Road trips are great! I don’t make enough time for them now, but they are something that I was fortunate to experience many times during my childhood with my family and in my 20s with friends. Up before dawn, trundled into the car and asleep again before we hit the main road. Cruising down I-95, watching the skies grow pink, then lavender, then blue as the day stretched out before us. As a child, it meant looking out for unique things to call out that would top whatever my brother saw and announced (I’m still upset I missed seeing the donkey circus truck). Memories of vinyl seats, feather pillows, and a car packed like a Tetris game with every conceivable thing we may need. Road trips gave me my first taste of adventure.
On the rare occasion I do take a road trip I still get the thrill of planning and packing the car. But these days, I’m the one that has to answer the tough questions. How many hours should I drive before stopping? Which is the better route – the 40 or the 10? When is the best time to avoid traffic? Should I get gasoline when I am at half a tank or a quarter tank? Is there anything on the way to (wherever) that we should make time to see? Out of all the questions that run through my mind, the most important is: Do I have all the things I may need to make this road trip safe? That is what we are discussing today. My list of tips is universal to everyone who embarks on an over-the-road adventure, listing the basics. Your list may be longer to accommodate your kids, fellow roadtrippers, pets, or imaginary friends but the 10 points below will get you well one your way to a successful road trip!
1. Gentlemen, start your engines! Before you hit the highway, be sure you have had your car checked out at a trusted garage. You want to be sure your hoses, belts, brakes, and battery are in good shape. Nothing harsher the vibe of a road trip like a busted hose outside Gila Bend, Arizona at 2am. Also, ensure that the fluids are topped off. Oil, coolant, and washer fluid need to be at recommended levels for safety and comfort. If the car is ready to go, keep reading.
2. Which way is east? Be sure you take paper maps or printed directions. Believe it or not, there are still places (THANK HEAVEN) that don’t get cell service. Even if there is service, things happen. Maybe your significant other accidentally dropped the phone in the dogs travel water bowl? Maybe your child got annoyed with a game of Candy Crush and tossed your device out the window? With a printed map/directions you can keep going and replace your phone when you get to civilization. PLUS: I think that map reading is a skill that needs to be kept sharp. When the zombie apocalypse happens, you’ll be glad you can read a map!
3. Papers, please. You need your license (for everyone who plans to drive), the registration of the car, your car insurance, the owner’s manual (in case you need find the exact location of the dip stick), and emergency contact information for those you left at home. If you get tossed in the clink, having a printed contact list will make it easier to find someone to bail you out.
4. It’s all about the accessories! It is vital to have everything you need for roadside maintenance: tire pressure gauge, a spare tire (NOT a ‘donut’, an actual fits-your-car spare), a jack, lug wrench, tire wedges, gloves, flares, a multi-tool, a bottle of motor oil, a can of Fix-A-Flat, jumper cables, screwdrivers (flat head and Phillips head), a crow bar (pry bar), a VERY bright flashlight with extra batteries, and a reflective windshield shade (great for shade and for signaling in an emergency).
5. Safety first(aid)! In addition to your regular medicine, you should always have a well-stocked kit in your car. Include pain reliever, Band-Aids, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, gauze pads, medical tape, Pepto-Bismol tablets, iodine (great for purifying water in extreme emergencies), safety pins, a small Swiss Army knife, cotton swabs, SuperGlue (useful as emergency stitches), and a small First Aid field manual. Keep the accessible to the driver so she/he can reach it without having to take eyes off the road. This is great if you feel a headache coming on and everyone else in the car is asleep. I also keep a few energy bars in the kit for those times when I feel puckish and need a small bite to eat.
6. Flash money, honey! Keep some spare cash in the car (but not visible when the car is parked). Some places may not have ATMs and if you get to Knoxville only to realize you’ve left your wallet on top of the gas pump in Little Rock, that extra $120 you stashed under the seat will mean the difference between a hot shower and a bed and sleeping on the side of the road until Western Union opens the next day.
7. Where goeth my Woobie, so goeth I. Never take a road trip without your woobie! The nickname for a military poncho liner, a woobie has come to be known as a beloved personal item that brings the owner comfort and calm. Think, Linus and his security blanket. On a road trip, a woobie can serve multiple purposes. It can be used as intended, to keep you warm. It can be wadded up or folded to be a pillow. You can use it to shade yourself from the sun, if your car breaks down along the roadside. It can host impromptu picnics. You can use it to lay on if you need to get under the car and don’t want gravel digging into your back. Finally, if you are in dire straits and need to signal a search party, a brightly colored woobie is your best friend. My car woobie is a hideous neon pink color for that very reason. I also take my favorite house woobie, which has survived multiple puppies, massive bouts of car sickness, wine bottle breakage and more. It is as soft as a lamb now and as cozy as a fireside in January.
8. The Holy Trinity! One of the primary rules of survival is all about the 3s. You can survive 3 hours without shelter in a harsh environment (unless in icy water). You can survive for 3 days without water (if sheltered from a harsh environment). You can survive for 3 eeeks without food (if you have water and shelter). Having water in your car, no matter how long your road trip is absolutely necessary. Besides drinking it, you can use it to wash out a cut, refill the radiator if it has a small leak, clean the windshield if the washer fluid is gone, pour it over your head if you are succumbing to heat exhaustion. I recommend have two gallon jugs of water at a minimum.
9. An axe to grind. I’ve written about personal safety before and for road trips it is no exception, especially if you are a solo road tripper. Man or woman, having something your feel comfortable using against an attacker to get free (and drive away quickly) is always a good idea. I keep an axe handle under my seat because in a self-defense lecture I attended, I heard a rule of thumb about weapons. They must satisfy three things (hey, there’s that 3 again!) it must (1) increase your reach (2) amplify trauma (3) wreck furniture. Increasing your reach means you can stay further away from the attacker. Amplifying trauma equates to more time to get away from the attached. Wrecking furniture means that your weapon is capable of breaking bones, again giving you more time to get away. An axe handle is weighted for the axe head and is fashioned to withstand pressure, torque, and impact making it the perfect choice. I’m not advocating unleashing all your fury on a ne’er-do-well, but one smack of that and your should have enough time to get away.
10. What’s in a game? Road trips are all about old-timey fun and togetherness (so forget about #9 for a moment). Games like I Spy, Punch Buggy, 20 Questions, First Letter Last Letter, or License Plate Bingo are all great no-tech fun that can be played by everyone from 2 to 102. Even MadLibs can be a great way to entertain the teenagers trapped in the car, if you can get them to take off the headphones.
11.Sing, sing a song, sing it loud, sing it strong!! Road trips BEG for music, preferably loud, sing-along music so make a playlist and let everyone contribute a few of their favorite songs. This means that grandma can sing her Buddy Holly, Sister can let it all out to Taylor Swift or Sia, and Junior can rap along to Kendrick Lamar (does he rap? I truly don’t know). As for me, I’ll stick to the classics like:
- “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
- “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- “Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne
- “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads
- “Vacation” by the GoGos
- “Take It Easy” by the Eagles
There you have it! My top 10 road trip must-haves (plus a bonus) honed over decades of experience. I hope these have helped you make your list. If you have any questions, want to learn how to play any of the games in #10, or have a comment, please let me know. I’d love to hear about your road trip experiences, so feel free to share. Cheers!