There is nothing better for winding down the summer months than a good old fashion road trip. Whether you’re going to hit the road with just your sweetheart at your side, a couple of friends, or if you’re packing the whole family into the van, a road trip adventure can be an enjoyable and memorable way to explore the wonders of Canada and spend time with the people you love.
But, before you start revving your engine, you need to get a few things in order. Road trips might be fairly breezy compared to other travel arrangements, but there are still some preparations that need to be made before the rubber meets the road.
Change your oil, top up your fluids, and check your tires (all of them)
Okay, so this is a pretty obvious tip, but any time you plan on hitting the road for an extended period of time, you’ll want to be sure you have your car in tip-top shape. The last thing you need is for your epic road trip of carefree fun and relaxation to end with a steaming radiator on the side of the road and a ride with Gus, the surly tow-truck driver.
Get your oil changed, ask them to check your coolant and brake fluid, and go ahead and fill up that washer fluid. In fact, bring a jug of oil and radiator fluid with you – you never know what might happen on the highway. Want to go for extra credit? Pack some extra belts and a simple toolkit that will let you take care of business yourself. Now you’re ready for the road.
Make sure your tires are fully inflated and in good condition. Then astound your travel companions with your incredible foresight by dusting off the spare and making sure it’s full of air and ready to go in case you need it (spare tires do lose air over the years, and there is nothing more demoralizing than trying to change a flat with a flat).
Oh yeah, and make sure you have your vehicle’s manual on hand. Chances are it never leaves your glove box, but just in case, be sure you have it. If your dashboard starts blinking with some warning you’ve never seen before half way through your trip, you’ll want to be able to decipher it without guessing.
Even if you are handy with a wrench and don’t mind changing a tire, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have some kind of roadside assistance plan backing you up. Not every problem can be solved by swapping out a tire or alternator belt and a tow can be awfully expensive without a plan (that Gus drives a hard bargain).
Clean your car
Why should you clean your car before heading off on a roadtrip where you’ll probably get it dusty and spotty all over again? Well, for one, for all those sweet pre-trip selfies and photos you should be taking. You don’t want to be going through a photo album years from now and think more about how your old car was a trash heap than the fun you had.
Two, and more practically, a clean car is a comfy car. Vacuum out the seats and shake out the mats. You’re going to be spending plenty of hours in your ride, so it might as well smell good and not feel grimy.
Plan out your trip and your breaks
Take the time to plan out your destination, how many kilometres you plan on putting on the odometer, and some interesting spots along the way. One of the best parts of a road trip is checking out all the small little nooks of the country and landmarks along the way, so do some pre-trip research and mark off a few places to hit. Not only will this make your trip a lot more fun, it will provide the natural rest and recharge breaks you’ll need.
Take frequent breaks to hydrate, eat, and answer the call of nature. Road trips are a lot more fun when you make a point of regularly stretching your legs and recharging your batteries. Regular pit stops will help keep you comfortable and alert. And being alert is essential for safety.
Driving tired is as dangerous as driving drunk (maybe even morose if you take the Mythbusters findings for it). The more tired you are, the more your reflexes slow down, your attention drifts, and your focus dims – all potentially fatal liabilities when you’re moving at over 80 km/h down some backcountry highway. Plan out where you’re going to stop and catch some sleep before you head out.
Bring cash money
For many city dwelling suburbanites, we live and die by our debit cards. In any moderately populated city with franchise restaurants and big chain gas stations, you don’t even need to think twice about the waiter or clerk accepting your plastic. But, if you’re going on a road trip, chances are you’ll be venturing off the beaten path where things aren’t nearly as certain. You don’t want to fill up the tank only to have to try and haggle out an IOU with an angry country mechanic when you suddenly realize you have no way to pay for it. Cash is always good to have on hand, but when you’re taking to the road, it’s essential.
Also bring your credit cards
Don’t take that last piece of advice too far. If you get stranded somewhere, it’s important that you’re able to stay at a motel or rent a car if you need to, and that means a valid credit card. Even if you plan on camping or sleeping in a trailer the whole way through, you never know when an accident will happen or a summer storm will flood your tent. Best to be prepared. Bring your credit card and make sure you have enough room on it to pay for any emergencies.
Paper never runs out of batteries
GPS systems are great and you should always have one when you’re heading out on the road. Whether you have a dedicated device or just use your phone, a good GPS is always a must-have.
But, you need to consider your fallback options. Most GPS systems are very reliable, and contrary to popular assumptions, your phone’s GPS won’t conk out on you if you end up in an area with no cell phone coverage (GPS is controlled by map software on your phone and the reception of satellite signals to determine your location, not tower information). That said, they’re not fool-proof. You could run out of batteries for your device, forget your charger on the nightstand, or simply spill your XL double-double on it at the worst possible moment. That’s why it’s smart to pack a map or two if you’re heading into a remote area.
Besides, maps are fun on road trips. There is something satisfying about mapping out your route, planning out which landmarks/spots you want to hit on paper, and scratching off locations. A properly defaced and Sharpied map can be a great souvenir!
Bring your insurance along for the ride
Make sure to carry your proof of insurance with you when you travel as well as the details of your policy holder and their contact numbers. Hopefully nothing will happen, but if it does, you’ll be glad you have that information on hand.
Your Canadian auto insurance is good across every province and into the United States which should cover the vast majority of travelers. If you’re planning a really long trip though that might take you into Mexico though, you’ll need to purchase a policy for it in advance (you can buy one at the border, but talk to your broker first, they’ll likely be able to secure you a better rate).
While you’re at it, why not consider some travel insurance for the trip? Most people tend to think travel insurance is only for flights or long international trips, but you can secure a policy for a road trip just as easily! This can be a life-saver if something goes wrong and you need to cancel out of hotel reservations or other pre-paid expenses and suddenly fund a way home. If you plan on going into the States, health insurance is a must. Your auto insurance might still be valid there, but your provincial health plan isn’t, and even minor medical attention can rack up an expensive bill.
Planning out your insurance might seem to go against the grain of a free and fun road trip, but it doesn’t have to be tedious or expensive. If you plan on hitting the road, let your Staebler broker know ahead of time and they can recommend a simple, affordable package that will give you the protection you need while enjoying the freedom of the road!