No tickets to buy. No TSA lines. No runway delays or stale pretzels. When you want to travel with freedom and flexibility, nothing beats a road trip. Whether you're going for a day, a weekend or a two-week cross-country trek, here's a checklist that will help you make the most of your journey.
1. Pick the car. It's probably one of the two you have in your garage, but if you happen to be car shopping, keep road trips in mind as you're making your selection. For family travel, size up the car's storage space, the cupholder count (16 in the redesigned Honda Pilot). Be aware of range (for both gasoline-powered and electric cars). Some vehicles, such as the Ford Flex and Honda Odyssey, offer built-in cool boxes that will keep a few bottles or cans cold during your trip.
If your road trippers are going to be family — and maybe even the grandparents — think big, using our minivan or SUV buying guide. If you are two-for-the-road types, test-drive coupes, convertibles or, for a change of pace and room for hauling sports gear, check out a wagon.
2. Do a safety check. No one wants to deal with a breakdown, particularly if your road trip includes little kids. Be sure your tires (including the spare, if you have one) are properly inflated and in good shape, and that everything from the windshield wipers to the air-conditioning system, is in working order.
3. Settle the shotgun question. If it's adults or teens who want the coveted seat, a quick rock-paper-scissors is all you need. But remember that children under 13 should ride in the backseat, properly belted in. Airbags can be fatal for young children riding in the front seat. And never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat or in front of an airbag. If your kids tend to squabble and you're traveling in a vehicle that will permit it, put the kids in separate rows. It's your vacation, too.
4. Map your route. Use your car's built-in navigation, Google, Apple, MapQuest or Waze — it doesn't really matter. Pick your favorite and plot your course. Try the "avoid highways" option to find more interesting routes. Check attractions or points of interest to discover side trips. Or go old school and get some paper maps. Then pick the roads less traveled.
5. Make your playlist. Whatever the vintage of your car, you have the means to play music that will make the miles fly by. Make a cassette mix tape, burn some CDs, or load up your smartphone with road trip music and summer classic songs. If you're short of time or uninspired, check out the road trip playlists on Spotify or other music sites.
It's good playlist etiquette to take other travelers' requests for the mix. And if there are kids aboard, make sure they have players and headphones for private listening. Unless, of course, Kidz Bop Greatest Hits is your idea of a good time.
6. Get your games on. The road trip games that you probably played as a kid are still low-tech fun, particularly for kids who may be getting tired of watching the scenery skim by. Check out our list of some popular no-charging-required games.
7. Plan fun stops. Everyone needs a bio break and a stretch, but highway rest stops can be boring and crowded, especially on holiday weekends. Instead, use your nav system to track down local parks or offbeat points of interest that have restrooms. Roadside America has an app with regional information on hundreds of weird places you'd never find on your own. Haven't you always wanted to see California's Cabazon Dinosaurs or Georgia's Old Car City USA?
8. Pack snacks. If you don't want to hit up the fast-food outlets along your route, pack some snacks and drinks. The adult travelers can have whatever suits them, from brie and fizzy water to Mountain Dew and Pringles. For kids, though, consider limiting the sugar in their snacks — you don't want them to have too much energy. Think rice cakes, Cheerios, raisins and little crackers.
9. Arrive revived. It's a drag to get to your destination when it's late and you're cranky. It's even worse to find yourself falling asleep at the wheel. Get a good night's sleep before you set out. Plan on driving no more than 10 hours per day: That's the limit under federal law for professional drivers who carry passengers. Drivers can trade off to reduce the stress of long hours behind the wheel. If you have little kids in the backseat, your driving day may need to be shorter — for everyone's sanity.
When you get where you're going, whether it's your final destination or just your stop for the night, take a few minutes to appreciate the freedom of the summer road trip. There's nothing else like it.
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