Your Road Trip Checklist
You work hard at your job to provide for your family, and you save up your vacation time so you can hit the road with them, explore the world and make unforgettable memories. But the pre-vacation excitement can quickly dwindle during the long car ride if you haven’t prepared to keep yourselves happy, safe and entertained. That’s why we’ve come up with some tips to make this time as fun and memorable as the sightseeing itself! Read along and get ready to pack your bags for an adventure!
Get Your Car Ready for a Road Trip
Without a car built to handle all your passengers, your luggage and the long roads ahead, your trip could be over before it ever gets a chance to begin. Make sure your ride is up for the vacation by tuning it up and preparing yourself:
Check your oil. Your oil lubricates your engine so friction and heat don’t cause more wear on it than necessary. Even if you’re great about taking your car in for a regular oil change or changing it yourself, always give it a good look before you hit the road for a long trip. Pull the dipstick out while the engine is cool, grab a paper towel, wipe it off and dip it again. If it’s low, refill it to its maximum level. While you’re at it, check out the transmission and differential oil levels, too.
Don’t forget to check it at other points during your trip and when you get back home — a long trek could reduce its level more quickly than normal.
Top off engine coolant. This is one of those vehicle fluids that only needs to be topped off every once in a while — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. When your engine coolant breaks down, your engine can get too hot and become exponentially more susceptible to the damage the coolant protects it from in the first place. Check your vehicle’s manual for exact specifications on the type of coolant your engine needs.
Scan the hoses and belts. Everything under your hood is exposed to the extreme heat that your engine produces — and the belts and hoses that keep your engine running smoothly are no exception. Check them and make sure they aren’t showing excessive signs of wear or obvious damage. If you’re comfortable and experienced in performing routine maintenance on your car, consider keeping a hose patch kit in your trunk, just in case. Just make sure your engine and all its components have cooled and are safe to be worked on before you go in fixing the issue.
Bank on your brakes. The safety of your passengers is heavily dependent on your brakes. Take a peek at your pads and reference the manufacturer’s recommendations for when they should be replaced. Make sure the brake fluid doesn’t have a rusty appearance and check to see if you’re due to have this fluid flushed. When you’re driving, get a feel for how far you have to push down on the brake pedal for the car to slow down and listen for any uncommon sounds that might indicate break wear.
Test the tires. Check your tire pressure and tread to make sure they’re both ready to put on a lot of miles. Adding a tire gauge to your car kit is a good idea but, if you don’t have one, most gas stations will have one you can borrow. Pump your tires to appropriate levels and be sure not to overinflate — and don’t forget to check out our tips for avoiding a flat tire in the first place.
Make sure you can see. Check your windshield wiper blades to ensure they’re working efficiently and make sure your windshield fluid level is at its maximum. Streaky and squeaky wiper blades are more than just annoying — they can be dangerous if they aren’t efficient in helping wipe away snow, water or even dust that’s decreasing your visibility.
Take a good look at the battery. If the battery is just a few years old, look it over to make sure there isn’t any obvious corrosion. If it’s older than that, you might want to have a mechanic check the output voltage. Even if your battery is brand new, you’re going to want to make sure you’ve got jumper cables in your emergency kit just in case you need to jump start your car.
Clean your car. Long road trips mean you’re spending a lot of time in the car. Start off on the right foot with an interior that feels clean and comfortable — nobody wants to go along for a ride with to-go cups and wrappers crowding their feet!
Keep an emergency kit, too. A hose and belt patch kit isn’t the only kind of kit you should keep in your trunk. Keep jumper cables, reflectors, motor oil, blankets, a basic toolbox, ice scrapers, bottles of water and non-perishable food in your trunk to keep your family safe while you call for assistance.
Consider accommodation coverage. If something does happen to your vehicle while you’re on the road, you’ll be left with a whole host of issues in addition to getting your car fixed. With American Family accommodations coverage, we’ll help mitigate the cost of finding lodging, food expenses and alternate transportation.
Making Your Road Trip Stress-free
Now that the car is in tip-top condition and you’re prepared for any minor mechanical issues, it’s time to focus on more exciting aspects of the road trip — keeping your passengers comfortable and engaged with the perfect road trip snacks and games everyone can play. Here’s how you can avoid the countless groans of “are we there yet?”:
First aid kit. You already put together an emergency kit for the more serious issues that might come up if your car were to have a mechanical issue, so create a car safety kit that has all the supplies you’ll need for more minor mishaps and accidents along the way.
Bring smart snacks. Buying snacks on the road can be expensive and time consuming — plus, your options will lean towards the unhealthy side of the spectrum. That’s why it’s a great idea to pack some in advance! Opt for single-serving sizes and things that aren’t sticky or melty. Considering bringing snacks like nuts, string cheese, grapes, baby carrots, beef jerky, granola bars and trail mix. Make sure you bring both salty and sweet treats so you hit those cravings without giving in to those pesky junk food temptations.
Stock up on bottled water. Having water on hand isn’t just great for quenching your thirst. It can be helpful if your engine overheats, or if there’s a spill to clean up in the car. Stock up on water-flavoring packets or drops to add some zip to your water without adding a lot of empty calories. Combined with those snacks you packed earlier, you’ll save money that you can use on more important things when you get to your destination!
Keep it clean. After you’ve rid your car of those old wrappers and other trash, grab some old grocery bags to make sure the garbage doesn’t pile up again. They’re easy to toss at gas stations, and chances are you’ve got tens of them stored under your sink at home. Grab paper towels, napkins and moist towelettes, too, to keep messes at a minimum during the trip.
Utilize technology. Prepare to use technology for your entertainment and travel needs. Pack both mobile and wall chargers and be sure label the cords so they’re easy to distinguish. Then, store them in easy-to-access travel bags. Download travel apps that will help with directions, gas stations, lodging, food options, and other necessities. Then download podcasts, movies and music to chase away boredom and maybe do a little educating along the way. Just be sure to never use the tech while you’re driving — pass that role onto your co-pilots!
Car games. Try putting the tech aside after a while and play some good, old-fashioned car games. The alphabet game, 20 questions and finding state license plates are classics that are great for passing time. Put together your own version of road trip bingo based on the sites you plan to see to keep everyone involved.
Plan for comfort. There’s no way around it — long car trips can be uncomfortable. But you can try to make things as cozy as possible by packing pillows and blankets. When it’s time for a pit stop, be sure to get out of the car for a walk and stretch your legs. Sometimes just changing seats helps relieve some aches and pains. Plus, if you’ve noted landmarks that are along the route to your destination, those stops can be even more valuable.
Pack smart. Load your car with the items you won’t need on the road first in areas where they won’t be able to be accessed as easily, like in the back of the car or in the trunk. Put the things you’ll need and want in easy-to-find travel bags that you can stow between your feet and under the seats.
Have a flexible itinerary. It’s easy to get flustered by traffic delays, road construction and extra stops — especially over a long drive. By creating a flexible plan you give yourself room to hit the highlights and even try a few impromptu excursions. It also gives you some space to take a break when you need one.
Check with insurance. Before you head out on the road, give your American Family Insurance agent a call to let them know your plans and to see if your car insurance is up-to-date. Make sure to ask about travel insurance and emergency roadside assistance, too! You’re much better off having them and not needing them than vice versa.
With these road trip checklists, you don’t have to worry about your car breaking down, not having what you need or unending boredom. It’s time to relax and enjoy your trip from beginning to end, knowing everything in-between is taken care of.