If you have ever attempted to travel during a busy holiday weekend you might have noticed a few things. National and State Parks are overflowing with campers, roadways are much more chaotic than usual and popular destinations are even more popular than usual.
This can make taking a trip on a whim very difficult for the every day person wanting to get away and enjoy a long weekend.
Preparing before your trip can be one of the most essential ways to ensure you have a little less trouble finding those perfect sites, driving those longer distances and enjoying the time you have away from the grind. But where should you start?
I always start my adventures with a little car maintenance. Especially when driving long distances this ensures my safety, fuel economy and my avoidance of unnecessary stops. But car maintenance is much more than just putting gas in the tank and cleaning the windshield.
Before any trip of significant distance I make sure to check my fluids, ALL OF THEM!! From oil and coolant to wiper fluid you never know what you might encounter on the road and want to be fully prepared should you have an incident. This also ensures that you will not be at your destination parked in a sea of other traffic idling and overheating. You want to be able to run your car air conditioner in hot weather and your heat in cool conditions without a hitch. I recommend additionally, getting your oil changed before your travels just to ensure you are not drawing close to needing a change while driving.
Next up, I always do a once over of the car and take note of any repairs which might need to be made. Most of the time there is nothing which needs correction, however if you tires are low, your wiper blades are starting to warp or crack or any of your lights are not working this is the perfect time to catch this before you have issues down the road.
I once had a wiper blade bite the dust in the midst of the rainstorm and had to inch my car slowly down the road with my hazards on until I could safely pull off. This, needless to say, was horrific. After one incident like that you will never again forget your once over let me tell you!!
By checking your lights and turn signals you are ensuring you do not have any wires which have shorted or fuses which need to be replaced. There is no worse feeling than being pulled over because your car is having an issue with either of these and having to not only lose time on the road but also be petrified of having a hefty fine to pay.
Next we want to stock the car with appropriate emergency items. You want to make sure you have an empty gas can, something to either fix your tire or replace it should it have issues, jumper cables, flash light, tools for general maintenance and a air pump. All of these can be obtained at pretty much any store which has an automotive section, many times in a kit which stows away in a very small amount of space.
I also make sure to always have a small medical kit in my car just in case.
With all your basic maintenance complete, it is now time to gas up and hit the road. You are safe and using precaution, but much like anything else we do, you cannot control how others act and react on the roadways. This is when it is important to know where you are going, how you plan on getting there and if there are any alternate routes you could entertain.
I like to take my time when traveling and while I realize this is not great for shorter trips it is very handy on busy weekends especially. If you start to get frustrated by traffic you are more likely to have an incident while traveling. I avoid this by taking the path less taken when possible. I scout alternate routes which might have a little less traffic. I also use the app Waze when in more populated areas to find routes which might avoid heavy pile up.
The best travel time for Labor Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July is always before rush hour on Friday or early before 9 a.m. Saturday morning. Most of the crowds can be avoided if you opt for these times driving in more metropolitan areas. As you approach State and National Parks you want to try to start out even earlier for entry to get ahead of the crowds at popular spots.
Many National Parks have loop style drives which allow you limited passing and few turn outs. As you get toward more populous parks with busy trailheads this means that you will encounter lots of other people wanting to do the exact same thing you are and parking lots fill up fast.
I had this happen when I was at Smoky Mountain National Park and wanted to check out one of the trails. I was up early and still found the parking and traffic to be horrific during the summer months. The early bird gets the worm is something that is taken very seriously in places like this so make sure you are willing to rise with the sun and get moving quickly if you want photos without other travelers in them.
Another thing to consider is driving at night. While I typically would endorse this because there is far less traffic, during holiday weekends I would avoid this. Why?? A lot of people are out and about that typically would not be and many of those are intoxicated. This makes driving at night very dangerous. Avoid this!!
Additionally, especially in populated areas traffic stops are established to ensure motorists are not drinking and driving. These pop up throughout the day and evening and can slow traffic considerably. This is when being patient really will come into play.
The key to holiday travel is being prepared for anything, being patient in any circumstance and remembering to always be aware of your surroundings.