There’s just something about hitting the open road and exploring areas that are new to us. I love the freedom that comes along with a road trip. You can pretty much choose to do what you want to do when you want to do it. Hungry? Stop and eat. Tired? Pull over for the night. Want to check out a local attraction? Do it! No waiting for the bus or plane to make a stop. The only thing is, to properly take a road trip requires a little bit of advance planning and work. There are just some things you really should do to prepare for a road trip.
How to Prepare for a Road Trip
Get Your Vehicle Ready –
- There are a few things you can and should do on your own for your car. Unless you just had it done quite recently, I think it’s always a good idea to do an oil change if you’re going on a long road trip. Check the fluid levels and top them up as needed. I always carry extra washer fluid in my trunk just in case I need more along the way. When was the last time you replaced your car’s air filters? Freshen up the air that you’re going to be breathing in that whole time you’re in the car. Be sure to check the pressure on all 4 of your tires too. This is something most of us don’t do often enough. When was the last time your wiper blades were changed? Again, many people put these on their vehicles and then forget them but they really should be changed at least once a year.
- Take your vehicle in and have it looked over by a mechanic in case there are any other hidden issues. You don’t want to find out the hard way on the road that there’s something wrong with your car.
- Please make sure that you have your spare tire and jack in the car. Check the spare tire’s air pressure and make sure it is in good repair.
- Be sure you’ve got your car manual with you. Put it in your glove compartment. It can come in SO handy. I also like to carry some paper maps. I rely on GPS all the time but I have encountered areas where it does not work well at all. Those maps are a great backup plan.
- Clean out your car. Empty out the all the junk that has accumulated and give it a good vacuuming and wipe down. Add an empty trash bag and put some extras in your trunk or glove compartment. We also like to keep paper towels, a roll of toilet paper (for rest areas), and wet wipes handy while traveling. Don’t forget some hand sanitizer!
- Put a car emergency kit into your trunk. This should include things like jumper cables, fire extinguisher, emergency warning triangles, basic tools, a tire gauge, and more. Find out what to include here. PS – it’s important to always have a cell phone charging cord handy so you can keep your phone fully charged while traveling in case you need it in an emergency situation. Don’t forget a first aid kit too.
Get Your House Ready
- Did you arrange for a house sitter? This is a step we always take on longer trips to ensure that our house is still lived in (and therefore, more secure). On shorter trips, we set our home alarm system which we can monitor from our phones while gone. If you aren’t getting a house sitter, it’s a good idea to put a few of your lights on a timer system and set it up for random on/off times to make it seem more like someone is there. Check out this post to find out how to get organized for a house sitter.
- It can be a really good idea to put your valuables into your safe deposit box or home safe, whether using a house sitter or not.
- Stop your mail for the time you will be away or arrange for someone to pick it up for you. Overflowing mailboxes are a sure sign of an unoccupied house. If you still receive a newspaper, you need to take care of that too.
- Have you arranged for pet care while you’re gone? We usually have someone come in to care for the cat (the same person who house sits for us) but the dog generally did better at a kennel. (I swear she thought we had taken her to summer camp every time!).
- Get someone to come in and take care of your plants while you are gone. Alternatively, buy one of those self-watering systems.
- Clean out your fridge. We usually schedule it so that we are eating up any of the perishables in the days leading up to our trip. If there are any leftovers though, we freeze or throw those out. It’s really gross to come home to spoiled food.
- Clean your house. At the very least, I like to make sure all the dishes and laundry are done so there are no nasty smells to welcome me home. I absolutely LOVE to change my sheets just before leaving the house. Coming home to fresh clean bedding just feels so good.
- Leave a key with someone you trust. Just in case something happens while you are gone, you can ask this person to go over and check on the house for you (or retrieve something in your home as needed). Some people like to leave a key hidden outside so they can call anyone available but I just don’t trust this option.
- Triple check your home to make sure everything is locked before you leave. Don’t forget the windows, sheds, and other locks besides just the front and back doors that might not automatically come to mind. Remember to also check all of your water faucets to ensure that nothing is left dripping. (Ask me about the time someone used the hose in our backyard just before we left on a 3 1/2 week trip and didn’t turn it off completely. The water bill wasn’t cheap.) And unplug all your small appliances and be sure that your stove burners and oven are off.
Other Things to Get Ready
- If you are the type who likes to have your itinerary planned out and hotels booked in advance, be sure to get that arranged. CAA/AAA members can get free TripTiks and guide books. I like to play things by ear and take my chances with a more flexible schedule. This approach has it pros and cons. It’s helpful that I am not very picky about accommodations while on the road (it just has to be clean and safe). However, one time we were traveling and wanted to stop for the night around Nashville. Some huge country star was doing a show there that night and there were no accommodations available for 100 miles in any direction. We carried on further but there were tornadoes touching down all around the region we were in so we had to stop. We finally found one motel with an empty room – the only one at all. And it was infested with roaches. So yeah, there is a downside to being a “go with the flow” traveler.
- Start packing. I am always pretty much completely packed at least 3 days before I leave on a trip. I accomplish this by keeping travel size toiletries on hand (or travel bottles to dispense my own toiletries into). Another trick? Start packing your clothing that you want to take with you a few days beforehand. I get it in the suitcase and out of sight so I’m not tempted to keep reaching for it. Last minute laundry is not something I want to tackle. Here’s my master packing list.
- Grab some snack items, bottled water, and other beverages for the trip. If you’re making a picnic lunch or anything perishable, be sure to at least have that planned out so the morning of your trip, you don’t even have to think about it. Just make it and go. I suggest carrying a Sharpie along with you to mark people’s drink bottles with. Avoid the “Mooooooom he’s drinking my juice!” issue.
- Charge all of your devices including your camera battery and your Kindle. Make sure that you have a memory card with you (and maybe an extra) that has plenty of space on it. Bring extra portable chargers (make sure they’re fully charged) with you for in the car and for visiting attractions.