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Your ultimate guide to a safe and fun vacation

by Staff

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“Easy Travel” is a 10-part series focusing on how to reduce bumps during vacations, anticipate roadblocks and be ready when things aren’t going your way. If you’d like to contribute to our future reporting and share your experience as a source, you can click here to fill out this quick form.

Ina Daly has spent most of her life on the road.

“My dad was a truck driver and that led me to becoming a truck driver,” she said. “What we do in a day, on a daily job would be like a long road trip to most people.”

With nearly 40 years of driving for freight transportation services provider XPO and numerous industry accolades under her belt, including grand champion at this year’s Arizona Truck Driving Championship, Daly is a pro. She’s also a mom and a grandmother who’s happy to share her experiences to make everyone’s road trips better.

“Some of the things I’m telling you are what we truckers tell our family members,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of accomplishments in my career and going to the National Truck Driving Championships (this month) is a reward, but the bigger reward is being able to share some things … that have the potential to save lives.”

What to do before a long drive

“Make sure that your vehicle’s road trip ready,” Daly said. ”Really pay close attention to your tires, your coolant, your fan belt.”

She notes tire dealers often offer free inspections to ensure tires are properly inflated and undamaged.

AAA spokesperson Aixa Diaz advises getting the whole car serviced before hitting the road.

“If you’re a car person and you can, do that yourself at home, by all means,” she said. Otherwise, she recommends getting the oil changed and battery and tires checked professionally. 

To save time and avoid stress, Diaz also suggests filling up on gas the night before leaving and making hotel reservations well in advance, noting that many hotels allow cancellations without penalty up until the day beforehand. 

What do you need before a road trip?

It’s always good to keep an emergency kit with supplies like first aid, a flashlight and extra batteries, and basic tools in the vehicle.

“You want to make sure that if you do have a tire issue, you have the proper tools and jacks in your vehicle to be able to change it,” Daly said. She said warning signals like reflective triangles can also warn other drivers to steer clear in the event of a breakdown.

For road trips, both she and Diaz recommend shelf-stable snacks like protein bars that won’t melt and plenty of water. “Don’t think that a bottle or two for everybody is enough,” Daly said. “You’ve got to have, you know, five or six bottles for everyone.” 

Diaz also recommends wet wipes, blankets during the winter, and any time-sensitive medication or pet food that might be needed in the event of an extended delay.

“These things ideally wouldn’t take up too much room in your trunk but they’re just good to have in case of an emergency,” Diaz said. “Just think, ‘If I were stuck for a long time, what would keep me comfortable until I was able to (get) help?’”  

A printed map and a general sense of the route can also help in case there GPS hiccups or a phone dies.  AAA’s free TripTik planner can help travelers plot their trips in advance and find rest stops, lodging, food and gas along the way. And its free Gas Cost Calculator can help locate the cheapest average gas prices for drivers when it’s time to refuel.

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What I should know before a road trip?

“Everything can be a distraction in the car – the radio, the kids, etc. But the phone is a big one,” Daly advised. “When you’re driving, that thing should not ever be in your hand.”

More than 3,500 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2021 because of distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Daly also recommends watching out for distracted drivers.

“You can tell a distracted driver by their fluctuating speed,” she warned. “They’re drifting in their lane. Their head is looking down instead of focusing on the road. You want to give those people a wide berth.”

How long will a road trip take?

Road trips always take longer than expected because of traffic, construction and other things that arise en route.

Diaz says to expect at least an hour longer than whatever the GPS predicts. Daly recommends leaving at least two hours early.

“You don’t want that stressful drive,” Daly said. “You’re hurrying. That lends to bad driving behaviors like tailgating and speeding, which leads to accidents. Don’t put yourself in that situation.”

How many hours a day should you drive on a road trip?

“It just varies so much from person to person, how long they’re comfortable driving,” Diaz said. “We want to err on the side of safety. We want people to be safe on the roads and drive the speed limit and not rush it, but everybody’s different.”

Switching out drivers can lighten the load, but no matter who is driving, Daly said, “If you’re starting to feel a little, less attentive, maybe a little fatigued, it’s time to take a break.”

What time is best to drive?

“We always recommend, especially during the holidays, leave early in the morning,” Diaz said. “The later you leave in the day, the worse it’s going to be because a lot of times during the week … you’re going to mix with those commuters on the road.”

“Some people enjoy night driving,” she added. “Once you get to like 8 p.m., 9 p.m. traffic comes down a lot.” 

However, she noted drivers who leave in the evening should watch out for fatigue and plan to drive less than if they started fresh in the morning.

How do you take a good road trip with kids? 

When possible, Daly recommends having a designated passenger to help with kids so the driver can focus on the road.  

Another important thing is to keep seatbelts on the whole way.

“Kids have a tendency to take those off,” Daly said. “Make sure they stay buckled up. I’ve seen some horrible things out there.”

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What do kids need on a road trip?

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Diaz recommends printing a map or list of sites or cities for kids to watch for along the way.

“You know, yell it out or mark it on your sheet,” she said. “Have some crayons in the car with them so they’re following along on the trip, and they feel like they’re part of it.”

“Point out historical landmarks and scenery; enjoy nature,” Daly echoed. “That’s one of the things that we truck drivers love about our jobs is we get to see the country and nature.”

Stop at points of interest every few hours or simply for everyone to stretch their legs.

And for those times when kids are on screens, make sure to pack car chargers.

What is the best way to save gas?

Don’t speed. 

“Fuel economy peaks at around 50 miles per hour on most cars, and then it drops off as the speeds increase,” Diaz said. “You think, ‘OK, if I just go 70, I’m going to get there faster, and it’ll be better,’ but essentially, you’re just wasting gas at that point.” Fuel economy can be increased by as much as 15% by reducing highway speeds by 5 to 10 miles per hour, she said.

Don’t idle unnecessarily either, like at rest stops.

“Your car engine consumes about a quarter to a half a gallon of fuel per hour while it’s idling,” she said. “But a warm engine only takes about 10 seconds’ worth of fuel to restart, so if it’s safe to do so, just shut off your engine.”

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What happens if my tire blows out?

“When you blow a tire, kaboom, it freaks you out. Do not panic,” Daly said. “Don’t slow down abruptly or brake hard or jerk the wheel because that will cause you to lose control and have an accident.”

“Just focus on steering,” she added. “Slow very gradually, off to the side of the road in a safe area, and you won’t have any issue from your blown tire.”

How do you drive around semitrucks?

“Be aware of our needs and limitations,” Daly said. “You know we’re big. We need a lot of space around us. We have big blind spots. … If you can’t see the truck driver’s face in the mirrors of the truck, the truck driver can’t see you.”

She advised against passing on the right. 

“If you have to pass quickly, don’t linger over there. We see people driving over there for the shade (and it) puts us in a very dangerous situation,” she said. “And don’t cut in front of us and then hit your breaks. People don’t like to follow a truck because they can’t see around us, so they pass us and then cut in front of us.”

“It takes away that safety cushion we leave in front of us,” she added. “When you see all that space in front of a truck, that’s not for your convenience so that you can pass us and cut into it. That’s for our safety and yours.”

By the same token, she advised fellow drivers to leave plenty of space in front of their own vehicles, so they have enough room to stop quickly in an emergency. If another driver cuts into that space, she suggested, “Take a break. Slow down again. Recreate that space. Bite your tongue and think pure thoughts.”

That last tip may not be so easy.

What has been your best or worst road trip experience?

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