Choosing to adventure is one of the most exciting parts of the journey, whether it’s a road trip, backcountry excursion or a day spent off-roading. But don’t let that anticipation keep you from being prepared. It’s an important step, no matter how dull it may seem.
Since proper planning can spell the difference between a fantastic trip and a horrible one, we’ve compiled some tips for getting started. Keep these in mind when planning your next adventure trip.
Step 1: Inspect Your Vehicle
Visit a trusted mechanic to get a multipoint inspection before setting out. This includes getting your tires checked and rotated, topping off your fluids, inspecting all belts and hoses and testing shocks and struts. It’s smart to also get an oil change at this time, even if it’s early.
Make sure your vehicle’s cooling system is in good shape, as well. Not only does this impact the use of air conditioning, but it also helps the engine avoid overheating. This means having the water pump, radiator and thermostat inspected.
You’ll also want to carry some form of road-assistance coverage like AAA. Those on highway-only road trips may have easier access to a tow truck, but anyone traversing the backcountry would be smart to have coverage in the event of an incident.
Above all, your vehicle needs to be reliable. Neglecting regular maintenance can cause many future problems. Those issues become magnified and harder to fix whether you’re off-grid or stranded on the side of a highway.
Step 2: Study the Climate
An area’s weather determines more than just what you’ll wear. Heavy rain can alter terrain drastically, producing mud traps and streams that won’t appear on Google Maps. Local roads could be susceptible to unexpected closures. Changing tides may even close an expected path.
Study the climate quirks of the area beyond checking the 10-day forecast. Call local parks, area guides and tour groups. They should be eager to tell you how to prepare since protecting you protects their local land.
Step 3: Research Your Route’s Traffic Laws
Familiarizing yourself with traffic laws helps you avoid getting lost, racking up unnecessary fines or getting stuck. This means studying speed limits, the direction of traffic and parking limits ahead of time. Be aware if regional laws ban something that’s legal in your city, such as making a right turn on a red light.
Knowing your route extends to backcountry or off-road travel. You don’t want to drive illegally on access roads or private property. If you’re driving to an off-road park or trail, keep in mind that some require a two-car minimum for entry. This means you’ll need to bring a friend or link up with another group.
Map out your desired drive route ahead of time to know the distances between gas stations and food stops. It’s smart to have a plan for refueling or using the bathroom.
Step 4: Know When to Go
Understanding your route means knowing the best time to travel. Driving during the day is always a better option than driving at night, no matter how much traffic stands between you and your destination. You’ll be more alert and aware of your surroundings in broad daylight.
The time of week you travel is also important. Highways tend to be more congested on weekends, as do popular off-road or backcountry trails. Taking a trip in the middle of the week not only reduces the stress of avoiding traffic but also can be safer with fewer people on the road.
Step 5: Bring a Physical Map
It’s easy to eschew traditional paper maps, but they’re important for off-grid travel. If access to phone, text or email is limited, you’ll most likely be out of range of your vehicle’s GPS. Some navigation systems have a digital bread crumb function to drop data points along your path, but don’t rely on that.
Like local traffic laws, paper maps inform where you should or shouldn’t be. Many 4×4 enthusiasts find it hard to partake in their hobby due to those who ignore boundaries that protect the environment. Straying off-path harms local ecosystems and can lead to fines or vehicle impoundment.
Step 6: Take Time to Pack
Correctly packing your vehicle starts with knowing what to bring. Pack items like first-aid kits, weather-appropriate clothing and gear critical to the activities you have planned. It’s prudent to have gear for your car, too.
Bring a spare tire in case of a puncture, as well as emergency sealant foam and a compression pump to reinflate a patched wheel. Tow straps are also handy in the event you need help out of a rut or have to be towed. Pack a few towels to clear windows for visibility and handle hot vehicle components.
Once you’ve gathered your gear, load it correctly. Pack larger, heavier items on the bottom to create a solid base, then stow smaller items on top without covering too much of your rearview or side windows. Think of it as playing cargo Tetris.
Step 7: ‘Bingo Fuel’
“Bingo fuel” is military slang for a vehicle having just enough fuel to make it home. If you’re exploring, be mindful of what’s in the tank. Whatever you burned to get out there is what you’ll need to get back, so make sure you have at least that much when you decide to turn around.
Having more than enough reserve fuel is preferable in the event you get lost or have trouble tracking down a gas station. Pack along a jerry can or two of emergency gasoline.
Paper maps also inform where you should or shouldn’t be. Many 4×4 enthusiasts find it hard to partake in their hobby due to those who ignore boundaries that protect the environment. Straying off-path harms local ecosystems and can lead to fines or vehicle impoundment.
Editor’s note: This article was rewritten to include additional information.