There are a lot of reasons you might find yourself behind the wheel for an extended period of time. Maybe you’re relocating and you’ve opted to drive your car to your new home instead of using a professional auto transport service. You might even be hauling a trailer! Then again, long distance driving could be how you make visiting the country’s vacation hotspots more affordable. Or maybe your employer is sending you to a faraway meeting but doesn’t want to spring for airfare. Whether you’re driving for work or for play, you’ll still be logging a lot of miles in the driver’s seat so it pays to know what you’re doing.
What constitutes long distance driving?
A half-day jaunt to grandma’s house may feel like a slog (especially in holiday traffic) but hardly counts as a long drive. In general, long distance drives are those lasting ten hours or more. These longer drives require extra vigilance on the part of drivers for a number of reasons, like:
- Driving for long stretches can make you feel sleepy and you may not notice your mind wandering. That’s why it’s so important to stop regularly.
- Longer drives take you farther from home, which means you will be driving unfamiliar routes and possibly also in unfamiliar conditions. You need to be alert to cope with changing road conditions, understand the signage, and follow directions – especially at night.
- If you’re towing a trailer, you need to be especially clued into how your vehicle is handling the extra load and how much room it’s taking up on the road.
Clearly, safety should always be your number one priority on long-distance drives, which is why we’ve put together a list of the top tips from professional auto transport drivers, experienced road trippers, and other folks who spend days at a time behind the wheel.
How to prepare your vehicle
- Check the tires. Check the pressure before your trip, even if your tires seem okay on drives around town. While you’re topping off the air, take a look at the treads. Replacing your tires may seem like overkill, but it beats dealing with a blowout on the highway two days into your drive.
- Get your wheels aligned. Poorly aligned wheels can cause major wear and tear on a vehicle over the course of a long trip or even cause accidents.
- Spring for a tune-up. If your car was given a clean bill of health a few weeks ago, you can skip this step, but if you can’t even remember when your last service appointment was, take her in. Let your professional auto transport mechanic know that you’re taking a long road trip and have them confirm everything (especially the battery) is good to go.
- Top off your fluids. Get an oil change even if you’re not scheduled for one and make sure they check the brake fluid, coolant, power steering fluid, and transmission fluid.
- Give your car a wash. While this step isn’t strictly necessary, cleaning your vehicle inside and out can make spending an extended period of time in it a lot more comfortable.
Preparing for the unexpected like a professional auto transport driver
- Make sure your insurance is in order. Will your car insurance cover you and your passengers in the event of an accident? Will it cover the trailer you’re renting? If you have any uncertainty at all, now might be a good time to upgrade to the next tier of coverage.
- Double check your license and registration. Some states automatically send drivers renewal forms when expiration dates are on the horizon, but in others, drivers are responsible for making sure this important paperwork is up to date. Be sure you’re not taking your trip right on the edge of expiration – or worse, unintentionally driving with an expired license.
- Invest in a roadside assistance plan. Breakdowns happen and there’s something nice about knowing that help is just a phone call away, whether you need a tow or a locksmith.
How to plan your route
- Map it. Your GPS or the Waze app can generate the fastest route to your destination, but professional auto transport drivers will tell you that long-distance driving isn’t a race. Planning your route in advance and then reviewing it before you hit the road is a matter of safety.
- Schedule your stops. Fatigue kills because it lowers your reaction time and leads to distracted driving. Fall asleep on the road and your car might end up on the bottom of a multi-car pile up. Plan to stop every two to three hours on a regular schedule. As tempted as you might be to push through, the consequences of that impatience can be deadly.
- Download Waze or a similar app. These navigation apps are better than Apple Maps and Google Maps because they let you respond proactively to unexpected delays en route. You’ve mapped your route in advance, but it’s nice to know where the traffic is and how to avoid it when at all possible.
- Bring a paper map. Low tech solutions are the best solutions any time you’re venturing outside of the range of the country’s cellular network. No signal means no map unless you’ve brought a backup.
- Be trackable. Glympse and similar apps are a great way to make sure your loved ones know where you are and know your ETA. If you have an emergency and have to stop unexpectedly, they’ll be able to see that, too.
- Add side trips to your route. Most navigation apps will let you include pit stops on your route, so you can map out your entire journey if you’re planning on hitting any roadside attractions on your trip.
- Know where you’ll sleep each night. You should already know where you’ll end up each day before you log even a single mile on your long distance drive, and you should have a backup plan in case you don’t make it that far.
How to make long distance driving more enjoyable
- Set per-day driving limits. The end result of pushing through is usually stressing out, so set a maximum drive time and stick to it. Make sure your expectations with regard to how many miles you’ll cover each day are reasonable. Resist the temptation to skip the breaks you built into your route.
- Make a road trip playlist. Whether you like to blast tunes while you drive or listen to podcasts, download them prior to your departure day. Mix new content in with your old favorites so you don’t zone out, and opt for high energy options over chill out music.
- Choose truck stops over rest areas. State rest stops and gas station bathrooms will do in an emergency, but look for truck stops when you want a better break. They have gas, snacks, coffee, hot food, toys, gifts, books, and plenty of great opportunities for people watching.
- Stretch and stroll every time you stop. Professional auto transport drivers know that long distance driving is tough on the human body, so take a cue from them and make time to move whenever you stop. Look up stretches for your shoulders, back, hips, and legs because these are the areas most affected by long stretches of sitting.
- Pre-pack healthy fuel. Roadside burgers and greasy truck stop fries are fun to eat on the first day, but if you’ll be driving for a while you need to have better food on hand. Baby carrots, cut veggies, and sandwiches will all keep well in a small cooler and will keep you filled up better than junk food.
- Dress comfortably. You’ll be sitting for a while, so choose road trip attire that won’t bunch, itch, tickle, or constrict areas you’d rather not have constricted. Long distance drives don’t need to be a fashion show, so choose your driving clothes based on whether they’re breathable, soft, and appropriate for the weather.
How to stay alert on long distance drives
- Get enough sleep. This is the number one best thing you can do to fight fatigue on the road. If you didn’t sleep a wink last night, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel today.
- Sip extra cold water. As tempted as you may be to knock back another energy drink or high octane coffee, you could end up dangerously tired without realizing it once all that caffeine wears off. Cold water will keep you alert without the crash and stave off dehydration, which can also make you drowsy.
- Take power naps. Even 20 minutes of shut-eye can make a big difference to your reaction times, so if you feel yourself flagging, pull over into a parking spot close to the entrance of a truck stop, lock the doors, and have yourself a little cat nap.
- Snack on healthy snacks. You packed those good-for-you snacks, so eat them. Munching on candy will wake you up in the short term, but a sugar crash can be just as bad as a caffeine crash. Nibbling healthy food will give you long-lasting stamina for your long distance drive.
- Pop a few vitamins. Complex B supplements and vitamin C can give you an energy boost – provided you take them with food so your body can actually absorb them. Not sure which vitamins are right for you? Ask your doctor to recommend a supplement before your trip.
- Move when you’re tired. If there’s no rest stop nearby and pulling over isn’t a safe option, move in your seat. Clench and unclench one muscle group and then another. Waggle your jaw and then your eyebrows. Squeeze the steering wheel. Do whatever you can do safely to keep your blood flowing.
- Pump up the volume. Cranking some upbeat music and singing along at the top of your lungs can give you a big energy boost when you feel yourself succumbing to the lull of the road.
- Open the windows. The roar of the highway and the fresh air can make you feel more alert in a pinch, and fresh air is especially effective when it’s fresh cold air.
- Annoy yourself. When all else fails, there’s nowhere to stop in the immediate vicinity, it’s unsafe to pull off the road, and you are worried about nodding off, slap your cheeks, pinch yourself, yank your hair, or flick your chin. Irritating yourself awake should be a last resort, of course, and if you’ve reached the point where this is a necessary plan to stop as soon as possible.
- Share the driving. Crashes caused by driver fatigue often involve drivers navigating the roads alone, so if you can travel with someone else, do it for safety’s sake. Switch off frequently, wait until your break to eat, and try to nap when you can.
- Enlist the help of passengers. If your passengers can’t take on some of the drive time (because they’re too young or unlicensed), engage them in deep conversation or in the kind of word games that will stimulate your brain. At the very least, your passengers can watch for and alert you if you’re showing signs of fatigue like head nodding and eyelid drooping.
Long distance driving can be a drag, but if letting a professional auto transport company handle your vehicle while you fly isn’t an option because you’re behind the wheel of a truck, the above tips will make your trip safer and more enjoyable. A little planning, the right supplies, and some patience on your part can make all the difference to you, your passengers, and the other folks on the road. However, if you are planning on shipping your car across country, a professional auto transport is your best option.