15 Brilliant Tips to Make Your Thanksgiving Road Trip a Breeze

istock / istock

Before you drive over the river and through the woods to whomever’s house you’re going to this Thanksgiving, consider these tips on how to make it the easiest, breeziest road trip you’ve ever taken.


You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your car, so it’s a good idea to make sure it’s a space you want to be in. Tidy up, organize the clutter, and do whatever you can to give it that Zen vibe before you even hit the road (hula girls and pine tree air fresheners allowed). Then when you’re on the road, consider every pit stop an opportunity to assess your vehicle’s trash situation. The better you are about maintaining the garbage, the happier you’ll be.


We don’t wish you any ill during your travels, but let’s be realistic: Stuff happens. Roads will be closed, there will be traffic, you won’t have cash for toll roads, and you’ll realize you don’t know how to work the wipers in the rental car when it starts to snow. That’s all fine though because you’ll be ready for it. Do what you can to avoid these problems to begin with, but (arguably) more importantly, expect them so that you can be better prepared to deal with the stress. Leave time for issues, watch an online video to brush up on how to change a tire, and pay attention to the roadwork alerts that will inevitably pop up when you route the journey. Your future self will thank you. 


The one thing you can control on the road? Yourself. If you’re planning on logging some serious hours to get to your destination, it’s crucial to set a schedule. Figure out roughly where you want to make stops and for how long (with that little extra padding in case unforeseen issues arise), and strive to keep things moving as planned. There’s nothing worse than showing up late when the family’s been eating and playing board games without you for hours. 


This is a big one since we all rely on our devices for, well, everything. Make sure you have everything you need to run your gadgets and keep them powered all the way to the finish line. Sure, you can usually find replacements with relative ease, but it isn’t worth the stress of a red alert about a nearly drained battery when you’re far from home and navigating the open road.


Related to number four, get your tunes, podcasts, games, and viewing or reading materials (if you’re a passenger) in order so you know how you’ll stay occupied for the duration of the trip. There are tons of fun road trip games to be found online if you’re getting tired of “I Spy,” and with the right group, a sing-along can be a great way to pass the time. That said, if you’re not the one driving, make sure you don’t spend the whole trip with your head stuck in a book—there’s scenery to be seen!


If your road trip has some built-in leisure time, make sure you chat it up with the locals whenever you make a stop. They can often direct you to the best places to refuel, see the sights, and maybe even offer some helpful shortcuts when there’s construction or traffic that could unexpectedly slow you down.


There are tons of delightful roadside stops on the country’s highways and byways, and it’s worth sneaking a peek at potential tourist opportunities while you’re passing through. Even if your route is a familiar one, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some stones to overturn as you make your way. Many of the best photo ops and interesting stories are right off the road and won’t take you too far off your charted course.


Eating right is one of the toughest things about a long road trip. There’s just something about the excitement of being on vacation combined with the stress of travel that can make you particularly prone to washing down some drive-thru with a candy bar and large soda. Stop those cravings before they start with a well-stocked, pre-planned stash of snacks like healthy trail mix, fruit, crackers, and maybe even some cut veggies and dip. Snacking smart will keep you feeling good and energized throughout the journey, and you won’t be mad at yourself when it’s all over.


Eating right isn’t enough—you also have to give your body the water it needs. Some travelers are tempted to cut back on fluid intake because it will lead to more bathroom stops, but in all likelihood, that extra time won’t make that much of a difference, especially since your body will feel a lot better with the right amount of H2O. Plus, your stops will give you an opportunity to do something else you need… 


After being cooped up in a car for hours on end, your body and mind can start to get a little bit of cabin fever. When you’re able to stop and stretch your legs, don’t just shuffle around the convenience store for a few minutes. Actually stretch your arms, legs, neck, and abdomen to help combat the strain often placed on the body when sitting for long stretches. Keep that blood flowing! If possible, take a small walk or engage in other physical activity to relieve even more of that road trip tension.


Turn your pit stops into a game in order to help the time on long trips pass more quickly. At each gas station or rest stop you visit (on one of your stretch breaks), scour the aisles for the strangest food item you can find. By the time you reach your destination, you’ll have a care package full of regional delicacies to share with your host.


It may sound super old school, but a paper map is a must-have when you hit the road. Despite all the technologies out there that can provide directions, nothing is more foolproof than a hard document with the major thoroughfares you’ll need to know to make it to your destination. When you lose a signal or something goes dead, you’ll be happy to have that trusty old map, even when you can’t figure out how the heck to fold it back up again.


Cars open the door for excessive packing, but keeping the luggage light has its virtues. For one, doing so literally lightens your load. Two, packing light means there’s room to bring things home with you! Whether it’s a souvenir, that bag of cookies your mom made, or the stuffed animal you’ve been meaning to bring back with you for uh, posterity's sake, a smart pack from the get-go means you’ll have room to grow.


Renting a car can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to plan well and do your homework. Look beyond the big names in rentals, as you can often find cheaper rates through smaller companies, especially when they’re not near an airport. Be sure to hunt for discount codes and promotions for possible deals, and consider negotiating for upgrades once you’ve booked. You can also track rates and shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal at the best time. Going home for the holidays doesn’t need to cost a fortune.


It’s always a good idea to check your car’s vitals before you hit the road. Aside from making certain that things are in long-haul working order, check that you have everything you’d need for common troubles like a flat tire or a dead battery. A first-aid kit for your car can go a long way when you’re stuck out on the road. Another piece of hardware to consider? Your key. Bring a spare key with you on your travels so you never have that moment of dread after shutting the door behind you.