a couple in car reading from a map

Holiday Road Travel & Driving Tips | Be Safe and Merry!

If you aren’t fighting for airline tickets this holiday season, you’ll be fighting for a spot on the road.

According to AAA, around 50 million American will journey 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving (defined as Nov. 23 to Nov. 27). And nearly 90% of these Thanksgiving travelers will be driving (around 44 million)!

AAA also predicts that they will be rescuing more than 370,000 motorists due mostly to dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts.

To avoid being one of the stranded families this holiday season, check your tires, go over essential car maintenance, and always carry these items in your car.

In addition to the increased risk of motor accidents and breakdowns, stress and travel anxiety will also be on the rise. Whether by air, water, or highway, it can be extremely stressful and anxiety-reducing to travel during the holidays, especially during such high-travel periods as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Whether you are going on a long road trip or making a more local drive to Grandma’s, these tips and tricks will help ensure your trip is safe, fun, and stress-free.

10 Holiday Road Travel Tips

  1. Prep Your Car

Most holiday travel is made by personal vehicle. In addition to winter weather conditions, the drives tend to me a lot longer. In order to reduce your risk of incident, make sure your vehicle is properly maintained.

Whether your trip is a long or short one, you don’t want a breakdown to ruin the holidays. Schedule a pre-trip tune-up to check your fluids, tires, battery, wipers, and everything else. Even if your maintenance is up-to-date, do a quick tire and fluids check at least a day in advance of the trip.

Here are some things you’ll want to check before hitting the road:

If you are driving during winter weather, learn vehicle winterization tips. Don’t forget to fill your gas tank before you leave.

  1. Learn How to Jumpstart a Vehicle and Change a Tire

If your battery dies, it’s easy to jump-start it. All you need are some jumper cables and another vehicle, or you can do it yourself with a portable jump starter.

Portable jump starters are also great for recharging phones and other electronics. Some even have emergency radios, lights, 12-volt outlets, and air compressors. Don’t forget to charge your portable jump starter before the trip!

Additionally, it’s a good idea to double-check your spare tire before any road trip. To save time and impress your traveling companions, learn how to change a tire beforehand. 

  1. Enjoy the Moment

We’re not going to try to mislead you about holiday travel—it can be extremely stressful. However, you do have a lot of control and choice in the matter.

Instead of being all up in your head, worried about traffic, being late, anxieties, judgements, what-ifs, predictions, and the unremitting stress of work, family, and society, transform that anxiety into laughter and joy. You probably have family around you. Be sensitive to the present moment and enjoy it.

Nobody knows you better than yourself. Bring the things that will help make your time more enjoyable and less stressful. Whether that means noise-cancelling headphones, a good book/podcast, or comfy clothes, focus on the things that bring you and your companions happiness.

  1. Make a List and Check It Twice

One of the best ways to reduce travel stress and enjoy the moment is by making a list and checking it twice.

Make a list of everything you need for the trip:

  • Passport/Driver’s License
  • Insurance Documents
  • Phone/Phone Charger
  • Music/Audio
  • Wallet/Money/Keys
  • Laptop/Laptop Charger
  • Clothing (Layers)
  • Toiletries
  • Medication/First Air Kit
  • Car Supplies
  • Food (learn how to cook on-the-go with our Thanksgiving Car-B-Q post)
  • Gifts and Presents

Pack whatever you can at least a day in advance of the trip. The last things you should pack are items like your toothbrush, phone, and wallet. This should be a separate “final” list of items. Place this list on top of your packed suitcase so you don’t forget anything.

In addition to your packing list, there should also be a household chores list—things like washing the dishes, taking the trash out, and making sure the iron isn’t plugged in. There’s nothing worse than coming home to a filthy, smelly home.

Don’t forget to look up the weather and bring plenty of cold-weather items. And if you promised, don’t forget your famous casserole or pie to do for.

Wake up early and get some coffee and a good bite to eat. Then, make sure the car is packed with everything for holiday trip, including these essential vehicle items. Double check your “final” list of items and household chores list. At last, leave in complete confidence and enjoy the trip.

  1. Leave Early (or Late)

This is true no matter how you are traveling, but it’s especially true for drivers. Although most drivers try to leave early to “beat traffic,” many fail to achieve their goals. If you wake up early enough and already have everything packed the night before, you can beat the masses. Another option is to leave in the evening or night, however, if nighttime driving tends to be less safe.

The worst traffic usually occurs between 12pm and 5pm. Try to avoid the afternoon if possible.

You may also want to avoid the busiest travel days, which is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after. Consider traveling on Thanksgiving morning and heading home on Friday or Saturday to beat the travel rush.

  1. Bring Entertainment

There are so many amazing Podcasts and audiobooks available at the press of a button that there should be no excuse of boredom during a long car trip.

If you don’t want to fight over every single song that gets chosen (that’s a lot of potential arguing and discomfort), choose long-form audio in the form of audiobooks or podcasts. Try to agree on what you will be listening to before the trip begins. Nothing’s worse than a road trip starting off on a bad note (pun intended) because you’re arguing about what to listen to.

Choose one of the following podcasts and you’ll be able to spark interesting conversations for the entire duration of the trip. Hopefully everyone will agree and nobody will be bored!

Here are some of the best podcasts suitable for kids and families:

  • Tumble Science Podcast for Kids – Kids’ science podcast for the whole family.
  • The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian – A very entertaining serialized science fiction story.
  • Dream Big Podcast – The entrepreneur podcast for kids on pursuing dreams and making them a reality.
  • Story Time – Best for younger audiences, around ages 2-12. Great for those who love bedtime stories.
  • But Why – Kids ask why, and adults find the answers. Topics are wide and varied.
  • Brains On! – In-depth discussions of interesting questions with scientific answers.

If you have an older crowd in the car (teens and older), you may want to listen to some of these podcasts:

  • Lore – Creepy, real-life stories hosted by (now a TV show on Amazon Prime).
  • Welcome to Night Vale – A brilliant mixture of comedy, mystery, and horror (a la Twilight Zone).
  • Lux Radio Theater – Radio shows of old movies. Great for classic movie fans.
  • This American Life – If you are a fan of NPR and PBS storytelling, you’ll enjoy this one (also a TV show).
  • Radiolab – Stimulating discussions on a wide range of philosophical and scientific topics.
  • The Moth – Award-winning show about real-life stories from real-life people.
  • Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! – NPR game show with plenty of laughs.
  • Hardcore History – For the history buffs.
  • You Must Remember This – Intriguing stories from Hollywood (start with the Charles Manson episodes).

If you are looking for a serialized podcast that leaves you hanging at the end of each episode, consider Serial, S-Town, and Criminal.

For a break from music and podcasts, learn the best games to play in the car.

  1. Use a GPS App

If you are looking for the fastest way to get to your destination, a GPS app is a must. Even if you know where you are going, today’s GPS apps can give you real-time traffic updates, road conditions, custom navigations, and other major benefits. The most popular ones are Google Maps and Waze. For more usability, go with Google Maps, but Waze will probably get you there faster.

And don’t worry about data. You can download maps to your phone via WiFi before heading on the road.

Use Waze, GasBuddy, and other apps to find the cheapest gas on your route.

  1. Pack Snacks

If you’re going to make it to your destination with minimal stops, you will need to pack some drinks and snacks.

While you don’t want to ruin your appetite, you also don’t want to arrive “hangry.”

Consider these nutritional snacks to avoid highway stops and arrive happier and healthier:

  • Nuts/Trail Mix
  • Jerky
  • Nutrition Bars
  • Granola
  • Fruit and Vegetables
  • Popcorn
  • Cheese and Crackers
  • Chocolate/Candy
  • Water/Juice
  1. Stop If You Need To

Sometimes a break is needed. If someone wants to stop, stop. Don’t cause yourself back pain or unwanted aggression by fighting the urge to make a pit stop.

Also, stops can serve as a nice refresh button when things are getting tense. Stretch, walk around, use the rest room. It’s a great way to feel better on long trips.

When traveling with children, teach them to avoid strangers and consider giving them a whistle if you should get separated.

You may even see a roadside attraction you want to squeeze in. If you left early, you should have no problem arriving on time.

  1. Be Safe!

Above all else, be safe!

You can reduce your chances of an accident with the following vehicle and road safety tips:

  • Get a good night’s sleep. Never drive while drowsy!
  • Buckle up, follow all rules of the road, and do NOT drive impaired!
  • Do not use the phone while driving. Either pull over first or have a passenger relay a message for you. Otherwise, it can wait.
  • Make stops to stretch, snack, and rotate drivers if you need to.
  • Clean your headlights, taillights, and signal lights if you need to. Learn more headlight safety tips.
  • Don’t tailgate—use the minimum 2-second rule during good driving conditions and the 4-second rule for rainy and unsafe driving conditions.
  • Download GPS maps and choose your music/audio before you leave. This will prevent the urge to fiddle with your phone while driving.
  • Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes. Bare feet and sandals won’t provide any protection in the event of an accident.
  • Make sure you have your insurance and roadside assistance information on hand.
  • Keep a phone and charger with you. (Portable jump starters can serve as backup battery chargers).
  • Learn common driving mistakes and how to avoid them.
  • Learn winter driving tips and how to handle black ice and skids.
  • Learn about your vehicle dashboard warning lights and what they mean.

Use this infographic from AAA for more travel tips this holiday season:

Road Trip Holiday Travel Safety Tips

More Driving and Road Safety:

Need a safe vehicle for your holiday travels? We carry a large inventory of Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles, each of which go through a comprehensive 180-Point Quality Inspection by our expert mechanics.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to speak with one of our Online Specialists or give us a call:

Chattanooga, TN – (423) 551-3600

Cleveland, TN – (423) 472-2000

Dayton, TN – (423) 775-4600

Dalton, GA – (706) 217-2277

Wishing you a fun and safe holiday season!

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