Flying is pricey. Driving is cheaper and easier, but make sure it’s safe, too.
Our roads are crowded, tempers are hot and road trips can be stretched by traffic jams, construction and more. And often, there’s no way around it all. So how do you ensure your summer road trip doesn’t become an awful (or tragic) memory?
With just a few smart tips, you’ll get to your destination relaxed and ready to enjoy your vacation.
1. Drive rested and ready
Take time before your trip to plan for your needs and get plenty of sleep. De-stress the process by planning the route, packing and schedule; pack well before you leave and if possible, have others in your crew take some of the load, too. If you’re planning on stopping for a night or two, have everyone pack a small overnight bag or backpack do you don’t have to unload the entire car at each stop.
2. Don’t drive off-hours
This is a hard one; a lot of people think that leaving at 8PM or 3AM is a good idea. It isn’t. Your internal clock tells you that you should be sleeping during those hours and will try to trigger it, causing you to fight fatigue. Rest when you should and drive during your prime awake hours.
3. Do drive against rush hour
If rush hour in your town starts at 7AM, leave at 6AM. Planning to drive through Chicago? Take a look at traffic patterns (check your Google Maps app), consider rush hour times and plan to get there just before or just after. Our favorite time to make good time on the road? Saturday night. We often start at about noon on Saturday; by 3PM the roads are pretty clear and by 6 PM we own them and by 10PM we are kicking back and resting for the next day.
4. Co-pilots get to ride shotgun
This is the second most important job in the car and one we had to teach our kids to do. The co-pilot is responsible for anything the driver needs to keep the trip safely on track, including:
- Navigation, especially when a traffic jam pops up: she can look at Waze to find the source or Google Maps to see how long the slowdown is; she can also find routes around it or find a lunch spot where you can wait out the traffic
- Converse with the driver to keep him engaged and alert
- Assist with music, climate control, snacks or answering back seat passengers who ask “Are we there yet?”
- Find the next Starbucks
- Find a hotel when it’s time to stop for the night
5. Alternate drivers
Taking turns can reduce driver fatigue, of course. If other riders are old enough to hop up front and co-pilot, let the alternating driver ride in the back seat and take a nap. If that isn’t possible, try to limit the day’s drive to 8 to 10 hours.
6. Prepare back seat passengers to be good road trippers
Getting passengers ready for a trip is key, especially if they are in child safety car seats. Here’s how.
- Tell them what to expect (especially if they are little), such as ;”We will drive all day long but when we get there you’ll be able to play with your cousins,” or “There will be a hotel with a swimming pool and we’ll go swimming.”
- Prep the back seat with entertainment, toys and activities.
- Keep snacks, drinks and trash bags handy; avoid sugary, messy or fragrant snacks (this is the one time I buy small packets of snacks; it’s less messy this way).
- Make sure everyone stretches or runs around during rest stops.
- Help them sleep; a pillow, a blanket and a favorite stuffed animal can be critical equipment.
7. Be ready to rally with maps and apps
Rolling with the punches on road trips is important to keeping everyone happy and frustration levels low. Apps and sites that we love and make our trips easier include:
- Maps with real time traffic so we can see which route is fastest, how to get around traffic jams and more; we like Waze and Google Maps.
- Hotel apps that let us know what deals are around us, what deals are available at our destination, have guest reviews that tell us key things like the age of the property, comfort of beds and availability of food or nearby restaurants. We like hotels.com and hoteltonight for last minute deals.
- Plan your caffeine and fuel stops. We mostly use Google Maps for this; its search function lets you find coffee shops, restaurants and gives you the price of gas at the stations it finds.
- Find your highway exit guide: this site highlights what’s ahead, including hotels, restaurants and local attractions. This is helpful in planning a stop for the night.
8. Take care of Fido
If you’re traveling with a pet, consider his needs along the way, too.
- Ensure he’s got a safe and comfortable place to ride.
- Can he easily get in and out when you stop?
- Encourage everyone to take turns caring for him.
- If you stop for the night at a hotel, be sure to find a pet friendly property ahead of time; we use dogfriendly.com. We like Aloft hotels for this reason; dogs are welcome throughout the property and they don’t charge a pet fee
9. Know when to say when
This might be the hardest part of of all: Knowing when you need to pull over and rest, stop for the night or change drivers. When there’s only 90 miles left to go it seems silly to stop for the night, but that last 90 miles might be your undoing. So when drowsy driving hits, pull over.
Be safe, be smart and have a great vacation, not a regretful one.