Since my family will be off on a long distance road trip in the coming weeks, I have been brushing up on a few helpful car traveling tips. My husband and I live far away from our expended family which makes visiting them a bit complicated. We could travel by plane across half the United States but honestly, have you checked out the cost of air fare recently? It’s ridiculous! So, instead of flying we usually embark on a two week long car trip which allows us to visit both sides of the family plus a number of friends all in one long vacation adventure. For those of you who have never spent two weeks in a car traveling thousands of miles, it is not easy to plan. In fact, I think military battles require less planning and precision than our trips from Georgia to Vermont and back again! We have been making this trip every couple of years for the last 15 years, the first one being when my son was 2 and my daughter was only a few months old. Yeah, that was fun…NOT! There have been flat tires, screaming kids, a few wrong turns and a whole bunch of chaos over the years but by now we have this thing down to a science! I thought I would share a few of my car traveling tips with you in case you are considering long distance travel by car this summer!
Car Traveling Tips for Long Distance Road Trips
1. Get maintenance done on your car before you go. Most automotive places will offer a ‘vacation’ package or 16 point service or something similar. Get the oil changed, the fluids checked, new wipers, new tires (if needed) that are filled to the right air pressure, Rainex the windows, make sure your lights all work and clean out the interior (yes it will get trashed on the way but at least you will start out clean!) You will not only save yourself a lot of hassle you will also make your car as fuel efficient as it can be which will save you money on gas! Car traveling tips that save money are always high on my list of things to do!
2. Invest in AAA. Honestly, I pay $85 per YEAR for my husband and I to be covered for all roadside emergencies and that is for any car we are driving. It is SO worth the peace of mind to know that if you break down on the side of the road you have somebody you can call! Check your car insurance and make sure it is up to date and ask what sort of benefits it offers in terms of road side assistance. The AAA website is FULL of useful car traveling tips, whether you are going by plane or car so I suggest you check that out before you go!
3. Know when to stay with friends and when to hit a hotel! Staying with friends and family along the way can be fun…or it can be a living hell. It totally depends on the people involved, their current family situation, and how long you expect to be there. Ask yourself if you truly want to stay with those particular people for the length of time you will be there. And always be a good house guest! Bring food or pitch in some money to help feed your family. Offer to help cook or clean or even treat everyone to a restaurant meal a night or two.
4. Don’t just wing it on the itinerary. Now, maybe this is just the anal retentive part of me but I HATE not knowing what the next leg of the journey holds! I want to know what city I am stopping in and what hotel I am staying at (or who’s couch I am sleeping on!). Don’t cram things in so tightly that you have NO flexibility but having a general plan creates a lot less stress than driving at 11 PM and not being able to find a hotel because of some conference that is happening in town. That has happened to us! We were tired and cranky driving to the next town at 2 AM because all the hotels we came across were full. I wish I had read up on a few car traveling tips before heading out on THAT adventure.
5. Choose a hotel with plenty of amenities. It is tempting to look for a cheap hotel but honestly, some of the nicer ones offer free breakfast which for a family of 4 may cost a lot of money if you have to find somewhere to eat out. And finding a hotel that has a pool or game room allows you to entertain the kids without paying anything extra. And if you can find one that has a wine and cheese buffet in the late afternoon, even better! Wine for mom, pool for the kids. Happy travelers all around!
6. Pack a cooler! Trust me when I tell you that eating fast food for days on the road will make you feel very gross! Even the healthiest of choices at a fast food restaurant leave you with a ton of trash in your car until you hit the next rest stop. Pack your cooler full of fruit, sandwiches, cheese and crackers, nuts, dry cereal, trail mix, granola bars and whatever other healthy foods your family likes to eat. Pack napkins and reusable water bottles and don’t forget a plastic bag for trash if you are eating while riding (eating while DRIVING is a bit of a hazard but yes, it happens when traveling. Just be careful!) Stop at rest stops with picnic tables when you can and let the kids out of the car to run round for a while during lunch. We usually stop for one substantial meal per day when we are on the road. Eating out is very expensive and can really break the budget so try not to do it three times a day.
7. Know when to take a break. Some car traveling tips are just for comfort, this one could save your life. Driving can make you incredibly tired. There is something about sitting behind the wheel on a sunny afternoon that just makes me want to fall asleep. Consider passing driving duties off to another adult every few hours. Stopping to stretch your legs every 2 hours will keep the blood flowing. My husband and I have been known to do a bit of jogging and light stretching at rest stops. Jumping jacks, sprints and other blood pumping activities will help get oxygen to your brain and keep you awake. Yes, people look at you like you’re insane when you do jumping jacks at the gas station but hey, whatever keeps you awake behind the wheel!
8. Pack light. You do not want to be crammed into your car without room to move around a bit. We have a pickup truck so we are lucky that the suitcases, sleeping bags and cooler can go in the bed of the truck. However, the kids bring pillows, lovies, toys, games, books and the kitchen sink into the back seat with them. It is a tight fit but one they seem to be okay with since they do it every time we travel.
9. Start your packing list and to do list weeks ahead of time. I will be laying in bed at night and bolt upright going “OH! I need to remember to pack…..” There are so many things to remember…refill your medications, make boarding reservations for the dog, call and hold the newspaper, ask a neighbor to grab the mail and water the plants, figure out how to put your lights on a timer (I STILL can’t do that!). If you wait til the last minute you WILL end up forgetting something which will create a whole bunch of stress that will make your vacation very UNenjoyable!
10. Plan for potty emergencies. When I made our first cross country car trip I had a 2 year old that was being potty trained. Talk about insane, right? We brought the potty seat with us (yes, we traveled with a toilet!) along with a whole bunch of extra clothes and bathroom wipes. Along with a bag for disposal. We STILL travel with bathroom wipes because do you know how many gas stations are out of toilet paper at 3 AM? Seriously, more than you would think! There is nothing I hate more than drip drying on a long distance car ride. And with kids, potty emergencies are ten times worse! Bring toilet paper, wet cleansing wipes and a plastic grocery bag. Whether you are dealing with a messy 2 year old, a teenager locked in a gas station bathroom with no toilet paper, or an emergency roadside tree visit in the middle of nowhere you will be VERY happy that you planned for this particular emergency!
Long distance road trips can be a lot of fun and are a really great family bonding experience. Provided that you don’t maybe strangle your family before the trip is over! (kidding!) Start your trip with an open mind and a flexible schedule and you will have a wonderful journey.
Have any other car traveling tips to share?
Check out these things to do before leaving for vacation!