Some 37.1 million Americans are expected to be taking a road trip this weekend.

It’s a holiday weekend, but are you ready to roll? Making sure you and your vehicle are prepared means the difference between a trip you’ll never forget and one you’ll be desperate to forget.

The American Automobile Association, or AAA, predicts that some 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or this weekend, an increase of 7% from 2022. “This is expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000, when AAA started tracking holiday travel,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.

Most of them will be driving, with 37.1 million expected to take to the road, an increase of more than 2 million from last year. AAA says Friday between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. is expected to be the busiest travel day, with Saturday and Sunday being the lightest.

The agency also warned that major metro areas like Boston, New York, Seattle and Tampa will likely see travel times double compared to normal. When returning home, Monday between noon and 3 p.m. and Tuesday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. are among the worst times to drive.

Before you leave

Make sure your car is in good shape; take a look under the hood and make sure the hoses, belts and connecting cables are in good shape. Check your vehicle’s fluids as well, including the engine coolant. Be sure to read your vehicle’s owner’s manual on the proper fluids to use. Replace the windshield wipers if they are streaking.

Simple maintenance checks are essential before taking a long trip.

Make sure your tires are properly inflated. If your tires are low on air, it not only negatively affects handling, but also they can overheat and blow out. The proper tire pressure is not listed on the sidewall; it’s listed on a sticker in the driver’s side door jamb. Check the tire pressure when the tires are cold. Don’t forget to check the spare tire as well if your vehicle has one, and make sure all tires are in good condition. 

Also, you might want to tidy up your car if it looks like a stand-in for a Superfund site. Remove accumulated junk and wipe down the dashboard with a mild cleaner. Vacuum upholstered areas, including headliner, the rear parcel shelf and under the seats. Follow with a quick trip through the car wash. 

Now, with the help of a friend or family member, make sure all your lights, turn signals and brake lights are functioning. If your car has a navigation system, you might want to enter your destinations ahead of time. If you don’t have one, be sure to enter them into your Smartphone’s navigation app.

Make sure to leave a copy of your vacation schedule for people who aren’t traveling with you so they know where to look for you in case of emergency.

What to bring with you

First, make sure to include a first aid kit, jumper cables and road flares in your emergency road kit. If you don’t have one, they’re available at any auto parts stores.

Pack your car knowing that you might need to access the spare tire.

Next, you’ll want to bring along items to keep you or your passengers occupied, such as a laptop or tablet, along with the requisite charging cables.

If you’re travelling with children, bring their favorite toys and books, and pack a goodie bag to reward good conduct. To ensure some peace and quiet, carry pillows and blankets for naps. 

Even though it may seem apparent, don’t forget your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and auto and health insurance cards, as well as a smartphone charger cord.

Finally, it’s a good idea to always have a spare set of car keys, your doctor’s contact information, and any necessary prescriptions with you if you’re older.

Loading up

For the optimum weight distribution and handling, pack heavy items as close to the center of the car as you can. Securing unsecured objects will stop passengers from being struck during a panic stop. Remember that you might need to reach the spare tire as well. Don’t make it challenging to reach. 

Finally, keep in mind that overloading your car can make it handle poorly. The maximum load, also known as the gross vehicle weight, including both passengers and luggage, is listed in the owner’s handbook. 

Whatever you do, make sure the driver’s seat has a clear line of sight.

Minimizing fuel costs

Fuel apps such as GasBuddy can help you locate the least expensive fuel.

There are a few painless ways to maximize your fuel economy. Start by making sure that you don’t take along more than you need. Weight is the enemy of fuel efficiency. Avoid using your vehicle’s roof rack if possible. While driving, try to minimize changes in highway speed by using cruise control.

Avoid speeding, as it greatly impacts fuel economy. Minimizing your use of air-conditioning can also improve fuel efficiency. But lowering the windows introduces aerodynamic drag, so lower them only because you enjoy it. Don’t look for fuel efficiency gains.

To make sure that you’re not paying too much for gasoline or diesel fuel, download an app such as Upside or GasBuddy that can find the least expensive fueling station near your location. When you refuel, don’t top off your tank. Once the pump clicks off, stop fueling. 

Staying safe

Safe driving habits are always important, but more so during holiday travel. 

According to driver’s education website Zutobi, 38% of Memorial Day fatalities in 2021 were due to driving under the influence, while another 30% were lost due to speeding. And the stats are only getting worse, as the National Safety Council reports that the average number of traffic deaths during Memorial Day over the last six years is 6.3% higher than the average number of traffic deaths during comparable periods. In fact, along with Independence Day and Labor Day, the Memorial Day holiday has the highest average daily fatality rate. 

With a little forethought, your holiday weekend will be hassle free.