Ah, the open road. Although many might say that the joy lies in the destination, true road trippers know that the journey there is most of the fun. Whether or not the time has come for a family vacation, or maybe a camping excursion with a few friends, or perhaps even just a little time to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, few things in life are truly more rewarding than getting your family or friends together and taking an extended road trip. However, no matter how confident that we might be in our driving and navigating skills, their really is no accounting for unpredictable events. Luckily, a little preparation and just a couple minutes spent preparing different aspects of your trip and vehicle can make sure that your fun excursion does not turn into a nightmare for friends and family to laugh at for years to come.
One of the first things worth preparing is your vehicle itself. Even the most faithful of cars and trucks have been known to leave their drivers stranded in the worst of times. One of the first (and most important) parts of your vehicle worth checking out are definitely your tires. Although the mileage requirements vary greatly on tires, and most people don’t keep that great of track of the miles anyway, a good general rule of thumb can help to make sure that your tires are going to be safe for a long trip. Simply take a penny and turn it so that good ol’ Abe is facing the tire. Then, put the edge of the penny, headfirst, into the tire treads. If your tires are in good shape, you should not be able to see Lincoln’s head outside of the tire treads. If you can still see his head, it means that your tire treads have gone under 1/16 of an inch, which is the most basic standard of tire safety available. A tire blowout can be far more than annoying, if it happens at the wrong time, or at high speeds on the highway, it can actually be deadly. Also, balding tires are one of the leading causes of accidents. If a car does not have tires that are in good shape, breaking, steering and performing emergency maneuvers can become very difficult or even impossible. It only takes a few seconds to check your tires, and only a couple hundred or so in order to make sure that your trip really is as safe as it can be.
Although it may seem like simple common sense, another great area of your car to check before leaving on a trip is your dashboard. Are there any lights or warnings that you may have ignored for months or years on end? An engine light may not seem like a big deal on the ten minute drive to work, but when it comes to a thousand mile drive, your definitely going to want to make sure that nothing is seriously wrong in your car. If you do have any warning (often called dummy) lights on, than the best thing to do is to simply bring the car to a local mechanic and have it run through the computer, as long as the car is newer. The mechanic should be able to tell you if the lights are anything serious or if they are even worth fixing. Sometimes an engine light can mean something as little as a faulty gas cap sensor, but it can also denote a serious problem with your exhaust system or other crucial component of your car. Bottom line, have the lights checked out, being safe never hurt anyone.
Even if your car has been running good for the past couple of months, if you really do plan on making a drive that’s more than say seven or eight hours, your probably going to want to get a basic fluid flush done. Having the transmission fluid, oil, clutch and break fluid changed is a good idea to keep your car safe throughout your entire trip. Remember that a road trip doesn’t just include the ride there, your car or truck or SUV still has to endure the pain that comes with the drive home. Be good to your car, long drives can take a tremendous strain on a vehicle. However, if you stay one step ahead of the elements and dangers of the road, you can be sure that your car will still be in great running order when you get back.
Any parent who has tried to take their child on a trip is well aware of how devastating hunger can be to a road trip that was progressing at a normal pace. In order to avoid frequent stops and greasy road-side restaurants, make sure to bring some healthy and easy to eat foods with you. Packing some sandwiches in a cooler, bringing a few bags of pretzels or chips, some home-made trail mix, basically, anything healthy or not too sugary or hard to eat makes an excellent addition to any road trip. Also, keeping the people in your car well fed will reduce the chance of a fight or disagreement happening and will make sure that even a wrong turn will not end in a screaming match between normally loving family members.
If you are male, you likely feel that you have every road in America memorized. However, this is likely not the case, and even the finest navigation skills may fail when confronted by poor weather, horrific traffic, or strange, unmarked roads. In order to prevent such things, make sure to bring a map. Better yet, you can even use the internet to your advantage. Go to www.mapquest.com, enter your starting point and destination, and a detailed description of how to get where your going will appear right on your screen, ready to print out whenever your ready to leave. However, it is worth noting that not even a map quest if fool proof, and you may still want to pick up a road map or atlas just in case you want to make a detour or have to take an alternative route to your destination.
A few more general, but probably more common sense trips may not have much to do with the safety of your journey, but they can definitely make it just a tad bit more enjoyable. Remember to bring different music with you, or, if you happen to have an iPod or similar device, you might want to consider purchasing an “iTrip”, which is a device that allows the iPod to play through the radio signals in any car. If your car has a cassette player, you can also purchase a cassette adapter. The major advantage of an iPod is that you have hours and hours of music at your finger tips, without having to bother with bringing along a ton of CDs. Also, each family member or friend in the car has the opportunity to pick a song, giving everyone something to do at some point during the trip. Oh, and remember that sometimes your gas gauge WILL lie to you. Even if you think that can make it until the next gas station, it won’t hurt to make a quick stop and ensure that you won’t run out of gas on a deserted stretch of highway.
Remember, a road trip can be an amazing amount of fun, as well as a learning and growing experience for nearly everyone involved. However, just as quickly, a road trip can become a miserable and hateful experience. Take the time to properly prepare, do some thorough planning, and make sure to sign up for AAA service, and you will find that your road trip will be safe, fun, and an experience to look back on fondly for many, many years to come.