Road trips. It’s a quintessential American trait, to pack up the car and head out to points unknown. Whether you're traveling to family, going to a theme park or visiting a national monument, half of the fun during vacation is time spent on the road, singing songs and eating bad coffee shop food.
Make sure you avoid wrecking such future fond memories by being unprepared for your trip. From vehicle maintenance to games for your kids, we've created a guide to help you navigate the merge lanes and traffic jams of car trips during common vacation times.
Vehicle Emergency Kit
A car's trunk will only hold a certain amount of equipment. Because of the limited space in the trunk, the following list contains the minimum essentials for safety and emergency repairs. Several of the smaller items listed may be carried in the glove compartment for easier access and so they won't get lost under heavier equipment: Vehicle emergency kit must-haves
2. Spare tire
4. Four-way lug wrench
5. Water pump belt
6. Tire pressure gauge
7. Inexpensive wrench-and-socket set
8. Utility knife
9. Both Standard and Phillips screwdrivers
10. Battery-jumper cables
13. Hose clamps
14. One quart of motor oil
15. One dollar's worth of nickels, of dimes, and of quarters
16. Six road flares or a set of reflective warning triangles
17. 1 gallon plastic jug of water
18. Aerosol flat tire fixer
19. Small fire extinguisher
20. Rags or paper towels
1. Check your car or have it serviced before any long trip (battery, tires, belts and fluids).
2. Have a qualified technician check the air conditioner.
3. Check your oil. If you will be towing a trailer or boat, or driving in the desert, switch to a motor oil with higher viscosity.
4. Pack an emergency kit that includes water, jumper cables, flares, a flashlight, equipment to change a tire, and a first aid kit.
5. Fill up your gas tank at night or early in the morning to minimize damage to the ozone layer.
6. Make sure your child safety seats and booster seats are properly installed.
On the Road
1. Require all occupants to buckle up, with children in the back seat.
2. Obey speed limits and all roadway signs.
3. Drive calmly and avoid entanglements with aggressive drivers.
4. Pack non-perishable snacks and plenty of juice and water (individual water bottles for each family member helps you monitor intake to avoid dehydration).
5. Take frequent breaks – at least every two hours – and avoid driving when tired.
6. Be especially careful around railroad crossings.
7. Avoid driving in the "No Zone" around trucks. If you cannot see the truck driver in the truck’s mirror, the truck driver cannot see you.
8. Slow down in work zones, obey all signs and flaggers and pay attention to the vehicle in front of you (most work zone crashes are rear-end collisions due to an inattentive driver).
Touring Your Destination
1. Never leave children alone in a car. Do not EVER leave children or pets in a car with the windows rolled up.
2. A sunshade can help keep the car from becoming dangerously hot.
3. Cover up seat belts and child safety seats with a towel or blanket while the car is parked (on a hot day, the plastic and metal parts can get hot enough to burn).
4. Review safe pedestrian practices with children.
5. Taking or renting bikes? Be sure to pack your bike helmets.
6. Have a planned meeting site in case someone gets lost.
7. Above all – take it easy! Vacations should be enjoyable. If you are tense you are more likely to speed and drive aggressively. If you are tired, you are more likely to make driving errors or fall asleep at the wheel.
Avoid Road Fatigue
Before you know it, the road starts playing tricks on your mind. Or is it the other way around? Lights seem to move sideways --- wait, was that a flashing red light? And why is that person on the road? You slow down. No one's there, though you would have sworn you saw a man running across the freeway lanes. You slam on the brakes to take a corner, thinking you're too late to make the curve. But the road is dark, straight, and --- for you --- headed right into the nearest ditch. You have a choice that's no choice at all: stop on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, or keep on driving, tempting fate to run you off the road.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, two-thirds of Americans have sleep-related problems at some time in their life and 23 percent have actually fallen asleep while driving. The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) research shows that drowsiness and/or fatigue is a contributing factor in approximately 100,000 motor vehicle crashes annually and is a factor in nearly four percent of all fatal crashes.
Be kind to yourself and your loved ones -- keep these tips from NHTSA in mind:
1. Set reasonable daily itineraries
2. Rotate driving shifts if more than one driver is available
3. Take regular breaks while driving (every two hours)
4. Restrict night driving
5. Plan for a good night’s sleep
6. Get some kind of physical exercise during the day
7. Maintain a healthy diet, without excessive caffeine
At that moment, I became the first person to ever wish to be dropped off at the local bus depot. And I was the lucky one: our friends (prior to getting into the car) were in the back seat, buried under mounds of bags and blankets. The sound of muffled cries told me that they had not yet passed out. I began to sob when she asked if we could stop off and buy some groceries, and a fishing license.
Packing. Do it right and enjoy your trip, do it wrong and you may as well take the bus. Here are some tips to help you organize, pack and plan your road vacation.
1. Write out a vacation checklist: Don't pack at the last minute --- plan a week ahead of time. This will help limit the things you bring, and save money while you're on the road. The old adage is true: you will forget one thing. By planning a list, you can keep it to one thing. Organize your list by room or category: bathroom, closet, and personal. Once the list is created, go through and try to eliminate a third of the items. Example: If you're going for a week, do you really need 18 shoes? If you're going camping, do you need slacks and dress shoes?
2. How to pack: Pack your bags tightly and lightly. Excess room creates wrinkles and increases the chance for breakage. And avoid 200 lb. bags. Dad hasn't seen a weight room in 20 years, and your vacation is no time for him to start working on his 'pecs. Most of all, be organized about your packing. By keeping like items together, you can limit access to only the bags you need.
3. What to pack: Check out the weather reports for where you are and where you'll be. Choose clothes accordingly, but also be prepared for weather mishaps --- if you're going to Washington State, for example, it's not a bad idea to bring along one or two rainy weather items. And keep your planned activities in mind while you pack: if you're camping, bring extra run-about shoes, and don't forget the insect repellent! If you plan to go to Las Vegas, sneak in a nice outfit --- you may just win big, or decide to go out to a fancy restaurant.
Keep your most comfortable clothes aside, and wear them when you're on the road. Itchy shirts and tight shoes make for long trips.
4. On your Person: Not everything gets packed. On a road trip, however, the more you pack the better off you'll be, especially on long drives. Clutter makes for crankiness, and it's very dangerous---in an accident, loose items inside a car continue to move, even though the car has stopped. This can cause significant injury. What has to be with you can be stowed inside your car's interior storage space.
5. Get it in the Trunk: Whether you drive an SUV or a compact, careful placement is a necessity. Remember, you have to unpack as many times as you pack! Before you start loading up the car, take a look at your trunk: how is it configured? Where is the largest area of space? Start big and work down to small, lightweight objects. If your bags won't fit, don't force it --- see if you can combine suitcases, or leave something behind. If possible, strap down your cases. During an accident, what's in the trunk becomes a very heavy and dangerous projectile. In most cases, you and your passengers are protected by a removable partition --- not something that will hold back 200 lbs. of suitcase fury! Wherever you're headed this summer, don't get stuck with a suitcase on your lap or a bus ticket in your hand. Plan and pack wisely --- your vacation will be much more enjoyable if you've brought the Right Stuff.
I'm sure that hill moves around. What else would explain two gut-wrenching, excruciatingly stressful hours--just to find one lousy hill? The signs were a mystery ("okay, that one said stay left, but this one coming up says go to the right?") and the rotaries were a thrill ("no honey, stay to the right..right..right, okay, we'll catch it again, now left, left here, no, no, no, that left and this right...)
At its worst, traveling by car is like being locked inside a metal tube with a crazy person who has the delusional gall to think she knows the right way. What we thought would be easy to find, was indeed as obvious as a hill can be --- had we only consulted a map before getting behind the wheel. Sadly, maps aren't very effective when you're shouting directions while driving past crucial turns. Not a real smart plan. What is a smart plan if you're seeing the sights and exploring America by car is to spend some quality time with a detailed road map. Here are some tips to help 'maximize' map use:
1. Invest in a quality map, instead of the inexpensive hotel fold ups. Purchase a guide you like --- don't save $5 only to spend $10 getting lost.
2. Open a map you like, and take a look at the lay out. Is it easy to read at a glance? Are there exploded views of city areas, and are all major landmarks notated? Check out the indexing system --- is it easy to read? You should not need a map to read a map!
Once you have a map you're comfortable with, grab a pencil and get ready to go-mapping:
1. Spend some quality time with your map before you hit the Interstate. Most maps follow the same basic indexing structure. If you can't make sense of it, consult the index at back --- usually this will have all streets and landmarks listed by page and index number.
2. Organize your sightseeing by where each place is located--an efficient overall plan will help avoid time-wasting double-backs.
3. Trace the route you plan to take, and make a note of cross-streets, intersections and landmarks. Even with a map, it's easy to get lost. By correlating landmarks with map location, you bring together what's on paper with what you're staring at through the windshield.
4. Navigating is a one-person job. And whoever is navigating has the last say on directions. Drivers, please note: do not tell the navigator where to go, literally or figuratively.
5. Blame yourself. The map is always correct. Repeat: the map is always correct. If you're lost and don't know how, you're reading the map wrong. Take your time, and do not drive unless you know exactly where you're going. For example, if the landmark you're searching for is located on B-32, spend your time searching that indexed square. If you can't see it, look for the address and cross street.
6. Familiarize yourself with local drive times, construction projects and other potential problems. In Boston, there's the "Big Dig" going on, and it makes rush hour travel in the downtown area virtually impossible. Keep this in mind while planning routes.
Using a map effectively is all about sound planning and common sense: with it you can create a memorable auto vacation--without it, you just might end up lost in America, searching for Bunker Hill.
We had gone Gilligan. Stranded, with no power or cell phone, stuck between Barstow and Needles, sitting inside a tube of metal.
So much for fun-fatigued. We were now suffering from roadside remorse, and would soon be hit with a sobering case of Local’s Repair Shop Revenge. We had made sure the car was road-worthy before we left, had prepared meticulously for the trip. What more could we have done to avoid being stuck in Needles, paying Joe Buck’s shop rent for the month?
We could have prepared for a breakdown, even though we were sure it would not happen. Fact is, accidents and breakdowns do happen despite the best intentions. Read the tips below to so you’re prepared, just in case…
1. The driver is locked out of the car: Button locks: Use a wire or a coat hanger. Straighten the wire and make a small loop or fishhook shape at one end. Slip the wire through the crack of the window or down through the top crack of the door. You may slip the wire past the weather-stripping of the door. Jiggle the wire around so that the hook will loop around the button lock and then try to lift up the lock. Have a lot of patience.
If you are unable to pull up the lock for some reason, call a police station and tell them the circumstances. A service station may also help to unlock the door. The police call is free - a service station will probably charge about $25.00
NOTE: The weather-stripping around the window often costs more than the locksmith or tow truck driver's fee.
2. Car is stuck:
(a) On ice: When moving the car, keep a steady rate of speed to prevent getting stuck again. Drive slowly. The car may skid some, but as long as it is moving, chances of getting to solid ground are at the maximum. To get off an ice patch, try kitty litter, sand, dirt, or floor mats for friction. Sprinkle the abrasives (front or back) for about fifteen feet.
Put the sack of sand or kitty litter back into the trunk and don't stop for anything until the car is on solid ground. Try not to spin the wheels, but if no abrasive material is available, try letting some air out of the tires to gain some friction.
(b) In snow: There are many ways to free a car from the snow. Try rocking the car back and forth by shifting quickly from drive (or first gear) to reverse. Work out a rhythm to the rocking. After rocking for a few minutes, shift into neutral and increase engine speed to let the transmission cool. Once the car is free, keep it moving. Keep the wheels as straight as possible while rocking. If the wheels heat up, let them cool before continuing. Heated tires will sink deeper into the snow. Don't spin the wheels; this will heat up the wheels and also cause ice to form under the wheels. Put a manual transmission into second gear to rock it.
You may be able to shovel enough snow away from the wheels to get some traction. If there is no shovel, use the base of the jack or fold over the floor mat in the place of the shovel. Car chains probably can't be mounted at this time, but they may be used to provide traction. Tie the chains to the bumper so that the car will pull them along until you are on solid ground. Strap chains are handy for traction on ice, snow, and sometimes on mud. They can be mounted without jacking up the car.
Put several bags of sand in the trunk of the car for added traction. Even if the weight of the sand doesn't help, you will have sand to spread under the tires when the car is stuck.
(c) In mud: Being stuck in mud is worse than being stuck in either ice or snow, because mud clings to the undercarriage of the car until there is no way to get any traction. Spinning the wheels only drives them deeper. When stuck in the mud, use the same methods as getting out of snow or ice. If these methods don't work, call a tow truck.
(d) In sand: Spinning the wheels in sand drives only drives them down deeper. The undercarriage is hung up once the car is sunk to axle level. At this point, a tow truck will be needed. If the car is not up to the hubs in the sand, try letting a little bit of air out of the tires to increase the friction.
3. Blizzard Conditions. When the car can't be moved during blizzard conditions, don't panic. Below are several survival tips that may help to weather the storm.
(a) If the trouble is just starting, look for shelter: a house, barn, store, or service station nearby.
(b) If you can't see a place of shelter, stay in the car. DO NOT wander around, looking for shelter and get lost in the storm.
(c) Run the engine and the heater for ten minutes every half hour. Open the windows a little bit while the engine is running. Engine idle consumes about one gallon of gasoline per hour. Five gallons of fuel is enough for one day with this method. Don't race the motor and waste fuel.
(d) Open the door once in a while so that it does not become snow packed. When opening the door, check to make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow.
(e) Blow the horn and flash the lights while the engine is running. Don't run down the battery in the meantime.
(f) Stretch arms and legs frequently inside the car.
(g) Use anything available to keep warm: rip out car carpeting for blankets, use floor mats, linings from the trunk, or car seat covers. If the situation becomes really bad, rip the upholstery from the rear seats and roof of the car.
(h) If you absolutely must drive in hazardous conditions, carry food, water and extra clothing in the car in case of emergencies.
4. When the car breaks down on a Federal Interstate, the driver should lift the hood of the car, turn on the emergency signals, and wait for help. This is also true when the car runs out of gas. The person stopping may consent to send a tow truck or may even offer you a ride to the next service station. If a passenger car does not stop, the Highway Patrol will come along eventually and offer help. There are situations, however, that are not as ideal as those on Federal Interstate roads. Drivers sometimes have accidents on isolated roadways - either running out of gas or breakdown of parts. The best advice comes from a patrolman, who says to use your common sense. Be sure to check your gas gauge, tires, and other accessories and parts before taking trips on lonely roads. If your car does have a failure or runs out of gas, it is not always wise to lift the hood, especially if you plan to leave the area. It is probably best to walk to the nearest farm or rural home and ask to use the phone (or ask the homeowner to call for help, if he doesn't want to let you into the house). It would probably be best to lock the car if you plan to walk for any distance or to be away from it for any length of time. If the car breaks down during a storm, such as a blizzard, stay in the car and follow the advice given for blizzard conditions (#3 above). Hitchhiking is illegal, but a policeman will not arrest you if your car has broken down and you are walking in search of help.
1. License Plate Game: We've all played this, and there are few, if any, games better able to pass time. Here are just a few variations: Figure out personalized plates Count how many states you see, and award the child who gets the most Add the plate numbers immediately in front, or behind your car. This is a challenging math game sure to keep your kids entertained --- or tired from trying to do quick addition!
2. Word Association: Another favorite, this game is good for a few laughs and to pass time. One person says a word and another person yells out the first thing that comes to mind. Go around until the car goes quiet, or someone says "I didn't think of anything." For the extra-motivated, play the word association guessing game: think of a word or phrase (I'm thinking…be quiet) and challenge your kids to figure it out. It's up to you how many clues they get!
3. Name that Tune: If your kids are old enough to know the names of songs (and maybe the artist names) this is a fun memory game. It's very easy to play --- just select scan on the radio, and the first one to spout out the correct name gets a point. The first person to reach a pre-determined set of points gets to do something fun when you arrive at your destination.
4. What Does the Thing Say?: If your kids are too young for songs, point out interesting objects and animals they've seen in books. Example: What's that? A cow! What does the cow say? Mooo. This can be a fun way to pass the time for cranky toddlers.
5. Colors and Cars: Count specific colors on certain cars --- say, blue VW Beetles or Red Mini Vans. This can be great fun on crowded highways where there's not much to look at in the way of scenery. The winner gets to listen to a favorite song on the radio, or a similar prize designed to keep peace while in transit.
6. Sing-along: Add a twist to your favorite songs by making up lyrics and singing aloud. This can be challenging and a lot of silly fun!
No matter what games you play, have fun! Amusing your children can make for lively and silly travel, and is sure to melt the miles between your destinations. And don't be afraid to think up your own games. Just keep in mind that a good game includes counting, singing, and thinking in a silly way --- from license plates to farm animals on a scenic drive.