It can be intimidating preparing for your first road trip, especially if you’re going solo. As tempting as it is to hop in your vehicle or rental car and get going, there are some things you should definitely iron out before you hit the road. Trust us — you’ll have a better trip if you have the peace of mind that you prepared as well as you could. Read on to find out what you need to do before you embark on your first road trip.
Be Sure Your Vehicle is in Tip-Top Shape
Even if your car has been running well recently, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to be sure all is in working order. How’s your oil — have you had it changed recently? Is your battery relatively new, or could it use replacement? Check on your tires not just to be sure they’re in good shape, but to be sure the tire pressure is where it should be. This is especially important because it can be dangerous to drive on tires that aren’t road-ready. Likewise, driving with poor brakes can put you at risk.
And don’t forget — you’ll be mad at yourself if you run out of windshield wiper fluid or if your wipers themselves are worn out — this can greatly affect visibility.
Headed on a last-minute road trip and don’t have time to get your ducks in a row? Consider renting a car — you won’t have to worry that your vehicle can handle the rigors of the ride.
Check Your Insurance and License
Most of us stash our insurance and registration documentation in our glove compartments and don’t give them a second thought. If you needed to present that documentation, could you locate it quickly? Also, are your insurance and your registration up to date?
Another thing to check is your driver’s license. An expiration date should appear on the front. Be sure your license is valid during your trip.
A roadside assistance service such as AAA gives you peace of mind that you’ll have someone to call for assistance should you get a flat tire or have another problem on the road. Obtaining a membership and the card that goes along with it can take a few weeks, so try to get that secured before you depart.
Let Someone Know Your Plans
In the excitement of planning your first road trip, you may have forgotten to fill someone close to you in on your plans, but this is very important. Take the time to let a friend or family member know where you’re headed, how long you’ll be gone, where you’ll be staying, and how they can contact you. You can even forward hotel or Airbnb reservations by email, so your contacts will have all the info they need.
Study the Map
The days of poring over physical maps may be long gone (thanks, Google Maps), and getting where you need to go is as simple as typing an address into a navigational aid. But it’s always smart to have a rough idea of the direction you're heading, the names of the highways and roads you’ll traverse, and any major landmarks to look out for. That can help big time in the case of closed roads, inaccurate info on your navigational app, or hard-to-see signs (especially at night or in poor weather conditions).
There’s another plus to studying your route before you set out — it gives you the chance to pinpoint any sights worth stopping for. This is your first road trip, after all. Why not make it more memorable by planning stops at museums, historic landmarks, nature spots, or cute cafes along the way?
Plan for Bathroom and Meal Breaks
There are two types of road-trippers: those determined to get to their destination while making as few stops as possible and those who like to take the trip as it comes, not worrying about when they arrive. But bathroom and meal breaks are a must the longer you spend in the car. Don’t count on a bathroom always being available just when you need it, especially if you’re driving through remote or rural parts of the country where rest stops and gas stations are scarce. Have a plan for bathroom breaks and a rough idea of any locations where you might not be able to access one.
Food, too, can be scarce in certain parts, so be sure meal planning is on your list of pre-departure considerations. If you have special tastes or dietary restrictions, keep those in mind as you plan.
Bring the Right Snacks
Who doesn’t love a good snack on a road trip? Stocking up on junk to chow down on is one of the biggest things to look forward to on your first road trip. But be sure to consider how these snacks will affect you as you navigate. Will gorging on sugar make you sleepy on the road? Will coffee drinks rob you of much-needed sleep? Will eating as you drive distract you from the road? Choose your snacks wisely!