The Thrifty Traveler: Simple Safety Steps for Road Trips

(MCT)—Most travelers enjoy a good road trip from time to time. Whether it’s heading to the beach for a family day, taking off with your best girlfriends for a shopping expedition or packing the vehicle for a romantic weekend getaway with your spouse, getting there by car is a popular transportation choice. To make sure you protect your travel plans as much as possible, consider implementing these simple safety steps before your next automobile journey.

Survey: It’s common practice just to grab the keys and go once you’ve handed over your credit card at the rental car counter. However, taking the time to survey the machine you’ll be driving can save you from close calls on the highway later on in your trip. Hazard lights are often overlooked as a necessity until an emergency situation arises where you need them. This actually happened to me just recently. Fortunately, I was close to a convenient pull-off spot so I was able to get by with blinkers and a fast reaction time. Still, it was a close enough call to put this particular light switch on my personal travel radar for years to come. Windshield wiper access and the location of your rear-window defogger are also helpful things to survey ahead of time.

Supplies: Realizing the need for a portable first aid kit and jumper cables may seem like a rookie skill set, but you’d be surprised how many people manage to leave home without packing the basics. Additionally, there are a number of items even veteran road warriors forget on a regular basis. For example, having extras of things like cell phone backup batteries, serpentine belts and emergency water bottles is a relatively affordable way to protect yourself from a variety of highway snafus. My husband and I also like to travel with a fire extinguisher. If our engine ever bursts into flame during inclement weather, we can at least have a reasonable expectation of having a car roof over our heads until help arrives.

Storage: There are few things more annoying than being in a situation where you need quick access to your vehicle’s emergency supplies, only to notice they are buried beneath luggage, car games and sleeping bags. Make sure yours are stored in an easy-to-reach location. One way to do this is to keep a grab-and-go container just inside the door to your car’s trunk or rear storage space. Inexpensive milk crates work well, as do those soft-sided storage solutions for sale at auto supply stores. You can also use a flat-bottomed canvas bag with pockets on the outside.

Theriault is the best-selling co-author of the book 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, and founder of TrekHound.com, a web site for independent travelers.

©2013 McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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