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One of the most liberating feelings is hitting the open road on your own road trip. Your favorite tunes blasting, windows down, arms out. For the next weekend, week, or longer you are at the helm of your own destiny.
Or at least at the steering wheel to your own destination. But let’s not get into semantics.
Because as exciting as this may seem, the pragmatist in you is tapping the breaks.
“Whoa, let’s slow down here” you rudely interrupt your own reverie. “How do we know it’s safe? What do we pack? Where do we stay?…”
Rather than letting these questions be a roadblock to your travel plans, I have prepared 5 frequently asked questions about road trips.
So, give your boring, practical side a few minutes to peruse the answer to these questions. Then you can get back to dreaming out all of the possibilities of your own highway adventure.
1. How do I prepare my car for a road trip?
Besides doing regular maintenance on your car, here are the most important things to check before a road trip
- Fluids – oil, brake, power steering, transmission, radiator, and windshield
- Tires – check the pressure and tread
- Brakes – check the pad life; listen for any screeching or grinding when braking
- Belts – check for any cracks; bring an extra serpentine belt along just in case
- Hoses – look for cracks or leaks on any hoses
- Battery – most auto parts store will check for free
- Air filters – intake air filters are for the engine and cabin air filters are for fresh air in the car.
- Light bulbs – headlights (high and low beams), tail lights, turn signals
- Wiper blades – these can easily be changed on a road trip, but it’s good to have fresh ones before hitting the highway.
We go into more detail in our post How to Prepare Your Car For an Epic Road Trip. We also have a nifty PDF to go with it!
If you have any further questions about these, take your car to a good mechanic.
Hopefully you have someone you trust that you take your car to regularly. If that is the dealership, that is fine.
Unfortunately some dealer shops have ruined it for the rest. They are trained to upsell to help with their overhead costs, but not always to your advantage.
For example, one dealership charged my wife $30 to replace a defibrillator. Which is cheap for “an apparatus used to control heart fibrillation by application of an electric current to the chest wall or heart.” But highly unnecessary and completely unrelated to a tune-up.
That’s why I like to find a small mechanic shop with an honest owner. Once you find one that you trust, you know that they are just as interested as you are in keeping you safe and your car reliable.
2. How often should I plan on stopping on a road trip?
Most of the research I have done recommends stopping every 2 hours for 15 minutes or so. And to limit driving to no more than 8 hours if you are on a solo road trip. Obviously longer with multiple drivers.
In practice, we typically drive for longer periods to make better time. Especially if it is a destination road trip.
However, long days in the car can take a toll on extended road trips.
Conversely, 6 hour days are pretty easy. Either you can have a slow start to the day or you can get to a stopping point and explore places along the way. (See “Where should I stay on a road trip.”)
Many also ask, “How often should you let your car rest on a long road trip?”
As long as you have done your maintenance, your car wants to run.
Highway driving is actually easier on your car than driving in traffic. It creates much less wear and tear.
And according to sleep experts, a road trip is what your car is dreaming of while sitting in your driveway or waiting at a stoplight.
Ok, so I made that last one up. But the research shows it doesn’t hurt your car to drive long distances.
3. Should I rent a car for a road trip?
Some wonder if renting a car is cheaper or at least better to keep the miles off of their own car.
There is no simple answer to that question. But here are some reasons to rent and some reasons to take your own.
Reasons to rent a car for a road trip:
- If you lease your vehicle – especially if you face mileage penalties
- Or if you want to sell your car and keep the odometer low for resale
- If your car is unreliable
- You want to rent a bigger car or RV – for a family or group trip
- You want a more fuel efficient vehicle (you will have to calculate all costs to see if there is any actual money saved. Presumably you already own the most fuel efficient car if this consideration is environmental.)
- If you are flying and driving – this one seems obvious enough.
- If you don’t own a car – because stealing is bad
Reasons to drive your own car:
- If you lease but have enough mileage allowance – you won’t get any credit for unused miles
- If you are planning on selling your car and realize the hit to the bluebook value is minimal. Especially if it is a few thousand miles difference.
- You don’t want to worry about every scratch or ding because you refused the insurance at the rental car counter
- You bought your car specifically for road trips
- If you are like us and your vehicle has become a part of the family, you will want it to be an element of the adventure.
- If you plan to take bikes, boats, or trailers – most rental cars don’t come with luggage racks or trailer hitches. Or you have to pay a premium to get one.
- You want the flexibility of adjusting your trip. Stay longer. Drive farther. Explore that logging road. No due dates. No fine print.
For a rough estimate of driving costs, multiply the mileage you will likely drive by $0.25. This is an average cost for fuel, maintenance, and tires.
However, it doesn’t include annual costs like insurance, taxes, and depreciation since you will pay them regardless. For a more robust analysis, Frugal Fringe has a detailed calculator.
4. How do I pack for a road trip?
Most of what you pack will be determined by what you want to do and where you will be staying.
You may want to bring camping gear, snowboards, kayaks, or evening gowns.
We will have a more detailed article later. But here are some essentials for every road trip.
Emergency roadside kit:
- Basic tools – a couple of screwdrivers, pliers, socket or wrench set
- First aid kit
- Emergency blanket
- Extra water
- Duct tape
- Flashlight or headlamp
- Spare tire or donut (not to be confused with the spare tire from eating too many donuts)
- Compact jump starter – I now recommend this over jumper cables for these main reasons:
- You don’t need to rely on another car to jump start you – especially helpful in remote locations with limited cell reception
- Most are also backup power for your devices and laptops making it dual emergency purpose
- If you have roadside assistance, it can take hours for them to arrive to give you a boost
- If you don’t have roadside assistance, a jumpstart can be expensive. The portable jump starter will pay for itself in one jump.
- I have used this one by Antigravity. It has unbelievable power from something that fits in your glovebox or under the seat.
Check out the National Safety Council for a more detailed emergency packing list.
Where do I stay on a road trip?
Look for our detailed series that will include:
- Car camping
- Airbnb, bed and breakfasts
- Hotels and hostels
Clearly we could go into greater detail for all of these questions. But we wanted to give you an overview to get the conversation started. And as we round out the articles on this website we will be expounding on these topics and more.
At any rate, these answers should be enough to get over the deliberation of whether or not to plan a road trip.
However, if you still aren’t sure whether you should drive or fly on your next vacation, check out our 21 Reasons Why a Road Trip is Better Than Flying.
Then if you are ready for the rubber to meet the road, check out our other resources.
Or if you are looking for road trip ideas, be sure to read the 7 Best Road Trips in America.
Each of these articles are designed to help you not just to plan for a road trip. But to plan for the most epic of road trips.
If you have any other questions, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or send me an email. I read and respond to all of them myself.
And just remember: The road begins where the driveway ends. We’ll see you on it.