It's that time of year again, folks. From sea to shining sea, Memorial Day means road trips, and that means you've probably got some planning to do. If it all goes off without a hitch, your biggest dilemma will be whether to heed your passengers' cries for yet another bathroom break. But if you're like us, you'll want to leave as little to chance as possible. So check out these five tips for making this year's Memorial Day travel memorable for all the right reasons.
1. Bring Gadgets
You'll have your smartphones (please tell us you're not still rocking a flip phone), but there are so many road-trip-enhancing devices these days that you really owe it to yourselves to branch out. One thing smartphones don't do well, due to their compact dimensions, is video. We'd suggest a tablet of some sort for the back seat, whether you're an iPad or Android fan. Tablets are great for games, too, including educational ones like Scrabble and chess. And if your phones aren't loaded up with music, well, MP3 players are going to be a must. Hopefully, the car's got an auxiliary input so you can pipe those tunes through the speakers. But if it doesn't -- or if some passengers have, shall we say, eccentric musical tastes -- headphones will do the trick.
2. Keep Those Gadgets Charged
Newer cars can charge devices through built-in USB ports, but even if your ride's getting on in years, you're not out of luck. Consider Belkin's powerful dual-port USB car charger with lightning cable, which can charge two iPhone 5s at once, plugs into a standard cigarette-lighter power point and costs a reasonable $33.99 on Amazon as of this writing. If you want to go off the grid, how about Motorola's portable USB power pack? It's only a bit larger than a smartphone, yet it can charge multiple devices multiple times before it needs to be recharged itself. Something like this could come in especially handy if you plan to do any camping or other activities that don't involve plug-in power sources.
3. Be Prepared If Your Car Overheats
If your car's ever going to overheat, it'll probably be on a warm-weather trek like this one, and who knows where you'll be? Even if you've got roadside assistance, help might be hours away. So here's a quick lesson on what to do if you notice the temperature needle creeping higher than usual on the road. First, as unpleasant as it sounds, turn off the air conditioner and open the windows. That might fix the problem, because the A/C system puts a serious load on the engine. If your situation doesn't improve, brace yourself for further discomfort and turn the heat on full-blast. This is the most effective way to solve temporary overheating issues, even if it also effectively makes passengers miserable.
If the tips above aren't effective, you've got a more serious issue, so pull over, turn the engine off and let it cool down while you call for help. Do not touch the radiator cap, as that's a great way to burn yourself badly. But with any luck, the "A/C off, heater on" sequence will save you before you're forced to stop. Be sure to commit it to memory; we sincerely hope you'll never need it.
4. Pack Plenty of Water
Suppose you follow our advice to prevent your car from overheating and end up driving in the hot sun with the heater on for a while. Everyone in the car is going to be thirsty as a dog. Indeed, folks get thirsty on road trips even under normal circumstances, and depending on where you're going, roadside stores could be few and far between. Our tried-and-true solution is to pack a high-quality (read: leak-proof) cooler full of bottled water and throw it in the trunk. You'll never run out, and as a bonus, you'll never have to make an impromptu pit stop to quench anyone's thirst, either.
5. Consider a Pre-Trip Safety Inspection
The importance of this step depends in part on how old your car is, but even if it's relatively new, 50 bucks or so is a small price to pay for peace of mind. That's how much a reputable mechanic should charge to give your car a thorough once-over and make sure nothing's on the verge of collapse. During the inspection, the technician will top off your vital fluids (including coolant, which is relevant to tip number 3), check your tires and wiper blades, and inspect things such as belts and hoses for excessive wear. Just remember to go at least a few days before your scheduled departure; that way, if something serious needs to be fixed, you'll still have the car back in time to hit the road. And imagine how relieved you'll be that you found out before your Memorial Day travel rather than during it.