Start your engines! When you’re taking a road trip, the journey really is the destination. Smart preparation will help you bypass the bumps so your trip goes as smoothly as possible. These tips address everything from readying your vehicle and picking the best pit stops to making forever memories—and the very most of your time on the road.
1. Start clean
Thoroughly clean your vehicle inside and out in the week before your trip. Get rid of garbage and unnecessary items stashed in the trunk to make room for all your belongings. Use a designated trash sack that you can empty at each pit stop.
2. Map it out
We’re talking about using an up-to-date old-school paper map with information on scenic routes and points of interest. These are often easier to follow than their digital counterparts, and they don’t rely on cell service or a battery. Highlight your planned route, and keep it near the designated navigator. Give copies to the kids so they can learn to answer the question, “Are we there yet?” for themselves.
3. Get a checkup
Schedule a pre-trip tune-up, or do it yourself. Properly inflate tires, check all fluids (including oil and wiper), examine belts and hose connections, and make sure lights, signals and wiper blades are in good working order.
4. Be prepared
Make sure your insurance card is up-to-date and ready in your glove box, along with your registration. Inspect your spare tire for road-worthiness, and check that you have everything necessary to change it, too. Stock road-emergency equipment including a first aid kit, flares and a fire extinguisher. Bring a spare vehicle key, just in case. And, if you don’t already have one, consider joining a roadside assistance program, or add one to your vehicle’s insurance.
5. Schedule loosely
Before your trip, research restaurants and attractions along your route. Let everyone pick a must-experience or two, then look for discount admission coupons, and jot down hours and other important details. Keep a list of back-up destinations in case something doesn’t work out. You’re shooting for that sweet spot between bored and overscheduled.
6. Pack smart snacks
Ready a small snacks-only cooler—or coolers, depending on the size of your brood—to keep within easy reach. Fill it with your favorite road-trip drinks and healthy goodies, divvied up into single servings. In back, stow a bigger cooler stocked with travel-safe lunch options and a tote filled with insta-picnic necessities, such as plates, wet wipes and a Swiss Army knife.
7. Plan for detours
Traffic jams, detours and delays happen. So do really cool garage sales, delicious-looking ice cream shops and interesting roadside attractions. Pad your daily drive-time goals to factor in the unplanned. Better to arrive happy and early than stressed and late. Also consider using the Waze app, which relays real-time traffic info from other drivers and can get you to your destination faster by avoiding backups.
8. Save on gas
Gas mileage decreases as speed increases, so every 5 mph you drive over 50 is like paying an added 17 cents per gallon of gas. Save by observing the speed limit and using cruise control when appropriate. Use a credit or gas station card that gives you cash back for fill-ups, and bypass stations right off the interstate because they’re usually the most expensive. Consider the GasBuddy app to locate the cheapest gas station in each area you pass through.
9. Make memories
When you create a vacation playlist or CD, all the songs will be forever linked to your pleasant trip. Or, start a new tradition of snapping family selfies at all “Welcome to Our State” signs, famous local oddities or other interesting roadside attractions.