The holiday season is a much-anticipated time to spend with family and friends near and far. Reuniting with loved ones often means packing up the car and traveling across the state or country with your family to spread some holiday cheer.
Driving on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s or any other holiday requires some planning and preparation, but it’s also an opportunity for quality family time on the road and celebrations at your destination. Sorting out trip logistics like weather, traffic and packing lists can help you dedicate more of your time and energy to the people and traditions that matter most. Wherever you’re headed this holiday season, a fun, safe adventure starts with the basics.
Planning Your Trip
All successful, safe and fun road trips begin with a plan. While the specifics might look different depending on where you’re going and when, following these basic steps can ensure you’re using your preparation time wisely:
- Set a time target: Look at your schedule and pick out a good day and time for you to leave, depending on how soon you can go and when you need to be at your destination.
- Look at a map: Plot out your journey. Will it take you several hours or a couple of days? Will you be taking highways or back roads? Depending on the date and time of days you’ll be driving, anticipate that factors like traffic and snow might slow you down.
- Keep apps handy: It’s always a good idea to check driving apps the day of your trip to be aware of any slowdowns on your planned route. Even if you already know how to get where you’re going, a navigation app can alert you to any unexpected traffic or recommended route changes as you drive.
- Be weather smart: Check the weather regularly on reliable sites or apps to be aware of any impending snow or rain. The Federal Highway Administration’s site is also an excellent resource for tracking traffic and weather conditions.
- Plan to rest: Be sure to factor in time for rest stops a few times per day. If you’re splitting your trip over a few days, look for hotels along your route. Once you’ve picked a place to stay, make a reservation as soon as possible. The holidays are a popular time for travel, so you want to make sure you have a guaranteed room after a long day of driving.
- Give yourself extra time: Build in some buffer time, and be flexible with your schedule, knowing that unexpected changes might pop up along the way.
- Create travel notices: If you’ll be traveling to a faraway state, let your bank know as soon as possible so they don’t flag your debit and credit cards when you use them away from home. Also, if you’ll be gone on days when your job’s office is open, create out-of-office messages for your work phone and email so anyone trying to contact you will know you’ll get back to them after your trip.
- Pay your bills early: Make your last-minute holiday planning easy by paying any bills that will be due while you’re away.
- Prepare gifts and food: If you’re bringing presents or home-cooked dishes to your holiday celebrations, plan in advance. Wrap gifts in a transportation-friendly way the week before you leave, and plan to cook foods you can easily keep warm or cold for the duration of your travels.
- Get plenty of sleep: Remember to get a good night’s sleep the day before you start your trip, especially if you’re the driver. Being rested will ensure you have enough energy to stay alert while driving for long stretches of time.
- Create a plan for your house: If you’ll be away from home for multiple days, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your house and water your plants or take care of your pets. Before you leave, try to tidy up as much as possible so you can feel good coming home to a clean house. As you prepare to leave, make sure all your doors and windows are locked and that you have your house keys in hand.
Preparing Your Vehicle
While driving on holidays, you need to trust your car can take you to your destination safely and efficiently. Performing routine maintenance before your trip and on the day you leave can help ensure all the basic functions run smoothly.
In the weeks before your trip:
- Pay attention to your car as you drive throughout the week: Listen for any strange sounds such as grinding brakes or anything else that seems out of the ordinary, like the check engine light illuminated on the dashboard.
- Run your heater: Make sure your car’s heater works for long periods so you can stay warm throughout your trip.
- Check your tires for punctures or scrapes: Issues with your tires could be signs of serious damage. You may want to consider buying new tires before your trip, or at least purchasing a spare if you don’t have one that’s in good shape. Even if your tires are designated for all seasons, they may be worn out by the time winter arrives. Colder weather brings rain, snow and ice, and your car needs adequate traction to drive on wet roads. If you’re going to get new tires, a new set of all-season ones will work well in moderate snow conditions, or you could consider a set of winter tires, which perform best in colder climates and have the best traction for driving in wet and snowy weather.
- Get an oil change: Take your car to a mechanic if it’s due for an oil change. Fresh oil will ensure every part of your engine is running smoothly for your long drive.
- Clean your car’s exterior and interior: Everyone in your family will feel a lot more comfortable riding in a clean, organized car. Removing excess clutter also means you’ll have more room to pack luggage, presents and other trip essentials.
- Check your car’s safety features: If your car has driver assistance technologies like collision warning, lane departure warning and blind spot warning, make sure they are working and turned on when you drive to help you when you need them most.
- Have a professional install some tinted window film: Automotive window films on all your car’s windows, including the windshield, are the perfect way to stay safe and comfortable on your journey. Tinted film reduces the amount of sunlight you see and feel and is excellent for driving on snow- or rain-covered roads where glare is common. Films can also help hold together shattered glass, so you can feel confident knowing you and your family will be protected in an accident.
The day of your trip:
- Check your car’s fluids: Check the levels of the six essential car fluids — engine oil, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid and windshield washer fluid. Even if you think all the levels are good, it’s always a good idea to top them off.
- Fill your tires: Check the pressure in your tires and fill them with air if needed. Your tires should be inflated to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Make sure none of your tires are flat or damaged.
- Fill your gas tank: Making tons of progress on the first leg of your trip means starting with a full tank of gas. Stop at your local gas station before embarking on your planned route.
Packing Your Car
While road trip essentials may vary from family to family, there are always some comfort and safety items to think about. Your packing list may include:
- Snacks: Designate a cooler or reusable grocery bag as your car’s snack central. Keep it within easy reach of everyone in the car, such as in the middle of the backseat. Bring enough food so everyone can stay satisfied between meals during your trip. Consider packing some holiday favorites, and remember drinks as well!
- Games and activities: There’s nothing like a long car ride to give you the chance to sit back and relax as the world passes by. A road trip is also a great opportunity for family time. Think of conversation-based games that all passengers can play together, such as I Spy, 20 Questions or license plate games. You can even create your own travel bingo cards with common roadside sights like stop signs, traffic lights and gas stations, or give any of these games a holiday twist depending on what you’re celebrating.
- Music: Memorable, nostalgic sounds of the season are one of the most popular holiday traditions. Create a festive playlist with your family’s favorite songs to keep everyone — including the driver — entertained and geared up for holiday celebrations.
- Car essentials: Be prepared for the unexpected with basic car maintenance items, such as jumper cables, extra car fluids, a spare tire, a car jack and an ice scraper. It’s also a good idea to pack a winter emergency kit to use if you get stranded. Items like road flares, flashlights, a snow shovel and high-protein snacks such as trail mix and granola bars can all help your family in a tough snow situation.
- Paper map: While navigation apps seem to have replaced the need for physical maps, it’s always a good idea to keep a paper map handy in case you get turned around in an area with no service. Roadmap atlases are great for tracking your progress across several states.
- Blankets and pillows: Even with your car’s heater, cold weather outside can make your car chilly. Bundle up with some cozy blankets, and bring a few travel pillows for extra comfort during long naps.
Here are some additional, holiday-specific road trip tips:
- If you’re driving on Thanksgiving, remember to bring any food you’ve prepared, secured where it won’t spill or be crushed by other items in the car.
- If you’re driving on Christmas, pack your wrapped presents in a safe area of your car where they’ll stay intact. Secure the most valuable items where you can easily keep an eye on them.
Driving With Kids
Holiday road trips with kids are all the merrier. Taking your kids on road trips can be a great way to carry on old traditions while also making new ones. The fun doesn’t have to wait until you get to your destination.
If you’re traveling with your kids this winter, make your trip memorable for them by:
- Bringing activities: Road trips are a great opportunity to bond as a family or let your kids try some activities on their own. Solitary, quiet activities like reading and coloring can provide parents with a welcome break from car chatter. Downloading or bringing along some favorite holiday movies to play can also keep kids engaged for hours.
- Extending screen time: While your rules at home may limit your kids’ device use to a few hours per week, holiday road trips are an ideal time to bend those rules in favor of a calm, enjoyable car ride.
- Charging devices: Electronic devices easily amuse kids for hours at a time. From portable DVD players to phones and tablets, your kids will love the variety of entertainment — as long as all devices are charged and ready to go. For on-the-go charging, bring plenty of charging cables, as well as adapters for car charging ports. Fully charged portable batteries are also a good idea.
- Bringing headphones: When your kids are enjoying videos, music or a movie, make sure their media isn’t a distraction to the adults in the front seat by bringing well-fitting headphones or earbuds.
- Packing no-mess snacks: Plan ahead so any snacks you bring are stress- and mess-free. Pre-portion bags of chips or fresh fruit, and stay away from foods that can spill easily or that require lots of cleanup. Choose water bottles with straws that are easy to close to reduce the risk of spills further.
- Planning fun stops: If you have the time, consider researching and checking out some famous landmarks or other interesting sites along your route, such as playgrounds or unusual museums, to break up the long hours of sitting in the car. Kids may have to stop more often for bathroom and play breaks, and anticipating this will prepare you to make frequent stops while still getting to your destination on time. You can even make ordinary rest stops exciting by letting your kids pick out snacks or other treats as a reward for their patience throughout the long drive.
Protect Your Car This Winter With Madico® Automotive Film
The most important part of any holiday road trip is the fun time you get to spend with your family. A safe, well-prepared trip means a successful and meaningful holiday celebration.
If you’ll be doing a lot of driving this winter, consider Madico window film to protect your vehicle and improve driving visibility. Window films are useful all year round, so your winter investment can also create safer driving experiences in the summer sun.
As you plan your next adventure, find your nearest Madico dealer for many safe, comfortable road trips to come.