The 13 Last Things to Always Do Before Leaving for a Road Trip

published Jun 10, 2022
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From old-school Sunday drives to year-long excursions, there are so many ways to take advantage of wide-open spaces and spend time roaming around your hometown or across the country. The truth is, there’s just something so specifically appealing about road trips. If the open road is calling you, it may be time to plan an excursion this summer.

Although there are several things you should do well in advance, like planning your route, securing accommodations, and making sure your car is in working order, other more minor things may slip your mind. I asked thirteen travel experts to weigh in on a baker’s dozen (hint: the list includes snacks!) of last-minute things to do before leaving for a road trip.

1. Adjust your thermostat.

Electricity bills can climb when it’s extremely hot or cold outside, so set your thermostat accordingly to ensure it doesn’t constantly run while you’re away. In the summer, let the temperature run a bit warmer than you would when you’re at home. A smart thermostat can also help you keep tabs. “Once I finally invested in a Nest, it was a game-changer,” says Ashley Rossi, who is the managing editor of Roadtrippers. “I can remotely adjust my thermostat to eco-mode and reset it when we’re close to home.”

2. Turn off or unplug your appliances.

Leaving your toaster or coffee pot plugged in can pose a potential fire hazard, not to mention the extra toll it takes on the electricity bill. “When we leave, we unplug almost everything in our house and even turn off a few circuit breakers to things that won’t be used while we’re away,” frequent road tripper Lauren Keys says. She also says not to turn off your fridge, air conditioner, or other appliances that need to stay on regularly.

3. Alert your bank. 

Although it may occur to you to call your credit card company if you’re traveling overseas, it’s also a good idea to let them know your interstate road trip intentions so that your card doesn’t get flagged. “Alerting them before you leave helps avoid embarrassing declines and makes your travel go more smoothly,” advises travel blogger Susan Petracco. “No one wants to deal with the bank when they’re supposed to be enjoying a vacation!”

4. Take essential paperwork.

Travel blogger Laura Meyers recommends double-checking that you have all of the documents you need in case an issue arises. “These include the insurance policy, registration certificate, your driver’s license, and PUC certificate,” she says, especially if you are planning a road trip in another country. “Don’t forget to check if additional documents are needed in the region you’re heading to, or you may face some problems,” she adds.

5. Make a potty stop bundle.

If you’re traveling rurally, you could encounter places where restrooms are few and far between, so it’s best to be prepared. “When you’re on a road trip, you aren’t guaranteed a bathroom when you need it,” advises Nicole Dahl, who is an avid traveler and president of Hotel McCoy. She recommends filling a bag with toilet paper, wipes, and hand sanitizer just in case you need to go on the go. “I can’t tell you how many times this has literally saved my butt,” she adds.

6. Pack special snacks.

Road trips are — at least in part — all about the snacks, so make a stop to buy goodies that you save for special occasions, especially if you have kids. Ash Nudd provides hiking concierge services for WorldMark by Wyndham and is also a mom of two treat-loving boys. “We go to the grocery store and get some special snacks that we don’t normally get at home,” she says. Even if you’re only traveling with adults, having a stash of treats is a pleasant surprise.

7. Grab your favorite coffee grounds.

It’s no secret that people love their morning beverages, and your road trip should be no exception. But, if you rely on a specific coffee bean, sugar, or creamer, take it with you. “As a big coffee drinker, one important lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again is to pack my own coffee maker and some good coffee,” recommends travel writer Rebecca Pavlik. When staying at hotels, she’s encountered everything from too-small coffee makers to Keurigs without pods. So nowadays, she trusts her instincts and packs a coffee maker and grounds.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

8. Clean the fridge and take out the trash.

No one wants to come home to moldy food or a stinky house, so do a quick sweep of your fridge, and toss out anything that could go bad while you’re away. “There is nothing worse than opening the door after returning home from a long trip only to be greeted with a rotten, funky smell,” says hotel expert Colleen Carswell. Before you leave, take a few minutes to purge items that could go rancid by the time you return. 

9. Double-check your car’s emergency kit.

“Before each road trip, I double-check my car’s emergency kit,” advises avid road-tripper, Jessica Schmit. If you don’t already have a kit, prepare one ahead of time that includes blankets, a can of Fix-a-Flat, a lithium battery jump starter, snacks, and water. “The jump starter and Fix-a-Flat have definitely saved me from some tricky (and potentially very pricey) situations,” she adds.

Credit: Getty Images | FG Trade

10. Let your neighbors know you’ll be away.

Even if you simply send a quick text once you’re on the road, inform others that you’ll be gone for a while. “Let trusted neighbors know you’ll be gone so they can keep an eye on your place and pick up any unexpected deliveries,” Erica Forrest of Trip Scholars advises. If you have time, you can even leave a spare key in case someone needs to enter your home in a pinch.

11. Plan for entertainment.

When winding through the mountains, there’s the looming possibility that you won’t have a signal, so travel editor Abigail Nueve suggests making a playlist or downloading podcasts and audiobooks. “When you lose cellular service on the road, you’ll be thankful you downloaded a quality playlist ahead of time,” she advises. Have kids? Nudd recommends taking a trip to the discount store. “We spend about $12 at Dollar Tree to get a few activity books, coloring books, sticker books, word games, and small toys to surprise the kids with during the drive,” she says.

12. Clean up your phone’s storage.

Travel blogger Kassidy Olson recently took a cross-country road trip and learned one sage tip on her own: Be sure your smartphone has enough empty storage. “During our long-term road trip, I realized that I didn’t check my phone storage before we left,” she says. “My storage was almost full, and I wasn’t prepared to fill it up with another couple hundred pictures of our travels!” Olson suggests scanning your photos and videos and deleting unnecessary or duplicate content to make space for documenting new adventures. 

13. Screenshot map and accommodation information.

Losing a signal can be frustrating, especially if you rely on your GPS or need to read hotel instructions via email. Taking screenshots of important information can prove handy if you go out of your service area. “I take screen grabs of maps in important areas in case I have no service to give me directions,” says travel blogger Shaun Hammond. A few minutes of preparation before you leave home can help keep necessary information at your fingertips.