25 tips for heading out on the highway

The road trip is a time-honoured family tradition. Whether you’re going 400 or 4,000 kilometres, to the cabin or from coast to coast, it pays to get prepped for a flawless family road trip.

Enjoy this last long weekend of the summer with 25 tips to keep your trek safe.

Get roadworthy

These might seem basic, but if you don’t tend to them it’s hard to get out of the driveway—and where you’re going. You’ll thank yourself for doing this stuff well before you leave. Your family will (rightfully) think you rock.

1. Give your vehicle the once over, a full inspection and servicing for summer driving.
2. If you’re going to be towing a trailer, check its tires and lights and your hitch. Know how to hitch and tow your trailer/boat, and how to load off-road vehicles.
3. If you’re going to be carrying a load of any size, check your ropes, straps and tie-downs. Got a roof or bumper rack? Make sure its contents are secure. You don’t want loose objects flying at high-speed off your vehicle on the highway.
4. If your little ones are in car seats, check the universal anchoring system to ensure it’s installed correctly. A frightening number of times it’s not. See the Yes Test for car seats at 4. myhealth.alberta.ca.
5. Taking a rental? Know basic operations such as how the cruise control works, where the gas cap is and have adequate insurance coverage. Driving to the U.S.? Find out if the vehicle can be driven across the Canada/U.S. border in advance.
6. Check ahead for the forecast and road conditions, construction or closures.

Family on a road trip

25 tips for heading out on the highway

Plan your journey

7. Pre-program your route into your GPS or cellphone before hitting the road. Program stops along the way to avoid searching for directions while driving.
8. Plan your departure time and estimated arrival time; share the details with someone. And let them know when you arrive and are home again.
9. Copy documents such as passports, driver’s licenses and birth certificates and leave with a trusted family member or friend. You can also post these to the cloud for easy access.

Pack accordingly

10. Leave room to breathe. Space always seems tight on family trips—give the kids a bit of room around their seats. Same goes for the dog.
11. Bring some creature comforts: pillows, blankets, sweaters or fleeces and favourite teddies and toys.
12. Preload essentials such as a cellphone charger (charge in advance and keep it fully charged on the road). Bring other items like spare keys, sunglasses, an extra credit card and spare cash.
13. Keep things you’ll be bound to need (wipes, tissues, sunglasses, snacks) nearby. Let your co-pilot reach for them so you don’t drive distracted.
14. Stay hydrated and pack snacks.
15. Don’t forget to make room for a well-stocked emergency kit. You never know when you’ll need it.

Hittin’ the highway

16. Wear your seatbelt. It’s simplest, best way to protect yourself and loved ones while travelling on roads.
17. Drive alert. If you’re tired, take turns driving with your co-pilot or take a 20-minute nap at a rest stop. See the Alberta Motor Association tips on beating driver fatigue.
18. Breathe deep and ease off the gas pedal. Driving at or slightly below the speed limit will get you where you’re going in plenty of time.
19. Young Drivers of Canada advises: avoid tailgating. You never know when you’re going to have to suddenly slow down or stop.
20. If you’re towing a trailer or carrying a heavy load, leave more room between you and other vehicles. The heavier your gross vehicle weight, the longer it takes to stop.
21. Pass only when it’s safe and give yourself extra time around transport trucks.
22. Watch for wildlife; many animals are most active at dusk.
23. Watch for cyclists and motorcylists. They can appear out of nowhere.
24. Avoid distractions–especially your cellphone. Block calls and pre-program everything—your route and playlists.
25. Enjoy—it’s the end of summer!

  • Kate Bregovic

    Thanks for really useful recommendations! Road trips are always a great challenge for my family! The next time I’ll be armed at all points :) Recently read Agatha Singer’s post on how to travel with a newborn on plane She also opened my eyes to so many obvious, but very useful travel tips.