Written by: Marcia Cunningham.
Do you own a car?
Do you enjoy the freedom of having your own set of wheels?
Have you dreamt of taking a cross-country road trip to see sights unseen?
Then this article is for you.
Being safe on a road trip involves many things—following the usual rules about not driving after drinking, no texting while driving, wearing your seat belt, etc.—and a few guidelines specific to long road trips. Planning ahead is essential.
Before You Head Out
Before starting out on a journey of several thousand miles, it’s a good idea to have your car checked out by your trusted mechanic. This might be the time to have belts or hoses replaced, tire pressure checked, the oil changed, brakes checked, and washer fluid topped off. A breakdown that leaves you stranded on the side of the road, far from home and possibly far from roadside service and a mechanic, can put a real damper on your vacation. Keep in mind, too, that if driving several thousand miles, an oil change and tire pressure check may be needed while you’re away.
Planning where you want to go and what you want to see along the way includes not only the route you’ll drive, but where you’ll stop for the night. Trying to cover too many miles in a day can lead to fatigue, frustration, and short tempers. As an experienced road tripper who has done more than a dozen long distance road trips of several thousand miles each, including four or five across the width of the continent, I have found it’s a good idea to book that night’s lodging well in advance, especially if that night’s stay is going to be in a small town or remote area, common in the Great Plains and western states. Not following that rule caused us to drive two long hours further than planned on a trip a few years back: unbeknownst to us, the small southwest Kansas town with a couple of motels was hosting a farmers convention, and when we arrived at dinnertime that evening, there was not a room to be had.
On the Road
How many miles you cover in a day and how many hours you drive depends in part on whether you decide on interstates or the secondary US highway system and local roads. A good rule of thumb is to figure at least fifteen minutes of “stop time” for every two hours of “drive time.” Fuel stops for the car—and you—are part of the day’s drive. Are there some sights along the way you’d like to see? Be sure to budget your time accordingly. If, however, your goal is to get across the country as quickly as possible in order to spend time vacationing on the other side, ten to twelve hours a day travel time for three to four days will you get you from one corner of the country to another (barring any complications, such as road work, etc.).
Cell phone apps and GPS gadgets are helpful tools, but a good old-fashioned road atlas is essential. For one thing, checking out the paper maps as you plan your trip gives you a more detailed overall picture of possible routes across the country, and within each state. While on the road, cell phone coverage is not absolute and GPS directions have been known to be wrong.
Enjoy the Ride
And what’s a road trip without good music and good food? You will be in the car for hours….and hours….and hours. Nothing like listening to your favorite tunes, singing along, whether it’s with a satellite radio subscription or songs you’ve downloaded. Be sure to include a small cooler with some cold drinks and bottled water, and some healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and energy bars. Your stomach might decide it’s time to eat well before you’re near a restaurant. And in the event of a major traffic delay, you’ll be glad you have something to stave off thirst and hunger.
Last, But Not Least
One final road rule: Do not let the gas tank fall below half-full. If in an especially rural setting, such as Montana or Alaska, if you see a gas station, stop and fill up.
These simple tips will help keep you safe—so you can enjoy your adventure!
Have you or someone you know taken a cross-country road trip? What travel tips do you have to share?