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Long car journeys are notoriously stressful. Being confined
to such a small space with piles of luggage and nothing to do but stare at the
road ahead for hours on end isn’t fun or comfortable. With the potential for
getting lost, being late or breaking down, it’s not surprising that they’re a
source of dread for so many. Arguments are almost inevitable, especially when
you add children to the equation.

But they needn’t be that bad. With a bit of preparation, you
can remove the stress, make your trip run more smoothly and maybe even enjoy
it. Long trips in the car can be fun family bonding experiences or, if you’re
driving alone, it’s a chance to have some time with your thoughts or catch up
on your favourite podcast.    

Plan the Route

There’s likely to be more than one route to your destination. Decide which one you want to take in advance of the trip and plan the details. Work out how long it will take, how many stops you’ll need to make and how much it’s going to cost. If it’s a particularly long journey, you may need to plan an overnight stop so make sure you’ve booked somewhere to stay and you’ve got all the paperwork you need to check-in. Make sure there’s somewhere to leave your car overnight and find out if there are any additional costs for parking. Overnight parking charges can be high. Find out if there are tolls on your route and bring some spare change to pay them.

Plan your car journey

Make sure you’re fresh by getting plenty of sleep the night before, especially because you might be waking up early to beat the morning traffic. Decide where you’re going to stop so you can think about food and toilet breaks. You’ll need to work out how far you can drive before you need a rest. Ideally, you won’t be doing all the driving and can share it with one of your passengers. Stopping is important for your body as well as fighting fatigue – bad backs are common and Deep Vein Thrombosis is a possibility on long trips.  Doing some walking at service stations rather than just moving from seat to seat is a good way to counteract this. Plan your route, pre-programme the satnav, and make sure everything is fully charged before you leave.  The same goes for your phone which could be vital if you break down.

Check the Car

Do this well in advance of your trip. Without a car, you’re
going nowhere.

  • Petrol – It’s always best to fill up the day before your journey. Even though you’ll have planned petrol stops along the way, you want to get as much driving under your belt as possible at the start, when you’re fresh. An extra stop just adds to your overall journey time.

  • Tyres – Make sure that all four tyres and the spare tyre are in good condition. Check the tread depth by putting a 20p coin into the lowest tread of each tyre. If you can’t see the outer rim around the edge of the coin, then your tyre is safe. If you can see the rim, your tyre tread is less than the required 3mm. Get it checked at your nearest garage.

  • Fluid levels – Windscreen-washer fluid, oil and brake fluid all need to be checked and topped up before any long car journey.

  • Brakes – Check your brakes by pressing down on the brake-peddle. If they feel soft, your brake pads might be too thin. If you hear a rough grating sound, the pads might be worn out and you should have them changed before the trip.

  • Lights – Before you set off, turn on all the lights and check that they work by walking around the car. This is easier of one of the other passengers stands outside whilst you sit in the driving seat. It’s always good idea to carry spare headlight bulbs.

What to Bring

Your road trip might take you across borders. Laws differ from place to place, so make sure you’ve got everything you need to meet the legal requirements of each country. France, for example, requires that you carry one high visibility vest per passenger, and a warning triangle to use in case of a break-down or crash. In countries that drive on the right, you might be required to add some headlight beam converter stickers to your headlights. Some things you’ll need no matter which country you find yourself in are as follows:

  • Paperwork – Bring your driving licence and insurance info in case you get stopped by police or you break down. If you’re crossing borders, you may need your passport. 
  • Breakdown equipment – Bring a Jack and spare tyre that’s in good condition with the right pressure (as above). You might also want a puncture repair kit, jump leads and high-visibility jackets.
  • Breakdown Cover documents – Save your breakdown cover company’s number in your phone. Having the documentation to hand will speed up the process in the event you have to call them.
  • First aid kit – A basic kit with bandages, creams and plasters means you’re prepared for minor bumps and scratches.
  • Gadgets – Satnavs and smartphone apps like Waze are vital on long trips. Make sure they’re fully charged and you have downloaded your route beforehand. Bring all necessary cables.
  • Torch – If you need to look at your engine or change a tyre in the night, this is invaluable. Your phone’s torch isn’t always bright enough. Make sure it has fresh batteries.
  • Snacks – It’s a good idea to plan proper meals at service stations along your route but snacks can keep you going with much needed boosts of energy. Opt for healthy snacks as junk food can make you even more tired or contribute to car sickness.
  • Water – Stay hydrated. It might make you want to stop for the toilet but you’ll be doing that already anyway. 
  • Spare car key – Bring a spare key and keep it on you just in case you lock the keys in the car.
  • Entertainment – Music, audiobooks and podcasts are especially good if you’re on your own. The average audiobook is about 10 hours so you could finish an entire story on a long trip. If you don’t manage that, finish the second half on the way home.
  • Sunglasses and warm clothing – Sunglasses to reduce the glare from the sun and car headlights, and warm clothing if the temperature is going to change throughout your drive. 

If you have kids, there’s an even longer long list of things you might want to bring. It only gets longer the younger they are. You know what they need, but you might also consider the following:

  • Entertainment – books, iPads and portable
    gaming consoles are all great distractions from the boredom of a long drive.
    Just make sure it doesn’t cause them to become car sick (see below)
  • Spare clothes – Spilling drinks or
    vomiting isn’t unlikely in a bumpy car so bring an extra change of clothes.

The Journey

Dress comfortably, you’ll be sitting in the same position for a long period of time. Make sure you’ve got enough boot space to hold all of your luggage. If you don’t, you’ll have to pack lighter or may consider borrowing a roof box, if your car doesn’t already have one.  Note that a roof box affects the aerodynamics of your car. Along with the added weight of the luggage and passengers, this will slow you down and decrease fuel efficiency.

The Car Trip

If you or any of your passengers are prone to car sickness, take this into account. Sitting in the front can help because it’s less bumpy and you have the whole windscreen to look out of.  Junk food can make you feel even worse so stick to healthy snacks. Although iPads and books are a good distraction for kids, if their bodies feel motion that their eyes can’t see, it can lead to motion sickness – try to get them to look outside the car. Playing games like I-Spy can help with that and they help to pass the time. Fresh air helps too so open the windows, if it’s appropriate. Ginger can fight the symptoms of nausea so brining ginger biscuits might be a good idea. If your children get car sick, encourage them to look out of the window. In case they do vomit, a change of clothes might be a good idea and some form of sick bag.

How to Change your Oil

Before you set off on your long trip, make sure you know how to change your oil. You don’t want to have to figure it out on the side of the road. 

Top Driving Apps

We’ve mentioned how important it is to have your satnavs and apps at the ready. But what are the top smartphone driving apps you should be using?

How to Check Tyre Pressure

A vital check to make before you get out on a long trip. If you don’t already know, find out how to check your car tyre pressure here.