Headed for your first solo road trip cross-country? Don’t leave home without having read this article. Learn how to avoid traffic, save money and more importantly, how to stay awake and arrive safe on your first solo trip.
Before Setting Off
Before setting off cross-country, the first thing you must do is be certain your vehicle is in prime condition – tires are properly inflated, all fluids are at suitable levels and your gas tank is full. If you are uncertain how to check your cars’ current condition, it may be a good idea to make an appointment at your local mechanic or simply ask a friend.
If you don’t already have roadside assistance, call your insurance agent and sign up for the roadside assistance program. You won’t regret having AAA or CAA when your car unexpectedly breaks down on a lonesome back road.
When driving the back roads, make sure you are checking your gas gauge as you go. Especially when you are unfamiliar with the roadway, it’s important to start looking for a gas station when your gas gauge hits a quarter of a tank. Fill up and don’t wait for the cheaper gas station to show up, or before you know it your gauge could be sitting on empty and leaving you stranded.
To save money on gas, avoid sudden start and stops, empty your car of unnecessary extra weight and slow down. Driving at a constant lower mileage per hour uses much less fuel than driving at top speed.
If you are driving a rental, familiarize yourself with the vehicle and all of its equipment (brakes, hazard lights, fuel, etc.) before leaving the rental facility. If you have any questions, ask the lot attendant. You can also save money by considering the fuel efficiency of the vehicle you are renting and using apps like GasBuddy.com (available in the U.S. and Canada) to check gas prices.
What to Pack
So what should you pack, should you encounter an emergency? I suggest a first-aid kit, a flashlight, a blanket, a set of jumper cables, food (granola bars and water) and your USB phone charger cable.
Always have a backup plan, should your GPS fail or your phone battery die. Bring a road map, and use a smart phone app such as Google Maps or Waze to avoid traffic jams and road blocks.
Include some spare change for tolls and/or a public phone. Yes, I did mention a public phone; those are still around and may unexpectedly come in handy.
Any valuables should be locked away in the trunk or glove box compartment and your bags stowed away in the trunk. This prevents break-ins and theft when you need to walk away from your car. You shouldn’t wait until you arrive at the location where you will be parking your car, to stow your bags. You never know who is watching.
All packed and ready to go?
Before the long drive, make sure you are well rested. This means a good night’s sleep and/or a nap. You should also grab a snack or meal and avoid caffeinated drinks. Caffeine initially gives you a boost and makes you feel alert, but eventually wears off and your attention could begin to drift. Also obvious, is to avoid alcoholic drinks. Not only is it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, but alcohol also impairs driving and makes one sluggish. Some medications (such as hay fever tablets) may also cause or increase drowsiness. If you are taking a medication, make sure you read the precautions that are printed on the label. If at all possible, avoid taking the medication or change your travel dates.
Since you’re driving solo and won’t have someone to share driving responsibilities with, make sure you pull over before you start to feel tired.
Don’t drive for more than eight hours a day. In journeys over three hours, it is recommended you take a fifteen minute break. Aim to stop every two hours or so. Use this time to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. This is especially important if you are not used to driving long distances.
If you do have to pull over, always move your vehicle off the road. Do not park on the shoulder or in the breakdown lane for any reason other than a real emergency.
Have a Safe Trip!
Vania Silva is an automotive writer at KeepHighwaysSafe.org.