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Your Guide to Planning the Perfect Road Trip

By: American Heritage05.23.24
Mother pulling son on suitcase and loading car for family vacation
National Road Trip Day is celebrated the Friday before Memorial Day each year.

Is the open road calling you? You’re not alone. Every summer, millions of people in the U.S. travel by car for leisure. Whether you’re heading across the state or across the country, a road trip can be a fun, flexible, and economical way to travel with the family. But before you gas up and hit the highway, a little planning can ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. From preparing your vehicle to mapping out your route and packing emergency supplies, here are some tips for making the most of your summer road trip.


Getting Your Car Ready

Car maintenance is crucial year-round, but it becomes especially important before a road trip. To ensure your vehicle is up to the challenge of extended travel, consider scheduling a check-up. This will address any scheduled maintenance, like oil changes or tire rotations.

As temperatures rise during summer journeys, your vehicle’s air conditioning system will be working harder to maintain a comfortable interior. To avoid being stuck in sweltering summer heat, which can be dangerous for children and seniors, get your A/C system checked before your trip.

Next, focus on your tires. Uneven wear or insufficient tire pressure can significantly impact handling and fuel efficiency. Inspect your tires’ pressure and tread depth and consider replacing worn tires to maximize safety.

Moving on to other vital components, look out for signs of cracking, fraying, or missing teeth on belts. Additionally, examine hoses for any fluid leaks, particularly at the hose ends.

Finally, ensure your car has adequate fluids by checking engine oil, coolant, windshield washer fluid, and brake fluid. Refer to your owner’s manual for recommended levels and specifications to keep your vehicle running smoothly throughout your trip.


Planning Your Trip

One of the joys of a road trip is the freedom to explore, but a little planning goes a long way. Plot out your route in advance, considering attractions, rest stops, and accommodations along the way. Technology has revolutionized road trip planning, with many apps available to enhance your experience, from route optimization to finding the cheapest gas. Use apps like Roadtrippers to discover interesting roadside attractions, scenic byways, and unique pit stops. Google Maps offers comprehensive navigation with real-time traffic updates and estimated travel times, while Waze is ideal for navigating traffic congestion with real-time updates based on user reports. GasBuddy can help you save money on gas by finding the cheapest gas stations along your route.

While on the road, use GPS navigation systems or apps to help you navigate, but always have traditional maps or downloaded maps on devices in case of technology failure or poor signal reception. Consider alternative routes to avoid traffic congestion or road closures, and be prepared for unexpected detours.


Packing for Your Trip

Packing efficiently can make or break your road trip experience. Pack comfortable clothes suitable for the weather at your destinations and any activities you have planned. Bring along books, magazines, podcasts, or audiobooks to keep you and your passengers entertained during the trip. Don’t forget chargers for your electronic devices, and consider a portable battery pack for on-the-go charging.

Although you’ll probably be stopping along the road to eat, having a stash of snacks in the car can be a lifesaver. Pack a cooler with beverages, fruit, and other items you want to keep cold. You can also bring a separate snack bag for chips, nuts, granola bars, and other nonperishables. These snacks can keep hunger at bay between stops and provide a quick energy boost. Consider using reusable water bottles to stay hydrated and reduce plastic waste.

If you’re traveling with children, plan activities and games to keep them entertained during long stretches on the road. Don’t forget to pack their favorite snacks and drinks, too. And, of course, double-check that the car seats are properly installed for their safety. Traveling with pets? Make sure they are properly secured in a crate or harness. Pack food, water, and waste disposal bags for your furry companions. Plan for regular rest stops to allow them to stretch their legs and relieve themselves.


Being Prepared for an Emergency

No one likes to think about emergencies, but being prepared can make all the difference in a crisis. If you don’t have roadside assistance, consider downloading apps from roadside assistance companies or local emergency services for quicker access to help in case of need. Before you leave, let a trusted friend or family member know your travel itinerary, including your estimated arrival times at your destinations. Finally, keep abreast of weather conditions and check weather forecasts for your route to be prepared for potential delays due to adverse weather.

To ensure there are no disruptions in service, American Heritage members can set up travel notifications and manage Card Controls within Online Teller and the Mobile Teller app. Know what to do in the event of a lost or stolen card and make sure your emergency fund is available in the event you need it.

In addition to a well-stocked first-aid kit with bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any necessary medications, consider assembling an emergency roadside kit for unexpected situations. This kit should include jumper cables, a flashlight (a multi-tool with a built-in light would be ideal), and roadside flares or reflective triangles to signal for help. Pack enough nonperishable food and water for at least 24 hours in case of delays, along with warm blankets and rain gear to keep everyone comfortable if you get stranded in cold or wet weather. By having these supplies on hand, you'll be better prepared to handle any minor mishaps that might arise on your road trip.


Staying Safe on the Road

Safety should always be a top priority for a stress-free and enjoyable road trip. To ensure a safe journey for everyone in the car, prioritize getting enough sleep before you set off. Drowsy driving is a significant hazard, so make sure you’re well-rested and plan for regular breaks throughout your trip to avoid fatigue on long journeys.

Staying alert on the road also means minimizing distractions. Put your phone away and resist the urge to multitask. Keep your focus on the road and maintain awareness of your surroundings at all times. Obey traffic laws by observing speed limits, paying attention to road signs, and always wearing your seatbelt.

Taking regular breaks is key to staying safe behind the wheel. Schedule stops every two hours or 200 miles, whichever comes first. This allows everyone in the car to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and stay refreshed, which helps to prevent driver fatigue and keeps everyone alert. By following these simple tips, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with road travel and ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure for the whole crew.


Embrace the Journey

Road trips are more than reaching a destination; they create lasting memories. Need a new vehicle for your summer adventure? Consider an auto loan from American Heritage Credit Union. Members enjoy flexible financing and competitive rates and terms. Summer awaits, so buckle up, hit the gas, and prepare for an unforgettable adventure!



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