Whether you’re embarking on a spring break road trip or just heading out for an afternoon drive, these tips will make the journey more joyful and less “are we there yet?”

By Tove Danovich
Updated March 25, 2020
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From the road trip games to the road trip snacks, there’s a lot to love about road trips—but poor planning can take your joyride from a great time to a total stress-event. Ensure the success of your next road trip with these smart road trip tips, which will ensure your drive goes smoothly, even if poor weather or a roadside catastrophe strikes.

Find the right car organizer for your needs, download or update your preferred driving directions app, and get excited to start driving: These road trip tips will ensure everything else (other than picking a destination or route, of course) is taken care of.

Road trip tips

1

Check your fluids (oil, brake, transmission, and wiper), tire pressure, and treads, says Finn Murphy, a trucker and the author of The Long Haul. Assess the wear on your tires with a penny: Press the “In God We Trust” edge of the coin inside the tire groove. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, the tire needs replacing. If wiper blades make noises or leave streaks, get new ones before you hit the road.

“You don’t want to find out your wipers don’t work while you’re on the highway in a deluge of rain,” Murphy says. Make sure your first aid kit is stocked, and program a roadside service number into your phone to save yourself the harried wallet ransack if a tire goes flat.

2

Aim to find a single spot where you can take a break, get gas, eat, use the bathroom, and spend time outside, Murphy says. Apps like GasBuddy and iExit can help you locate the cheapest gas stations; iExit also shows places to eat. The Roadtrippers app is a great way to discover fun locales that can turn a break into a quick, family-friendly diversion. On a longer trip, take a break every two hours or 100 miles. It’s good for your body and will make you a more alert driver, says Jeanette Casselano, a spokesperson for AAA.

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3

Look up your vehicle’s GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) in the manual to find out how much total weight your car can hold. Subtract the car’s curb weight and passenger weight to calculate how many pounds of cargo you can add. Don’t overload your car, which is bad for gas mileage, tires, and safety. When you pack, stow heavy items low and toward the car’s center, putting progressively lighter items on top, Murphy says. This method limits the danger from projectiles in a sudden stop and, by keeping the car’s center of gravity low, can help prevent rollover.

4

Adjust the seat height to keep your hips slightly higher than your knees. If you have bucket seats, you may want to place a cushion or rolled towel behind the small of your back, says Robert Gillanders, a doctor of physical therapy in Bethesda, Maryland. The steering wheel should be close enough that you can grip it without locking your elbows. The old “10 and 2” hand position is no longer considered the safest, due to steering wheel airbags. Instead, try 9 and 3. Once you’re comfortable, adjust your mirrors so you can see out of them without craning your neck.

5

Frequent braking and accelerating can put a dent in your gas budget (and annoy passengers!), so use cruise control on highways to maintain speeds. The way you pack can also affect mileage, especially when you stow things on the roof: Reserve that spot for light but bulky items, like sleeping bags and skis, and consider getting a RackSack ($230; weathertech.com) or an aerodynamic, hard-case roof carrier to help your fuel economy.