12 Tips for a Perfect Open Road Adventure

How to prep for and take a summer road trip—like a boss.

taking a van makes for a perfect open road adventure
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As I write, the current temperature in Austin, Texas is a balmy 84 degrees. I saw fireflies in my backyard last night. And two short Saturdays from now, the whole Zebra team will be floating in tubes down this river in the perfect open road adventure:

A perfect open road adventure often ends in Texas!

In short, folks: Summer is upon us. The season of ice cream, awkward tan lines, and the road trip. I’ve personally got one planned for Galveston in early June, to get my toes in some ocean, so before I head out, I wanted to reach out to experts for their road trip tips, so that I could pass them on to you in time for Memorial Day. From the nitty-gritty practical to some pretty great philosophical road-trip musings, I got 12 killer tips for a perfect open road adventure. Lucky us, huh?

First, a kind of pre-tip:

  • Make sure driving is your best bet. Depending on the length of your planned trip, you can use BeFrugal.com’s Fly or Drive Calculator to determine which is option is going to be more affordable for you. (For example, my Galveston trip will cost a whopping approximate $73 by car, as opposed to more than $600 by air—and it would actually take 30 minutes longer by plane, because of airport time.)

If you’re flying, we’ll be the ones waving at you from the snaking highway down below. For those of you who’ve decided to drive, your first steps are simple: Start thumb wrestling over who gets stuck with the night shift, and get your car in shape.

Prep Your Ride Before the Perfect Open Road Adventure

1. Check your tire pressure.
The folks at Goodyear had a Goodyear Driving Expert reach out to Quoted with this advice: “As temperatures change, so can tire pressure. Tires should be inflated to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations printed on the vehicle door placard or in the owner’s manual. This will improve the overall drive and ride performance. Properly inflated tires can even improve gas mileage.”

2. Get your oil changed—if it needs it.
If you’re taking a short trip but you’re within 1,000 miles of needing an oil change, get it out of the way beforehand, says LeeAnn Shattuck, a race car driver and owner of Women’s Automotive Solutions. But if you’re not due, adds Jason Lancaster, editor of AccurateAutoAdvice.com, don’t worry about it: “Things like an oil change, brake service, and other maintenance only need to be done when they need to be done. There’s no point in doing an “extra” oil change before a road trip just because.”

3. Get some fresh air.
For just $10, you can replace your car’s air filter on your own, explains David Bakke, travel expert at MoneyCrashers. “Before heading out, check your air filter,” Bakke says. “If it’s dirty, replace it. This will improve gas mileage and reduce the chance of a breakdown.”

4. Pack a road safety kit.
Including flares, a first aid kit, a blanket, a jack and lug wrench, and jumper cables. Consumer Reports has a great piece on what to carry with you just in case—and if there’s ever going to be an “in case,” you just know it’s going to happen ten miles outside of Nowheresville.

5. Fill your washer fluid.
“Summer road trips mean dead bugs on the windshield,” Lancaster says. “Since gas stations can be few and far between on long road trips, you want to make sure your fluid is full.” Been a while since it rained? Check your wipers, while you’re at it.

6. Buy an old-fashioned road map or download a map app.
Lancaster says he’s run into trouble while traveling when he lost data service for his smartphone—and haven’t we all? “As a result, I once got horribly lost in the middle of nowhere Iowa,” Lancaster says. “It was embarrassing, but my phone wasn’t able to connect to the Internet, so I couldn’t get a map. Now I have a map that keeps basic road map data on my phone so I can still navigate when I don’t have data.” Besides, we know you miss the hours-long entertainment that comes from trying to refold the map the way it was folded originally.

Once everything is in order, the open road is yours! But keep the following Keruoac-ian advice in mind.

On the Road Again

7. Take out early.
This tip comes from a guy whose last name is actually Griswold—he must know what he’s talking about, right? First, he says, leaving early gives the kids a chance to get several more hours of sleep. But even if you’re driving solo or sans little ones, getting on the road before rush hour means you’re beating traffic—”And it’s nice to see the day start and the sun come up every once in a while,” Griswold says.

8. Use your rumbling stomach as an excuse to eat up some outdoor time.
“Stop at places that have parks nearby—use your GPS for help—so you take in a bit of nature while you’re eating lunch,” Bakke says.

9. Pump up the jams.
These days, it’s easier than ever to connect your smartphone to your stereo (if isn’t already connected, you #fancypants, you). “If you have a tape deck, you can buy an inexpensive adapter that will allow you to connect your phone through the headphone jack,” says says Stan Markuze, founder of PartMyRide.com. “You can also upgrade to an aftermarket stereo with an input jack or even bluetooth connectivity. Great quality stereos can be found online for around $100, and installation instructions are readily available on auto websites.”

10. But keep your eye on that temperature gage.
“As the weather heats up, the likelihood of engine overheating increases,” Markuze says. “An overheated engine can cost thousands of dollars to replace or rebuild, so at the first sign of overheating, be sure to get your car checked out to make sure you don’t need some routine cooling system maintenance.”

11. While we’re at it, stay alert in general.
For you road warriors out there who prefer to drive long hours to get to a certain destination, make a point to stay alert and awake during long swaths of highway on particularly straight or boring roadways, advises Suzanne Garber, a travel executive who has visited all seven continents, 50 states, and 80 countries and last year took a trip from Philadelphia to Yellowstone, hitting 31 states along the way. (That’s a lot of chances to get drowsy!) “Radio, coffee, or a friend to help you remain alert can help you,” Garber says. “And if you feel your eyelids drooping, don’t chance it—pull over and take the rest your body is saying you need.”

12. Remember: You’re on Vacation.
Sometimes the best part of a road trip can result from accidentally reading a map upside down, or taking the time to turn right toward that weird-looking town, though it isn’t on your itinerary. Allow for changes in plans, and go with the flow. “Literally just enjoy the ride,” Garber says. “You don’t have to spend every hour maximized and planned out. This is your vacation—don’t treat it as your job.”

Now go forth, drive safely, and bring us back a gas station souvenir, won’t you?

  • PixieBrenda

    I love this article Jaime. Thanks for the tips!! Have a great trip to Galveston, my hometown.

  • jaimepage

    Thanks, Brenda! Don’t hesitate to send any Galveston tips my way. :)

  • Steven Watkins

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  • Thanks for sharing these amazing tips with us!!! You’ll save your lot of time and stress if you map out how you’re getting to your destination before you leave from home for sure.