How to plan a worry-free adventure
Your guide to avoiding car trouble, traffic snarls and cranky passengers
If you’re like many Canadians you’re already contemplating a summer road trip. The allure of the road is irresistible in our all-too-short “driving season.”
Excitement builds as you dream about wide-open roads and new places to visit.
A carefree attitude is important to a road trip’s success. Yet, heading off without a plan is a sure way to invite headaches later. A little preparation will make the trip easy, remove the stress and enhance your experience.
Before you leave
The week before your trip is a great time to make sure your most important road-trip tool — the vehicle — is ready. After the rough winter we’ve just had, this is especially important, says Kaitlynn Furse, a public relations manager for CAA’s South Central Ontario region. She advises you check the basics, such as tire wear and tire pressures, check the spare and jack (if you have them), check the battery, change the oil and top up the windshield washer fluid and bring some extra — it’s bug season, after all. Having the kids help check the headlights and turn signals can be a fun way to get them involved in trip prep and increase their safety awareness, Furse says.
It’s also time to clean out the car, and ensure the windshield and windows are clean.
If you’re going to tow or carry items on your roof, check the trailer and rack for integrity and make sure those trailer lights and brakes work. When you pack, securely fasten any cargo so you don’t shed items as you go.
It’s also a good idea to keep heavy items packed low in the vehicle, especially in a wagon or SUV where the cargo area is open, to prevent them from becoming projectiles in the event of an emergency stop.
Now is also a good time to ensure your roadside assistance is paid up and that you have the app or contact info handy. In case of a breakdown or emergency, you should also take a first-aid kit, as well as the three Fs: flares, flashlight and food (and water). Don’t forget to keep your phone charged in case of an emergency.
Now that the car’s ready, it’s time to decide where you’re going and how to get there. The route should be planned to meet the needs of all those on the trip — adults, kids and pets. Planning ahead will give you a chance to find pet-friendly hotels, parks and attractions for the kids, and diversions for yourself.
Furse advises against just setting the GPS for your destination and heading straight there. “It’s one thing to get to a place, but there’s so many great little towns with things to see along the way,” she says. “Doing research in advance lets you see if you can do a pit stop and have a picnic in a place you may not have otherwise seen.”
Likewise, using a large-format paper map is another fun way to chart a route that can take you down roads the GPS would not. It gives the big picture and shows you places just off the beaten path that may be worth a visit.
Plan frequent stops to let pets and kids burn off some energy, and give drivers a rest, as well. The CAA recommends a 15-minute break every hour to help the person behind the wheel stay alert. And remember, never leave your kids or pets in the car unattended while you take a break.
On the road
While you’re on the road, staying alert and minimizing distractions are key to a safe trip, says provincial Const. Lauren Ball of the OPP’s Highway Safety Division. She notes that one of the best ways to avoid stress- inducing traffic issues is to have your co-driver monitor Ontario 511 or the OPP’s regional Twitter feeds for information about traffic congestion or road closures.
“You know you’re on vacation, so enjoy your drive, try not to get stressed out. It’s the stressful situations that lead to the aggressive driving and speeding,” Ball says.
If you have car trouble, pull off the road as far as you can, and if you’re in traffic, exit through the nontraffic side of the car. Furse advises staying clear of the car as much as possible while assessing the situation. Ball says the time to call 911 is any time you feel unsafe, and if you’re unsure you can always call the non-emergency number *677 (*OPP) for advice.
Chances are, with good preparation and planning, you’ll have a smooth trip.
“We all want to be making memories and having fun with our families,” Furse says. “Do the preparation and safety work at the beginning so it’s smooth sailing from there.”
Making stops along the way during a road trip allows kids to burn off energy and a chance to explore other destinations.