repair person that can use the few tools that you have. Better to have them and not need them….
10) On road Tire Care: Spare Tire, Pressure Gauge, & Tire Repair
You didn’t think we were going to leave off tire care, did you?! Of course, every vehicle needs to have a spare tire. And a good spare at that! A tire pressure gauge is also very helpful. If you grab a nail on the road or see one of the tires bulging more than normal at the contact patch, a tire pressure gauge will let you know if there’s an issue or not. And if you do have a nail or some other issue causing a slow leak, a tire repair kit can sure come in handy. An air compressor can be invaluable, too. It just depends on how much stuff you want to bring.
11) Get a Roadside Help Membership
Roadside service clubs, or auto service clubs, are absolutely great. Not only do they provide towing services for your vehicle, they can also bring you batteries, fuel, and get you discounts on parking and hotels all over the place! There are a number of roadside services available throughout North America, but there are a few main ones that provide service all over the country. One of those can be a good partner to join up with if you’re doing cross-country travel. Make sure your auto service membership works outside of your home state, unless all your adventures are within one state.
12) Enjoy the Trip and Leave Room for More!
Don’t look strictly at the driving time and plan a schedule around that. Allow time for stops and possible issues. And be prepared for your trip to change. Sometimes destinations change; sometimes you’ll find paradise halfway through your trip and won’t want to leave. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, then it was a good road trip! In every sense of the word, leave room for “more.” More time at a particular location; more room in the back for all the extra treasures you found and want to bring home; more notches on the belt so you can adjust it after eating great food. So pack light, expect that a 45-minute stop will take an hour, and make sure to take care of yourself so that you can handle more when you need to!