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Planning the Ultimate Summer Road Trip

By Lee Michael Katz

  • It's time for your summer road trip. Find the perfect destination and ensure that your family, home and car are safe by following some basic tips.

    Summer vacation is here. You're ready to get out of the house and on the road. You want to protect your home and valuables while you're gone and make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip — and don't forget the kids will need something to do along the way.

    You need a plan. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your summer road trip.

    Finding Destinations and Deals
    • Where to go. There are a number of websites offering getaway ideas that may be useful like TravelChannel.com, which can provide wide-ranging geographical inspiration, from the Pacific Northwest to the heartland to New England. And sites like FreeTrip.com can help you get from Point A to Point B with driving directions and other travel information.
    • What to see. Figured out your ultimate summer vacation destination but want to know what to see and do along the way? Use the internet to help you map out ideas, from amusement parks to scenic views to tourist attractions. Sites like RoadTripAmerica.com and the TripAdvisor.com road trip forum can offer recommendations.
    • How to find unusual sites. If you're tired of visiting the same old tourist spots, check out online resources for new ideas. RoadsideAmerica.com is just one example and features an interactive map of eclectic places of interest, such as a historic site in New Jersey where you can see a piece of President Grover Cleveland's wedding cake and a clown museum in Colorado that's housed in a shed and can be seen by appointment only.
    • Ways to save money. Virtually every major travel website has a last-minute deals section. If you're willing to try something different, however, you can bid for travel on the web and snag deep discounts. On the road, you can use a variety of mobile apps to help you find the cheapest fuel prices along your route.
    Safeguarding Your Home
    You're tempting break-ins if your house looks like it's unoccupied while you're away. "Everything needs to be normal and simulate your regular activity," says Chris McGoey, a certified security expert who has written books on crime prevention.

    • Case your house before a thief does. Play the "what-if game," McGoey says. Pinpoint places where a thief would have easy access to valuables like cash, jewelry, electronics and important papers. Rent a safe-deposit box or buy a non-portable home safe. Also take a look at your home from across the street and evaluate its break-in potential from a would-be burglar's vantage point.
    • Don't send visual signals that you're gone. Consider, for example, what even your trash cans might reveal if you put them out in advance of a summer vacation trip. "The message you're sending is that you're gone for the weekend," McGoey says.
    Prepping Your Vehicle
    Though the open road beckons, it's important to prepare your vehicle before heading out. Car Care Council, a nonprofit dedicated to educating motorists about the importance of regular vehicle care, recommends doing a basic pre-road-trip car check.

    • At home. Check your tires' inflation levels against factory recommendations. Also look for bald spots and bulges, and check tread depth for uneven wear. Make sure your gas cap isn't loose or missing. Fill windshield wiper fluid and replace wiper blades as necessary.
    • At the auto mechanic shop. Check your battery — the summer heat can break it down and speed up corrosion. Have the battery terminals cleaned and charging power checked when you take your car in for its pre-trip service. Also have the mechanic check the hoses and belts, coolant level and condition, and brakes.
    Traveling with Kids
    Make the long trip as fun and safe as possible for yourself and your family. Take advantage of online resources. Here's help for two age-old issues families face on road trips:

    • Avoiding "when do we get there?" syndrome. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that educates families on how to navigate our digital age, offers suggestions for age-appropriate apps to keep your kids occupied. These include tried and true classics — such as the license plate game — designed for smartphones, tablets and other portable devices. Want to stay low-tech? Nemours, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of children, has a list of "boredom busters" — non-electronic road trip games and activities. And don't forget there are travel versions of games like chess and checkers.
    • Safe packing. Consumer Reports has a helpful travel-with-families section on its website that includes packing tips. Don't overload your vehicle or block visibility, put the heaviest items in the front of the cargo area and secure loose items.
    A little planning goes a long way. By following these simple tips, you'll help ensure that the memories from this summer's road trip are ones you'll look back on fondly for years to come.