Road trips are fun.  Rather they can be if you don’t let yourself get stressed out.  I find that one of the biggest stressors people have is about what might go wrong or what could go wrong.  Planning for a road trip is easy and can be as simple as throwing a change of clothes into the car or as complicated as a shuttle launch.

First things first: you have to have wheels if you’re going on a road trip.  It’s well worth taking the time to prepare your vehicle for your upcoming trip.  Below are some things that you may want to keep in mind if you’re looking to wander the roadways:

Choosing a Vehicle for a Road Trip:  

People are shocked that I do the kinds of trips that I do with dogs in my little car.  All of the dogs sit in the back seat and each of them have their own place that they have claimed.  For me, the car is a good size for my purposes: meaning it has just enough space, it is good on fuel, and is reliable.

Could I use a bit more space?  Absolutely.  Am I complaining?  Not at all.  A larger vehicle invites you to carry more things.  More things to carry means more weight.  More weight means less fuel efficiency.  Less fuel efficiency means you spend more time (and money) in gas stations.

I drive a Toyota Corolla.  My last Corolla lasted seven years and had over 450 000 km when I traded it in for a new Corolla.  The biggest factor that affects a vehicle’s longevity is keeping up with the regular scheduled maintenance.  Besides oil changes and expected wear and tear, neither vehicle has needed any other work done to it.  How’s that for reliability?  That’s not an endorsement for Toyota but a testament to the value of keeping up with maintenance.

A rare family photo. It seemed appropriate.  (Venice, Louisiana)

I know that some people will rent a vehicle.  This is an option that you may want to consider in the following situations:

  • You don’t want to put high mileage on your own vehicle.
  • You want to drive something more fuel-efficient.
  • You’re driving with more people than you can, or want to, squeeze in your car.
  • You have concerns about your car making it to the corner store never mind the next province.
  • You’re heading somewhere with lots of snow and your vehicle handles like a toboggan.
  • You have dog crates that won’t fit in your car with your gear.
  • Your vehicle doesn’t have enough cargo capacity.

This is a very personal decision to make as the cost of renting can very quickly add up.  If you are splitting the cost between many people, then it can be more manageable.  Make sure that you get a detailed renters contract and read it over.  Even if you splurge on the “unlimited” miles, they aren’t always as unlimited as you would think.

Some companies, but not all, allow dogs in their rentals and some won’t even charge for it.  As with so many things, make sure you check the fine print.  Few things ruin the good vibes more than getting hit with unexpected fees when you’re coming back from a trip.

If you’re going to buy a vehicle and it’s going to be used for road trips, there are several factors you’ll have to take into account:

  • Will this be the only vehicle you own or is it also going to be your vehicle for daily use?
  • If it’s only purpose is for road trips, is it just for travelling or will you be sleeping in it?
  • Do you want to have a trailer?  There are trailers that are designed to be towed by smaller vehicles but the engine still needs to have the necessary towing capacity.  It’s also important to consider whether you’ll be towing across flat land or mountains.  I would recommend more towing capacity than you think you need to make it easier and safer on steep hills.
  • Where will you be driving?  Road trips between cities are different from road trips on uneven backroads and logging tracks.
  • How many people, or pets, will be travelling with you?  For younger children, you may want the option of entertainment systems built into the vehicle.  Let’s not forget all the added stuff that comes with a larger group of people.
  • Will you be staying in hotels and motels or will you be camping?  You’ll have to factor in the cargo room needed for camping gear on top of the personal gear.
  • Factor in fuel efficiency.  Car companies love to shove those numbers into our face but that’s often for an empty vehicle in ideal conditions.  When looking at a new vehicle, use the fuel efficiency as a guide to compare vehicles for suitability.

So you’ve decided on the vehicle, now what?

Inspecting Your Vehicle Before a Road Trip: 

If you’re good with cars and are comfortable with maintenance, now is the time to go over the vehicle with a fine-tooth comb.  On top of the usual regular maintenance, you’ll want to take a close look at the tires and test the battery.  Those two things seem to be the biggest problem faced on road trips.

Me…I’m not so mechanically inclined which is why I have a shop where I take my car for everything.  Mechanics are worth their weight in gold to a road tripper.  I have a great relationship with the guys at my shop, no doubt assisted by the fact that I bring them a steady supply of home baked cookies.  I trust them not to jerk me around with repairs and to let me know when things are going to have to be addressed.  When I’m planning on going on a road trip, I make sure I tell them at the second to last oil change.  That way, they can go over the car and make note of anything that will need to be addressed at the oil change before I leave.  Giving them a heads up means that if they need to order parts they’ll be ready the next time that I come in and there’s less chances of being surprised with an unexpected repair as the clock is ticking to leave.

Make sure the spare tire is inflated and if you don’t know how to change a tire, get someone to show you.  Have your mechanic go over all the belts, filters, and oil.  They should be doing that anyway but insist that they really take a good look.  Mine actually call it a “L.O.A.F. and C.O.” (Lube Oil And Filter and Check Over)  Just think about how much strain you put on your car if you’re driving 500 kilometres and up every day for two weeks.  The last thing you want is for something small to leave you stranded on the side of the road. In the rain.  At night.  With no cell reception.

If you’re renting then you would hope that it would be well maintained and would not break down.  Make sure you know where the documents for the vehicle are kept, where the spare tire and jack are kept (and how to use them), and where all the cup holders, charger plugs, and storage spaces are.  It sucks having to unpack the entire trunk to get at the tire if you could have packed a little differently or missed a storage compartment.  Find out if there’s a roadside assistance program included in the cost of the rental.  Hopefully you picked a reputable rental company but don’t be afraid to pop the hood and take a look.  You may not know what everything is but if there’s puddles under the car or a squirrel’s nest, thank them for their time and ask for your money back.

If you’re towing a trailer, give that a once over too.  If it’s been a while since you’ve hooked it up, it may not be a bad idea to find a wide open parking lot and spend some time re-aquainting yourself with handling the additional size and weight.  Or if you have a secondary driver, put them through their paces and make sure that the first time they’re hauling a trailer isn’t on a freeway as you’re trying to scramble to your stop for the night.  That could be a really good way to add a bit more excitement that you may not want to have to deal with.

Assistance Programs:

Are you a member of C.A.A or A.A.A?  If not, have you considered it?  Are there any other loyalty programs that offer roadside assistance that you already belong to?

I am not personally enrolled in any of these programs so I cannot offer any feedback but I know plenty of people who are and for them, it provides peace of mind.  If you do enrol, make sure you know what they offer and any fees for use of service.

On a side note, I know some programs offer their members benefits like deals on hotel rooms.  Very nice indeed for the road weary traveller.

Clean Out The Car:

Make space by removing extra gear. Like I mentioned above: extra weight affects fuel efficiency.  On top of that, if you have limited space, you’d rather use it for things you need or for the souvenirs that you’re bringing back.

I like to start by taking out all the gas receipts and other random pieces of paper and detritus that somehow manage to collect all over the place.  Then I give the entire car a good wipe down and vacuum.  It feels so much nicer to be spending long hours in a clean car and it smells better too.  It doesn’t have to be too crazy: just a wipe down of the dash, steering wheel, and especially the cup holders.  They always seem to get a little splash of coffee no matter how careful I am.  I’m baffled at how many rocks will accumulate on the floor under the pedals.  I mean how does that happen?  You’d think I’d notice mini boulders in my shoes yet somehow there they are.  Inevitably I find change under the seat which I happily tuck away for later.

I pull the seat cover out of the back and give it a good shake and let it hang to air out.  Dogs track a lot of dirt into the car and I make a point of spending some time cleaning their area out really well.  If I have the time and the weather is agreeable, I’ll shampoo the upholstery and leave the windows open to dry.  If not, at the very least I clean the nose prints off the windows and mud off the doors before a quick deodorizing spray.  I know they put a lot of effort to create their nose-works of art, but they always manage to create more.


This may sound crazy but check when your driver’s license expires.  It’s really easy to lose track of time and let it lapse.  Trust me on this one (insert facepalm here).

Make sure you know where your ownership and insurance are and make sure it’s current.  I’m willing to bet that if you went into most cars out there, you’ll find that they do not have their most up-to-date insurance card.  They might have a stack from the day they bought the car but not the current one.

Check that your ownership and validation sticker are current and will stay valid for the duration of your trip.  While you’re at it, and if you’re from Ontario, do you have the sticker for your validation tag on the back of your ownership?  I didn’t realize that it’s an offence to not not have that teeny tiny sticker on the ownership.

It’s also a good idea to keep copies of your documents.  This could just be a photo on your phone or actual photocopies.  Both is ideal since the absolute worst case scenario would have your car stolen with all of your stuff in it.  Whatever you do, make sure that you have front and back of the ownership and keep them someplace safe.