Road trips can be a lot of fun if you spend just a few minutes preparing in advance, even if you decide to hit the road at the spur of the moment. The smoother your trip goes, the more you, and your traveling companions, whoever they are, will enjoy yourselves. Here is your ultimate road trip organization guide.
- Maintain Your Mode of Travel– Keeping your car clean and maintained will not only set you up for a fabulous spur of the moment adventure, but make your every day life easier. Follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule, including self-maintenance such as checking tire treads and windshield wiper blades. Set aside time once a week to clean out your front and backseat of any unnecessary items.
- Be Prepared for Roadside Emergencies – Even if you have a roadside assistance service such as AAA, you want to be prepared for unexpected emergencies. Make sure you have a charger for your smartphone plugged into your vehicle’s electric socket and a spare in your center console. Invest in a roadside emergency kit or create your own using a car organizer and purchasing a heavy-duty flashlight, extra batteries for it, a set of jumper cables and light reflectors/flares. Store these items in your trunk. Keep a case of plain bottled water in your trunk.
- Create a Cabin Emergency Kit – You can either purchase a pre-assembled kit at a drug store or create your own in a large kitchen storage bag. The kit should include band aids in different sizes, antiseptic wipes, and antibiotic ointment. You can also include gauze pads, surgical tape, and scissors.
- Dig Out the Map– Look up your route – or the general direction you’re traveling in – on Google Maps. Take note of the major highways and roadways you’ll be taking. It isn’t a bad idea to print out the Google driving directions in case you end up in an area, such as Coastal Route 1 in Northeastern Maine, without cell service. That way you won’t get lost.
- Leave Early– Going somewhere popular? Plan to leave as early as possible to avoid getting stuck in traffic. This is another area where Google Maps or a traffic app like Waze comes in handy. On Google Maps you can set your planned departure and/or arrival times and it will tell you how much traffic to expect. Waze will let you set a route and see what time traffic will be at its worst. You can then choose a time when traffic is lighter to set out.
- Fill Up and/or Top Off – Ordinarily I do not advocate topping off a gas tank that is at more than 1/3 of a tank, however, if you are traveling by car on a major highway, this is something you definitely want to do. Gas prices along and just off highways are exorbitant. Fill your tank, or top it off, locally before you go to minimize the number of highway or just off the highway gas stops you have to make.
- Pack a Cooler…And a Thermos– The only things more expensive than gas along a highway are food and beverages. Brew a pot of coffee and pour the entire thing – mixed with milk and sugar the way you like it – into a large thermos. If you are traveling with kids, take them shopping with you and allow them to pick out food and snacks they will want for both mealtimes and while traveling. Having children choose what they will eat makes them part of the trip and ensures they will want what is packed. Pack these items in a cooler and put it in the passenger area of your vehicle before you leave.
- Entertain The Kids– If traveling with kids, make sure you have plenty of activities for them to choose from. Let them pack a backpack with things they would like to read or do. Choose a few select activities for younger children who cannot choose for themselves. Make them easily accessible on the drive. Pack a pillow and blanket for each family member.
- Keep Your Mind Active– Driving can be monotonous. Keep your mind active without diverting your attention from the road by investing in audiobooks, creating a driving playlist with music you can sing along with, or engage in the license plate game. Look for out-of-state license plates and try to guess where they are going (do notattempt to approach other drivers on the road). Traveling with others, keep a box of Trivia Pursuit cards in the car. A passenger reads the questions and the driver tries to guess the answers.
- Go Light on the Luggage– Pack what you need plus a spare set of clothing. Skip the pricey travel-sized toiletries and pack your full-sized versions from home. If you are staying in a hotel, leave your hair dryer, shampoo, and conditioner at home and use the ones the hotel stays in. For multi-night trips, pack a day’s outfit in a large zippered plastic bag or using packing cubes. Rather than dragging all your luggage each night, grab a cube or bag for the next day. Keep a dirty clothes bag in your trunk, vs. carrying it with you into your lodging each night. A heavy-duty garbage bag works great for this purpose.
- Pack a Cabin Travel Bag – Place anything you think you may need while driving, or at rest stops in a large tote bag and put it in the front seat next to you on the drive. This can include bottled water, coffee, family medicines, maps, valuables and electronics such as tablets and laptops.
- Clean as You Go– On your way out the door, grab some plastic bags and stash them under your vehicle’s passenger seat. Collect trash and empty your trash at each rest stop. Using dish towels as either bibs or lap covers will allow crumbs to collect on the towel instead of all over the car. When you are done eating, you can roll up the towel to be shaken out at your next stop.
- Travel Safely– Do not put store suitcases in your vehicle’s passenger areas, even if you are traveling alone. Use a GPS with a speed limit app to keep you informed of the speed limit at all times. I love Waze for this purpose. Keep a blanket or extra jacket in your vehicle to cover up valuables you may not want to lug out of the car on a quick rest stop. Don’t tell anyone you meet at a rest stop where you are from or where you are going. Always take your phone and wallet with you when you stop. Do not leave children unattended.
There’s nothing like the feeling of the open highway, even with the kids in the back seat complaining about who has more room (ah! Childhood memories!). By maintaining your car and some advanced planning you will set yourself up for a great time, either on your own or with your family.
Photo: Steve Buissinne