Very few things are as memorable or as exciting as going on a long trip with a few of your best friends. Going on a holiday road trip across the country can be an unforgettable experience that you can treasure for the rest of your life, but you’d better ensure you follow some sort of road trip planner checklist before you go.
There are a few things you need to be aware of before heading out into the great wide open road. Emergencies can happen, and you can always end up spending more money than you really want to. It’s definitely a good idea to get your vehicle checked thoroughly before you depart. Sites like Kwik Fit allow you to book your vehicle service online so there’s no need to waste time waiting around, and you can have all the necessary repairs/fixes completed without hassle prior to your road trip start date.
It’s also a good idea to take to the time to make a road trip planner. This will help make sure you have everything you need before you go road-trippin’ with your friends. So let’s take a look at everything that should be part of your road trip checklist.
Road Trip Planner Checklist
A big part of your trip check will consist of your road trip car maintenance checklist. Making sure your car is in good shape before hitting the road is key to making sure everything goes smoothly. This way, you’re less likely to have an accident and better prepared in case something does happen. So here are a few things that need to be part of your car check up.
Check Your Tires
This should be number one on your car service checklist. Your tires are going to be doing a lot of work while you’re on the road, so you want to make sure they’re in good shape. First of all, make sure you have a spare in case you get a flat. You also want to make sure your tires have the right amount of air. Too much or too little can both be dangerous. Finally, check to see if your tread is low. It might be a good idea to buy brand new tires for your road trip.
On a recent road trip through the US, I suffered a flat tire just outside Brule, Wisconsin (see Exhibit A above). The reason — my tire tread was far too worn. I noticed on rainy days that I’d slip and slide a bit on slick pavement but made the mistake of thinking my tires would make it through the entire journey. Thanks to some kind Wisconsin Samaritans who helped me change onto a spare tire when my tire jack broke (you know you’re my favourite state in the Union Wisconsin), I was able to make it to a tire service centre to get some new All Seasons installed within an hour.
Check Your Fluids
The next thing to do on your car tune up checklist is to check your fluids. First of all, make sure your car has enough oil for a long trip. You also want to check your radiator fluid so you don’t have to worry about overheating while going down the road. Other important fluids to check include the transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid.
Check Your Battery
The last thing you want is for your battery to run out of juice while you’re on your trip. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get your battery checked, especially if it’s a few years old. Keep an eye out for signs of corrosion. If you have any reservations about the condition of your battery, it might be best to buy a new one. This will be much cheaper than getting stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Check Your Glove Box
There are a few essential items you need to have with you in case of emergency. One of these is a first aid kit. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but you need to be prepared. It’s also a good idea to have your owner’s manual with you. This can come in handy in case something goes wrong and you can’t figure it out. And of course, don’t forget your license, registration, and proof of insurance.
Other Things to Check
Other things to have on your car service checklist are your brakes, your headlights, interior lights, your windshield wipers, and your horn. It’s also a good idea to make sure your air conditioner and heater are working, especially if you’re trip will take place during the summer or winter months. The bottom line is, you want to make sure everything on your car is in working order before you head out.
Road Trip Planning Essentials
Now that you know your car is in good shape, it’s time to look at some other things you need for a road trip. These are the various things you need to bring in order to reach your destination safely and comfortably. And of course, they’ll also help you save money while you’re on your trip.
Naturally, you want to make sure you know where you’re going. Regardless of whether you use your phone or have one installed in your car, a GPS is necessary to help you reach your destination. Nonetheless, these devices don’t always work perfectly. Batteries can go dead, and satellites sometimes have trouble picking up your location. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to have a physical map with you as well. Getting lost can really take the fun out of a road trip if you’re travelling on a deadline, so you want to avoid this as much as you can. If time is not an issue however, enjoy those unplanned detours! They can often lead to truly amazing experiences.
This one is pretty obvious, but you still want to make sure it’s on your list. Odds are, you don’t want to wear the same outfit for your entire trip. Make sure you include every item of clothing you’ll need such as shoes and bathing suits.
You also don’t want to forget your basic hygiene items. These include your toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, shaving equipment, and any other cleaning supplies you think you might need. Although they’ll likely be easy to find en route if you accidentally leave these at home, you’ll eat away at your precious driving time if you need to make a pit stop to replenish the basics. Plus, do you really want to have your road trip route plan to include a Walmart parking lot?
Food tends to be one of your major expenses when you’re on a long trip. You’ll also notice that eating seems to be more expensive when you’re trying to go somewhere. Therefore, bringing some snacks with you can really help cut some of those costs. Also, you won’t have to stop to get something to eat as often if you bring your own food. This will ultimately help you save money and reach your destination faster. Fast food tends to not be the healthiest dietary option when you’re on a road trip a swell, so take along plenty of nuts, trail mix, and other healthy snacks. They’ll help quell the hunger pangs on those long stretches, and your waistline will thank you when you finally reach your destination.
Related to the idea of bringing your own snacks is having a cooler with you on your trip. This will come in really handy when you’re going down the road, and you’re in the mood for a cold drink. This is also good for bringing snacks that need to be refrigerated. Having a cooler full of sodas and sandwiches will make your trip so much more convenient.
Pillows and a Blanket
These are good to have for a few reasons. For one, your road trip companions will appreciate it when they get tired during your trip. It’s also good to have in case you get into an accident. This is especially true during the winter months. Finally, you’ll need these if you decide to use your car instead of traditional lodging. More on this later.
Again, you’re hopefully not going to need them. Nonetheless, you need to bring road flares with you just in case. You never know when accidents might happen, and you need to be prepared. In this case, road flares will help you communicate to other drivers that you’re in distress and need help. In a situation like this, it can make all the difference in the world.
Other Necessary Road Trip Checklist Items
Depending on the reason for your trip, you might have other items you need to bring. Examples of this could be tickets, passports, debit or credit cards, etc. Nothing’s worse than reaching your destination and finding you left these things at home. Make sure they’re on your road trip list so this doesn’t happen to you.
Road Trip Entertainment
Now that we’ve gotten the essentials out of the way, it’s time to talk about the fun stuff. These are just a few things to take on a road trip that’ll make your experience even more enjoyable. You don’t really need them, but you’ll be glad you have them.
Few things are better than drive down the road while playing some good music. Be sure to pack some of your favorite CD’s before you leave. Alternatively, you can also bring some audio books with you to hone up on some skills or just pass the time listening to some bestsellers. This might be a better choice if you and your friends have different tastes in music.
I’m a huge fan of Spotify, so if you haven’t signed up for the music streaming service yet, do yourself a favour and just go do it. They offer a free option as well if you’d like to try it out. You’ll just get your music interrupted with commercials after every 3 or 4 songs. I was on the fence about it for a long time, but now that I dove in and splurged on Spotify Premium, there ain’t no going back.
If you’re traveling with a group of friends, you probably won’t do all the driving yourself. If that’s the case, then this is a good time to catch up on your reading. This is a great way to pass the time while you’re going down the road. If you don’t want the extra weight of books taking up space in your car, download a few bestsellers onto your tablet, computer., or even your smartphone. Remember that if you don’t have an eReader, you can still read books through the Kobo or Kindle apps available for most devices.
This is an excellent idea if you have kids. If you have a DVD player for your car, then this is one of the best ways to keep them occupied during a long trip. In turn, this will make the trip less stressful for you. Make sure they have headphones as well. Even if you’re traveling without kids, having a movie to watch can help pass the time. I like to download a few movies or television series onto my tablet to watch a little mindless television before going to bed.
Colouring books are another way to keep your kids busy if you have them. Don’t forget to bring colored pencils or washable markers while you’re at it. Also, it’s also a good idea to include their favorite toys on your checklist. They’ll certainly appreciate it.
I Spy With My Little Eye and the License Plate Game get a little tired after even just a few hours on the road, so it’s wise to pack a couple of board games to play when you’re sitting around the campfire or nestled comfortably in your hotel room for the night. Checkers, Backgammon, or Snakes and Ladders make for great fun, for both kids and adults alike. If you’re more digitally inclined, be sure to have some games downloaded onto your tablet or smartphone. And if you prefer to remain off the radar, or are on a solo road trip, packing a deck of cards into your luggage goes a long way to help ease the boredom.
Take Along a Road Trip Mascot
On my recent trip across Canada and back through the US, I took along a bendy Mr. Bean doll. I have to say it was great fun to take some photos of him along the way at major (and minor) tourist destinations. He even had my back, giving me a yay or nay whether to pick up hitchhikers along the way. (They were all nay, for the record.)
Essential Apps for Road Trips
If your road trip involves travel through the U.S. and Canada, an app called GasBuddy can help you save heaps of money on gas. It works by searching your current area and finding the cheapest gas stations. This one little app could end up saving you quite a bit of money.
The staple mapping solution for many road trippers, Google Maps is available in offline mode as well if you download the maps while you have a data connection or WiFi. It has its quirks, but is still miles better than Apple Maps for iOS.
Here We Go! Maps
Here We Go! Maps is my go-to map for road trip directions. I’ve used it on a few occasions since it does work in offline mode, and you can still get turn-by-turn directions. It also resembles fancier built-in GPS systems that many cars come equipped with. It’s been a lifesaver when I’ve travelled through the United States without a SIM card or a data connection. It even warns you when you are going over the speed limit, and has saved me a few times from getting a speeding ticket on unfamiliar roads.
Road Trip Budget App
A good budgeting app is going to be key if you want to stick within your road trip budget. I use Trail Wallet, and honestly, it’s the only reason I’m holding onto my old iPhone 5 (sadly it’s not available for Android) — it’s seriously that good. You can set a daily or mostly budget, and add in your costs in any currency. I’ve credited it with keeping me on track budget-wise on a number of occasions when the urge to splurge has overcome me. Treat yourself and spend the 5 bucks for the all-access app — it’s worth every penny.
Road Trip Tips and Tricks
By now, you’ve got everything you need on your checklist. Now it’s time to share a few tips for long drives. These are just a few things you can do that’ll help you reach your destination safely, save a little money, and have more enjoyable experience overall.
What is the Best Car to Use for a Road Trip?
While smaller vehicles are of course much more fuel efficient, you might feel cramped on a long-haul road trip. And while larger SUVs offer a smoother and more comfortable ride, they can be gas guzzlers that will drive the cost of your road trip up if you intend on driving long distances. If you’re planning on camping along the way, a VW campervan or similar might be in order. Or if you don’t relish the idea of having a hippie-ish vintage VW hogging up garage space at the end of your road trippin’ days, perhaps rent, or even invest, in a trailer or tent-trailer that offers more options.
There’s even an app that allows you to rent out your trailer afterward, so you can earn some cash for your next road trip. It’s called Outdoorsy if you’re interested.
Road Trip Budget
I mentioned earlier about downloading Trail Wallet or a similar road trip budgeting app, but before you even do that you should think long and hard about the actual cost of a road trip. Costs tend to skyrocket quickly if you’re staying in nice hotels and eating out at restaurants every day.
Plus, depending on where your road trip begins and ends, and what type of car you will be driving, fuel costs can add up quite quickly. It’s necessary to discuss with your fellow road trippers how much all of this is actually going to cost you, and how the costs will be divvied up. An honest conversation about spending beforehand will save you and your fellow travellers the stress of any potential conflicts over money later down the road.
Road Trip Lodging Options
Along with food and gas, this is going to be one of your main expenses. A hotel might be your most comfortable option, but it would also be the most expensive. If you’re looking for cheaper alternatives, you might consider looking at Airbnb.com or Couchsurfing.com. Or if you’re up to the challenge, you might try camping or sleeping in your car. This isn’t for everyone, but it can save you a lot of money in the long run. In my recent trip across Canada, I slept in my car for several nights, but being 6ft 3”, I can’t say that I had the most restful sleep, even if I was in a decent-sized SUV.
Road Trip Safety
One thing that often goes out the window when thinking about road trip planning is safety. I tell people who get in my car that I ain’t going nowhere until the put on a seatbelt. That’s a no exception rule. Also it’s a good idea to get into locking your doors regularly, even while you are driving. Some other things to consider:
- Don’t leave valuables or cash/coins in plain sight while parked.
- Take passports, credit cards, and other important documents with you if you are going to be away from the car for a while.
- Make sure you have copies of all important documentation.
- Have a spare car key kept separately from the main key, in case you get locked out or your car keys are lost or stolen.
- Don’t pick up hitchhikers, no matter how sweet and innocent they may look.
Take Regular Breaks
Despite being a lot of fun, driving down the road for long periods of time can be exhausting. Studies have shown that driving while you’re tired can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to take a break from driving every few hours. If you’re driving with friends, make sure you each take turns in the driver’s seat. This will ultimately help you prevent accidents.
Road Trip Packing Efficiency
When you’re loading everything into your car, make sure you pack everything evenly. Also, try to avoid packing more than you need. If you load your car with more than it can handle, it can have a negative effect on your fuel economy. Since gas is one of your major expenses on a long trip, you want to use it as efficiently as you can.
Keep an Eye Out for Sightseeing Opportunities
Before you hit the road, it’s a good idea to check and see if there are any interesting attractions on the way to your destination. There are things to see all over the country, and you never know what you might find. At the same time, keep an eye on the signs at the side of the road. These might point you in the direction of some quirky attractions that you might not know about otherwise. It’s often worth your while to make a slight detour to catch a roadside attraction, even if it means being late to your destination.
Years from now you won’t remember the few hours you were late, but you will remember something like stopping by the world’s largest ball of yarn, or the Geographical Centre of North America.
Keep a Loose Road Trip Itinerary
Part of the fun of going on a road trip is having those spontaneous experiences that you didn’t plan for. It’s good to have a plan of what you’d like to see and what you’d like to do (check out this self-drive itinerary for Iceland’s Golden Circle Route to give you an idea.)
With that in mind, having too much on your itinerary can be a detriment. It can also add stress to your trip if you feel pressured to keep a strict schedule. Therefore, you want to leave some room on your itinerary for those spontaneous, unplanned moments that truly make your trip memorable.
Don’t Forget Car Maintenance During Your Road Trip
I’ve talked a lot about making sure your car is road-worthy prior to taking your road trip, but don’t forget that all those miles add up, so you should be taking care of your car along the way as well. This means checking your oil regularly, and topping up or changing it if necessary. Also, check your tires and all other fluids on your vehicle.
And for the love of everything that’s holy, get regular car washes along the way. This will save you the hassle of having to hand scrape the dead bugs off your car once you reach your destination. The photo above is my car after driving through Saskatchewan at night. It took several high-pressure car washes to remove that mess.
Hopefully, this checklist will prove useful the next time you decide to go on a road trip. With a little planning, you can have a great time without spending a whole lot of money. Above all, remember to have fun and take care of yourself. And your car.
What road trip planner items do you include on your checklist?