Road Trip Checklist: 6 Practical Things To Know Before You Go
Written by Jaillan Yehia
I’ve just bought my first car, and for a traveller like me, that must mean more road trips!
It may not be anything fancy but it is the first car that’s ever had my name on the registration papers, so I’m pretty keen to take good care of it.
And I’m also keen to take good care of myself while I’m in it, so as someone who doesn’t know too much about mechanics I decided to ask around and compile an easy to understand road trip checklist before I start road tripping around Europe.
I hope it is useful for you too…
While I was based in Canada I was presented with this to drive. And it was by British standards, a monster truck.
It was great for camping and those endless logging roads for which Canada is famous but now that I’m back in the UK, the last thing I want is a huge car – I know because I rented one and I absolutely hated it!
So instead I’ve bought a much more sensible, smaller, more fuel efficient car that doesn’t have too many bells and whistles and which I feel comfortable tackling long drives in.
I was lucky enough to go on a couple of amazing North American road trips over the last few years – a whistle-stop drive from Vancouver to Calgary in my friend’s VW, one epic road trip down the West Coast in a Mini, and finally covering the length of the USA all the way to Mexico – in a Honda Civic.
The latter trip convinced me that if a Civic could cope with terrain like that and long long days of driving, it could cope with anything I threw at it in Europe.
I intend to explore as much of England, and Europe, as I can in my trusty Civic – and I’ve begun easing myself into the European road trips slowly.
So far I’ve been on one trip to a hotel in Oxfordshire (around a 2 hour drive from my home) but with winter coming and far longer drives ahead of me I know that it is worth investing some time and money making sure I have the basics covered.
Firstly even though I bought my car second hand, I made sure I bought it from a dealer who had checked everything out thoroughly and offered me all the right paperwork – eg. a service history and all previous MOT test certificates – and who offered a basic warranty for the first few months, so I could start off with a vehicle I was confident in.
That’s a good start but still before a journey I know I should check the following things –
PRACTICAL PRE-ROAD TRIP CHECKLIST
1. Never tire of your Tyres
Firstly I’ve had to learn to spell them with a ‘y’ again after spending time in the US (my mum once told me off by text for telling her I had a flat ‘tire’, saying my standards were slipping) but however you spell them, they’re the most obvious thing to check as well as the most important.
I recently had my first experience of seeing a bulge in my tyre and knowing I had to drive a long distance soon I decided to get it checked out. To make things easier car tyres online are available at Point S – and when things are available online I always feel happier – but luckily there is a branch near my house too.
If you remember your driving test basics you always need to have a walk around your tyres before setting out on a road trip and make sure they don’t have any bulges or cuts in them and of course coming into winter checking the tread is key, as well as the pressure, so pop to the garage and make sure they are at the recommended PSI.
Yes it’s boring, but if you’re halfway down the motorway when you realise the tyre needs fixing, it’s going to be hair raising.
2. Don’t be a dipstick – Check Your Oil Levels
One of the things I learned on my USA road trip was that if anything is going to go wrong when you’re putting a lot of miles on the clock in a short space of time, especially in an older vehicle, it’s likely to be oil.
We sprung a small oil leak which turned out to not be a major problem, but it is a good lesson for your road trip checklist to always keep oil in the boot so you can replenish it if you do find yourself far away from a service station. It’s not a lot of money and worth every penny for peace of mind.
Always remember the lesson to wipe the dipstick first and then re-dip it for a proper reading.
3. Get Your Kit Out – See What Spares you have
There are a few things you’ll be glad of if you do breakdown – I try to keep a few basics like tissues/ paper towel and water in the car in case of a breakdown, but it’s also important to have a spare tyre that actually works – and isn’t flat – plus a jack to change it with.
There are a few other things that are really useful to have stashed in the boot of your car for emergencies and everyone will have different priorities but a torch is a good idea, and probably some snacks too. I have a phone charger that plugs into my lighter socket which I wouldn’t be without.
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t fancy my chances of changing a tyre myself so I also think it’s important to have breakdown cover…
4. Ensure You Have Good Insurance & Breakdown Cover
Car insurance is a complicated subject and one I’m not going to weigh in on, apart from to say that I considered it money well spent to get my insurance from a UK based company with real humans to talk to – and one which offered free roadside assistance and continental cover too.
Again, it is a boring, but necessary item on any road trip checklist to read your policy and if you don’t think you’re covered buy separate breakdown cover.
5. Go Old Skool – With Maps
If you’re going on a long journey and grew up in the internet, GPS, smartphone age you’ll probably be relying on a blue dot and a computerised voice telling you where to go – I know I do.
But I’ve learned this lesson the hard way on numerous occasions – phones can die, reception can wane and technology can let you down. I have been so glad of having a paper map to look at in emergencies especially in an unfamiliar area, like when I was in the USA.
A lot of tourist boards will send you free maps if you let them know you’re visiting their region, and car hire usually supply you with one, but failing that just pull over at a tourist office or gas station and grab a map of the area for reference.
6. French Polish Your Car – With the Continental Kit
If you’re driving overseas even if it is just on a day trip from Dover to Calais you need to know the law when it comes to having kit in your car overseas.
For example a few years ago a warning triangle was added to the list of items motorists in France are legally obliged to carry in their vehicle – the list includes a high visibility vest, a sticker with your country code on it (GB for us naturally) and special converters to make sure your headlamps don’t dazzle oncoming traffic with a right hand drive car.
I heard stories of Brits being pulled over and fined for not having these items, and if you drive over via the Channel Tunnel or ferry then you’re a sitting duck – so I plan to order these online rather than pay through the nose in the terminal building or even worse, get a fine of up to €135.
If your road trip takes you abroad it is essential to do your homework before you go as you never know what rules or laws may apply that don’t exist in your home country.
After a lot of road trips in North America I made quite a thorough road trip checklist of items to pack inside the car to make the journey more comfy and fun, so I may well create a follow up post on those, but if you’ve any practical hints or tips to add to this list, please leave a comment below!
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