Summer Traveling: An Essential Road Trip Checklist


Welcome to the first of several articles as part of the Summer Family Fun Series hosted by Barb over at A Life in Balance. Check out the linky list below for more helpful summer family fun tips!

Nothing can ruin your summer travel plans more than a broken down vehicle and being stranded along the side of the road miles away from your destination, or civilization for that matter. Cranky children or a family pet with an upset stomach aren’t ideal either. Having a road trip checklist to review before any major travel plans is essential, and will help you to save money, stress, and worry ahead of time!

Summer Traveling: An Essential Road Trip Checklist

The Vehicle

If you are traveling with the family truckster, there are several things that you need to check prior to departure to ensure that your summer traveling is not brought to a screeching halt by something that was totally preventable.

  • Check Your Battery. If your battery is over four years old, you should get it tested or at the very least, keep a portable battery charger or jumper cables in your trunk. Hubby and I have a portable battery charger that plugs into a cigarette lighter that has saved us (and others) on many occasions.
  • Change the Oil and Oil Filter. You should have your oil changed due to the manufacturer’s specifications or at least every 3,000 miles.
  • Check the Coolant. There is nothing worse than finding out your vehicle is low on coolant while you are stuck in traffic on a 95 degree day with two kids in the back seat. Been there, done that. It is NOT a pretty sight. Make sure your radiator, water pump and thermostat are in good condition and have no leaks and that your engine coolant is topped off.
  • Belts and Hoses. Check for cracks, leaks and swelling.
  • Air Filter. Make sure your air filter is clean for maximum performance.
  • Brakes. Hitting the road means dealing with traffic. Stop and go traffic and traffic jams. Be sure your brakes are up to the challenge.
  • Lights. Before taking off, make sure that all of your lights are working correctly.
  • Kick the Tires. Make sure to get your tires rotated and checked. If they are not properly inflated, you want to make sure your tire pressure is where it should be. Too much air or not enough can result in a blown tire that can ruin your entire trip. Replace them if they are bald. Be sure to check the spare tire as well to ensure it is in good condition – just in case!
  • Emergency Kit. Keep an emergency roadside kit in the trunk of your vehicle along with a first aid kit. It is always best to be prepared for anything, then to be prepared for nothing.

Saving on Gas

Gas prices are just crazy everywhere you go, there’s no getting around having to pay through the nose. You can stretch that tank of gas farther with just a bit of planning ahead of time. Some tips from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

  • Refuel your vehicle when it is cool either early in the morning or late in the evening.
  • Don’t top off your tank, stop at the click
  • Do not let your car idle
  • Travel at times when you will be able to avoid rush hour so you don’t have to sit in traffic
  • Avoid long drive-thru lines
  • Avoid abrupt starts and stops
  • Make sure your gas cap closes tightly – replace it if it is old

Stock Up on Snacks and Drinks

Classic Mix Snack BoxIt does not matter what time of the day or night it is, traveling with a tween and a teen in the backseat means having a convenience store on board. To save some money and avoid purchasing overpriced items at the gas station right off the highway exit, stock up at your local grocery store before leaving and save yourself some money.

You can pick up a snack box with a variety of chips that will keep even the bottomless pit in your backseat happy. If you are into more healthy snacks, you can do celery and carrot sticks in a plastic baggy, and keep them in a small travel cooler in the backseat for easy access.

Keep a cooler of drinks in the trunk of the car on plenty of ice. When you make a stop at a rest area, everyone can have the chance to get out and stretch their legs and pick out a drink of their choice, nice and cold and refreshing!

Plan Your Stops

sign-44352_150If you are traveling with young children or pets, you will need to make frequent stops to allow them to stretch their legs or for the animals to get a drink and take a walk. Pull out the map, and check for the safety rest areas and/or the truck rest areas along your route. Knowing where you are going to stop and approximately when will help with the “Are we there yet?” cries from the backseat.

For the Kids

Let’s face it, kids get bored quick. So having entertainment on hand is a must for any parent traveling with a child in the car for more than an hour. The types of entertainment to have on hand depends largely on your child’s age and interests. I’m not going to give you a list of items you have to take with you on your trip – YOU know your child better than anyone else. Plan to have at least one item per hour for smaller children. For example, if you are traveling with a 5 year old and taking a 4 hour road trip, plan to bring at least 4 of his or her favorite books, toys, or stuffed animals along to keep them occupied.

iphone-324759_150Tweens and teens, such as my own children, are fairly easy to keep entertained. A fully charged iPod with their favorite music tracks, a fully charged tablet or portable DVD player with movies and games and they are more than happy in the backseat of the car for a few hours. A favorite road game of ours is to pick a random state and see who can count the most license plates that we spy from that particular state. The winner gets to pick an activity that we all will participate in once we reach our destination!

If you are traveling early in the morning or late in the evening, you’ll want to be sure that you have a pillow for each of the kids, along with a light blanket if you have a hubby like mine that truly believes he is part Eskimo and has to have the temperature in the low 60s at all times – in the car or at home.

For Fido or FiFi

dog-165210_150If you’re traveling with the family dog or cat, it is imperative that you make sure you have the following items for them as well:

  • Their bed and favorite toy
  • A travel bowl set for food and water
  • A harness collar and leash (I suggest the harness collar because animals tend to bolt if scared by loud noises or 18 wheelers at a rest area and can slip out of a regular collar and take off)
  • Motion sickness medication – for those animals that just don’t travel too well

If you follow these few simple tips before you leave for your summer road trip, you are sure to have smooth sailing all the way to your destination!

Happy Traveling!

Check out the rest of the great articles below in this series:

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  1. Great tips! I need to get my oil changed and my battery checked before we head out for our summer day trips. Unfortunately the battery got really low this winter when I left a light on in the car by accident. Even though I have AAA, I do NOT want to be stranded with 5 kids!

    • I understand completely Barbara lol! That would be an “event” in and of itself keeping 5 kids calm along the side of the road lol! Hope you enjoy your trip! We’re planning a vacation the first full week of July (fingers crossed)!

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