You are here

Ahhhh, the open road. Every year, millions of people jump into the car and head towards their summer vacation destination. Unfortunately, the very unpredictability that makes a road trip vacation so fun can also make it go very wrong.

When it comes to road trips, a little planning can go a long way. By anticipating problems that you may encounter and taking steps to prepare for them, you can make the best of even a bad situation. Don't let car trouble, screaming children or bad weather ruin your trip! Read through our stress-free road trip ideas to make your journey fun and memorable...and, best of all, stress-free.

Get Your Car Checked

Drive down any highway and you're sure to see someone broken down on the side of the road. This is an especially unfortunate situation if you're on a road trip because it can significantly alter your plans for a few hours to a few days, depending on the severity of the problem. While such bad luck isn't completely avoidable, there are some steps you can take to minimize the chance that you and your family will be spending precious vacation hours waiting for a tow truck.

Preventive maintenance is the best way to ensure that your car is in good working condition. Take your car in for an oil change and ask the mechanic to top off your antifreeze, brake fluid and power steering fluid. Have the mechanic inspect your hoses, belts and brakes for signs of wear. If the weather is going to be warm during your trip, you'll also want the technician to check your car's air conditioning system. To be sure that you can actually see the beautiful sights on your trip, fill your washer fluid reservoir and check that your wipers are in good condition. Finally, make sure your tire pressure falls within the manufacturer's recommended range to prevent flat tires and blowouts. Take a little time to do these things before you leave, and you may save yourself a lot of grief later. 

Be Prepared For Car Trouble

In the unfortunate event that your car has mechanical problems during your trip, be sure that you have the necessary tools and services at your disposal. Flat tires are a common and easy-to-address problem that many drivers face while on the road. Before you leave for your vacation, locate your jack and tire iron, and learn how to use them. Also make sure that your spare tire is fully inflated so you can drive on it safely, should you get a flat. If you're not car savvy, your best bet is to become a member of a roadside service company like AAA. These companies will send someone to change your flat tire, provide a jump start, bring you gasoline if you run out and open your car if you get locked out.

Another good idea is to carry a basic toolkit so you're able to fix simple problems. Some good items to include are a hammer, a rubber mallet, an adjustable wrench, screwdrivers, wire cutters, a pair of needle-nose pliers, some baling wire, a can of WD-40 and a rag.

Clean Out Your Car And Pack Efficiently

Before packing your luggage in the car, take time to clean out any clutter that has accumulated inside. Your car will inevitably collect more trash as the trip proceeds so it's best to start with a clean trash-free car. While you're traveling, try to dispose of your garbage along the way so the accumulated trash doesn't become a source of stress.

Once your car is cleaned out and you're ready to load the luggage, put some thought into organization. Pack lesser-used luggage, like suitcases, in the trunk or under more frequently accessed items and make sure you keep frequently-accessed items, like snacks, toys and boredom busters inside the car. This will allow your passengers to retrieve much of what they need without asking you to stop the car.

Tip: Check out our infographic of what to pack for your Outer Banks Vacation

Plan Your Route

You should consider your timing when driving through big cities or visiting popular places. Try to avoid morning and evening rush hours in heavily populated areas; not doing so could cost you hours of valuable travel time. Also keep in mind that holiday weekends including Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day are often the busiest travel times of the year so if crowds stress you out, you might think about planning around these dates.

Tip: Before heading out, check Outer Banks traffic information and review directions to the Outer Banks.

Remember The Kids

Kids can get bored fast when cooped up in a car for hours at a time so remember that the key to happy kids is to keep them entertained. When in the car, there are several things you can do to keep your children occupied. Before you leave, pack a "car kit" for them that includes crayons or markers, pads of paper, a travel pillow, familiar toys and a few treats. There are also a variety of popular road trip games and Mad Libs that will help pass the time spent in the car. Try to use electronics like DVD players and video games sparingly as road trips provide an excellent opportunity for kids to learn about the areas through which they're traveling.

Tip: Check out our Seaside Kids page for kid-friendly activities, coloring pages, puzzles, word activities, Mad Libs, road trip games and more.

Plan For Your Pets

Some people may prefer to leave their pets at home during their vacation, but for those who want to bring their furry friends along to their pet-friendly vacation rental, there are some special considerations. Pets should be kept in carriers when traveling. It's safer for the driver if there's not an animal crawling around the car and it's safer for the pet in the case of an accident. Before you leave on your trip, make sure that your dog is comfortable. Help your pet get used to the carrier by taking it on a series of short drives, gradually increasing the length of time spent in the car. Hopefully, this preparation will prevent your companion from experiencing anxiety and carsickness to help reduce stress for both of you.

Once you're on the road, you must remember your pet's needs. Bring along a "pet kit" that includes food, a bowl, a leash, a waste scoop, plastic bags, grooming supplies, medication, treats, and a favorite toy or pillow. Stop every couple of hours to let your pet stretch its legs, use the bathroom and expend some pent-up energy. Be sure your pet has a microchip or identification tag with your contact information - very important in the unfortunate event that your pet gets loose. And remember to never leave an animal in a parked car. Both heat and cold can be deadly.

Tip: Bring your furry friends with you on your Outer Banks vacation! Seaside Vacations offers many pet-friendly vacation rentals.

Get Jammin'

Music is a popular way to pass the time on a road trip. Thanks to technology, you can listen to just about anything, just about anywhere. Most vehicles still come equipped with CD players but those seem to be dwindling in popularity thanks to MP3 players which can store an entire library of music. Satellite radio has also become more prevalent - and differs from traditional radio in that you can listen to dozens of preset stations broadcast from a satellite, meaning they never fade out of range. This medium is also useful for travel because it offers weather and traffic reports for many cities across the country.

If you're looking for an alternative to music, audio books can be found in CD and MP3 format. Another popular form of audio entertainment is the podcast, a produced audio program often broadcast exclusively over the internet. With all of these choices, you could drive around the world and never hear the same thing twice.

Conserve Gas

With the rising cost of gasoline, one of the most stressful parts of a road trip can be the price of fueling up. Ideally, you should drive a small car or hybrid, but that's not always feasible when you have a large family with lots of luggage. Still, there are ways you can save fuel without having to give up the elbow room in your SUV.

The potential for fuel savings starts when you pack the car. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, for every 100 additional pounds you put in a car, you cut your gas mileage by 2 percent. So, try and pack light. Also, avoid putting anything on the roof because the drag from such luggage can decrease fuel economy up to 21 percent. Before you depart, check to see that your tires are properly inflated and examine your owner's manual for fuel octane requirements. If your car only needs regular unleaded, then you're just wasting money by fueling up with premium.

Driving habits can also affect your car's fuel efficiency. One way to reduce your gas consumption is to use cruise control. Allowing the car to decide when to apply acceleration at high speeds can increase fuel economy 10 to 15 percent over leaving the task up to your [lead] foot. You can also save fuel by slowing down. This is difficult when interstate speeds are often 70 to 75 mph, but studies show that gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds greater than 60 mph.

Be Alert And Stay Safe

Driving is an inherently dangerous activity, but when on a road trip you may pass through areas where hazards also include bad weather and crime. Weather can be especially scary for anyone unknowingly in the path of a severe storm, so it's important that you stay aware of the forecast. Check your phone or the radio every now and then to tune in for watches and warnings if bad weather is looming. Consider pulling over for a little while if conditions look especially perilous.

When it comes to crime, most travel areas are safe, but it only takes one issue to put a damper on your road trip. While traveling, be aware of your surroundings and act like you know where you're going and what you're doing - even if you don't. Criminals sometimes target cars with travel materials like roadmaps in the front seat and tourists who look confused. At hotels and restaurants, try to park your car where you can keep an eye on it, especially if you have luggage in or on top of your vehicle. If you need to stop for a food or bathroom break, choose rest areas, gas stations, or restaurants that are busy and well lit. Don't carry all of your cash on your person so in the event of a lost wallet or bag, you won't be left without any money.

Tip: Look up the local Outer Banks weather forecast.