I love road trips. There’s something in the allure of the open road that makes me feel the whole trip is open to possibility and spontaneity. And without checked bag fees and security screenings… So if you’re planning on visiting family and friends, or headed for a wintery vacation during the holiday season this year, I’ve put together some of my favorite tips.
- Apps on your smartphone can help book rooms and highlight roadside attractions - Smartphone apps like Roadside America, RoadNinja, and Field Trip can make the journey part of the vacation instead of just transportation. By alerting you to everything from local history and roadside points of interest to the best places to shop and eat, who knows what you’ll find. You just might get to see the world’s largest garden gnome. And if you’d like to keep overnight options open rather than pre-booking, but don’t want the hassle of searching for room availability, consider apps offered by most major travel booking websites (Expedia, Hotels.com, etc.). Many of them offer real-time search results of available hotel and motel rooms based on your GPS location, so your copilot can book a stay right from the interstate.
- Give your car a checkup - Whether your vehicle is brand-new or has seen a lot of pavement, there are several things that should be checked before any road trip. Inspecting front and rear lights, windshield wipers, tires and fluid levels is a must, as is being sure you’re not due for an oil change. Also make sure the battery terminals aren’t corroded, hoses and belts don’t look worn, and the brakes are in good repair.
- Prepare for the unexpected - In case of bad weather or a breakdown, pack an emergency kit with jumper cables, a flashlight, ice scraper, fuel line antifreeze, blankets, warning triangles, a first aid kit and a compact snow shovel for the trunk. Chances are you won’t need them, but being prepared never hurt anyone, and it brings peace of mind, especially when you’ll be passing through rural areas.
- Pre-research places along your route - Long drives can get mundane, but you’d be surprised at how tidbits of knowledge about even the most remote places beforehand can lend an air of excitement once you’re passing through them. Knowing you’re approaching the hills where Buffalo Bill roamed, or that you’re on the same route Thomas Jefferson frequented can keep you interested and alert while on the road.
- Pack surprises for the kids - Surely you’ll have a checklist for all the essentials (don’t forget the cell phone charger!), but also consider preparing some fun surprises when traveling with kids. Disposablecameras and an “I Spy” theme of things for them to capture along the way (animals, funny signs, etc.) can make even the longest stretches of barren highway interesting. Washable window markers make travel an artform. Or create a scavenger hunt with various items for them to check off, based on the route to your destination. And why not pack a kite to take advantage of that windy weather at a rest stop during a surprise winter picnic?
- Keep it interesting - After Thanksgiving dinner has been eaten, or holidays have been celebrated, the drive home can certainly seem to be the longest part of the trip. Don’t forget to save some of your pre-research for the trip home so you still have things to look forward to. Consider even using an alternate the route so you have a whole new adventure to make the most of on the way home.
And if you’re planning on hitting the road in the US this year, be sure to check out a fun photo mash-up contest called Fueling Connections. Each day they’re giving away ExxonMobil Gift Cards to help you connect with a loved one during the holiday season. (ExxonMobil has partnered with me as a compensated spokesperson to help them promote this contest.) The idea is that you and a friend or family member and work as a team to upload separate photos of yourselves onto FuelingConnections.com, then the two photos will be mashed together. The combined image is submitted for the chance for each entrant to win $1,000 worth of ExxonMobil Gift Cards, for a total of $2,000. That can cover a lot of road! Winners are chosen every day during from October 1st through December 31st, 2013, so get your creative juices flowing and see if you can get some free gas flowing too.
Hope all your travels this winter are safe, fun, and full of memories!