Like a lot of people this week, our family is traveling by car to a number of Thanksgiving dinners. As I taught the children to sing recently, “On the interstate and across the bridge, to Grandma’s house we go!”
Of course, when you’re traveling during the holiday season, you’re opening the door to some potential challenges. Winter weather, overcrowded roads, long road trips, expensive stops – it all adds up to some serious time, some serious cash, and some risk for much more time and cash as well.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you some of the preparations we’re doing for this year’s road travels in order to save money and minimize risk.
Air up tires
Take the car to the local refueling station. Use a tire pressure gauge to check the pressure in each of your tires (if you don’t have a gauge, ask inside). If there’s inadequate air, use the air pump there to refill each tire up to the recommended maximum found in your manual. If you’re unsure how to do this, most car manuals offer a very useful step-by-step guide for taking care of it.
Perform any scheduled maintenance
If I’m going to significantly surpass a scheduled maintenance on the road trip, I get it done before I leave. This usually involves getting a mileage estimate from Google Maps, adding that to my current odometer, and seeing whether or not that new number exceeds when my next maintenance should occur.
If you possibly can, travel with others in a “caravan” so that, if one individual vehicle has problems, there’s support all around. Driving in a caravan has helped me out more than once – I remember one awful road trip where my son got extremely ill along the way.
Provide an ETA to your destination
This way, if you don’t show up on time, they can be aware of your delay and attempt to contact you. Again, this has helped me in the past, as people at my destination were able to realize something was wrong and eventually offer assistance.
Visit the restroom before you leave
It’s the Murphy’s Law of road trips: when you think you’ve got everything covered and are making good time, someone has to use the restroom. Remember, as I mentioned above, the more unnecessary stops you make, the more expensive (and longer) your trip becomes, so make sure everyone has used the restroom before you leave.
Pack blankets, sand, hand warmers, and a shovel
This is more important for Christmas travel, but I also do it for this trip. I pack blankets to help with situations where we’re in an accident or trapped in a storm – same with the nad warmers. I pack sand and a shovel to help with situations where we might need to get out of a ditch.
Pack hearty meals
We pack meals before we leave so that we can eat in the car without having to stop for expensive fast food. We often pack an abundance of food, particularly healthy snacks like unsalted nuts, raisins, and the like, because these serve the dual purpose of sating hungry children while also providing rations in the result of an accident.
Pack a charged “911 phone” (and charge your phone)
A “911 phone” is a cell phone without an active contract that is only able to dial 911. Keeping such a phone in the car with you helps in case of a roadside emergency.
Pack a change of warm clothes
After a winter trip in which I had to walk almost a mile in sub-zero temperatures without adequate clothing, I’ve started making sure I have at least one change of very warm clothes, preferably coveralls. This is particularly important if you’re traveling in the country on less well-traveled roads.
Make a map and check road conditions
This is a tactic that’s more important around Christmas but can still be relevant at Thanksgiving – we’ve been caught in Turkey Day blizzards in the past. Also, before you leave, make sure you know exactly where you’re going and the route to get there.
Travel when the roads aren’t busy
We’re traveling during the morning hours for most of our driving, which will avoid most of the traffic outside of towns. If you can, avoid driving on Wednesday evening and Sunday, which are extremely heavy traffic days.
This isn’t so much a money-saving technique on gas as it is a method to avoid an unnecessary stop at a roadside gas station where, after being cramped in a car, you’re tempted to run inside and, because you’re a bit hungry, you find yourself buying unnecessary stuff. Just avoid the stop entirely and make better time on the road.