Road Trip Essentials

Earlier this month my fiance and I took a big step into our future and decided to move across the country. From our small apartment in Southern California we looked at real estate all across the country and landed on Atlanta, GA. However, this posed a few problems for us, namely the distance between the two locations. How do we uproot ourselves and move everything we own over 2,000 miles away? The biggest obstacle would be our possessions, but there are plenty of shipping companies that can move whole rooms for us, so that was an easy fix. Next order of business, our cars, two cars to be exact, would need to be transported across the country. Beyond that we didn’t have much else to worry about. Both jobs were accommodating their employees with remote work in the midst of this pandemic, and nothing else tethered us to Southern California. So, in lieu of having our cars shipped, we decided to have a cross country road trip to save a good chunk of change(>2000$). Our cars are fairly new and have under 50k miles on them so luckily for us, both cars are more than capable to make the trip without the risk of a major breakdown. With that decision being finalized, all that was left was preparing for the road trip and everything that entails. We thought it’d be useful to make a list so we compiled one for anyone else taking a similar trip.

1.Checking your car
Your main concern when taking a road trip should be on your vehicle, because if you get stuck on the road, you’re in for a world of trouble. Check every piece of your car.

  • Tires: Check to see if there’s enough meat on the tires. The tread is incredibly important because your safety depends on it. Less tread=less traction which increases your stopping distance and if you run into rain on the road, then that means you’re going to be sliding all over the place.
  • Oil/Fluids check: Of course if you need an oil change, get it. Try to get your car serviced if you’re not a car person or are unfamiliar with the mechanical side of things. On average people don’t get their oil changed as often as they should, and if you go long enough without one, your car will seize up. There’s stretches of road where you can go 30+ miles without seeing a gas station or garage, and that is not the place you want your car to stall out at.
  • Windshield wipers / Other mechanical parts: The beautiful thing about this country is how truly diverse the landscape is. As a Southern California native I’m not used to the humidity, heat or rain that’s commonplace everywhere else in the country. Windshield wipers are usually an afterthought until you get caught in a rainstorm in the middle Texas. While you’re at it, check to make sure that all parts of your car are securely fastened, meaning that if you have a bumper or panel on your car that’s jiggling in the wind, try to find the right clips to secure it. If you cant find them, some zip ties will usually do the trick for a temporary fix. Our trip was about 32 hours and that’s enough time for the wind to jostle something completely loose so make sure that everything is hunkered down.

Without getting into too much detail, that list represents just about everything you need to keep an eye on before, and during your trip to make sure your car doesn’t give you any unwanted trouble.

After you’ve ensured that your car is up to code, you can turn your focus onto your cargo. There’s a few things that you should always keep handy in case the worst happens.

  • Tools: Every road trip has to have the necessities, a spare tire, a portable car jack, and a lug wrench that fits the lugs on your car. Most cars will have this come standard unless you bought a used car and they might have sold those for spare parts. Carry a good utility knife and some pliers as well, and since these can fit in your glove compartment, space wont be an issue.
  • Portable Tire Inflator: While this is not absolutely necessary, a flat tire can cause a major headache, especially if you’re out in the middle of nowhere. This is assuming that you have a spare tire and have already used it. These portable inflators are small (hence portable,) powerful and affordable. On average costing about 30$, you can find one on Amazon, with some of the top of the line options costing no more than 40$. Definitely worth the investment.
  • Water: Again, the U.S. has a beautiful and diverse landscape, but this is a double edged sword. Your car can suffer a malfunction in the desert or in the Ozarks, but either way you’re going to need some water in case of emergency. In the worst case scenario, you’re stranded waiting for a tow truck in the middle of the desert. Don’t let dehydration sneak up on you. Carry a good 2 gallons of water in the car at all times for your own well being.
  • Food: Along with water, some food is always a good thing to have in your car for the trip. I’ll start with the obvious, something caffeinated, preferably coffee. While people’s preferences differ, a healthy caffeine boost can keep you alert while driving. Energy drinks are good for a short drive, but you have to be ready for the “crash” that comes after. This can leave you more drowsy than when you started. Trail mix, protein bars and maybe some chips come in handy if you’re trying to make as few stops as possible. A good food to keep you awake that has always worked for me is sunflower seeds. They require you to actively pay attention to how you’re cracking them and where you’re leaving the empty shells.

An underrated aspect of your road trip is who occupies that passenger seat. Whether you’re taking that trip with your friend, your family, or anyone else, you’re going to need someone to help you out during the trip. If you’re doing this trip by yourself make sure that you’re careful about how many hours you put on the road. Don’t ignore your body. If you’re tired pull over and get some rest. With that being said, here are some of the co-pilot responsibilities that every good co-pilot needs to know.

  • Music/Entertainment: This may not be appreciated when you’re driving through traffic on your commute to work in the mornings, but when you’re on the road for upwards of 8 hours, that playlist hits different. Travel entertainment is not limited to only music though, and a good podcast playlist will have you mentally engaged while driving down the highway. As a last resort, I put on Netflix and listen to a movie that I can quote line for line. It’s Important to keep your eyes on the road so make sure you’re NOT WATCHING the movie, only listening to it. A good Co-Pilot knows how to mix up the trip with a little of each of these options, and keep the driver alert.
  • Snack/Supply Duty: If you’re sitting in the passenger seat, that means you have two hands free and nothing to do with them, so you have to keep the driver’s supply of food, water and anything else they may need. Going down the highway on a cross country trip you can expect to average about 70-80mph, and you cant expect the driver to put everyone in the car at risk by trying to reach that pesky water bottle that rolled under the passenger seat two states ago while trying to drive. That’s where passenger support comes in. Grab that bottle, open it for the driver, and hand it to them ready to go. Same procedure goes for any food product, open it up and hand it off.
  • Conversation: There will come a point on your road trip where you just can’t listen to music/movies/podcasts anymore. This happens naturally, and everyone gets bored of doing the same thing over and over for extended periods of time. This is the perfect time to talk to the driver. Depending on who you’re riding with, this can be a really good time to get to know someone on another level. As a teenager some of my fondest memories were talking to my dad while driving up to northern California to visit my favorite cousins, or when I was 20 driving up to the Sequoias on an impromptu camping trip with childhood friends. The conversations shared on a road trip don’t have to be serious, but every once in a while you’ll discover something that changes your perspective, or that sticks with you for years to come. These conversations are a pleasant byproduct of road trips that most people take for granted.
  • Cash: One thing that some people might not think about is carrying cash with them. Sure you can carry your debit and credit cards with you, but in case they don’t work for whatever reason, you should always have a little cash on hand in case of emergency. I’ve been stuck on the road when my debit card was frozen for suspected fraudulent activity, My bank was just being cautious since I didn’t notify them that I would be traveling. I was stuck at 8pm with a useless debit card about 250 miles from home, and customer service for my bank wasn’t available until 9am the next day. Luckily I always keep about 100$ in cash in the car for road trips just in case, and I was able to pump gas to get to the hotel. It doesn’t have to be 100$, you can always carry more, but keeping your money in the bank is a little more secure, so bring whatever you’re comfortable with.

With these basic guidelines, you should be able to make your trip without any major issues. The most important thing you have to keep in mind though, is you have to be able to adapt. You may have to drive in the rain, snow, winding roads, or in heavy traffic. Whatever the case may be, make sure to keep a level head and err on the side of caution. Hopefully this list helps cover the most basic things you need before a road trip but there’s always new lessons to learn, and things to experience. Safe travels!