After driving more than 10,000 miles across the USA and part of Canada, I’ve got a routine for getting ready for a road trip. Getting a family of four on the road — and having a good time on the trip — involves a little preparation. Here is a pre-road trip checklist that I hope will be as helpful for you as it has been for me. These are actual things I do and tips I have for anyone who wants to hit the road.

Do a little road trip research

You probably have some ideas about where you want to go. Using mapping tools like Google Maps or services like Roadtrippers can help you choose a route and find things to do and places to stay along the way. Sites like these will tell you how long it will take to drive to your destination(s). You can also read reviews of attractions, tours, hotels, and more at Tripadvisor and ask questions in the forums.

Know your route

For each day of your trip, it helps to know how you’re going to get to your destination. GPS navigation devices make it easy to just follow the commands of when and how to turn, but they aren’t always spot-on with directions. Before you start driving, double check your route with your phone’s mapping software or even a paper road map so you have a general idea of where you’re going.

Get your vehicle checked by a mechanic

If you’ll be driving for more than a weekend, it makes sense to check that your vehicle is in good condition. Take your vehicle to a mechanic you trust to get a tune-up. Let the mechanic know you’re planning a road trip, so he or she will know to check everything. The last thing you want is a tire blowout or a leaky hose when you’re miles from home.

Pre-road trip checklist rule: Make reservations

Unless you’re staying with family or friends, you’re going to need to find a place to sleep each night. Whether you’re staying in a hotel or camping, it’s a good idea to have a reservation. Look into places to stay each night, and book your room or campsite in advance. Travel sites like can help you find what’s available in a given city. If reservations go wrong or you insist on being spontaneous, try an app like Hotel Tonight.

Check the weather

A few days before you plan to leave on your road trip, check the weather forecast in all of the places you’ll visit. Pack clothes that fit the weather and what you’ll be doing. Another way to be weather wise on your trip is to use weather apps on your phone to create alerts for your locations in case bad weather crops up. (This happened to my family as we were driving through Arizona during a monsoon.)

Pack a cooler

You can save time and money on a road trip by bringing your own drinks and snacks. Find a cooler that fits in your vehicle, and fill it with your favorite stuff.

Let someone know where you’re going

Someone who’s not traveling with you should have your contact number(s) and itinerary. If there’s an emergency at home or if something goes wrong on your trip, this person can be a lifesaver.

Bring on the fun

If you want, plan some road trip entertainment. Set up a playlist or go old school with a stack of CDs. Get an audiobook. Find some driving games. If you have kids, make sure they will be entertained with books, movies, or activities.

Using a pre-road trip checklist is a good way to make sure you’re prepared to have a good time, not limping down the highway with disappointment. It just takes a little planning to have a great trip.