Five Expert Tips For a Smooth Road Trip

January 30, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve taken enough road trips with my family, with friends, or just by myself, to have figured out most of the good and bad things about them. I actually enjoy a good road trip, including the driving. There have been many times when I will drive six or seven hours, rather than fly, because I enjoy the drive.

There's nothing like a beautiful ribbon of highway stretched out before you on the start of a road trip.Of course, I’ll always drive instead of fly if the distance is six hours or less. That’s how long it would take me to fly, including driving to the airport, getting through security, the flight, getting my rental car, and driving to the hotel. I could just drive straight to the hotel from my house in the same amount of time.

And I figure, what’s a couple extra hours here or there, so I’ll even drive for an 8-hour road trip. It’s certainly a lot cheaper than flying, especially if there’s five of us, and I don’t have to pay for a rental car.

But a road trip can be annoying and stressful if you don’t prepare accordingly. It’s not just a question of packing and getting everything to fit in your car. It’s also a question of being fully prepared so you’re not trying to fix problems on the road.

Here are five tips to make your next road trip go smoothly.

1. Clean out your car

I always try to keep my car neat and free of clutter, but even then, there are all kinds of crumbs and dirt in the footwells, the cup holders, and the little storage bay under the radio. So I vacuum out the car and wash it before I leave, so it feels like a fresh start on a grand adventure. You wouldn’t pack dirty clothes in your suitcase, so why would you leave in a dirty car?

Run your car through a car wash or wash it in the driveway, empty out all the trash, and vacuum it thoroughly. You may even want to dust the dashboard. Make it as clean as you can get it. There’s nothing like heading out on a road trip with a clean car and a full tank of gas.

2. Keep your car clean

It’s one thing to clean out your car, but it’s a whole other thing to actually keep it clean while you’re traveling, especially if you’re traveling with others. I know when you’re traveling with kids, your clean car is pretty much destroyed before you even back out of the driveway.

Still, make it a habit to clean up everything, throw away all trash, and put away toys, books, and electronic devices every time you stop for gas and meals. A cluttered space leads to a lot of stress and anxiety, and tempers start to flare when that happens. You can reduce stress if you try to keep your car as clean as when you started.

3. Pre-plan your route with both Waze and Google Maps

Google actually owns Waze, so this may be a little redundant as they both use the same data and information, but I have found this to be a useful practice. Both apps know historic travel patterns, so they can tell you where and when all the rush hour traffic jams are going to happen. (Try to get through a major city at least 30 minutes before rush hour really starts.) They also know about construction zones, and Waze will warn you about speed traps and red camera lights.

However, my one gripe with Waze is that it doesn’t show on the map where the construction zones are actually located. It will show the approximate location on a progress bar before it actually shows you the map, so you get a vague sense of whether it’s in the first third or second half of the trip. But you can tell Waze when you want to arrive, and it will tell you the best time to leave based on historic traffic data. It will even adjust your route based on historic traffic patterns so you can avoid busy highways during rush hour.

Google Maps can also do this, but it will show you the exact locations of those construction zones on the map. Plus you can plan a multi-stop route and save it as a clickable link. Put that link in a calendar event or a text or email to yourself, so you can always get back to the original route even if you have to reboot your phone.

4. Pack in a laundry basket

(I’m probably going to get in trouble for this one on a luggage blog!)

I know, this tip sounds weird, but trust me on this. We did this whenever we would travel to Florida and stay in a rental home for a week or two. It helped our packing space immensely, and we had a lot more room in the back of our car.

Several suitcases take up a lot of space when you’ve got a limited trunk space. In years past, ever family member would have their own rollaboard suitcase, but no matter how hard we tried, we always had items packed so high, it was hard to see out the back.

So one year, my wife packed everything into two laundry baskets, including shoes. It saved so much space in the back, our total luggage space barely cleared the top of the seats, and it felt like we were in a much bigger vehicle.

Of course, this tip isn’t necessary if you’re traveling on your own. In those situations, I just pack in my regular rollaboard suitcase and stow everything in the trunk, including my briefcase. I find if I can keep the car as empty as possible, including luggage, it feels so much less cluttered. (See point #2.)

5. Pack a “trip bag” for multi-day travel

It may be a “dads are so weird” cliché, but I’m telling you, packing a stopover bag for multi-day travel is almost essential. If you’re going to stop for the night on your trip, put everything into a single small case, including toiletries, sleepwear, medication, and even favorite stuffed animals. And that’s the bag you take into the hotel for the night.

The whole point is to avoid unpacking the entire car just because someone stuck their toothbrush at the bottom of their suitcase, which is in the most buried corner of the car.

So be insistent, be a nag. Do an inventory check. Pack your kids’ bags, if need be. But don’t let anyone put their essentials into their big suitcase (or in the laundry basket, if you liked tip #4) if you’re going to stop for the night. There is nothing worse than unpacking the entire car for that one small item, because you know you’re never going to get it as neatly or tightly packed as you did before you left.

(Of course, you want to be sure your car is parked in a safe, well-lit area if you’re going to do this. Otherwise, just take all your luggage into your room, but resist the urge to open it.)

How do you keep your road trips (relatively) stress-free? What do you do to get ready for a road trip? Share your suggestions with us on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Arfan Uddin (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

About 

Erik Deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

Comments are closed.