When you’re on a road trip, the journey should be just as enjoyable as the destination. But, without proper planning and preparation, a long drive can be a stressful experience. Car trouble in your own neighborhood is no fun, but when it happens hundreds of miles from home, it can put a real damper on your vacation.
As a driver, you also need to be mentally prepared for the trip. If you have kids along for the ride, it’s especially important to plan ahead. Before hitting the highway, follow these basic steps to ensure that you, your family, and your vehicle are all road-ready.
Check the Fluids
Maintaining your car regularly is always a good idea, but it’s especially important before a long journey. Fluids are your car’s lifeblood, so open the hood and check the levels of the engine oil, transmission fluid, radiator coolant, brake fluid, and power steering fluid. Use the fluids recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer to top up as needed.
If your vehicle is scheduled for regular maintenance, set up an appointment with your local dealer service center where the fluids will be checked as part of the service. Also, have the hoses and belts inspected and the air and oil filters replaced. Don’t forget to inspect the wiper blades for wear and fill up the washer fluid for when the bugs start splatting on the windshield.
Check Your Battery
Ensure that your car battery’s connectors are tight and free from corrosion. If there are signs of corrosion, disconnect the battery and use a wire brush to clean the connectors and battery terminals. If the battery hasn’t been replaced for a long time, have it tested at your local service center and changed if it’s not holding a full charge.
Have Your Brakes Checked
Brake wear happens gradually, and you may not be aware that their performance is deteriorating. If you hear grinding or squealing noises, or notice a spongy feel to the pedal, have a qualified technician check the pads, discs, and calipers for wear.
Check Your Tires
Even if your car has a tire pressure monitoring system, you should check your tires manually to make sure they are correctly inflated. If your car will be loaded up, the pressure may need to be higher than normal. Check the tire treads and sidewalls for wear, bulges, or other damage. Don’t forget to check the spare and make sure you have the jack and tire iron in place.
Clean Your Lights
You need to see and be seen, so clean your headlights and taillights thoroughly. If the lenses are hazy, use a soft toothbrush with baking soda and water to polish them and make them shine bright. Check all the light bulbs and change any that have blown. Don’t forget the brake and reversing lights.
Have Your Air Conditioning Inspected
Your air conditioning and climate control are important for keeping your passengers and their tempers cool. The last thing you want on a long trip is for your air conditioning to break down. Have the system inspected by a certified technician.
Prepare the Interior of the Car
Your car’s cabin will usually get messy on a road trip, but starting with a clean interior stocked with everything you will need can make things easier. Make sure you have a garbage bag inside the car. Know where you and your passengers can stow your sunglasses, tissues, water, and snacks. Pack a first-aid kit, a blanket, and any tools you might need. Make sure you’ve got your favorite tunes and all the chargers and cables you need to stay connected and entertained. Load up with plenty of snacks and water to keep you all going.
Take Your Time
If you don’t allow enough time for your road trip, you will end up rushing, which can be stressful and dangerous. Allow more time than necessary and your journey will be a far more enjoyable experience. Plan your route with some regular stops at places of interest. Be prepared to make an unscheduled stop or take an occasional detour if you see something interesting. This will help to keep the kids engaged.
Have Your Kids Navigate
Another way of keeping the kids occupied is to have them navigate using a proper old-fashioned map, even if you have GPS. Before you hit the road, show the kids the route and mark points of interest along the way. Not only will it stop the kids asking, “are we there yet?” but they’ll also be learning valuable map-reading skills.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s no good preparing the car for the journey if the driver is not fit and fresh. Before heading out on the highway, make sure to get plenty of rest. Know your driving limits, and if you start to feel tired, stop and take a break. Encourage your family to engage you in conversation to help keep you alert.
Time spent on the road is an important part of your vacation, so it should be enjoyable. Plan to stop at some interesting places such as cute towns, historic sites, or roadside attractions. Instead of stopping at fast-food restaurants, look for lovely picnic spots in parks or by lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Find some space for the kids to run to help them burn off some excess energy and keep them relaxed for the next part of the journey.
Play Classic Road Trip Games
Kids love their smartphones, but encouraging them to play some old-fashioned car games will make them more aware of the scenery and locations on the journey. I-spy is a timeless classic for all ages. Or, get them to look for cars with license plates from different states and award points for each new state they see.
The alphabet game is another classic. Family members can search for objects beginning with each letter of the alphabet in turn. Not only do games help to pass the time, but they might also help everyone appreciate the surroundings.
Planning your journey carefully in advance is important, but try to stay flexible. Following these easy tips can make your road trip more relaxed, enjoyable, and memorable.
Image via Flickr by Jeff Sandquist