Due to the pandemic, travel for the upcoming holiday weekend will be down slightly, but most of that travel will be driving.

Are you planning to travel during the upcoming holiday season? According to the American Automobile Association, as many as 50 million Americans plan to travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving with about 95% – or 47.8 million – estimated to be doing so by car, a 4.3% decline from 2019.

Of those, AAA estimates that more than 413,000 will be stranded along the way. Another 485 people may die on U.S. roads between Nov. 25 and Nov. 29 due to impaired driving due to alcohol, marijuana, or opioid consumption, according to the National Safety Council.

Given that, a little forethought makes the difference between a holiday you’ll always remember rather than one you’ll regret. So before setting out, here’s how to prepare for the road ahead.

(Highway death rate surged 20% during first half of 2020.)

A little preparation will make that family drive for the holiday easier.

Your route

Given the current climate, start by researching your destination’s coronavirus-related restrictions by checking the state’s Department of Health and Department of Transportation websites. You’re trip may be over before it begins depending upon what you find.

However, if you’ve essentially got the green light, then start before you leave by planning your route, minimizing the number of stops. For those stops, if any, reconfirm any hotel or other reservations, including the hours and operation of a favorite restaurant or entertainment venue that you typically frequent.

If you plan on using a navigation system, enter destinations ahead of time. If you’re old school, and still using road maps, stack them in order of use. Or if you are more an old-school traveler, consider using a AAA TripTik.

What to pack

Naturally, you’re packing sanitizing items, including hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, disposable gloves, tissues and disposable plastic bags. You’ll need a mask for places that require it or where you can’t maintain a six-foot distance but be sure to bring extras in case a mask strap breaks or one becomes soiled.

Some think packing is an art, but there are plenty of things to consider when loading up a vehicle for travel.

Consider taking along water and snacks to minimize the number of stops, and it’s never a bad idea to bring along a spare set of vehicle keys. Don’t forget your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and auto and medical insurance cards. Take along your doctor’s phone number and any prescriptions that might be needed.

Your vehicle

if your vehicle hasn’t been checked recently, have its tires, belts, brakes, air-conditioning, wipers, fluids, and cooling system examined. And check the battery. Replacing it ahead of time ensures that you won’t break down. For example, if you have a 36-month battery, as the 36-month mark approaches, replace it before then.

Make sure your vehicle’s tires and spare tire are properly inflated and usable. Your vehicle’s proper air pressure is posted on the driver’s side front door jamb on most newer vehicles, not on the tire. While you’re inflating your tire, inspect the tread. Take a penny and place it upside down into several spots around the tire. If the top of Abe Lincoln’s head shows, the tire needs replaced.

No one likes riding in a messy car. Clean it thoroughly by removing debris from every map pockets, compartment, crack and crevice, as well as the trunk. Wipe down the instrument panel and door panels with a mild cleaner, and vacuum upholstered areas and carpets, including the headliner and the rear parcel shelf. If you have leather seats, clean them with a mild leather cleaner or saddle soap, followed by a leather conditioner. Then, clean the glass last before washing, waxing and polishing the car. If you don’t have the time, a professional car detailer can do it for you.

A good emergency roadside kit should include items such as heavy-duty snatch block pulley, jumper cables, hand tools and gloves.

(Labor Day traffic fatalities expected to approach 400 people.)

Being seen in a storm is important, so make sure all of your vehicle’s lights are working. Have a family member or friend stand outside the car as you activate your vehicle’s headlights, fog lamps, tail lamps and turn signals.

Have an old vehicle, or one with high mileage? Renting a vehicle oftentimes is a better bet, and it allows you to drive one you might prefer over your own. Regardless of the age or mileage of your vehicle, pack an emergency road kit; having the right items on-board can make the stress of a breakdown far easier. Pre-assembled emergency and first aid kits are available at auto parts stores, but you can build your own.

Be sure to include screwdrivers — Phillips and flat-head, pliers, socket wrenches, duct tape, electrical wire tape, electrical wire spray, WD-40, flashlight with extra batteries, a coolant hose repair kit, a small fire extinguisher, tire gauge, road flares, spare fuses, foam tire sealant or a portable air compressor, jumper cables, rain gear, work gloves, roadside assistance phone number, spare fluids and nonperishable food. Also, consider adding kitty litter (for added traction under a slipping tire), a flashlight, work gloves, a small shovel, a windshield scraper, jumper cables, a first aid kit, and cloth or paper towels.

Entertain yourself

Many new vehicles have Wi-Fi hotspots, wireless charging pads, plugs and ports to keep your smartphones and tablets powered up. Others have integral DVD players. If you have an older vehicle, be sure to bring along a portable charger to keep your devices running. Or, just bring along a book – no wattage required.

Ensuring that there are plenty of ways to keep children entertained makes a road trip easier.

Keep the kids contented

Take along your children’s favorite toys and books, as well as a goodie bag to reward good behavior. Bringing pillows and blankets for naps, and a bit of peace and quiet can help make the drive go by faster. Older children should be satisfied with a tablet, their smartphone or a portable DVD player.

Packing the car

Weigh what you’re taking. Overloading your ride can lead to unsafe handling. To avoid this, check your vehicle’s maximum load capacity, including people and luggage, in the owner’s manual. Then, do the math.

To ensure optimal handling, place the heaviest items towards the center of the vehicle. On the inside, make certain to secure loose items so that passengers don’t get hit by them during a panic stop. Also, as you start putting things in the trunk or cargo space, don’t forget that you might have access to the spare tire.

Staying safe

Make sure you understand how your vehicle’s safety systems work by reading the owner’s manual or researching online. Other things to bear in mind:

  • Avoid fatigue by getting plenty of rest and eating healthy prior to driving.
  • Everyone in the car should wear seatbelts. But you knew that, right?
  • Don’t be an idiot; if you’re impaired or have had too much to drink, hand the keys to a designated driver.
  • Leave a trip itinerary with family or friends in case you need to be contacted in an emergency.

(High-speed crashes rise as drivers go faster due to lighter traffic due stay-at-home orders.)

And finally

We all have vivid memories – some pleasant, some not – of holiday road trips. Being prepared helps relieve the stress of hitting the holiday road and is well worth the time and effort. Cue the music.

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