The pandemic has certainly upended many vacation plans, but one silver lining? We’ve seen a true renaissance in road trips. Not only do they offer more privacy and less exposure to other people, but they also provide travelers with complete freedom when planning their itineraries. After all, there are no layovers when you’re in a car.
But, before embarking on any sort of a long drive, it’s important to be prepared, especially these days. We enlisted the help of Chaya Milchtein, an automotive educator and the brains behind Mechanic Shop Femme—a website and blog offering automotive classes and auto-related resources to empower women and the queer community—for tips on how to best prepare your car and family for your own version of the Great American Road Trip.
One preliminary note: remember to check travel advisories in advance and only hit the road when it is safe to do so. When you’re ready, read on for five tips to make your trip a breeze.
Prep your car for the road.
Milchtein recommends visiting a mechanic before heading out for your journey and asking for a pre-road trip inspection. “You want them to inspect your tires, brakes, suspension, fluids, and belts; just to make sure that everything checks out and there are no safety components that are near the end of their lives,” she says.
What you don’t want, by the way, is to ask for a tune-up—unless it’s time to replace the spark plugs for preventative maintenance. “Most vehicles only need that about every hundred thousand miles or more,” she says. So even if you’ve just had a tune-up, head back to the mechanic for a quick inspection—you don’t want to be three hours into your drive and stuck on the side of the road with a brake issue.
Consider driving a hybrid car.
Whether you’re in the market for a new ride prior to your road trip, or you have a choice of a rental for the drive, you’ll want to consider opting for a hybrid. Eco-conscious options not only save you gas money, but also time. Take the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid—it’s able to pack up to 47 miles on a single gallon, so once on the road, you won’t be stopping to refill the tank nearly as often. The car is equipped with four modes (Eco, Normal, Sport, and EV), and when you’re in eco mode, the throttle adjusts to maximize your ride’s efficiency. Not only will the family arrive at your destination faster, but you’ll avoid making as many stops—which is key for a socially-distanced trip.
The Camry is also an ideal choice because its powertrain (AKA, how your vehicle gets propelled) is the most efficient and powerful option offered since the Hybrid debuted in 2007. Bonus: the hybrid battery pack is installed beneath the rear seat, which means it doesn’t gobble up any precious trunk space.
Stock up on supplies before you leave.
When traveling as a family, it’s always a wise idea to keep the car stocked with road trip essentials—think: paper towels, snacks, bottles of water—but now you’ll want to make sure you’re fully loaded with sanitation tools as well.
Items like disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, gloves, and extra masks can all be stored in a designated cleaning caddy for easy access. Bonus: in the event of roadside bathroom breaks, you’ll be fully prepared.
Plan your stops and route in advance.
The pandemic has forced many businesses that are road trip staples to shift their hours. To avoid disappointed kids or empty stomachs, make sure you research your planned stops well in advance. This way, if that outdoor sculpture park or famed BBQ spot requires advance reservations, you’ll be all set.
Additionally, map out your route so you can make sure your car is ready for the journey. “Mapping out your trip will help you schedule regular stops for refueling, so you don’t wait until the vehicle is nearly out of gas,” Milchtein says.
Consider the safety features of your car.
To feel confident and prepared that your family will make it safely from point A to point B on a road trip, it’s helpful to understand the safety features (or lack-thereof) in your car.
The 2021 Camry Hybrid, for example, is equipped with a 360-degree bird’s-eye view camera and a blind spot monitor. “Toyota is one of the brands that has always led the pack in making sure that their vehicles are as safe as possible,” Milchtein says.
She is a particular fan of the car’s Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+, a driver-assist technology that includes automatic emergency braking. “It’s an incredible way to [help] protect yourself and protect other drivers on the road in case of some kind of emergency,” she says. The technology includes enhanced pedestrian detection and intersection support, radar cruise control, and a lane departure alert, too.
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