Everyone loves a good road trip. Whether you’re heading to Ouma’s with the kids, taking a trip to the coast, or embarking on a cross-country jaunt, don’t leave home without these tried and tested road trip tips. We’ve got some solid, practical advice about avoiding traffic, saving money, keeping the kids entertained, and staying safe (and awake!) on your next road trip.
Make sure your car is ready for the trip
Check oil, water, tyre pressure and tread, brakes and windscreen wipers before you set off, and make sure your car has been recently serviced so that you know it’s safe to be driving long distances in it. Do the same for your caravan and trailer if you’re taking them on the road with you.
Don’t forget to check your break-down kit and spare tyre – it would stink to break down in the middle of nowhere without them! Consider becoming a member of AAA or signing up for your car insurer’s roadside assistance programme; you won’t regret it when your car breaks down on a lonely back road, far from home. It’s also a smart idea to check that your licence disk on your car is still valid, to avoid unnecessary traffic fines.
Don’t forget to have these handy:
- Your driver’s licence
- An in-car cellphone charger
- Medical aid cards
If it’s at all possible, try not to overload your car with luggage. Limit passengers to one bag per person and don’t pile the boot so high that you can’t see anything in your rear view mirror.
To avoid frustration, confusion and last minute panic stations on departure day, start packing a few days before you leave. Discuss with your children what they want to take with, and if they are old enough let them pack their own bags, but be clear with packing guidelines.
Anything that you’ll need in the car, make sure it’s packed in a separate bag/tote and that it doesn’t go into the boot. There’s nothing worse than realising that your wallet is in your suitcase and that the whole car needs to be unpacked to locate it. Pack a padkos basket. Ensure that you have plenty of bottled water, juice and snacks to keep everyone going between pit stops.
Other smart things to pack:
- A first-aid kit
- Wet wipes/hand sanitiser
- A loo roll
- GPS (and maybe a maps app or two on your smartphone!)
Plan for the kids
Be realistic about the length of your trip. While older children might be able to deal with 10 or more hours in the car, younger children can’t. Generally speaking, young children should not be subjected to confinement in a car for more than six hours a day. This is just as much for your sanity as it is for theirs.
If they’re still in car/booster seats, make sure they’re correctly installed in the car. Check out the manufacturer’s website for more information. If your child has special dietary requirements, make sure you pack enough snacks and drinks to meet their needs. It’s unlikely that you’ll find gluten-free muffins at the petrol station in the middle of the Free State, so pack your own.
Children in the car are potential distractions for the driver. Turning around to see what’s happening on the back seat could be potentially fatal, so ensure you have things/activities to keep them entertained. Here are a few pointers and ideas:
- Old-fashioned road trip games
- iPad/portable game console/DVD player
- Special toys/security objects
Dos and don’ts for travelling with kids
Older children (15-25 kg) should be secured in a booster seat with a seatbelt on, preferably in the rear of the vehicle.
- Never fasten a child seat to the front seat of a vehicle equipped with airbags unless the bags have been deactivated.
- Small children (less than 20 kg) should not sit in the front passenger seat if the vehicle has a front passenger airbag that has not been deactivated.
- Never allow children to stand on seats or sit on other passengers’ laps.
- Ensure doors are locked and activate the child locks on rear doors and windows to avoid children opening them while the vehicle is moving or in unsafe places.
- Make sure the baby is not exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time while in the vehicle – block the sun with a towel or shade screen.
- When parking, make sure you have good access to the side of the vehicle where your child is seated.
Plan for your departure
While it might seem like a good idea to leave at 3am, it’s actually not that smart. It’ll be dark, visibility will be reduced and your body clock will be telling you that you should be asleep. If you are planning on leaving at this time, make sure you have had at least six hours sleep beforehand. Avoid alcohol the night before your road trip – starting out with a hangover is a really bad idea!
Avoid leaving during peak-hour traffic in the morning and afternoon – nobody wants to start their holiday in a traffic jam. Know which days are going to be the busiest on the road (the day after schools have broken up, the day before Christmas, the day before New Year’s) and plan around that. Leave before or after everyone else to avoid traffic on the major interprovincial roads.
Safe driving tips
If possible, share driving duties with someone. Switch places every two to three hours to avoid fatigue. If you’re driving with kids – stop often. Rest stops along major routes usually have a place for kids to play, so let them have a potty break and a climb on the jungle gym before getting back in the car.
Dos and don’ts
- Drive with your headlights on, even during the day to ensure you’re visible to other drivers – especially on long stretches of road.
- Don’t play your road trip music too loud. You might not hear ambulances/emergency vehicles or other cars hooting at you. You might also not hear any funny noises your car might make to alert you that something is wrong.
- Stick to the speed limit and be safe when overtaking other vehicles. There’s no point rushing to your destination and getting home to loads of speeding fines. Don’t hog the fast lane and be sure to thank those that move out of the way for you to overtake.
- If it’s raining or misty, slow down. You might think you’re an excellent driver under any conditions, but not everyone else is, so factor that in to your driving and increase your following/braking distance.
- Buckle up. ALWAYS. Everyone in the car must wear a seatbelt.
And remember: it is not just you on the roads. So don’t be selfish and don’t be reckless. Have some patience and enjoy the trip rather than hurry to your destination. Be safe and have a wonderful holiday road trip and remember that we’re here for you when you need somewhere to get some sleep!