How to prepare for a road trip – the guide

Last updated by on August 3rd, 2023 and verified by The Parkers Team

Planning a driving holiday this summer? Failing to prepare is preparing to fail – here’s our guide on doing it properly

A package deal to Spain or a cruise around the Caribbean could be off the cards but for many, a holiday within the UK is well within reach. And that means road trips to some of Britain’s best-loved destinations are on the cards and those road trips could also extend out into Europe.

But one really ought not to just head out on an hours-long drive without undertaking some serious planning and preparation first. Let walk you through the essential steps in the process of planning the perfect road trip.

Where do you want to go?

It’s all too tempting to throw the idea of an itinerary out of the window, but at a time when tourist attractions are so busy and many requiring bookings in advance it’s best to lay out at least a loose idea of where you want to go during your driving holiday.

Just as important as where you go is the route you take to get there. The fastest route is rarely the most interesting. If you want to make the most of the countryside around you consider venturing off the beaten track and onto smaller, more interesting roads. That’s just as true from the perspective of driving enjoyment – if you’ve got a car that’s very fun to drive, you’ll have a much better time tackling a winding B-road than you would blasting up the motorway.

If you’re planning on venturing across the channel and into Europe, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations of the countries you’re travelling through.

Related: Child car seat laws explained

Split the driving and plan for breaks

If you spend all day behind the wheel, you’ll be tired. Too tired to enjoy your destination, and very possibly too tired to be an entirely safe driver.

So if you can, share the driving with someone – and plan for a short break at least every few hours to refuel (both you and the car), pop to the toilet, or stretch your legs.

Remember that all drivers must be properly insured on the car they’re in control of. Luckily, can help you compare quotes for car insurance in under 5 minutes.

Prepare your car and pack essential items

No matter what car you’re taking, whether it be a modern hatchback or a classic convertible, you should do some pre-journey checks to ensure it’s up to snuff.

If you’re taking a very long journey, consider putting your car in for its MOT test early. That way, you’re assured it’s safe. And remember to check, at least the day before you leave:

  • Oil – ensure the oil level is between the minimum and maximum markers on the dipstick and that it has plenty of life left in it.
  • Coolant – essential for keeping your engine cool in hot weather, and preventing it from freezing in the cold. Check your coolant levels or ask your garage to.
  • Tyres – inflate them to the correct pressure for the load you’re carrying (recommended tyre pressures are typically found on a panel on one of the door sills or the fuel filler flap) a couple of days before you leave. Then check again in case of punctures. Also, check that the tyres show no cuts or bulges. And that the tread depth is above the legal minimum.
  • Lights – all your lights should work correctly. This includes the light board of a trailer or caravan if you’re towing. You may need beam adaptors if you’re driving in Europe.
  • Windscreen wipers and screenwash – make sure your wipers clear the screen effectively and that your washer bottle is topped up.
  • Fuel – head out the day before you leave to brim your tank. Then you’re guaranteed a clean getaway the next day.

Essential Items

Good drivers always come prepared with a few essential items, too, so make sure the following items are packed and within easy reach:

  • Documents – driving licence, proof of car ownership, car insurance details, and the contact information for your breakdown provider. You may need an international driving permit or insurance greencard if you’re going abroad.
  • Emergency supplies – high visibility jackets and a hazard warning triangle aren’t just legal requirements in many countries – they’re highly useful in the event of an accident or breakdown.
  • Phone chargers – your phone is your lifeline, but it’s potentially your sat-nav and media centre too. Make sure you can keep it topped up on the road.
  • Spare cash – not everywhere is contactless just yet, so keep some coins and notes ready to pay tolls or car parking charges.
  • First-aid kit – for obvious reasons.
  • Sunglasses – to improve visibility in bright sunlight.
  • Toiletries – hand sanitiser is a must these days, but don’t forget tissues, wipes, suncream, and any medication you need to take regularly.

Related: When is my MOT due?

Pack the car properly

Consider when you’ll need items, but also weight distribution. Your car won’t handle very well if you strap your heaviest items to the roof, for example. And you’ll soon curse your lack of foresight if you have to remove a dozen suitcases from the boot just to reach your phone charger.

Place heavier items in the car first, and pack them in carefully. Try not to pack higher than the rear headrests, as items here can fly forwards in the event of a crash and restrict rear visibility to boot. Make a list of everything you’ll need and pack these close to the top. Or better yet, in a smaller bag, you can keep with you in the cabin, in a footwell, glovebox, or door pocket.

Related: mustard’s guide to DIY campervan conversions

Prepare for the unexpected

Nobody wants a breakdown, a closed road, a carsick child, or a flat tyre. But if any of them happen, you’ll want to be prepared for it.

It’s better to overpack slightly with items you’ll never need than to neglect them and wish you’d brought them along when the worst happens.

If you don’t already have it, consider taking out breakdown cover. The policies provide a hire car if yours can’t be fixed, so your holiday won’t be cut short. Some insurers even include breakdown cover as part of their package. However, do shop around in case it works out cheaper to take out a separate policy for this.

Related: 7 best car games to keep the kids quiet

Does your insurance cover you?

Before you travel, make sure your insurance covers you and any other drivers – especially if you’re driving internationally. Consider upgrading your cover if you can, and look into policies that offer benefits such as breakdown cover.

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