Things to do before hitting the road for the holiday

If your travel plans for Thanksgiving involve sitting behind the wheel for a few hours until you get to your destination, there are still a few things you should do before you leave to make sure that you get to your destination quickly and safely.

Whether your road trip will last for a handful of hours or you're traveling across country, you'll want to make sure that you're ready for the trip, and that your vehicle is ready to go. Here are a few ways to make sure you're all set.

Photo by Patxi Izkue.

  • Take care of any maintenance you've been putting off. If there's major work you've been holding off on doing to your vehicle and you know that some of the systems are on their last legs, it's time to get them taken care of. The last thing you want is for something critical to fail while you're on the road, especially if it could have been caught and repaired with a pre-road trip tune-up. Thanksgiving is no fun on the side of the road waiting for a tow.
  • Check your tire pressure, inflate if necessary. Underinflated tires can cost you precious fuel economy. You should have a tire pressure gauge in your car, if not, now is a great time to head to your local department store and pick one up, or just order one from Amazon. They run from the simple and cheap to the complex and pricier, but they all get the job done.

  • Things to do before hitting the road for the holiday
  • Get an oil change. Odds are you've been meaning to do it anyway, so there's no reason to put it off any longer. You'll need your engine in its best possible shape for a long road trip, and some fresh oil will help keep everything moving in there. If you've recently had an oil change, don't go out and get one just for the trip, but if it's on that list of things you've been meaning to have done, at least take care of this one.
    Photo by Robert Couse-Baker.
  • Download your maps ahead of time. If you're using a dash-mounted GPS device or you're traveling through an area where you won't have cellular signal, it might be a good idea to download the maps you'll need before you leave. At the very least, check your GPS manufacturer's web site to see if there are any map or software updates available for it. If you're using your iOS or Android phone to guide your way, Google Maps allows you to cache your maps for offline use when there's no data connection.
  • Remember to fill up where it's cheap. We mentioned this a while ago, but the advice still stands. It doesn't make sense to go out of your way for affordable gas, but if you can fill up in a cheaper state as you pass through, make sure that you do. If you need help figuring out what's affordable on your path, ask your local AAA branch, or check out apps like SmartFuel, GasBuddy, and GasPriceWatch to help you find the best bargains. Also, don't leave the house with anything less than a full tank.
  • Charge up your extra batteries and bring car chargers. You don't want to find yourself halfway to your destination only to find out that your GPS' batteries are about to die, or that your phone is about to go dead and you have no way to charge it. Invest in some car chargers, or bring spare batteries with you in the car before you leave.

  • Things to do before hitting the road for the holiday
  • Make sure your emergency or breakdown kit is stocked up and in the trunk. Make sure that you have jumper cables (or a battery kit), a fresh can of Fix-A-Flat, a blanket, road flares, a first-aid kit, and some food and water in your emergency kit, so you're ready if you break down in bad weather or have to wait in an isolated place for help to arrive.
    Photo by Micky Aldridge.
  • Plot your course. Take some time before you leave to make sure you're not unwittingly driving into massive construction that you could avoid easily, or that you're not likely to run out of gas on a stretch of highway where there are no gas stations or rest stops. Check the weather for your travel dates and times as well. You don't want to be surprised when you leave the house.

Are you hitting the road this week? Any additional tips you'd share with the community to make the road trip as smooth as possible? Share your suggestions in the comments below.


You can reach Alan Henry, the author of this post, at alan@lifehacker.com , or better yet, follow him on Twitter or Google+ .