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How to plan a road trip

Dec 2, 2021

Long journeys can be a lot of fun, especially if you’ve done a little planning beforehand.

Planning is a good idea for various reasons. Knowing your route will mean you can concentrate on your driving, rather than stressing about finding the right road.

Forward-planning also means you can check on roadworks or congestion and select an alternative route if necessary. Better that, than taking risks to make up the lost time and having an accident – especially if you’re a new or young driver.

No matter how long your journey is going to be, safe, responsible driving can have a positive impact on your young driver insurance premiums. Just visit Smartdriverclub today for a quote.

Here are some top tips for planning a stress-free, long-haul road trip.

Use a route planner

There are some excellent websites that will show you the current state of roadworks, and likelihood of congestion, on the UK’s road network. Some feature route planners with up-to-date traffic information: you can zoom into the map and find the state of traffic and roadworks on your chosen routes, or simply input your start and end points and let the site work out the quickest route for you.

You can even set these routes to avoid motorways or toll roads, and also to provide you with an alternative route if you do run into problems. Google Maps is an excellent option here. Just download the app onto your smartphone.

Planning your route can also make your journey more fuel-efficient, ultimately saving you money as well as being a greener option. If you’ve planned the route in advance, you will be taking the quickest, shortest route, using less fuel in doing so. You’re also likely to avoid the worst areas of congestion – again, a good idea, as constant stop-starting is not good for fuel efficiency.

Lastly, and crucially, planning your route before you go will mean that you’re in control of the journey. Avoid stress and worry while driving, as these are the states of mind where you are most likely to take risks, and where accidents are most likely to happen.

Leaving enough time and knowing exactly where you’re going will make you more composed and ultimately a safer driver. That brings obvious benefits – one of which could be reduced young driver insurance premiums.

It’s a good idea to allow a little extra time for the journey, just in case of any unforeseen delays. This is particularly important if you need to be at your destination at a certain time – for a wedding or job interview, or to catch a flight. If you’ve only allowed yourself the time that your route planner has allocated you, and not factored in the unexpected, these delays will spark your anxiety and increase your chances of taking risks.

Sat navs and maps

You do have alternatives to the online route planner. For example, many modern cars come equipped with sat navs. They do have the obvious advantage of displaying the information right in front of you on your car’s infotainment screen, thus avoiding the need to take your eyes off the road to look at a map, phone or printed instructions; and they also adapt as you drive, so the instructions are always the next ones you need.

Sat navs can also be useful for reminding you of the varying speed limits along your route – and they should also have a feature that indicates nearby service stations. This is very useful for those moments when you’re either running low on fuel or need a break from driving.  And if you do run out of fuel, we’ve got some advice that could help.

Learn how to find this service station feature on your sat nav before you set out – you don’t want to be fiddling fruitlessly with the controls while driving.

Be aware, though, that sat navs aren’t always totally reliable and if they’re not fully up to date, road routes may have changed. If you do use a sat nav, it’s worth programming the route in advance, so you are not having to make adjustments behind the wheel.

If all else fails, you could turn to the good old fashioned map. Obviously this option works best if you have a friend or relative in the car who can take on map-reading duties while you concentrate on the road. If you’re alone, make sure you pull over somewhere safe before trying to read it – and we don’t mean on the hard shoulder!

Be alert to changes and risks during the trip

 When will you be travelling? At peak rush hour? In that case, think carefully about your possible routes. One might be preferable to another. For example, late at night, motorways might be your best option for a smooth, hassle-free journey. But during the day, stationary traffic on motorways could mean that taking more rural routes will get you to your destination much quicker.

If you’re going to be driving any sort of vehicle that might be affected by high winds – if you’re towing a caravan, for example – you may want to look at a route that avoids any exposed roads during windy weather.

And do make sure that any route you choose looks suitable for your own capabilities and confidence as a driver. For example, if a route involves a lot of inner-city driving and you’re not comfortable with that yet, you may want to find alternative routes for these urban sections.

Getting your vehicle ready

 So, you’ve checked the maps and route planners and worked out your route. That part of your trip planning is done. But what about your vehicle? How do you get it ready for a long journey? After all, unforeseen occurrences like a flat tyre or a breakdown could add a whole lot of unwanted stress and delay to your trip.

You should check the following features in your car:

  • Lights. You need all the lights in your vehicle working perfectly. Lights, after all, serve three key functions. They alert other road users to your presence; they inform those other road users of your intentions (such as when you’re about to turn); and they help you see the road ahead clearly during darkness or poor visibility. So, make sure your lights are doing their job perfectly. Ask a friend or family member to check all the lights are working properly, while you activate them from inside the car. If you’re travelling abroad, be aware that in some countries it’s a legal requirement to drive with headlights on at all times. Get familiar with the local laws – and bring along some spare bulbs in case any of your lights do go down.
  • Tyres. Your tyres are what keep you on the road, so it’s essential that they’re up to the job. You must, for example, make sure that all your tyres are in good condition, with the tread depth at or above 1.6mm, the legal requirement in the UK. You must also make sure they are correctly inflated. Have a hand or foot pump, with a pressure display, and a tyre tread depth gauge in the car with you. If you do suffer a puncture, make sure that you’ve got the right equipment on board in order to change it. Why not read our informative guide on how to change a tyre before you set off?
  • Brakes. Try your brakes (safely) before heading out on a long journey. If the brakes feel soft when you apply them, and don’t have the braking impact that they should, it’s possible that the brake pads have been worn down. If so, they’ll need to be replaced as soon as possible by a professional mechanic. A grinding noise when you brake means that the brake pads have worn out completely.
  • Fluid levels. Top up your fluids – engine oil, anti-freeze, brake fluid – before heading out. Knowing how to refill these is an essential part of basic car maintenance that all young drivers should know.
  • Pack for any eventuality. Of course you hope that the journey will go smoothly, and in most cases it will. However, if something unexpected occurs – a breakdown, or even an accident – you will be very glad you packed a select few items, including a first aid kit and a high vis vest. You might also want to keep jump leads in the car in case of a flat battery. Travelling abroad? Check what you need to carry in that particular country.
  • Arrange some breakdown cover. Once again, even though you’ll have taken every precaution, it’s worth covering yourself against a few worst-case scenarios. Accidents and breakdowns can happen to even the most experienced of drivers, so it’s best to be prepared. Breakdown cover is an optional extra on your young driver insurance, so think carefully about including this option if you make regular longer journeys. Our telematics device can track your location and direct breakdown or emergency services to your location in an instant, meaning you can get the help you need when you need it most.

What else should you bring?

Here are some other essential items that you should take on your longer road trip.

  • Torch: Useful if you ever need to look under your car (to check a leak, or for something dropped underneath during a rest stop) or inside the bonnet. Bring some spare batteries just in case the current ones run out.
  • Change: It’s a good idea to have some loose change to hand for any toll roads you use, or any parking that you have to pay for.
  • Documents: Don’t forget to have your driving licence and car insurance details readily to hand – plus a number for breakdown services (or your insurer, if you have breakdown cover).
  • Sunglasses: Dazzle from the sun can give you headaches and interfere with your vision, which you won’t want while driving. If regular journeys are a common feature, you’ll be glad of some good tinted sunglasses.
  • Drinks and snacks: Don’t risk dehydration on long journeys: have a water bottle within easy reach. Long drives will sap your energy, so plan to stop at service stations so you and your car can refuel!
  • Music and games: With the right tunes and even some travel-friendly games, that long road trip can actually be a lot of fun. Just try not to get too distracted by your passengers. If you do, you’ll be less likely to spot hazards up ahead.

Lastly, don’t forget to…

  • Take regular breaks. Driving is demanding on your concentration. At times, it can be monotonous, especially when you’re on a motorway.  It’s important to stop every now and then and give your mind a break from the road ahead. The recommendation from theUK road safety campaign Think! is to give yourself a 15-minute break every two to three hours. Once again, anything you can do to keep yourself as safe and alert as possible is going to be a big benefit – to you and your passengers, to other road users, and possibly to your future young driver insurance premiums.

So there you have it: some useful tips to help ensure a stress-free, enjoyable road trip. The temptation is to just get in the car and hit the road – but including some of these simple preparations could be the difference between an easy journey and one that’s time consuming, stressful and, potentially, expensive.

Young driver insurance to protect all your journeys

Young driver insurance from Smartdriverclub can help to reduce the cost of motoring.

Our Smartplug fits discreetly into your car and records things like how smoothly you brake and accelerate and how often you drive at night.

Prove that you’re a careful driver, and you could see your premiums fall when it comes to renewal.

With breakdown cover and personal accident cover also available, some specialist young driver insurance could be another essential part of your road-trip toolkit.

Contact us today to find out more about young driver insurance.