If your family, like many families, will be hitting the road this year to see friends and relatives during the holiday season, you’ll find these pre-travel holiday road trip tips helpful for making your road trip safe and memorable (in a good way).
We’ll take a quick minute to remind you of the things we know you’ll check anyway: be sure the tires are properly inflated, the oil has been recently changed, the window washer fluid is topped off, and the entire car is in good, working order.
That said, let’s cover some other helpful tips.
1. Save Wear and Tear and Money by Renting
Many families choose to stretch their budgets by fixing their existing vehicles rather than buying new. If that’s the case, you may trust your older vehicle just fine when you’re near home – after all, you have friends, neighbors, a spouse who can pick you up if it breaks down, but if you’re traveling a long way, perhaps in weather conditions that are atypical for your home town, you’ll save yourself a lot of worry by renting.
Your family car may not have a lot of bells and whistles like built-in entertainment for the kids, etc., but renting a vehicle can change that – at least for a long road trip. Plus, many of the newer vehicles make great gas-mileage, which will also help you save cash.
For additional money-savings tips, see Tips for Saving on Holiday Road Trips from Fodor’s.
2. Establish your Route and Share It
Map your route out in advance and share your route with the people you are visiting and at least one person back home – a friend or neighbor, perhaps – so they know when to expect you and when to sound the alarm if you don’t appear.
Even if you’ve done the route before, a quick check of road conditions can reveal that bridges are being replaced, roads are closed for repairs, and other changes have happened since you drove it last.
3. Don’t Travel Too Long Each Day
Depending on how long your route is, and the weather conditions you’ll encounter, you’ll also want to have a good idea how long you can go between stops.
Planning a pit stop every two or three hours is best to stretch, move around, clear your head. These actions will also help prevent deep-vein thrombosis, a life-threatening condition that occurs when leg circulation is stopped for a long period of time.
Besides, stopping once in awhile and taking a look around can help you enjoy the trip a little more.
4. Reserve Overnight Stops Ahead of Time
If you’re on the road this holiday, it’s likely that many other families are too, so get your hotels lined up ahead of time and have the reservation information with you in the car. In case you’re delayed or need to make a change in plans, you’ll have the contact information and confirmation codes to be able to do that efficiently.
Hint: Consider whether it’s useful to reserve at hotels that let you cancel up to the day of your arrival. Many hotels have gone to non-refundable rooms that may put you in a bind if you’re delayed due to a traffic accident, for example.
5. Engineer the Right Environment
By ‘engineer’ we mean getting the environment right for the driver and all the passengers too.
- Adjust your seat to the right position to make it comfortable for longer periods of time.
- Fit your cell phone and/or GPS devices into hands-free dash or console mounts positioned properly so they can be easily seen.
- Have the entertainment items – movies, audio books, games, art supplies – most useful to the kids on hand and where they can be easily reached.
- Put snacks and water bottles where the driver and passengers can easily reach them.
At every stop, take a look around the cabin of the vehicle. Remove the trash and clear the crumbs to keep things fresh and tidy. If one movie has ended, pop in another and have it ready to play.
6. Think About Food Safety
Packing a little food is a great idea for the trip – it helps keep the driver awake and alert and it keeps the smaller people filled up with healthy nutrition rather than fast food.
Easy to transport foods like dry cereal, popcorn, nuts, and pretzels are good options because they won’t go bad even if they get warm. Grapes, carrots, celery and other fruits and veggies are also safe as long as they are fresh and washed at the start and packaged in resealable containers.
Follow these basic food safety tips while on your holiday road trip:
- Don’t let food sit unrefrigerated for more than two hours.
- Pack any foods that need to be kept cold in an insulated cooler with plenty of ice.
- Wash everyone’s hands with soap and water before eating and pack hand sanitizer for in between stops.
- Bring leftovers home with care – again, keep them chilled and reheat them thoroughly before serving them.
7. Have the Right Gadgets on Hand
The right gadgets can make a long drive much more comfortable and safe. Consider the following to be critical gadgets that are worth the investment:
- A good navigation system – it’s your choice which one you use, but be sure you have one and know how to use it. If you’re renting a car for the trip, get the rental guys to give you a quick tutorial. If you’re using your smartphone, be sure you’ve got a car-charger and mounting device to hold it within the driver’s view.
- E-ZPass or easily accessible quarters and ones – if you’re taking toll roads on your trip, it’s worth looking into buying an E-Z pass. It works on many toll roads and bridges in the country and can be purchased online and paid monthly, eliminating at least one road trip headache and slow-down.
- A cigarette lighter splitter – the design teams of cars haven’t caught up with our modern population’s growing need to plug in our gadgets and so while the old-fashioned cigarette lighter remains a popular place to plug in, it allows only one at a time. If you’ve got more than one device you need to keep charged, consider a splitter.
- A travel medical kit – we’ve written about this before and whether you’re traveling by plane or by car, it’s important to be able to handle minor medical emergencies yourself. See What’s in Your Travel Medical Kit? for more details.
A roadside assistance program can be a lifesaver. Many credit card plans have them, your mobile phone plan may have them, and your auto insurance company may have them. Look at your options and choose a plan that gives you the security of mind that someone can fix the tire or tow the vehicle if you get into trouble on the road.