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Top 25 Summer Road Trip Tips!

By Stewart J. Guss on July 10th, 2020

Stay safe & stay cool!

It’s okay, you can admit it: we’re all feeling a little stir-crazy these days. 

After such a sequestered spring, we’re ready to sweat out this cabin fever. A recent survey revealed over half of all respondents planned on taking a summer trip, with 62% of them planning to travel in their personal vehicles. You and your family might be itching to hit the road and have some adventures, but here’s some advice:

Preparation is key.

Below you’ll find our top 25 tips for a successful summer road trip. There’s bound to be something you never thought of! Wherever you’re headed, keep these in mind for a car full of happy campers and fond memories.

1. Get a car inspection.
Prevention is the best medicine! Most auto shops offer specific road-trip-ready safety inspections. Schedule one the week before you depart. This usually includes getting an oil change and inspecting brakes, wipers, battery life, air filters, all lights, fluid levels, belts, and hoses. Make sure your AC is working properly, and check your tire pressure as well. If your tires are under-inflated, it can cost you in gas efficiency. (One other thing people often overlook: make sure your key fob battery is fresh!)

2. Make a plan – but leave some wiggle room.
We all have that one friend who plans minute-by-minute itineraries on trips like these… but for best results, tell them to chill. You should use your favorite map app to estimate how many hours the drive will be, add in more time for meals and overnight rests, then add in even more time for spontaneity. Have your group unanimously agree on some must-see destinations along your path. This will give your road trip the structure it needs. A packing checklist will also ensure you don’t leave anything behind.

3. Keep it clean.
You’ll be spending a lot of time in your car during this trip, but you don’t have to spend money on professional detailing beforehand if you don’t want to. Just tidy up your vehicle, bring unnecessary items into the house or garage, and give the inside a onceover with a hand vac. On that note…

4. Don’t litter!
We all have that one plastic bag full of other plastic bags in our house, right? Make sure to bring a few for the snack wrappers and other trash you’ll accumulate in your car on the trip. Dispose of it properly at pit stops.

5. Pick the right co-pilots.
A family vacation might be on your mind, but if you’ve been feeling the tension of lockdown with them, a refreshing road trip with your best friends might be what you need. Whoever joins you, make sure their intentions match yours, and get everyone on the same page. Do you want to see as much as humanly possible and check destinations off of a list, or do you want to cruise along, soak up the sights, and explore wherever the road takes you? Are they into walking tours and local history, or are they more interested in finding the nearest nightclub? Choose wisely.

6. Go offline and tune in to each other.
Earlier this year many of us relied heavily on technology, whether we were streaming a movie, having a family reunion via Skype, or keeping the kids entertained with tablets while we worked from home. Online classrooms became crucial parts of many people’s lives… but school’s out now. It’s time to get unglued from our screens. Consider taking the video games, tablets, and even phones away (unless there’s some confusion that calls for Google Maps!) Instead, you can…

7. Make up your own games.
It’s not always “never have I ever” and “I spy.” Have a singalong, flex your improv comedy skills with your passengers, or make your own rules. License plate bingo, anyone?

8. Abandon the aux cord.
We can hear you gasping from here, but hear us out: a physical music mix crafted with intention can really set the tone of your journey and make the memories even sweeter. Challenge your passengers to burn mix CDs before the trip, and share your favorite tracks with each other. No skipping!

9. Be prepared for emergencies.
Pack the following things for your trip: 

  • first-aid kit
  • jumper cables
  • flashlights
  • flares or reflectors
  • spare tire kit
  • hand sanitizer
  • wet wipes and paper towels

As usual, always keep proof of insurance handy. Bring a spare car key and keep it in your pocket at all times. Getting locked out of your car in an unfamiliar place is not a situation you want to find yourself in.

10. Get serious about snacks, and stay hydrated.
We all love gas station snacks, but try to balance your intake. Graze on fruit, nuts, protein bars, and veggies. Bring a cooler to keep snacks fresh and drinks cold. It can be easy to overlook hydration as the day crawls by, so make sure everyone on your trip has a reusable water bottle. Fill them up frequently – many parks have drinking fountains available for this!

11. Budget, budget, budget!
Plan your trip expenses ahead of time. Get detailed. Decide if you’ll be staying at a hotel, motel, or rest stop. Agree on when you will dine out and when you’ll get by on snacks from the cooler.

12. Fill ‘er up!
Get gas even if you think you don’t need it. Gas stations might be few and far between, so take every opportunity. To avoid getting stranded, keep your tank filled and, if you have room, keep a spare tank of gas on hand.

13. Schedule some stretches.
This one is especially important for restless kids! Every 2 or 3 hours, pull over and let everyone stretch their legs.

14. Carry cash.
While several states have electronic toll collection options, many do not – or you may not have the right pass for them. Always stay prepared with coins and cash in your dash. Small gas stations, national parks, and other stops may also require you to pay with cash.

15. Portable power banks are your friend.
Everyone has a car charger for their phone, but what about when that car breaks down and you need your lifeline the most? Pack a power bank in case of emergencies – and make sure it’s charged! Solar-powered options are also available.

16. Keep your cool.
Handheld fans can be a lifesaver, especially if you’re dealing with cranky, sweaty kids. Look into folding fans or battery-operated options, and get one for each family member.

17. Let your bank know your plans.
There’s no combo worse than an empty stomach, an empty gas tank, and a declined credit card. Don’t get stranded with a card frozen for fraud alerts. Let your bank and credit card company know ahead of time about your trip, and which cities you plan to visit.

18. Have backup directions.
We all depend on the maps on our phones these days, but consider keeping a paper road map or printed instructions on hand, too. If your phone breaks or you lose your signal, you’ll be glad you came prepared.

19. Avoid fatigued driving.
You can take turns with your passengers, but drive in shifts of no more than 8 hours. Pro tip: neck pillows aren’t just for flights. They can come in handy when you’re trying to snooze, especially when there are too many people in your car for you to comfortably recline your seat.

20. Avoid driving at night.
Try to get to your first overnight stop before sundown… even if it means waking up at 4AM. Studies show driving at night is more dangerous. You’re more likely to encounter erratic drivers and wild animals in the road.

21. Stay trackable.
Make a social media update or text a trusted friend or family member your location each night, and let them know where you plan to go next. If anything happens to you, it’s important to leave a trail.

22. Forgo fast food; ask a local where to eat.
Locals know best! If you’re looking for the tastiest option with authentic ambiance, forget Yelp – ask the next person you see where to chow down. Also keep in mind farmers’ markets hold hidden gems and local specialties. Click here for market schedules across the country!

23. Leave room in your luggage for new discoveries.
You never know… you might fall in love with a coffee table at that random roadside antique store. If you plan to do a lot of clothes shopping, omit one day’s outfit from your bag so you can buy new threads.

24. Find teachable moments.
If you’re traveling with your children, opportunity is everywhere. Stop by a park and go birdwatching. Ask them the capitals or other trivia about states you pass through. Teach simple math by giving them cash and letting them make some gas station snack purchases by themselves.

25. Take plenty of pictures!
We’ve saved the best for last. From nature’s splendor to urban murals, you’ll have more Instagram opportunities than you can count… But make sure to get some candid moments in there, too. You’ll thank yourself later.

That’s all, folks! We hope these tips helped you get into the road trip mindset, and we wish you well as you buckle up for your next drive. Get out there and make some memories.

Did we miss anything? What’s your must-have item for road trips? Let us know, and as the classic yearbook sign-off goes, have a great summer!

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