If you’re planning to traverse a good portion of the U.S. on an upcoming road trip, driving without stopping (aka driving “straight through”) has benefits. For example, you’ll save money on hotel rooms, maximize time at your destination, and feel a sense of adventure attempting a nonstop drive.
But, in order to stay safe mentally and physically, it’s important to have the right attitude, plan, and supplies. Check out these tips for a smoother ride.
31 tips for driving straight through on a road trip
1. Bring friends or family
Driving solo isn’t as much fun as riding with passengers. If you’re showing signs of drowsy driving, others are more likely to notice than you are. And when you do feel fatigued, switch drivers (unless everyone’s tired, in which case — time to find a hotel).
2. Make overnight stops if needed
In testing responsiveness and performance, one study found that a person who’s awake for approximately 18 hours performs similar to or worse than a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. More time awake than that and the performance worsens. Don’t be a hero. Know when to call it a day.
3. Set a designated driver schedule
Take turns driving and pay attention to signs of sleepiness. The European Commission recommends limiting driving to 9 hours and taking a break period of at least 11 hours per person, per day.
4. Time it right
According to Psychology Today, driving at times when you don’t normally sleep is best. So, unless you work the night shift, schedule most of the drive during the morning and early afternoon hours when possible.
5. Stay alert without “crashing”
Giant, caffeinated drinks can provide a spike in energy but can also lead to an energy crash. If you absolutely must have caffeine, ask your doctor how much is safe for road-tripping.
6. Provide shotgun support
Riding shotgun, while an esteemed privilege, also comes with responsibilities. Reduce overall distractions for the driver, change the radio, and watch for signs of drowsy driving.
7. Sleep when you’re not driving
If someone else is sitting shotgun, let yourself doze off in the back seat. Hunker down with a pillow, blanket, and earplugs to keep anything from hindering your slumber. It’ll make the time fly by.
8. Bring supplies
The trick here is to think like a soccer mom (or dad). Bring napkins, hand sanitizer, gum, snacks, water bottles, slippers. You’ll thank me for this one.
9. Get everyone on the same bathroom schedule
When your mom used to ask if anyone needed to “go” before getting in the car, it was annoying. But Mom knows best (also annoying). And before you guzzle 64 ounces while the other passengers barely sip anything, think about having to stop just 30 minutes into the trip … because of you.
10. Keep an extra key in your pocket
It’s important to keep the spare key on you. If you get out of the car and forget your purse or wallet inside, you’ll be hundreds of miles away from the spare one in your junk drawer at home. Plus, keeping a key in your pocket might prevent the hassle and expense of having to call a locksmith.
11. Split the cost of gas
With multiple people chipping in for gas, it’s sometimes easiest to use one credit card for all the gas stops. Stay organized by keeping receipts in an envelope in the glove box. After the trip, tally it up and divide evenly.
12. Avoid running on empty
It’s the worst feeling when that gas gauge unexpectedly hits E. Research your route before leaving to anticipate any long stretches without a gas station. To help with that, check out Fuelcaster® — the gas price predictor. Using a secret blend of digital herbs and mathematical spices that allow us to see when you could save money at the pump (thanks to our friends at GasBuddy), Fuelcaster is an easy way to find out if you should fill up now, or wait until tomorrow. And the best part? It’s free for anyone to use.
13. Review other states’ laws
It can’t hurt to briefly review laws of states you’ll be passing through. For example, in certain states, using hazard lights while your car’s in motion is illegal. A quick online search can pull up anything out of the ordinary.
14. Make a no-phone rule for the driver
This one should be obvious, since driving and phone handling is illegal depending on the state. Have other passengers monitor any urgent messages or calls on the driver’s phone. They’re doing the hard work, so the least you can do is play secretary.
15. Click it, even when you don’t want to
Sure, it can be a pain to stay buckled, especially for long trips. But you know how important this is. If the seat belt’s uncomfortable, untwist the strap, adjust the mechanism behind your head, or change the seat’s position.
16. Organize vehicle documents
Your vehicle’s registration and proof of insurance might be needed during the trip. Thankfully, if you’re an Esurance policyholder, you can access your digital insurance ID card using Esurance Mobile. And should an accident happen, you can file a claim using the app too.
17. Clean your car before leaving
And get the passengers to help keep it neat during the trip. It’ll make cleaning up post-trip that much easier.
18. Lock up valuables
This is easy to forget when you’re just making a quick stop. If everyone’s hopping out of the car, hide any electronics (including any cords), purses, wallets, etc.
19. Bring a spare tire
No explanation needed. But also make sure you have the tools and know-how needed to successfully change the tire.
20. Get the oil changed
Sometimes this is necessary before and after a road trip, depending on length of the trip. Check your owner’s manual for specific details.
21. Consider emergency roadside services
If you’re ever stranded on a densely wooded, pitch-black road, you’ll be overjoyed to have roadside service. And if you have Esurance car insurance, you might even qualify for our Emergency Road Assistance discount.
22. Talk to your doctor about driving and certain meds
Even common cold medications can induce fatigue. Read the labels first, talk to your doctor, and administer accordingly.
23. Eat well
Eating healthy on the road might seem nearly impossible. Stop at a supermarket instead of the drive-through. You’re more likely to find healthier options like nuts, fruits, or premade salads.
24. Apply sunscreen
Pay attention to whether or not your skin’s in direct sunlight. Although it depends on your car, most glass windows only protect from UVB rays, not UVA rays. So you’ll need sunscreen to shield exposed skin from sun damage and avoid a crazy farmer’s tan.
25. Enjoy a good night’s sleep before the trek
According to the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, “studies have shown that losing just a few hours of sleep each night can impair your ability to drive in the same way as drinking too much alcohol.”
26. Avoid long stays at rest stops
Pulling over and sleeping in your car at rest stops is illegal in some states and can also be dangerous. It’s not recommended. Use rest stops to stretch your legs, grab a snack, or pass around a football. Then get back to the open road.
27. Take your time
It’s going to take as long as it takes.
28. Play car games
Games are a great way to pass the time with a group of borderline slaphappy riders. Conversation-sparking books like Would You Rather…? can help squash boredom. Imagine the hours spent debating if you’d rather have “eyeballs the size of golf balls or teeth the size of computer keys?
29. Listen to an audiobook
Even people who don’t like to read can enjoy these. Sometimes the voice recordings can be too soothing, though, so the more exciting content is better. For long-distance trips, even 2 or 3 books from a series could be fun.
30. Bring a camera that’s nicer than your smartphone
I always forget this and I always hate myself for it later.
31. Look out for interesting attractions
Plan to see some roadside attractions along the way. Having shorter-term stopping points gives everyone something to look forward to. And who knows? The world’s largest cuckoo clock in Sugarcreek, Ohio, just might be a trip highlight.