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Tips for Driving Distances

Tips for Driving Distances

Longer days during summer months make dreams of long road trips finally realizable. While long drives get you where you are going, they can be fatiguing. Trip planning can spare you stress and add a whole lot of fun. Fight driving fatigue and increase driving safety with these road trip tips for driving distances.

Prepare Your Car for Driving Distances Check fluids, tire pressure, windshield wipers, and other basics of car maintenance before hitting the road. Having a well-oiled machine cuts roadside emergencies off at the pass.  Roadside emergency kits are critical. When you plan a road trip, stock your roadside emergency kit with everything for your conditions. The climate, terrain, and stretches can leave you vulnerable.

Cold Climate Safety: Both the desert and mountains can get very cold in the evening. You will want warm emergency blankets, sweatshirts, hand warmers, and spare knee socks. If your battery is dead, you can’t rely on its heater.

Heat Safety Preparation: In hotter weather, like the South in summer, heatstroke and sun exposure are added risks. Muggy or dry, heat can deplete you. Your emergency kit should include sunscreen, hats, and extra water to keep you cool and protect you when waiting or walking.

Long Stretches: Going across country can create a memorable and iconic American road trip. However, driving distances that span rural and remote areas have additional safety concerns. Plan your gas route very carefully. And, add flares and a self-contained charger for cell phones. (Don’t use flares in dry, grassy or heavily wooded areas.) And, you definitely want to ensure your spare tire and tire changing equipment is in tip-top shape.

Pre-Road Trip Maintenance Checklist: Before driving distances, carefully check the following:

  • Fluids
  • Brake pads
  • Tire tread and tire pressure
  • Windshield wipers
  • Emergency Roadside Assistance Kit
  • Spare tire and jack

Know Your Route: In the age of smart phones, we rely heavily on GPS. Signals fail. Keep an old-fashioned map or printed directions. Be sure you’ve looked over the whole route before setting out.  It’s also a grand idea to have another person in the road trip crew aware of the route. Planning a trip is more fun when there is collaboration.

Watch Your Gas “When is the next gas station?” That question strikes dread into all passengers when you are in the middle of nowhere. Know the road ahead.

Plan Pitstops: Breaking up the drive and staying in the moment ups the odds of driving safely. Find attractions along the route that are fun. Look for historical sites, museums, roadside attractions, landmarks, or awesome food stops.  Pad your time when planning. Rushing or meeting strict deadlines raises stress levels and can impact driving safety. Leave room for people to have extra stops and improvise destinations. You never know what you’ll discover. Remember, you’ll also have plenty of on-the-way stops for bathrooms and necessities.

Road Trip Company: Bringing a buddy on a road trip helps tremendously for driving distances. Fatigue can set in suddenly. Having someone else there can help keep you driving safely.

Road Trip Riders:  Riding shotgun has responsibilities. They are the navigator and DJ on the trip. Don’t fool around with buttons, smart phones, directions, and texts. Put whoever is in the front passenger seat in charge of those duties. Consider rotating the shotgun rider, just like the driver. That keeps them more attentive. If they get tired, stop for rest breaks or overnight—just like you would for the driver.

Rotate drivers:  Break up the driving so that each driver can rest. However, don’t over-rely on taking turns. You still need to make stops, rest, and avoid marathon drives whenever possible.

Road trip games: break the monotony. It’s not just the driver who can experience road trip fatigue. Stock and discover road trip games to stimulate conversation, increase morale, and generally add fun.

Road Trip Essentials Checklist

Snacks – Keep plenty of snacks on hand. Hunger can lead to bad moods, low blood sugar, and many stops. Try and have an assortment, not just chips or candy. Consider foods that are healthy and provide sustained energy, like nuts, high-fiber fruits, and nutrition bars.

Water – Staying hydrated is important. Often, we overlook how important water and non-caffeinated fluids are. Especially in changing elevations and climates, it’s easy to get dehydrated. If you are stranded and have to wait for help or walk, water will be very important.

Phone charger – Do not regret having a power cord and adapter on hand. You may even want a backup so others can charge their phone.

Cleanup supplies – Messes are an annoying distraction on road trips. Keep messes to a minimum with plenty of paper towels, napkins, and wet wipes. It’s also a good idea to have a stain stick or spot remover for when you arrive.

Creature comforts: pillows, blankets, ear plugs, head phones – Backseat riders are especially prone to doze off. Be sure to have plenty of pillows, neck pillows,  and blankets. Not everyone dresses equally or enjoys the same temperature.  Other comforting extras are wax ear plugs and headphones for backseat riders.

First Aid & Wellness Boosters – Keep an ER kit in the glove compartment or console. Not feeling well and little snags can ruin a trip. Be prepared with:

  • Pain reliever
  • Motion sickness medicine
  • Antacid
  • Anti diarrheal medication
  • Allergy relief medicine
  • Gum for elevation changes
  • Emergency sanitary products
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Antibiotic cream or ointment
  • Resalable plastic bags for disposables
  • Wet wipes

Garbage Bins – The messes scatter throughout the car and mash into upholstery. Have a collapsible bin, designated garbage bag, or bag that attaches to the back of the seat. If you are recycling conscientious, consider having two.

Music and Road Trip Playlists – Avoid flipping through the phone, repeating catalogs, and aggravation over failed signals. Create a playlist that will keep everyone entertained. Know how long you’ll be on the road and have plenty of variation. Try various playlists for moods and times in the drive, like:

  • Night driving
  • Relaxing
  • Kid songs
  • Not speeding chill time
  • Energetic happiness
  • Road trip classics
  • Midwestern western
  • California dreaming
  • Miami rhapsody

You can create lists that reflect the passengers, destinations, states, and moods. Try not to put music on your play list that will make you want to dance, is aggressive, or is otherwise distracting.

Put at least some music on formats that do not require streaming. The more, the better. Dedicate an mp3 player, CD’s, or downloaded playlists.

Road Maps – We need to stress this again. Do not drive any distances without a print road map and/or directions. Even though we have access to GPS on our phones, it’s important to have a roadmap in case your phone dies or you don’t have service.

If you are coming from an urban or suburban background, don’t rely on cell phone towers and roadside shops. Note that “highways” in other parts of the country can be devoid of traffic, stores, gas stations, and even houses. Your big city freeways are not nation-wide.


Beware Straight Long Stretches Any experienced driver knows about dangerous curves. Straight roads can be among the deadliest roads. Long stretches of straight roads make it easy to zone out. Additionally, they are often poorly lit. This is especially true for rural roads.  Rural roads have the additional dangers of livestock and animals, tractors, lovely views, and passing on a two-lane stretch. Pay attention and be prepared for the unexpected.

Don’t Drive Tired  It is tempting to keep driving when you are anxiously trying to start vacation or get home. Driving tired can be dangerous to everyone in the car and on the road.  Caffeine is not a replacement for sleep. Going without sleep is dangerous–regardless of how confident you are. Falling asleep behind the wheel is not the only risk. Fatigue slows reaction times.

Stretch Your Legs Take in a nice vista or go for a walk every hour or two. A few minutes out of the car can help improve focus and relax your body. If you are in the same position or repeating the same motion for too long, you can get stiffness and cramping.

Drivers Are Not Sight Seers It’s tempting to take a gander at the great outdoors when driving long distances. Instead, stop to appreciate the sights. A distracted driver is a danger to everyone in the car and others on the road. Besides, adventures throughout the trip make for more of a vacation.

Stop for Meals A little snacking can keep energy levels up, but full on meals can be deadly behind the wheel. Stop for meals. Never try and eat messy, complicated food while driving. If you need to keep moving, make sure to take turns driving. That way the driver doesn’t multitask.  Did you know that in some states, like California, it’s illegal not to have both hands on the wheel at all times? This law is one way to reinforce that eating while driving is dangerous. After eating, be sure that you stay aware of potential food comas.

Using Cruise Control Cruise control can assure consistent, safe driving speeds. It can also help relieve physical fatigue for drivers. And, by regulating speed, it can help improve gas mileage. Unfortunately, cruise control is only safe when safely used.

  • Never put feet up on seat or away from pedals.
  • Do not set cruise control at high speeds.
  • Only use cruise control on highways and freeways.
  • Don’t use cruise control while navigating heavy traffic, merging, exiting, or entering on a freeway.
  • Avoid using cruise control along curvy routes or hills.
  • Bad and hazardous weather conditions are not for cruise control.
  • Always keep your eyes on the road.
  • Beware of losing focus while using cruise control.

The bad side of cruise control is it can lead to:

  • Distracted driving;
  • A loss of alertness; and
  • Decreased reaction times.

Cruise control isn’t a replacement for pulling over, stretching out, sleeping, or focusing on the road. Make sure that you are paying attention. The rules of safe driving still apply.


Date published: 10/14/2020


Photo credit: WEBMD



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