My family lives several hours away, which means my husband and I have a long drive every major family holiday. Fortunately, we live in California, so the weather isn’t usually an issue, but it can be in certain sections. We’ve also taken road trips, though, and I learned how to plan drives to reduce time, stress, and expenses.
Check Your Route
Even if you’ve taken this particular drive many times, check the route online before you live. If you live in California, CalTrans has a road conditions website that reveals planned closures so you can either go around them or expect a long wait. You should also check the weather on the whole route so you can be aware of fog, snow, or rain warnings. It’s also a good idea to know some alternative routes for long drives. At this time of year, snowstorms or road damage can occur suddenly. Having a backup route ready can help you avoid a traffic snarl.
Pack Some Snacks
Road snacks are guaranteed to cost at least double what you could buy them for at home. Before you leave, visit the grocery store to buy a multi-pack of water bottles with squirt nozzles and your favorite snacks. Finger foods like cut vegetables, crackers, trail mix, and popcorn are best, but you can also try granola bars. If you’re the driver, ask someone to unwrap your food for you. If you live near Trader Joe’s, they have a great selection of pre-packaged snack foods at affordable prices, but your local grocery store works, too. If you have a lot of time, you could pop a big bag of popcorn that morning or make your own trail mix.
Charge Your Cell Phone
Make sure your cell phone is charged before you get on the road. Many counties have removed their highway call boxes and you don’t want to be stranded on the highway hoping a trucker or cop will stop to help you.
Pick Your Tunes
We have a large collection of CDs, so we fill a CD travel case with our favorites. During Christmas, we usually include a few holiday CDs along with good driving music. We usually listen to traffic radio when we’re leaving LA, but once we’re on the open road we pump up the tunes.
Pack Games or DVDs
If you’re traveling with kids, bring games or DVDs and a DVD viewer. When I was young, DVDs weren’t invented yet so we brought travel versions of Connect Four and magnetic games. We also brought a pack of trivia cards to ask each other questions. When we were smaller, we either colored or made shapes out of colored pipe cleaners. My cousins also have a long drive for Christmas, so they bring a selection of DVDs because their minivan has a screen in the backseat.
I don’t have carsickness, but if you do, make sure you pack your medicine!
I’ll admit, this is more challenging for Christmas, but it does apply to long drives at other times of the year. Most highways have lovely rest stops with picnic tables and shade. If the temperature is reasonable, you can stop there to eat your lunch instead of buying pricey and unhealthy fast food. You’ll also save time because most fast food places will be packed. At Thanksgiving, we pack turkey sandwiches and chips for the drive home and stop halfway. Even if it’s windy, we can usually find a sheltered spot to eat. You could also opt to eat in the car, but it can be messy.
Check Your Tires and Oil
A few weeks before your trip, visit the shop for an oil change and ask them to check the tires and anything else. If something is wrong with your car, it’s better to know now than when you’re on the road. I once had an alternator go out on Highway 5 on December 23. We had to walk up the ramp to get help and then spend the night in a Motel 6 while they fixed it. It was not a fun way to start the holidays.
If you’re driving through a snow region, pack your chains. Some cars aren’t designed for chains, so ask your dealer to recommend an alternative for your specific make, model, and year. Also remember that snow tires are illegal in some states, so you must remove them if you’re traveling to one of those states.
No matter where you need to go, it’s best to get an early start. The later you leave, the more cars there will be on the road with you. It’s also best to drive during daylight because it’s harder to see hazards in the dark and the roads may ice over once the temperatures drop.
Settle in for a Long Drive
My husband and I actually enjoy long drives, even if we have a break down or get stuck in a long backup. We enjoy having the time to talk, listen to music, and look at the changing scenery. It’s much more fun than when I used to make the drive alone.