3 Essential Tips for Preparing for a Road Trip
Soon, my boyfriend and I will embark on our longest road trip to the state of Michigan. While Michigan isn’t the most exotic travel destination, it’s been on my travel bucket list for a long time. We decided to travel by car to save money, and to have a little more control over when we leave and where we stop along the way. But because it’s going to be a nine-hour drive from Virginia to Michigan, we’ve had to take some time to plan out the smaller details of the trip: from where we’re going to stay to how much food we’ll need to bring in the car with us. Since road trip season is upon us and planning a trip by car can be stressful, and since road trip season is upon us and preparing for a road trip can be stressful, I want to offer my experience to help you get started.
Choosing a Destination
Knowing your final destination is going to help you set your budget when preparing for a road trip. The farther you drive, the more you’re going to have to consider things like lodging, food, and–most importantly–gas. Knowing the fuel economy of your car can help you plan those stops accordingly. Most travel apps, such as Google and Apple maps, allow you to see the average cost of gas along your route, which makes these decisions a lot easier. For example, we’re traveling to Southwest Michigan which is roughly 500 miles away from where we live. My car gets, on average, 400 miles to the tank (about 35 to the gallon), so if we fill up right before we hit the road, we can make it all the way to Indiana before filling up again.
The cost of lodging is going to vary based on your own personal tastes and necessities. I’m lucky enough to have family throughout Ohio and Indiana, so in a worst case scenario, we can ask them to put us up for the night. This isn’t an option for everyone; so, look along your route for hotel prices and even campsites is important if you don’t think you can get from point A to point B within a day–or if you’re planning a multi-day road trip.
Next, you need to think about food. In my opinion, food is the biggest not-so-hidden cost of the road trip as menu prices and food tax vary from state to state and even city to city. We usually pack a big cooler of food, so we don’t spend more money than we need to by eating out. That way, we can enjoy local restaurants at our destination instead of blowing our food budget on fast food along the way.
Knowing What to Pack
As with any trip, you need to look at future weather forecasts and pack accordingly. While you won’t have to deal with the weight limits of airlines, you still have to take the space of your car into consideration. You don’t want to take more than you can fit in your car comfortably, and you want to make sure you don’t create new blind spots. For my car, I know we can take one large and one medium backpack (or one large suitcase for weekend trips) along with two personal backpacks, which leaves plenty of room in both the trunk and backseat should we pick up souvenirs along the way.
What you pack where is going to vary with your own personal needs, but here’s a guideline based on how I’ve been packing for road trips since I was twelve years old.
What’s in My Suitcase
My suitcase is strictly for clothing, toiletries, and any items that I won’t need while I’m actually in the car. I make sure I have enough clothes to last me the duration of the trip as well as a few emergency pairs of socks and underwear. And since I don’t always have a solid plan of what we’re doing before we get there, I also pack some nicer clothing items along with my casual and active clothing. You may want to consider packing a garbage bag, so your dirty clothes don’t intermingle with your clean.
What’s in My Backpack
My backpack always sits in the backseat because it’s where I pack stuff to entertain myself on the long drive. So, inside the backpack, you’ll find my laptop, my Nook or whatever book I’m reading, and all my necessary charging cables. I also keep my makeup bag in my backpack because I usually don’t have space for it in my suitcase, and I want it at the ready in case we plan to do something as soon as we arrive at our destination.
Other Items to Include in the Car
Roadside Emergency Kit: My old car had a tendency to die in the middle of the road, so I purchased a roadside emergency kit. Having this in the car will put you at ease knowing you’ll be prepared for the worst, which I’ll talk about more down below.
Cash: It’s always a good idea to have some cash stashed away in your wallet or glove compartment, especially since there are still so many tolls on major highways (you should be able to Google how many tolls exist along your journey and plan accordingly). It’s nice to have when your only option for gas is a small gas station in the middle of nowhere.
Shopping Bags: Shopping bags are great to keep on hand because you can use them as trash cans as well a waste receptacle (or “barf bag”) for emergencies caused by winding back roads.
However, if your road trip’s purpose is to show off your new hot rod with little-to-no trunk space, then you’re going to have to limit what comes with you. On the other hand, if you’ve got an RV or converted van, then you can almost pack your entire house. It’s going to come down to your vehicle and what you can’t live without while traveling.
Being Prepared for the Worst
I’m a worrier, and my mind always leaps to the worst case scenario in any situation. A few weeks ago, I started getting a low-pressure warning for one of my tires. After refilling and waiting, the warning popped up again, so we had to take it off and look for a puncture. It turned out I had driven over an inch-long piece of wire that got lodged into my tire.
Because we patched the hole rather than replace it, we’re going to make it a priority to check the tire pressure before leaving. This is the ensure the patch is holding and that the tire won’t default–or blowout–while we’re going 70MPH down the interstate. I also made the choice to get my oil c
hanged the Friday before we left so I wouldn’t have to worry about it while we were on the road.
I’m also going to allow my weather app (I use Accuweather) to track my location in order to get regular updates on hazardous weather. Utilizing the weather app is important to me because, on a previous trip to Michigan as a passenger, I remember waking up to an emergency announcement for a tornado warning. Since this was before anyone in my family had smartphones, it was really stressful not knowing exactly where we were and if we needed to seek shelter immediately. If we were to encounter a tornado or a derecho (fast moving windstorm) the best course of action would be to pull over, get out to the car, and lay low in a ditch or storm drain.
Other weather hazards to consider when traveling by car are heavy rains and heavy snowstorms (if you’re traveling in the winter). For the former, if you lose visibility pull over to the side of the road and put on your hazards until the rain has passed. In a snowstorm, drive at a steady pace and get off the road as soon as you can. It’s a good idea to keep extra warm clothing in your car when traveling in the winter in case you get stuck on the highway in a storm or your car breaks down. And remember: make sure you turn on your headlights when it begins raining or snowing heavily so you remain visible to other drivers.
Before you depart, make sure you have all the necessary paperwork in your car, such as the registration and proof of insurance. You should also have the car manual in the glove compartment in case any unfamiliar warning lights pop up on the dashboard. And if your car kit didn’t come with a first aid kit, it would be a good idea to have a small one at the ready.
One tool I recommend always having in the car, even when you’re not traveling, is a window hammer. This tool is designed to break windows in one hit, as well as cut through your seat belt. Hopefully, you won’t need to use it to get out of your own car, but it’s good to have in case you or someone else needs it.
If you keep these three steps in mind, then your road trip will be successful no matter how long you’re gone or where you’re planning to stop along the way. No matter what happens, I know my boyfriend and I will have a great trip to Michigan because we’ve taken the time to plan. We have our hotel booked and a cooler ready to be packed. The only thing we (I) need to do now is laundry and remember my contact solution!
What steps do you take when preparing for a road trip? What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent on the road?