If yours is one of many families hitting the roads this winter to visit friends and family during the holidays, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared to have the best road trip ever. That’s why we’re bringing you the AskPatty Holiday Road Trip Survival Guide, so you can have a road trip to remember – for the good reasons!
Let’s start with reminders about all the stuff we know you know to check: Be sure your tire pressure is correct, that your oil has been changed, that your washer fluid’s topped up, and that the whole car is in good working order. If you’ve been reading AskPatty for any length of time, you know these things. Now let’s talk about the other stuff!
If you own an older car, you understandably want to use it for as long as you can before you need to buy another. But if you’re traveling across the country and are worried about the distance, weather, or wear and tear of the journey on your existing car, consider a rental! They’re less expensive than you may think, and you can save yourself a lot of worry. This is especially handy if your family car lacks bells-and-whistles like in-car entertainment for the kids, or doesn’t get the greatest gas mileage. Renting can make a stressful trip full of restless kids, stops at the pump, and potential car trouble a dream come true.
Before you leave, plan the route you’re going to take, and share it with both the friends or family you’re going to visit and at least one person at home, so that should something go amiss during the trip, someone will know when to expect you, and where you may be should you be stranded. Even if you’ve driven the route before, check the road conditions before you leave – bridges get replaced, roads are closed for maintenance. A lot can happen in a year, so double-check that familiar route before you trust it.
Another thing to plan while you’re putting together your route are stops. Plan to stop every 2-3 hours to stretch your legs and move around a little. It isn’t just good to clear your head, it’s great for your body too, because sitting for too long at a time comes with risks for health problems. Besides – stopping to look around will add memories to your trip.
You’re not the only family on the road this holiday season – and that means hotel rooms may be sparse. Plan for this by making sure your overnight stays are lined up ahead of time, and make sure you have reservation information in the car with you, so that you can make the arrangements if you’re delayed or need to change plans – and to that end, always make note of hotels that let you cancel anytime up to the day of your arrival. You don’t want to be put in a bind with a non-refundable room you’re not staying in!
Before you leave, make sure the vehicle is ready for the trip. Adjust your seat to the best position, go ahead and plug in those cell phones, GPS devices, and other gadgets so you’re not fumbling with them on the road. Have the entertainment items for your passengers – movies, books (audio or paper), games, art supplies, etc. – within easy reach to ensure no one gets bored. For the driver as well as the passengers, make sure water and snacks are in easy reach. Finally, at every stop, give the vehicle a once-over to remove trash, queue up the next movie, restock the crayons and water bottles, and reset the well-engineered environment.
Packing food is a great idea for a road trip. It will keep the driver awake, and keeps passengers satisfied with healthier options than roadside fast food. However, make sure you pack your foods with an eye toward food safety. Pack easy-to-travel foods like dry cereals, popcorn, nuts, and pretzels. These items are great because they won’t go bad if they get warm. Be wary of packing fruits and veggies like grapes, carrots, apples, or bananas. They may sound delicious and are certainly healthy, but they won’t seem so delicious after they’ve been in a hot car for a while. If you pack fruits and veggies, consider at least resealable containers, and include a cooler for them as well. If you want contingencies for an emergency, canned foods are the way to go – foods that don’t need cooking, like SPAM (we know – but in an emergency it’s a lifesaver) and fruit cocktail. If your cans don’t have pop-tabs, include a can opener. Finally, make sure you also stock hand sanitizer, and use it before you eat anything – no one wants road grime on their snacks!
Having the right gadgets on the road can make your road trip more comfortable and safe. A good navigation system and a way to keep it charged can be invaluable. If you’re using your smartphone, consider buying a dashboard mount for it so you can see navigation as you drive. If you’re driving toll roads, consider buying an E-Z pass. It’ll save you scrounging for change, and can be purchased online. Finally, if charger access is at a premium, consider a cigarette lighter splitter so more people can plug in their own devices
No vehicle is complete without an emergency kit, we say. Including items like a flashlight, glow sticks, blanket, basic tools, and (as mentioned) canned foods and some water is a great start. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve packed a basic first aid kit – one you’ve bought, or one you’ve prepared yourself. Finally, finish off your emergency kit by making sure you have a roadside assistance program either through your auto insurance, credit card plan, or a standalone program like AAA.