There’s nothing wrong with relying on your GPS to get you where you’re going, but when you’re headed to parts unknown, it’s best not to leave all the little details to your mapping app. In Part 1 of our series, “Driving in Unfamiliar Places,” we’ve got tips to help you prep before you hit the road.

1. Stock the glove box

Before you go, double-check that your car’s glove box is stocked with a few essential items. Proof of auto insurance and vehicle registration are the biggest priority, but it wouldn’t hurt to make sure your car’s owner manual is there too. Want bonus points? A flashlight, extra batteries, first-aid kit, and a spare cell phone charger are also great items to have on hand.

2. Take care of car maintenance

Take the time to make sure your car is in good working order before you head out. Check your wipers, battery, and engine fluids, and inspect tires for correct pressure and tread. Fill your gas tank before you leave town. And if you have time, take your car in for a tune-up and ask them to check your brake pads for wear.

3. Check the weather

Brush up on local forecasts to see what kind of weather you may be headed into and plan accordingly. A new crop of weather apps and many weather websites offer road-trip planners that make it possible to get the forecast for stops all along your driving route.

4. Use tech to track traffic

Have a reservation somewhere or a specific event you can’t miss? Looking to avoid rush-hour driving with a well-timed, rest-stop dinner? Today’s traffic apps can keep you apprised of real-time traffic conditions, anywhere and everywhere. Many of these apps also use aggregated data to estimate traffic times based on a place’s traffic history, so check them out before you leave so you can make adjustments accordingly. (And always pull over to a safe spot if you have to use your phone!)

5. Use apps (but pack a map) 

Plugging your destination into your GPS or mapping app is great, but you don’t want to get caught in the middle of nowhere with a low signal (or worse, a dead battery) and no clue about how to get where you’re going. A good road map and a hard copy of your directions can help mitigate technology failures. It’s also smart to review your journey before you go — familiarize yourself with your route to get a general sense of where you’ll be going and how long you’ll likely be on the road. Doing research ahead of time leaves less to chance and also provides a great opportunity to figure out the best rest-stop spots or scenic lookouts around.

So whether the idea of driving somewhere new thrills or terrifies you, doing a little bit of planning before you get behind the wheel can help equip you for an altogether smoother ride.

Next up, Part 2 of our series: tips for driving in big cities!

Safe and smart | Getting there


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.