OPINION | Travel planning can make your road trip experience smoother

How often do your road trips result in unpleasant experiences like stress-caused yelling matches between family members or leaving your purse at a gas station two hours away from your current location?

Accidents and travel-induced stress are common and sometimes inevitable on holiday road trips. One of the best ways to avoid these inconveniences is by creating a thorough travel plan to make your trip safer, less stressful and more enjoyable.

I have only ever traveled via road trip, and my parents have taught me to create and follow travel safety plans to avoid unsafe situations.

My family’s safety plan begins with our travel vehicle. My parents determine the best car for us to take based on the distance we will travel, and they fix any small issues with it that might become a problem if ignored. Everyone packs a charger for their phones, and we bring water and a bag of nonperishable snacks to keep in the car in case of roadside emergencies.

During the trip, my mom and I never leave our purses unsupervised in the car when we stop somewhere. We go everywhere as a group and pull over when the weather makes driving difficult.

Because of these precautions, we have never been caught in an unsafe situation on a trip.

Planning for a trip often goes beyond safety practices. My parents always create a packing checklist to use when gathering what we need for our trip and making sure we don’t leave anything behind.

My parents have taught me to only take essential items unless we travel to more remote locations, and I have learned through my own packing experiences that I never need the 10 outfits I considered essential when packing for five days away from home. I only pack the items I would use in my daily life with a few extra pieces of clothing or toiletries in case I need them.

Even if mindful packing leads me and my family to forget something or under-pack, we can find some kind of store near the place we are staying and get what we missed.

I have also learned not to use too much packing space for entertainment items. I almost always neglect the activities I insist on packing for because I can find plenty of fun at my destination without them. I only pack a couple of extra things that I have made part of my daily routine, like a book for reading before bed.

This comes in handy when I need extra space and when my parents have planned specific activities for our trip. In my experience, having an itinerary for our trips makes them more exciting and pleasant.

My family never makes a strict schedule for our road trips. I have been on trips before in which my parents had to create a strict plan because the major events were under the control of family or friends. By the time we had downtime to explore our location, we did not have the energy to do anything.

My parents like to put together a flexible itinerary that only includes a few strictly planned events. They also make sure we have plenty of time to relax and do whatever we feel like doing in the moment.

These balanced trips have always been the best because the spontaneous experiences we have together can make for some great memories, especially when we truly felt like we did everything we wanted to.

The planning process may differ for every family or individual depending on their needs and wants. Planning a road trip can be a difficult task even if you are experienced.

One of my favorite resources to help make the process easier is a printable itinerary or planning template. These templates provide lists of items to consider packing that you can add to or remove suggestions from depending on your needs. Microsoft has a great packing list template to work with, and The New York Times has a comprehensive guide and a packing list to use as inspiration.

I always hope that everyone has a safe, stress-free and enjoyable holiday season, and planning out any holiday road trips you take might make that hope a reality.

Photo courtesy of Neal E. Johnson /Unsplash.