The road trip is as quintessential a travel experience as, say, your spring-break exodus to Cancun or that time you took on the Great Steak Challenge in Dallas (and got acquainted with your new friend Pepto-Bismol later that night).
But for every reason road trips are so memorable, there are different reasons for why they can cause major headaches: flat tires, long stretches of driving late at night and bad roadside tourist traps.
Heed these road-trip tips to make sure your highway hiatus really is half the fun of getting to your final destination.
Clean your car before your trip
Start off with a clean slate and dig out the crusty fries and gum wrappers from under your car seat. Wash the windows, change the oil and check your car’s tire pressure.
Then, every few days while you’re on the road, give your car another clean sweep to avoid going crazy in a small space while you’re driving.
Gather your documents
As long as there are police on the road, there will be cars that get pulled over. Make sure you aren’t scrambling for your documents on the chance you get caught speeding.
Double-check that your insurance card hasn’t expired and that you have no unpaid traffic tickets. (Under the perfect storm of conditions, your car could be impounded and you’ll be left stranded in a new town.)
Have a plan, but don’t plan too much
Having a loosely mapped-out plan lets you avoid wasting time deciding where to go next. (Invest in a map in case your GPS goes haywire.)
But there will undoubtedly be a few closed roads and missed turns, so embrace the extra miles and see where they take you. Always give yourself a few hours of buffer time to make hotel reservations and meet up with friends along the way.
Pack only what you need
That leather jacket may look fantastic if you end up going to that great bar you heard about on Route 1, but could you swap it out for a compact down coat instead?
Consider what you actually need versus what you want to bring, and leave everything but the necessities at home. You’ll save space in your car and time sorting through bags of clothes to find what you really need.
Designate a “dirty” place
After a few days on the road, odors will inevitably start to set in.
Avoid the stench of sweaty socks by bringing along an empty duffel or a plastic garbage bag that you can stash dirty laundry in, another for muddy shoes and a third for trash.
Beware of the busy hours
Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean traffic takes a day off.
Keep your eye on the clock and try to pass through major metropolitan areas in the early morning or late-night hours to avoid rush-hour congestion.
Subscribe to satellite radio
Empty stretches of highway are often dead zones for cell service, so don’t depend on that Pandora app for entertainment.
Think about running a free trial of satellite radio in your car, or plan ahead by downloading podcasts and playlists. If all else fails, have your road-trip partner read to you or play a classic car-trip game to pass the time.
Keep tabs on gas mileage
The moment you pull out of your driveway, set your car’s trip odometer so you can track your mileage and measure how much gas you’re using.
The next time you fuel up, do the same thing. Compare and see if you’re using more or less gas on different legs of your trip — then figure out what you could do differently for better gas mileage.
Are all those fast-food stops killing your mileage? Could you avoid strong headwinds by taking a different road?
Divide and conquer
If you have no problem driving late into the night, while your companions get heavy lids at the first sign of darkness, offer to nap during the day so they can pull their shift earlier.
Figure out who’s the best at navigating and put him or her in charge of the map. Know who does what well and assign duties accordingly.
Be prepared with roadside rescue
If only every road trip ended with a clean track record. Don’t bank on a smooth trip, and cover your bases by signing up for roadside assistance.
At the very least, bring along a small toolbox and arm yourself with the know-how to fix common issues like flat tires.