Preparing your car for a road trip

Today we welcome John Walton, author of the British travel blog Voyagers, to give us incredibly useful tips for auto travel. Welcome, John!

This holiday season, with prices at the pumps lower but airline prices not really dropping, many of us are taking to the road instead of to the skies. But is your car, truck, or SUV ready for the trip over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house?

If you’re like me, your car is normally pretty clean, but this time of year there’s stuff in it that you don’t need. (I live at Land’s End in Cornwall. That free tourist map of Scotland isn’t much use, so I can take a digital picture of it and throw the paper version away.)

Loose objects in your car can be more than just an eyesore. They’re potentially lethal projectiles if you have to stop suddenly. So use those little nets, compartments, and pockets wisely. Embarrassing holiday incidents shouldn’t include a coffee flask to the back of the head.

Often, a messy car results from not having anywhere to put things away. When I downsized to a smart in 2008 it took me a while to figure out where to put my iPhone, water, and coffee. My tiny car doesn’t really have enough nooks and crannies, so I buckled a daypack-sized backpack into the passenger’s side seat belt so my stuff isn’t going anywhere if I have to slam on the brakes.

Take a look around your local auto supply store for things that would be helpful. Beware the temptation to acquire things just because they are  unique, though! You almost certainly don’t need a Purple Petal Mirror Muff, but one of those four-port USB chargers  could be a great investment.

If you’re going far, make sure that everybody in the car has something to keep them entertained. Before you leave on your trip is the time to load your gadgets with your favorite music or that thirteen-hour set of The Lord of the Rings.

Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, be sure your vehicle is mechanically prepared for the season — whether you’re below freezing in Norway or Nebraska or sunning yourself in Argentina or Australia. Make sure you are comfortable driving in the weather conditions. Invest in a car emergency kit. Check your local automobile association’s website for tips appropriate to your region — and remember to check for your destination too, if you’re traveling!

Happy travels and happy holidays!

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

13 Comments for “Preparing your car for a road trip”

  1. posted by timgray on

    I found where to put my ipod phone, maps in my car. I had a GPS stereo system installed. The iphone docks to it in the Glovebox. The phone connects to it when I get in the car, so no putting it anywhere, and maps, it’s got all the maps I need inside it. Declutters nicely. plus I never have to fumble to answer the phone, simply answer it on the stereo and talk. dont have to fumble for the ipod, the stereo controls it.

    Luckily the smart still uses a standard stereo and can be changed. Newer american vehicles have car parts in the stereo making it either impossible to change the stereo or very expensive. My wife’s buick needs another $1200.00 in parts to switch the stereo because the dashboard controls are in it.

  2. posted by Bob on

    The FM transmitters available in the US are very low powered, prone to interference, and do not provide satisfactory sound. Most popular car sound systems have available aftermarket modules that will provide for auxiliary input. I put one in my Honda Pilot and my Mazda 3. eg.

  3. posted by John at on


    Yes, the ultimate unclutterer is a fully integrated iPod/GPS stereo system. I chose not to have it installed in my new smart, though, because of the cost and the somewhat frustrating way in which new Apple products sometimes don’t work with old peripherals. (My dad’s new iPhone, which he adores, won’t charge from his dock-with-speakers, for example.)

    As a workaround, and because the car is on lease so I can’t mess with the wiring, I use one of those iPod holders that clip into the air vents and a Nokia Bluetooth headset that uses the same 12v charger as my mobile phone.


    I love my smart’s Aux In jack, because I can just plug in my iPod and go.

    When I’m in a rental car, I get along fine with my Griffin iTrip for road trips, although since my iPod and iTrip are last-gen I can’t comment on the current models. You’re right, though, in major urban areas it can get very frustrating to try and find an empty frequency, especially in the US where you can only get odd numbers after the decimal point. (In the UK, we can have 101.2 and 92.4, which makes life a little easier.)

    In terms of satisfactory sound, I mostly agree, because I’m a real classical music fiend and I dislike listening to most classical in the car because it loses so much of the bass spectrum. That said, it’s fine for most pop, rock and jazz music.

    I tell you, I used to be very frustrated during the years between the phasing-out of car cassette players and the phasing-in of the Aux In jack!

    –John at

  4. posted by Brandon on

    Great post! I can’t stand a messy car, especially on a road trip. I often volunteer to drive because I know my car is clean.

  5. posted by Deidra on

    Nebraska! You mentioned Nebraska! Thank you! We’re often forgotten out here in the middle of nowhere, but we like to travel in clean cars and avoid clutter as much as the rest of the world. Happy clutter-free road-tripping, everyone! And if your travels take you through Nebraska, honk a few times as you pass by!

  6. posted by John at on


    Absolutely. There’s a certain amount of road trip detritus that I can stand, but at some point you’ll always find me pulled up a a service station dragging bottles, papers, old maps and assorted rubbish out of the car. (Often out of the passenger-side footwell if I’m driving solo.)

    And I often volunteer to drive because it makes the time pass so much faster!


    You’re welcome! I’ve never been to Nebraska, but it’s on my Giant US Roadtrip that’ll take me four or five three-week vacations to do. What should I make sure that I see when I’m traveling in Nebraska?

  7. posted by Jesse on

    Great post, and only a week late for my road trip!
    I drive an oddball car for the states, it’s a 2-door Toyota RAV4. I’ve taken the back seats out so the dogs can stretch out so it’s basically a 2-seater, all-wheel drive snow buggy.
    As for organizing it, I’ve got 2 pouches under the seats that hold maps, flashlight, and a tow rope. In the back storage compartments are the jumper cables, jack, and a road safety kit I got years ago with flares,etc…
    When I packed for this trip (Seattle to Whistler, BC) I kept my shoulder bag up front with snacks etc…and my iPod goes in the glovebox hooked up to the USB aux jack on the stereo.

    A place for everything, and everything in it’s place!

  8. posted by Stina on

    I love the Smart! Too bad I can’t afford one. 🙁

  9. posted by Julia from Nebraska on

    John – like Deirdre, I hope you can make it to Nebraska too. The main thing to prepare for is…minimalism. It looks like a great big empty (ok, it IS a great big empty) – until you start seeing the wind as it sweeps across tall grass, or spend some time watching the huge sky.

    Some say Nebraska is boring; others might consider it “uncluttered.”

    Nice article; I’m a recovering car pig and I’m due for another tidying-up.

  10. posted by John at on

    @ Stina

    I have it on a very reasonable three-year lease, although I locked that in at the end of March 2008. Here in the UK, with petrol now down to a low of $5 per US gallon, it still makes sense to spend on a more efficient car like the smart. If I were in the US, though, I’d pick up one of the small east Asian import hatchbacks over the smart, because the initial outlay wouldn’t really pay back unless I was doing an awful lot of driving.

    @ Julia from Nebraska

    Uncluttered landscape — I love it! I once spent a thoroughly zen Easter weekend travelling around Finland by train because the entire country closed for Easter…not what I was expecting from a Lutheran country, but it seems everyone goes out into the country to their country house and jumps in frozen lakes and whatnot. I really appreciated the lake-snow-lake-trees-snow-snow-lake-trees-trees-snow-lake-lake literal monotony of white and grey under a bright blue sky.

    I’m thinking of doing a road trip that looks something like this…anything in particular I should make sure I take in on the NE leg? A scenic byway or similar?

  11. posted by Mark on

    I’m never letting you ride in my car. Ever.


  12. posted by HeartSongs » Surfer Sunday 102 on

    […] Preparing your car for a road trip […]

  13. posted by Qwerty: Use online tools to plan your spring break | Speakeasymag on

    […] with you. By filling out the short form beforehand, the list ends up being tailored to your needs. Unclutterer and eHow have some good tips for preparing your car for a long road […]

Comments are closed.