Road trips are a blast. There’s nothing better than exploring the country with people you love. That said, road trips can quickly go south when you don’t plan ahead. Apply these eleven tips for a safe and sane cross country drive.

1. Get an early start.

How long will you need to reach your destination? If you think “four hours,” give yourself five. And if you think “ten hours,” give yourself twelve.

You never know when you’ll get stuck in a traffic jam. That’s stressful when you get a late start. You’ll feel “behind schedule” all day. Save yourself from that stress! Give yourself plenty of time.

2. Bring cash and credit cards.

Has your debit card ever been declined at a restaurant or grocery store? That’s embarrassing. And it’s frustrating when you know the money is there!

This might be a rare occasion, but it does happen. Sometimes banks have technical difficulties. Or a transaction might be flagged as “suspicious” and then your debit card gets deactivated.

Note: This is especially true when you’re visiting a different state or country. It might not hurt to inform your bank of travel plans, just in case they can take any actions to prevent this situation.

That said, it’d be smart to bring some spare cash to cover your butt. If your debit card doesn’t work, just pay cash instead. You can deal with your bank when you get home. Focus on enjoying the trip! 

3. Pack a cooler with some snacks.

Traveling with picky eaters? Good luck agreeing to a restaurant. That’s time-consuming anyway. Stopping for breakfast, lunch, and dinner could easily add three hours to your drive.

Instead, stock a cooler with foods and drinks that appeal to everybody. You can stop at a park or rest area for each meal. You’ll save money and cut two hours off your travel time. Win/win!

Some people like to reach their destination as fast as humanly possible. If that describes you, feel free to eat in the car. (But stick with simple options like sandwiches so you can concentrate on the road while you stuff your face.)

4. Leave your vehicle parked at home.

Depending on the age/condition of your vehicle and how far you’re planning to drive, it might be wise to rent a car. This is especially true when your car has required several repairs lately.

Who wants to risk a horribly timed car breakdown? Not me. There’s nothing worse than waiting on a tow truck when you were supposed to be at a beach or theme park two hours ago. Ugh!

To prevent this fate, leave your car parked in the driveway and rent a car instead. If you’re a AAA or AARP member, you might get a discount. Here are some more ways to save money on a rental car.

5. Check the position of all your mirrors.

If you’re a follower of this blog, you might be familiar with this picture:

This is how your mirrors should be positioned. I emphasize this point, because most drivers are doing it wrong. How does seeing your own car in the rear-view mirror benefit you? It doesn’t!

Position your mirrors just like this diagram. It might feel weird at first, but you’ll get used to it. And you’ll appreciate not having to crane your neck to check your blind-spot (hey, you’re welcome!).

6. Stretch any tense or tight body parts.

If you’re only driving for a few minutes at a time, you might not be sitting long enough for tension to set in. Replace “minutes” with “hours” and that’s plenty of time for your body to get stiff.

You can do a few things while you’re driving to prevent this. Making slow circles — clockwise and counterclockwise — with your shoulders will keep them loose. The same is true for your wrists.

It’s harder to relax your back and legs on the road. Pull over when you feel too rigid. Do a basic forward fold and quadriceps stretch for your legs. For bonus points, take a short walk. You’ll add a few minutes to your trip… but I think that’s worth driving in comfort, don’t you?

7. Trade driving duties with a good friend.

I know it’s hard to hand the car keys to somebody else. But when you’re driving cross country, it’s in your best interest. You can only drive for so long before your eyes start to glaze over.

If you’re traveling with a friend or family member, agree to trade driving shifts at certain intervals. Maybe that’s every 300 miles or three hours. You’ll both be 100% fresh when it’s your turn.

8. Buy or create a roadside emergency kit.

I’ve already written an in-depth article about what to put inside your roadside emergency kit, so I’ll summarize those points here. Click the previous link for a more thorough take on the topic.

Two of the most common causes of car breakdowns are a dead battery and overheating engine. That’s why you need jumper cables and coolant in your trunk. You won’t have to wait for a tow. Just get a jump or refill your coolant reservoir and get to an auto shop.

You should also be prepared for the elements. If it’s hot, toss in some bottled water. If it’s cold, include a blanket and gloves. If it’s rainy, bring a jacket and umbrella. Keep a flashlight handy, too. If you breakdown at night and there aren’t any overhead lights, you’ll need it.

9. Notify loved ones of your travel schedule.

Tell a friend or family member when you’re planning to leave and return. If they don’t hear from you by a certain time, they’ll be able to check-in and make sure you’re okay.

Share the address and phone number of your hotel. Know your room number? Share that, too. If a loved one can’t reach you via text or phone call for some reason, they’ll be able to find you.

Wanna be thorough? Create a Google document. Make a list of where you’re staying and when. Add the details mentioned above. Share the link with whoever you’re informing of your itinerary. You’ll both feel better with these precautions in place.

10. Pull over whenever you get too tired or stiff.

There’s nothing to be gained from driving past your breaking point. You might knock an hour or two off your driving time, but is it worth exhausting yourself? I doubt it!

If you trade driving shifts enough, this might not be a problem. But maybe you’re traveling alone. In that case, you won’t have the luxury of taking a long break. It’s all on you!

Stiff? Stop at a gas station. While the pump refills your car, stretch out tight or tense muscles. Sleepy? Pull over at a rest area. Take a brisk walk to the drink machine and buy a soda.

11. Try at least one new restaurant every day.

Why in the world would you eat at Applebee’s during a road trip? You could eat there anytime! Try a new restaurant that doesn’t exist in your hometown.

I realize this sounds like a contradiction of #3, but some people just prefer eating at restaurants. This tip is for them. If you’re going to eat out, be adventurous about it. New experiences are fun!

Are any of your friends preparing for a cross country drive? Go ahead and share this article. They’ll appreciate the advice.

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