Ah, the good old American road trip: It’s when you stuff your luggage in the trunk and everyone else into the backseat of your car — as you all embark on a several-day adventure across state borders.
In the 1950s, it became commonplace for families to own an automobile, so road trips really began to take off as a norm. But while road trips have been a favorite vacation method for decades, it’s most recently increased exponentially, with 64% more people saying they’ve taken a road trip in the past year.
With tips on planning your itinerary, creating the perfect playlist, and even taking online defensive driving courses, this guide will give you helpful steps on what you should plan before you set foot in the car.
Tip #1: Plan Your Itinerary
Although this is a no-brainer, planning your itinerary can go well beyond which sights you want to see and which hotels you plan on staying in along the way. Also be sure to:
- Decide on your must-sees along the way. If stopping by the Grand Canyon is on your to-do list, it might be wise to spend the night somewhere close by the day before so that your trip there isn’t too long.
- Technology is your friend. Your cellphone or GPS can help you plan and check routes, especially if there are unforeseen road closures or traffic. (But since cell service isn’t guaranteed everywhere, be sure that you have a map handy in your glove compartment.)
- Ask locals about the best places to stop. Locals won’t point you in the wrong direction, so who better to trust than them?
Remember that your road trip should also have plenty of room for extra time. You never know what side adventure you may find yourself on. This might not be so bad anyway, according to Amit Kumar, who authored a study on experiences versus material purchases.
He says that travelers “end up talking to people more about their experiences than they talk about material purchases. Compared to possessions, experiences make for better story material.”
Tip #2: Give Your Car a Checkup
Before you hit the open road, it’s a wise idea to give your car a checkup. Expert mechanics advise that you get your car looked at for three main things:
- Fluids: Check your oil, radiator fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, and windshield fluid
- Tires: Air pressure, rotation, and replacement options
- General Maintenance: Brake pads, air filters, light bulbs, and belts and hoses
Even if you think your car’s in good shape, it’s always a good idea to triple-check that it’s ready for a long-term road trip.
Tip #3: Figure Out Your Budget
There are many things to consider when figuring out your budget for your trip. Be sure to prioritize your destinations, avoid peak times of the year, and always plan ahead for your food, shelter, and gas costs. You could also plan ahead for your trip by setting up a savings goal.
“Start planning ahead and set a savings goal,” says personal finance analyst J.R. Duren. “The last thing you want to do is be stressed out on the vacation because money is running out.”
Tip #4: Put Together the Perfect Playlist
One of the great things about modern-day technology is that you could listen to your favorite songs anywhere at any time. This means that pretty much every road trip calls for the right music and the right playlist. One key to putting together the best playlist is to know your audience (because Grandma likely won’t want to hear today’s Hot 100 Chart).
Music also affects mood, so be sure to choose music for when you’re full of energy and music that is good to relax to when everyone begins winding down. If you don’t know where to start, then a good idea is to check out music apps like Pandora and Spotify for premade playlists.
Tip #5: Bring Some Cash
Although we’re living in a predominantly digital age, many places still require cash, like mom-and-pop shops, parking meters, gas station discounts, taxis, and local farm stands.
Plus, cash can help you stay on budget. Swiping your debit card is easy to do but having cash in your pocket can help you rethink potentially unnecessary purchases.
Modern technology “can be a real problem with spending; the more automatic things are, the more easy it is to spend,” says Jeff Kreisler, co-author of Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter.
So, while that $50 souvenir sounds like a good idea, seeing the actual money in your hand might remind you that it’s not actually necessary—and that money could be used for something else more useful, like gas, lodging, or food.
Tip #6: Take an Online Defensive Driving Course
Although insurance will be there to help cover any accident costs, many accidents can be prevented with defensive driving skills. Defensive driving is one of the most essential skills you can have. These skills help keep you concentrated and completely aware of what other drivers are doing so that you can ensure you and your passengers are safe at all times.
Plus, many insurance companies offer an insurance discount with your certificate of completion if you take a defensive driving course. All you have to do is find your state and select the length of defensive driving course you need to take. When you successfully complete the course, you’ll receive a certificate of completion that can help you get the lowest price on your insurance. Be sure to check with your agent to see if your insurance provider offers a defensive driver discount and whether you qualify.
But even if your insurer doesn’t offer a discount, freshening up your road knowledge and defensive driving techniques is a good idea. The best part? Taking an online defensive driving course is inexpensive and easy, so try to find time to do so before you’re ready to leave for your trip.
Whether you’re going on a road trip because you have someplace to be or are just driving for leisure, behind every great road trip is some careful planning. But figuring out where to start is overwhelming in itself—so, don’t forget to:
- Plan your itinerary
- Give your car a checkup
- Figure out your budget
- Put together the perfect playlist
- Bring some cash
- Refresh your defensive driving skills with a defensive driving course online
Follow these essential tips, and you’re sure to have the road trip of a lifetime.