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Easy Travels: Tips for a Smooth, Safe Family Road Trip

By Brian O'Connell

  • A little preparation goes a long way in making sure your summer road trip goes as smoothly as possible.

    If you cherish family vacation time, you're not alone — family trips have a huge impact on children during their formative years and lead to lasting memories for every member of the family. To ensure happy road-trip memories, try some smart tips before popping your vacation destination into your GPS.

    For Your Vehicle:
    • Check tires. Along with miles, heat and cold also take a toll on tires. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's safercar.gov recommends checking your tire pressure every month. You can find the proper pressure for your vehicle on a sticker on the driver's door jamb or in your owner's manual. Park on a flat surface, and make sure the tires are cold when you do your check. Not maintaining recommended tire pressure affects gas mileage, reduces tire life and affects safety.
    • Check headlights. Park on a level surface facing five feet from a wall and turn on your headlights. If the circles of light are bright white, they are in good working condition. If they are yellow and dim, replace the bulbs. Also, make sure they are properly aligned or they won't illuminate the road as they should.
    • Check windshield wipers. Examine the blades and replace them if the rubber is rigid or chipped or if the blade produces streaking on your windshield. If the weather in your area runs to extremes, keep in mind that high heat can warp the rubber and extreme cold can make it brittle and more likely to tear.
    For Your Family:
    • Ensure child safety. Safercar.gov offers tips on how to ensure your children's safety. For example, the site suggests keeping your children in car seats until they outgrow the top weight and height limit recommended by the seat manufacturer — sometimes up to age seven for a small child. Then they should use a booster seat until they can safely wear an adult seat belt.
    • Prepare for the unexpected. Bring a medical care kit that includes bandages, motion sickness medication, sunblock, insect repellent, aspirin, cold medication and antibacterial ointment. Don't forget to fill prescriptions before you leave.
    • Pack essentials within easy reach. Keep a cooler handy for treats and drinks so you don't have to stop to pull a bottle of water out of your trunk. Also, make sure your medical kit is readily accessible, along with your cell phone and maps or navigation devices — you'll need to pull over to use them, but you'll want them handy so you don't have to fumble around for them.
    For Your Pets:
    • Practice makes perfect. According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, if your pets have never been on a car trip, it's wise to acclimate them by taking short trips before your long trip. If they can't handle car travel, the vet may be able provide medication for the journey.
    • Pack a pet kit. Like the rest of your family, pets need travel kits, too. Bring your official ownership and medical documents, food and water, feeding bowls, grooming tools, medicines and leashes. Keep plenty of plastic bags for waste. And make sure your pets wear tags that list your name and cell phone number.
    • Keep pets restrained. Ensure your pet is properly restrained secured inside your vehicle when you're driving. Crates, dog seats and harnesses can be found in pet stores or online.
    • Don't leave your pet in the car. Never leave your pet unattended in a parked car — temperatures are much hotter inside than outside.