20 Road Trip Tips for a Safe Adventure
If you’re anything like me, then you probably start dreaming of going on a road trip any time you get stuck at home for an extended period of time. And considering how much we’ve all been stuck at home over the last couple of years, you’re probably dreaming big.
The open road has an undeniable allure. But it has its fair share of dangers too. If you’re planning a road trip, it pays to keep safety in mind. From wicked weather and drunk drivers to car thieves and surly traffic cops, there are a lot of things you need to watch out for when you’re out there crisscrossing the nation on your next big road trip adventure.
Follow these 20 simple safety tips to make sure your next road trip isn’t your last.
1. Give Your Car a Check-Up
Take your vehicle to the shop two weeks before your planned departure date. Have them change the oil, test the brakes, check the tire pressure, top off the windshield wiper fluid—all the basics. If your tires are due for a rotation, now is a good time to do that too.
It’s very important to make sure your car is up to snuff before you hit the road. This isn’t just for safety (although that’s definitely a big part of it) but also because even a small repair can turn into a major headache when you’re far from home.
Take extra care if you drive a foreign car or one that’s a little out of the ordinary. I once drove across the US in a Subaru Outback and had no idea until I broke down in Nebraska that most mechanics in that part of the country have never worked on a Subaru before. Who knew?
2. Pack Emergency Essentials
First and foremost, make sure your vehicle has all the preparedness essentials that it’s supposed to have: a spare tire, jack, tire iron, jumper cables, and tire pressure gauge. It’s also smart to pack a flashlight, a few basic tools, duct tape, and extra windshield wiper fluid.
You should also stow some emergency supplies in case you get stuck or stranded, especially on long trips that take you through remote areas. Include a first aid kit, drinking water, some nonperishable food, a warm blanket or two, a spare phone charger, and extra batteries for anything that may need them.
3. Know How To Change a Tire
Getting a flat tire on the highway is the worst. But it happens to almost everyone sooner or later, so make sure you know how to use your car’s jack, remove the tire, and put on the spare. Even if you have AAA, you should just assume that you’ll blow a flat in a spot with no cell service and have to do it yourself.
Whatever you do, don’t drive on a flat tire. It can cause further damage to your car and end up costing you a bundle. Wherever you happen to be when you get a flat, the first thing you should do is pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so.
4. Know How To Handle Bad Weather
There’s always a chance you’ll run into nasty weather on a road trip, whether it’s a thunderstorm, snowstorm, or sandstorm. Check the forecast along your route before you depart, but more importantly, learn how to drive safely when the weather gets rough.
This is especially important in winter. If you’re a Floridian making the drive up to visit family in Minnesota for the holidays, I’m talking directly to you now.
First of all, when the weather gets rough, slow down. The US Department of Transportation recommends reducing your speed by one-third on wet roads and at least half on snow-packed roads. Take curves extra slowly, and turn your hazard lights on so that other drivers can see you.
Finally, if the weather gets so bad that you don’t feel safe driving, pull over the first chance you get. Avoid pulling over onto the shoulder, as other drivers may have a hard time seeing you there, but take advantage of the closest gas station or rest area to wait out the storm.
5. Familiarize Yourself With Your Vehicle
Going on a road trip is easiest if you’re driving a car you’ve owned for years, because you know everything there is to know about your vehicle. You’re like two old soldiers who have been in battle together.
It’s a little harder when you’re driving a new car, a friend’s car, or a rental car. If that’s the case, take some time to learn all its little quirks before you start driving. Learn how the windshield wipers and headlights work, and familiarize yourself with any features that you’re not used to, like electronic stability control or anti-lock brakes.
6. Rest Up in Advance
Get a good night’s sleep the night before you hit the road. Fatigue is one of the most significant dangers on a long road trip. According to the CDC, drowsy driving causes 83,000 crashes annually, and being awake for 18 hours is equivalent to a blood content (BAC) of 0.05%.
Driving when you’re bone-tired is, for all practical purposes, just as dangerous as driving after one too many cocktails. Bottom line: get some rest before you hit the road, and if you’re not traveling alone, plan on driving in shifts so you can each get some sleep.
7. Avoid Distractions
One of the biggest dangers on the road is distracted drivers—especially if the distracted driver is you. Disaster can strike when you take your eyes off the road for just a second. The moment you look down to fiddle with the radio, or over your shoulder to tell your kids to settle down, could also be the moment the driver in front of you brakes to avoid a squirrel. Be careful out there.
8. Take a Map
Mazda introduced the first-ever GPS system for auto navigation in 1990. Google Maps first launched in 2005. In this day and age, you could be forgiven for thinking that old-timey paper maps are unnecessary relics from the pre-internet age.
But if you lose your phone or lose service, you can still end up in trouble. You might not need a whole glove box full of maps like our parents had, but at least have a map of your route in hand. The best option is to get a United States Road Atlas and just keep it in your car, so no matter where you go in the country, you have a map.
9. Don’t Speed
Look, you should never speed. But sometimes you do. Everybody does. I get it. But when you’re on a road trip, that’s a time when you really shouldn’t go too far over the speed limit.
Getting a speeding ticket outside your home state is the literal worst. Contesting a ticket far from home is inconvenient and expensive—you have to go back to the county where you got the ticket—and it’s usually cheaper to just pay the fine.
Local traffic police know this of course, and there are areas where they’re known to be especially strict with out-of-state vehicles. Just do yourself a favor and follow all the rules when you’re on a road trip.
10. Watch Out for Drunk Drivers
According to the US Department of Transportation, 28 people die every day in the United States from drunk driving crashes. That’s one person every 52 minutes. Stay alert, and keep an eye on the cars around you. If anyone else on the road appears to be driving erratically, keep your distance.
Use extra caution at intersections. Always wear your seatbelt, and stay in the right lane on highways except when passing. Incidences of drunk driving are most common at night, and on weekends and holidays, so use extra caution if driving during those times.
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11. Make a Killer Playlist
Having something to listen to will help the hours and miles pass more quickly. Whether you prefer to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, a Spotify playlist, or a good old-fashioned binder full of CDs, make sure your car is well stocked with listening material.
Music can also help keep you alert if you’re forced to drive long hours (there’s nothing like cranking some Metallica after dark). Just remember, if you’re driving with a buddy, whoever’s riding shotgun controls the music. Them’s the rules.
12. Take Your Meds
If you have a medical condition or take prescription medications, make sure you bring all the medicine and other supplies you may need. It’s always a good idea to take more than you think you’ll need on a road trip, in case your trip ends up being longer than expected for some unforeseen reason.
It’s also smart to take some basic first aid supplies, like pain reliever in case you get a headache while driving, or anti-motion-sickness medicine if you’re prone to motion sickness. Make sure there’s an inhaler handy if anyone in the car has asthma, and an EpiPen if anyone has severe allergies.
13. Don’t Pick Up Hitchhikers
I know it can be tempting at times to give somebody a lift, but when you’re far from home in an unfamiliar place, it’s just too risky. It’s true that most people who hitchhike are perfectly harmless, but… you know… a handful of serial killers have really ruined the whole thing for everybody.
Plus, picking up hitchhikers is illegal in some states, and many states have convoluted rules about where and when it’s technically legal to solicit a ride or pick up a hitchhiker. It’s just not worth the risk and hassle.
14. Gas It Up
There are parts of the country where a gas station is never far away. And there are parts of the country where you can drive for an hour and never see one. The point is, don’t roll the dice. When you have an opportunity to fill up, take it. Try not to let your gas tank fall below half if you’re driving in a remote area.
Fun fact: the longest stretch of road without a gas station in the US is a 105-mile section of Interstate 70 in Utah between Green River and Salina. Sure is quiet out there.
15. Know When and Where You’ll Sleep
If you’re on a multi-day trek, it might be tempting to drive through the night. But drowsy driving is a bad idea, so plan your sleep stops in advance, whether that means stopping at a hotel, motel, campground, or Airbnb.
Sleeping in your car at a truck stop, highway rest area or Wal Mart parking lot isn’t ideal, but it’s better than driving yourself to the brink of exhaustion. Just make sure you know the local laws wherever you may be. Getting woken up by the cops and told to move on is no fun at all.
16. Stay Hydrated (But Not Over-Hydrated)
Drinking the right amount of water on the road can be a bit of a tightrope walk. On one hand, staying hydrated is important for staying sharp and warding off fatigue. On the other hand, you don’t want to have to stop and pee every half hour.
The best advice I can give is to keep a bottle of water handy and drink when you’re thirsty. You might need to drink eight glasses of water on a day when you’re highly active, but when you’re basically sitting in a chair all day long, your body’s needs aren’t as great.
Avoid salty snacks, which dehydrate your body, and sugary drinks, which trick your brain into thinking you’re thirsty. The best way to practically check your hydration is to look at the color of your urine when you stop for a bathroom break. If it looks a little dark, you should drink more water.
17. Don’t Leave Valuables Unattended
It’s easy to walk away from your car with your wallet on the seat or your phone on the dash, so always double-check that you have your valuables. It only takes a second for someone passing by to decide to smash and grab.
Always lock your car before you walk away from it, even if you’ll only be gone for a second. And for goodness sake, don’t leave it running while you go inside to pay for your gas and Twinkies.
18. Keep Kids Entertained
Taking a road trip with the whole family presents a few extra challenges. It means more bathroom breaks, more snack stops, and usually a lot more “are-we-there-yets.”
Driving with a car full of fussy kids can also become a safety issue. As the driver, it’s only natural to get increasingly distracted and irritated as pandemonium ensues in the backseat. That makes it harder to drive safely, so plan some ways to keep the kids entertained on long drives.
Plan some games to play, have some kid-friendly audiobooks ready, stock up on coloring and activity books, or bring some things that kids can read or watch. When I was a kid, my parents would just sit me in the back of the car with a stack of comic books. But I don’t know if kids read comics anymore.
19. Understand Car Safety for Babies
Traveling with an infant (or even a toddler) brings some additional considerations. First and foremost, read the instructions on your baby’s car seat thoroughly and make sure you know how to install it correctly. Car seats should only be used in the back seat and must be secured tightly. Rear-facing car seats are the safest.
Plan extra breaks if you’re going on a road trip with a baby. Not only will you need to make additional stops for feeding and changing, but most experts agree that babies should not be in a car seat uninterrupted for more than 2 hours without a break.
20. Take Precautions if Traveling Alone
Pretty much all the road trip safety tips we’ve covered so far are even more important if you’re traveling alone. Without an extra person in the car, you’re at greater risk of fatigue while driving, and you don’t have anyone to rely on in a difficult situation.
It’s also important to keep in mind that solo travelers are more vulnerable and contrary to what you may believe or have heard, that’s equally true of men and women of all ages. Use caution. Be mindful of your surroundings. Avoid letting people know you’re traveling alone. Don’t dress like a tourist.
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