Okay, you’ve made the decision: you’re going on a cross-country vacation, and instead of renting a car, you’ll be making your own. Take these few simple precautions to ensure that your trip is as safe and enjoyable as possible:
1) Plan your trip strategically.
Doing your homework may not sound very exciting or romantic, but many an adventure has been derailed by a lack of planning. Know where you’re going, the route you expect to take, and how long it should take you to get there. Travel-related Internet sites and your local AAA can help you to plot a course, find lodging and fuel stations, and avoid construction or heavy traffic. Have a good road atlas and maps in the glove box.
2) Make sure that your car is mechanically sound.
Before embarking on our trip, make sure that your vehicle is in top condition: engine, cooling systems, brakes, and other vital systems. Check the oil and other fluids before leaving. Lastly, make sure that your tires are in top condition and properly inflated; the experience of having to change a flat tire or wait on the roadside for assistance is not likely to enhance your vacation.
3) Be ready for common (and uncommon) roadside emergencies.
Forewarned is forearmed. Though it may seem unlikely, proceed as if you expect to get a flat tire or a radiator leak. Pack the standard essential items such as a tire-changing kit (including a spare tire), jumper cables, and road flares. Beyond that, let your imagination roam and prepare for the worst carry extra windshield wipers, an approved gasoline container, motor oil, elastic tie-downs, or whatever else you could potentially need.
4) Carry food and beverages in the car.
Even if you plan to stop for meals, it never hurts to have provisions in the car with you. If you break down in an isolated area, you’ll at least have food and drink to sustain you until help comes.
5) Pack a standard first-aid kit.
Prepackaged first-aid kits come in a variety of sizes and levels of complexity, and are easy to just stow in your car. Packing your own kit, though, allows you to individualize its contents according to the medical needs of you and your family. Include standard first-aid fare like bandages, antiseptic ointment, an antibacterial cleanser, alcohol, tweezers, and fingernail scissors. For medications, include an analgesic, an anti-diarrheal, a medication for motion sickness, and an antihistamine.
6) Make frequent stops.
For reasons of health and comfort, it’s far better to make frequent stops. Individuals who are elderly or suffer from poor circulation should be able to get out of the car and move around briskly, about every 90 minutes if possible. Individuals who aren’t will still benefit from short, frequent bouts of exercise to relieve the stiffness and discomfort of sitting immobile for extended periods of time.
7) When fatigued, stop for the night.
Often vacationers try to drive straight through, making a few stops as they can manage. Sure, this may get you to your destination a little more quickly or it may keep you from arriving at all. Fatigue dulls your senses and slows your reaction time, decreasing your ability to respond quickly and effectively to circumstances. The usual remedies for sleepiness while driving rolling down the windows, turning up the radio, and drinking caffeinated beverages only postpone the inevitable. Stop somewhere for the night, if you can. If necessary, pull over to the side of the road and revive yourself with a short nap. If your body’s trying to tell you that it needs rest, it’s best to listen.