The Top 7 Things You Should Know Before Hitting the Road

Do all cars run better on premium gas? What’s the best roadside assistance program? Should I take the backroads? For the curious or concerned traveler, there’s no end to questions that pop up when someone says the words road trip. You don’t have to know everything, and half the fun lies in not knowing. That being said, there are definitely some things you should know before embarking on the adventure that is the Great American Road Trip.

Don’t succumb to driving myths

Your primary activity on the road is the act of driving. So, be aware of the driving myths that have been perpetuated to this day:

  • The oil-change every 3,000 miles myth: Unless you’re driving an old clunker, your car can go 7,500 to 10,000 miles before an oil change (consult your driver’s manual)
  • The premium gas myth: Your car will not necessarily run better on premium (here again, consult your driver’s manual), because even standard fuel has detergent in it that cleans your fuel lines
  • The idling is better than stopping myth: Idling does not save more gas then stopping and starting your car–in fact, idling wastes half a mile of gas every minute

These are just a few of the myths that just aren’t true. Contrary to what we’ve been taught, your red car won’t get pulled over more often, it’s legal to drive barefoot, and you can get pulled over for driving five miles per hour over the speed limit (although it’s rare).

Know how to change a tire

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people have never changed a tire. If you don’t have roadside assistance, and really all you need to do is put on the spare, it pays to know how to safely change a tire:

  • Pull over and park your car at a safe location alongside the road
  • Block other tires with rocks to keep them from rolling
  • Using your tire iron, loosen the lug nuts, but don’t take them off
  • With the owner’s manual, locate the spots on the frame where it’s safe to use the jack
  • Jack up the car
  • Remove the lug nuts and wheel
  • Mount the spare and tighten the lug nuts, but not all the way
  • Lower the car and tighten the lug nuts as tight as you can

Not only can this knowledge help you when you’re in a jam, you could be of assistance to someone else, too. There’s nothing like the feeling of helping a fellow traveler with a little elbow grease while you’re on the road.   

Look into roadside assistance programs

If you lock your keys in the car, spring a flat tire but don’t have a spare, or your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, roadside assistance is an extremely nice thing to have. But there’s more than one kind of program, so it’s a good idea to consult a comparison guide to figure out which one will suit you best. Many insurance providers offer programs, and there are apps such as and Honk. Credit card companies such as Visa offer a pay-per-request service, but if you do a lot of traveling, it’s pretty tough to beat the service area and terms of a subscription-based service, such as AAA.

Chart the scenic routes and roadside attractions

Sure, you could be on a tight schedule with a final destination that sees you zipping down the interstate at peak efficiency. If you aren’t, do some research on scenic routes and cool stop-offs along the way. Heading coast-to-coast on the I-10? Take a people-watching stroll on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, grab some tacos at Tio’s in Riverside and check out the folk art, roll through Tombstone, AZ (the site of the Gunfight at O.K. Corral), explore the Caverns of Sonora in San Angelo, Texas. So much to see, so much to do!

Get your car shipshape

Having a freshly inspected, ready-to-roll vehicle will take a ton of stress off your back. You’ll depart on the open road without worrying–which is worth a great deal. Know the things that could go wrong with it in the future. Belts, transmission, and fluids tend to be the primary concerns.  A reliable mechanic will be able to give you a good estimate of how many miles you have left in an aging car. And, make sure you know how many miles you have left on your tires and make sure your spare is fully inflated. If you’re not certain which mechanic to go to, YourMechanic is an app that claims it’ll score you 30-50% savings with its disruptive, peer-to-peer concept.

Know where you don’t want to go

For example, you’re heading across Illinois and the fastest, most obvious route takes you straight through Chicago. Now, whether or not you want to go through Chicago depends entirely on what type of road trip you want to take. If you’re into actually seeing some attractions, visiting a jazz club, catching a game at Wrigley Field, then by all means, Chicago. But besides that, journeys through huge urban centers are fraught with traffic and the very real chance you could experience the high crime rate first-hand. Find out where the toll roads and bridges are, too, and avoid them if that route isn’t necessary.

Know your essentials are squared away

These include extra spending cash and an emergency fund, up-to-date insurance, and current registration on your car. If you’re planning an adventurous trip, pack a first aid kit, but really, just pack a first aid kit no matter what. Oh, and music is essential for any trip.

Do you have any of your own pointers on what to know before a road trip? I’d love to hear them in the comments!