This is our ultimate guide to long distance driving and preparing for a long adventure ahead in your car.
Planning Your Journey
“Plan the drive, drive the plan” There are many benefits to planning your journey rather than playing it by ear such as making your journey more efficient and productive as well as less stressed and less hungry. I would recommend using a good route planner, both the AA and RAC websites have online route planners as well as Google Maps. There is also an app called www.maps.me which is an offline route planner meaning you will not need the internet to look at your route again while you travel it also has traffic alert feature but you will need to be online for this.
Check the weather, depending on whether you have a deadline time and date to get somewhere, choose a day that will provide safer driving. A day with a forecast of heavy rain will require you to reduce your speed and allow for a longer journey time.
When considering what time to set off, think about which towns and cities you may pass through and whether it co insides with potential busy school runs, people desperately trying to get home from work all at once, or even night time road working on the motorway that may add on several diversions.
Locate interesting landmarks on route or just practical service stops to plan ahead when you will stretch legs, have a toilet break and grab something to eat.
Plan your journey length with a little more time than needed. The extra time will provide you with a feeling of a lesser need to rush, less stress and mean you can take your time.
Make sure you have food for your journey ready the night before (scroll down for recommended food for long distance driving). You also want to get the best night sleep possible before a long drive. Therefore plan everything ready for your trip in the day time before not the night before.
Is Your Car Ready For A Long Distance Drive?
Breakdowns and accidents can easily happen due to lack of car maintenance. Here are the most important areas of your car and engine to check prior to a long journey.
Oil – Check your oil level with dip stick and top up if need, if your oil is low you could experience engine failure.
Water Coolent – Check your water coolant level is sufficient to avoid your engine overheating.
Car Tyre Pressure – With reduced tyre pressure not only will this increase your fuel consumption but it will wear your tyres out quicker and wear them out in different places that can then affect your steering and braking.
Care Tyre Tread – The minimum legal tread is 1.6mm, the more worn your tyres are the higher chance of aquaplaning in wet conditions and longer stopping distance may occur.
Windscreen wipers and fluid – Check the windscreen washer is full and that the wipers are not damaged or torn.
Lights– Check that each of your lights are working and it is worth carrying spare for a long journey.
Spare wheel and jack – It can be forgotten as it sits in the boot but you don’t want to find you have a flat spare wheel and an non working jack at the crucial moment one of your 4 tyres goes flat. Check they are both in good working order.
Headtorch – we’ve reviewed the best head torch there is for everyday use and it will help you out if something happens when it’s dark http://www.thecarstuff.com/review-nextorch-eco-star-headlamp-vehicle-every-day-carry
Packing Your Car
When packing your car for a long distance journey I would first give the insides of your car a bit of a spring clean and a clear out so your not carrying anything you shouldn’t or didn’t intend on bringing in the beginning.
Before starting to pack you need to think about you and your passengers safety. If carrying a number of passengers consider using a roof rack for their comfort and space as well as being able to see through each window. You do not want to overload your car so that you cannot see around your car fully. One downside to a roof rack is the decreased fuel efficiency, this is the down side to in car comfort and space.
If you’re heading off on a surfing holiday and putting your boards on top, check out our best inflatable roof rack guide http://www.thecarstuff.com/best-inflatable-roof-racks
Fit child seats and dog crates prior to packing your luggage in as it will be difficult once your car starts to fill up.
Keep the heavier and larger items lower down in the foot wells if possible or the at the bottom of the pile in the boot or on the seat. It makes packing easier and also keeps the centre of gravity low. Place large items that you don’t want to get damaged tightly up against the back of the back seats. Remember to pack evenly throughout the car so that there isn’t too much weight on one side of the car. This will hinder braking and cornering.
Keep the foot wells at the front of the car clear as you do not want loose items to roll around while you are driving. Loose items in general can become quite frustrating while driving and also dangerous so make sure to tie loose items down, if possible box items up to be wedged in together.
Driving In The Rain
Driving in heavy rain is a hazard, make sure you have planned whether it is essential to drive and if it can be avoided look at delaying your journey until the weather gets better. Have your AA or RAC breakdown number to hand. Avoid driving in heavy rain and floods. If you know it is going to rain heavily avoid travelling areas that are prone to flooding, check the weather forecast before hand and make sure your sat nav receives traffic alerts and updates to advise you of flooding up ahead.
If you know it is going to rain for the duration of your journey it is worth looking at how you can make your car most effective while you travel. You can get windscreen wipers called Aero wipers which are more effective at removing water from the windscreen while driving at speed.
Fill up with fuel before heading off, driving in the rain will mean it won’t be the warmest, or clearest as well as it pouring with rain so using the heaters,lights and wipers on full blast will eat away quickly at your fuel consumption.
Make sure your tyre tread depth is better than the legal tread of 1.6mm required as your tyres will have less grip in wet weather. The Highway Code actually states your stopping distance will be at least double in wet weather.
It is a good idea to let family members know the time you left and your expected time of arrival.
Once you are driving in the rain here are things to remember:
- Reduce your speed
- Leave an even larger space between you and the car in front than you would in normal weather (make it a 4 second rule rather than 2 seconds)
- Watch out for large vehicles and lorries that will produce a lot of spray coming off their vehicle reducing your visibility.
- Driving through water fast can loose contact with the road and you may end up aqua planning. It is important not to brake in this instance otherwise you may swerve, just reduce your speed until you gain full control again.
- Think about other road users and how your spray may affect their driving and visibility to pedestrians and cyclists.
- If you do brake down in the rain, keep your bonnet closed not to flood your engine.
Packing for Winter Driving
If your setting out on a long journey or even a short journey carrying a “Winter emergency kit” is vital.
What to put in your winter kit:
- snow/ice scapper
- first aid kit
- torch/flash light
- cheap extra mobile phone with 2 or 3 sim cards to make sure you have signal
- long lasting non perishable snacks
- bottled water
- extra clothes
Driving In The Snow
Make sure you have planned your journey (see above) and are aware of the weather report and weather alerts. Leave more time for your journey you will need more time especially in the beginning if your car is covered in snow. It is illigal to drive without full vision through all your windows, so you will need to spend time removing snow from your car.
Make sure you have good tyre tread to help grip in the snow and ice you may encounter. Use a good screen wash that that works down to at least -35 degrees. Some washers can freeze which will make driving difficult if snow is coming down on your windscreen.
If you start to experience snow while driving:
- Reduce your speed slowly without braking, maintain low revs and acelerate gently moving up into a higher gear as soon as possible
- Keep your speed low to be able to control your car
- Allow more time to stop and steer
- Put on dipped headbeams even in the daylight, and if your visibility drops put on your fog lights
- If your car looses grip, do not panic, do not brake or accelerate. Steer in the direction you want to go and aim for it to slow naturally.
- Make sure to leave plenty of room in front of you and other road users
- Find somewhere to pull over or stop at the nearest service station to check the weather up a head isn’t even worse and if so look to alter your route or even turn back if possible. While you have pulled over give your car a quick check over and put on more layers of clothing and stock up on food and water for the journey.
- Once you set off again move off in second gear to reduce wheel slip, if you have a new car you may have “winter mode” as an option apply this and it will do the same thing
What is a Snow Chain and when and where should you use it?
In some european countries a snow chain is a requirement for your car or vehicle.. A snow chain is a device that is fitted to your tyres to provide maximum traction while you are driving. It does however increase your fuel consumption and reduce your speed but it is worth this for the extra safety for regular driving in snow. If you are long distance driving through europe between the period of October and April it is worth looking into local legislation for winter tyres as well as snow chains.
When driving with a snow chain on your car do not exceed 30mph and drive smoothly, accelerating and deaccelerating gently.
(more can be written about how to attach a snow chain)
What are Snow Socks and when and where to use them?
Is a textile liner for the wheels and tyres designed to be a snug fit. Acting as an extra layer between the tyre and the snow providing extra grip and traction is a more portable option to the snow chain.
They are easier to fit than the snow chain however they are not as robust so in areas where a snow chain is compulsory, use a snow chain. For british weather where snow is occasional snow socks are handy to have around to help getting off snow filled drive ways and slight snow covered roads in the winter.
Tips For Driving More Economically
Some cars are made more economically efficient especially some of the latest models. You can make any car drive a little more economically efficient if you know how. Getting a little more for you £.
Firstly keeping your car in good working order is a key element, have it regularly serviced. Driving with under inflated tyres, using unnecessary features in the car such as heating on a warm day will both waste fuel.
Think about what you are taking with you is it needed. Carrying extra weight in the boot of your car or using a roof rack on the top will also use more fuel. Also not letting your engine tick over unnecesserally while you are waiting to pick someone up or when your waiting for your car to warm up to de-ice the windscreen, manually scraping ice of the windscreen instead.
While driving you can be economic by:
- Keeping to the speed limit, going fast will increase your fuel consumption
- Driving smoothly and gently, avoiding unnecessary braking
- Avoid stopping and starting when it comes to traffic lights, junctions and roudabouts it is better to slow down and dawdle up to the line and keep an eye on the road further up ahead than to come to a stop.
Lastly do you really need to drive, can you reach your destination by walking or cycling.The most economic may is to drive only when needed, since is this is a post about long distance driving. If you are stopping places on route, look at places you could have a little walk to front your car to stretch your legs.
What to Wear
It may seem like an easy answer as to wearing what you are happiest however as you will be sitting in the same position for a number of hours it is worth a good consideration.
You need to wear clothes that:
- Does not restrict your movement as you need to be able to twist and move your body for checking your blind spot and reversing
- Is made of thin layers with an outer layer that can be easily unzipped rather than a thick jumper than needs to be taken off over your head.
- Trousers that are either stretchy or at least the waist line is stretchy. Tight jeans for example with a belt buckle could dig into your skin after a few hours of driving
Most important element of what you wear is your shoes. Avoid sandals and flip flops. Flip flops can actually get caught under the pedals and be dangerous. Avoid shoes with long heels or large boots where you cannot really feel the pedals. Flat comfortable shoes such as trainers, sneakers or pumps are ideal and can generally be worn for a long period of time without causing any discomfort.
What To Do Prevent Getting Tired While Driving
Getting tired while driving reduces your concentration, ability to stay alert to other drivers and is one of the biggest causes of accidents. Getting tired is inevitable on a long journey but you can do things to hold of when you start getting tired. One of the first things you can do is make sure you are well rested and have had a good sleep the night before, starting a big journey when you are already tired isn’t going to be a successful journey and will lead to lots of coffee and most probably either a long stop in a hotel or an accident, get at least an 8 hour sleep before hand.
Have a healthy breakfast or meal with long – lasting energy. Avoid sugary foods and sugary rather than food with a short burst of energy that will give you a low after a high.
Once driving have with you plenty of fluids, if you need to stop to go to the toilet this helps encourage you to stop for an actual break.
Planning to take regular breaks will split your journey up into several short journeys instead, stopping before you get tired. Allowing you to stretch your legs, wander around have some food will help take your mind off driving and refresh yourself for driving again.
Keep the temperature of the car on “cool” rather than hot or cold. Don’t make it too cool that it is uncomfortable, just at a level that isn’t where you would said is comfortable otherwise you may drift comfortably off to sleep. Once in a while open a window to let some fresh air in.
Avoid using cruise control, making your driving to easy may make you a little sleepy. Put on a range of different music even music you do not particularily like.
Create in car activities such as learning a new language, keeping engaged by the radio.
What To Do If You Get Tired While Driving
If you find yourself getting tired while you drive you must stop at your next service station or safe car parking space. Take a good break, have something energy boosting that is long lasting. Do a number of good streches to relieve areas of muscle strain you have encountered while driving. Take at least a 20 minute to half hour break. If once you set out back on the road you do not feel revitalised or refreshed it would be a good idea to look at where you should stop over for a night before taking the road again in the morning.
Driving Towing A Boat And Caravan
One of the most arduous ways to drive long distance, is with something being towed on the back of your car, there are a couple of things to check before you set off on a long distance drive and towing a boat, caravan or something similar.
- Is your car powerful enough to pull what you are towing? You might be ok towing a small trailer with a 1L engine car but it will struggle to pull a small caravan. We highly recommend you check out this tow calculator website www.towcar.info. With this you can check what car fits what caravan model or weight of towing vehicle.
- Can you see around what you are towing? We have reviewed the best towing mirrors at www.thecarstuff.com/best-towing-mirrors to help you decide what will suit you and your cars needs when towing something behind your car. It is very important that you can see behind you and in the blind spots when towing as you have made your vehicle much longer.
- Are all your lights working at the rear? You need to keep people aware of when you are braking, indicating and reversing, check all the lights once you’ve hooked them up.
- You are showing your number plate correctly at the rear as it’s an offense to not have a legal number plate showing which represents the vehicle doing the towing.
Driving Long Distances with Children
The best thing you can do for your children is to have plenty of suitable things that will keep them occupied for long journeys. As well as knowing where you can stop for number 1’s and number 2’s, having food and drink and everything they need for your destination. It’s no easy task traveling with kids and children but here are some things that can keep them occupied.
- Films they can watch on their tablet or the family tablet
- In car games you can play, like I-Spy
- Games they can play by themselve’s and together in the back seats of the car
- Colouring books or some simple drawing materials
Tips for Driving with Dogs & Cats
Driving a long way with a dog in the back? We frequently drive a 5 hour journey and have done a few 8 hour drives with our little pup in both a cage and in our car boot. When we drive to visit family, we used to put our dog in the back seat but he gets restless and chews on things, including his seat belt harness.
We added a dog boot guard and have since successfully put him in the boot. It has plenty of room for him to move around which is most important on a long journey. We have a small bed and blankets in there for him, as well as a chew. When he’s in the boot he can be given water very easily in a bowl and if it is spilled it doesn’t matter as it’s in the boot. A boot liner will also help with this. Having him here can help with him stretching which he does every so often between sleeping.
If you put your dog elsewhere in the car, make sure they are tied in to a seat belt clip so that they can’t jump all over you when driving, this is a legal requirement in the UK. You can put them in a dog car seat cushion if they are a smaller breed so they are comfortable on the journey and don’t get dog hair on your seats as well.
When you know they are comfortable, you can rest as well and have a safer car journey. Just don’t forget what you need for the end destination and food and drink for the journey as well.
Top Driving Music
This section totally depends on what you like, but there are a few albums which have been made specifically for driving. We’ll suggest some albums as well as services which have great playlists for driving as well.
- Top gear greatest driving songs
- 50 greatest driving songs of all time https://www.thrillist.com/lifestyle/nation/best-driving-songs-of-all-time will keep you occupied for a few hours at least
- Use Spotify discover to find songs to keep you in the zone whilst driving long distances
Other Pointers & Tips For Long Distance Driving
Eating healthy is definitely our number one tip for long journeys in the car. Being sustained is great for focusing on the road ahead, especially when it’s with healthy non greasy food.
We recently went on a 7 hour drive to Edinburgh and stopped off for a pre-made healthy meal. It had plenty of greens in it, nothing that made us feel drowsy and not too much sugar so we didn’t have a sugar drop after we had eaten. Along with plenty of water, we felt great and were hydrated enough for the long journey ahead.
What are your favourite tips for driving long distances?