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Here's a handy guide for your next road trip - whether its a few hundred miles or a few thousand.
- Car Maintenance and Safety
- Packing & Your PDF Checklist (fill in & save!)
- Last Minute Checklist

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Car Maintenance and Safety

  1. Driving a long distance? Consider scheduling a tune-up for your car a week or so before departing. Why? It’ll give you a peace of mind knowing your car will run correctly.

    If you just recently had a tune-up, make sure everything is in working order:

    • brakes
    • battery (should be replaced after 5+ years)
    • tire pressure
    • tire tread and traction (especially important in winter)
    • windshield wipers
    • lights (headlights, turn signals, brakes, hazards)
    • fluids (oil, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, gas, etc.)
    • heater/AC
    • horn
  2. Pack a car emergency kit – have items on hand “just in case.” Read our Car Emergency Kit article to learn how to put a kit together.

    WHN TIP: Minimum Items

    At the very least, have a spare tire, jack, jumper cables, a few quarts of oil, cell phone and charger, food, water, a first aid kit and any other special needs for you and your family.

    WHN TIP: Road Help

    Worried about having trouble on the road? Consider signing up for a group like AAA to help you if you need roadside assistance. Membership usually requires paying a small fee and you'll receive other discounts and benefits as well.

  3. Consider reviewing your auto insurance policy before heading out on the road, especially what is covered in the event of an accident. Contact your insurance agent if you have any questions (remember to bring along their contact details with you on your trip!).

    WHN TIP: Liability Insurance

    In 45 states, you MUST have liability insurance.

    WHN TIP: Travel Insurance

    Travel insurance is also an option. Read our Travel Insurance guide for additional information.

  4. Consider mapping out your route before you go. Plan rest stops, eating stops and other points of interest. You might want to calculate your mileage as well so you’ll know where and when you’ll need to stop for gas.

    WHN TIP: The Road Atlas

    Road atlases are a great resource for road trip. They’ll usually mark major exits – important to know when driving through a less populous or more rural area of the country.

    WHN TIP: Trip Planners

    AAA also has a free online trip planner. You can figure out mileage, rest stops, points of interests, recommended hotels, restaurants and so on (some features are for members only).

    WHN TIP: Additional Guides

    Read our other guides - Hotel Tips and Renting a Car - for additional information.

  5. Remember that traffic laws vary from state to state and sometimes city to city, especially regarding speed limits and cell phone use while driving. If you’re curious, consider researching the laws of the states you might be visiting or driving through. The New York Times has a great article about different driving terms across the country (Michigan left, jughandles, etc.), click here to read it.

Packing & Your PDF Checklist

Click here for your save-able PDF Packing Checklist. Check items off your list as you pack and save the list to your desktop knowing that you're prepared for your trip!

Don't have the latest version of Acrobat Reader? It's FREE, and you can download it here.

WHN TIP: Smart Packing 1

Pack light or at the very least, leave extra room in your luggage. You’ll always bring more items home with you than you planned for (souvenirs, clothes, gifts, etc.)..

WHN TIP: Smart Packing 2

Be sure to pack a cell phone in case of roadside emergencies.

WHN TIP: Smart Packing 3

Make sure you bring enough items for entertainment! Pack audiobooks, games, music, etc.

Label Your Luggage

Even though you might not be flying, it’s still a good idea to label your bags in case they’re somehow lost or stolen. Put on a luggage tag with your home address and put a label inside your bags (tape a card or a piece of paper to the inside).

Financial Preparations

  1. Call your credit card companies and let them know about your trip: specifically which dates you’ll be traveling and what cities you’ll be visiting. Why? Because they may put a security or fraud alert on your account and you won’t be able to access your account!
  2. Remember to make photocopies of all the credit cards (front and back) you’re taking with you. Keep the copies in a different area from your card (i.e. luggage, locked glove compartment) in case you need to call and cancel your card. Also, write down the phone number you would need to call to cancel your card in case it’s lost or stolen.

Last Minute Checklist

  1. Make arrangements for your home, if you haven’t already done so.
    • Have a friend, family member or trusted neighbor check on your house, take care of pets, water your house plants, take out the trash, get the mail and newspaper.
    • Need to board your pets? Read our article Choosing a Pet Kennel or Boarding Facility for some top expert tips.

    WHN TIP:

    Don’t cancel your newspaper or wait to take out the trash until you get home. You want your house to look lived in!

  2. Reconfirm all your reservations.
    • Hotel Reconfirmed/Date/Person Spoke With
    • Car Rental Reconfirmed/Date/Person Spoke With
    • Train Reservations Reconfirmed/Date/Person Spoke With
    • Other Reservations Reconfirmed/Date/Person Spoke With
  3. Reevaluate itinerary.
    • Make any necessary changes and leave at least one copy with a friend, family member or trusted neighbor.
  4. Check the weather for your destination(s). Take out or add items to your luggage, if necessary. Worried about driving through certain weather hazards?

Inside Your Home

  1. Empty the refrigerator of items that might spoil - dairy, meat, and produce – and adjust the temperature to a lower setting.
  2. Unplug your toaster, coffeemaker, and any other kitchen appliances.
  3. Unplug electronic items - TV's, radios, phones, and your computer to protect them if you have a storm while you’re gone.
    • If not unplugging your computer or other electronics, make sure your surge protectors are properly installed.
  4. Turn water heater down to the lowest setting.
  5. Turn your air conditioner up in summer to protect pets, electronics, and other items.
  6. Turn your heat down or off in spring or fall.
  7. Set automatic light and radio timers.
  8. Leave shades or drapes as you normally do. This will make your house look lived-in.
  9. Put your valuables and jewelry in a safety deposit box or safe.

    WHN TIP:

    If you don’t have safe or safety deposit box, put your jewelry in a nondescript cardboard box in your closet. Why? Thieves won’t think to look there.

  10. Empty trash cans
  11. Lock all doors and windows including basement & garage.
  12. Read Get Prepared - Home Theft for additional home safety and security tips.


  1. Bring in any mail or newspapers.
  2. Pick up any toys, tools, objects, ladders, etc. that might be in your yard.


  1. Do a quick car maintenance check before heading out on the road – check your oil and gas levels; check headlights, turn signals, brake lights, inside lights; test your brakes, horn, windshield wipers, etc.
  2. Double-check for driver’s license, auto insurance card, money, medicine and all bags.
  3. Double-check all locked doors and windows.

Thank you ...

A special thank you to the industry professionals, travelers, travel agents, auto technicians and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.

Reviewed 1/2009


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