Last month (September 2021), I learned the hard way that not everyone remains safe while on a road trip.
My parents were driving over half of Europe to visit us. For the night, instead of sleeping in a hotel, they decided to sleep in their van in a truck parking lot in Poland. They’ve done it loads of times over the last five years.
And in the middle of the night, they got robbed – the car windows were smashed, and most of their valuables got stolen.
So, they were in the middle of nowhere Poland with no cards, no IDs, and almost no money. Plus, speaking only a bit of Russian which is not so popular in Poland – mostly English is used as a foreign language there.
Luckily, they had their phones, which helped us communicate everything that needed to be done, and they were not physically harmed, but it was an incredibly scary and stressful thing to go through.
Plus, my saint of a brother and his friends drove 900km one way to bring them money and passports.
It can happen to anyone any time, of course, but there are some road trip safety tips that you should follow to help keep yourself safe – among other things, to avoid getting robbed and help you just in case you do (tfu-tfu).
You might think – oh well, I’ve travelled a lot by car, I know how to keep safe. Haven’t had any problems ever.
Well, yeah. My parents felt the same way.
But you know how it is – the more times everything goes well, the more reckless we get.
If you’re an experienced road-tripper, some of these tips will seem completely obvious to you, but you know, better safe than sorry. Right?
Road trip safety tips – check your car before a long drive
- Window vipers and fluid
- Spare tyre
- First aid kit
- Jumper cables
- And so on
The best option is basically to take your car to a service or a mechanic and ask him to check if the car is safe for a long drive. Obviously, if the car has been checked recently, I wouldn’t take it, but if the check has happened a long time ago… well, better safe than sorry.
You wouldn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere with a broken car, right? Plus, it’s not easy to find a car service that you can trust and that wouldn’t break your bank somewhere where you don’t know anyone.
One of the first things to do is – check that you have a spare tyre or the foam that fixes a broken tyre. Make sure you have all the wrenches and everything as well, because what will you do if you have a tyre but no way to change it?
Next, the oil levels and the oil change date need to be checked as well – it’s not really a good idea to drive long distances if the car needs an oil change. We usually take 500ml of oil with us as well just in case – if the oil needs to be topped up, it’s easy to do.
I honestly have no idea how to check if the brakes work properly, so I do that in a service centre. They can check the whole engine as well so that there’s a smaller chance it will break down somewhere.
It’s annoying and very much not safe to have windshield wiper blades that don’t work properly. If the windshield is dirty, your vision through it is impaired. About the liquid – again, we usually take some extra with us so that it can be topped up when needed.
And obviously, check the first aid kit, and not just the car one. Check that you have the basic items for safety and that they haven’t expired. Check that there is some medicine for pain and fever with you. Well, basically, check that you have packed all the essential items with you.
Another thing to consider taking with you is jumper cables. If your car’s battery dies, it’s a very useful thing to have – not many local drivers take them with on short-ish drives.
Of course, this is not a full list – depending on where you’re driving and what you’re driving through, it might be a good idea to have blankets, flashlights, non-perishable food items, extra water, and some more things with you.
Road trip robbery safety tips
We might think that it’s quite safe to go on road trips, and it probably is much safer than it used to be (at least in Europe, it was very, very not safe in the ex-Soviet countries after the collapse of the union).
But, with Covid, many people have lost a lot and are getting desperate, so it’s important to remember some road trip safety tips for robberies.
It’s important to keep safe against getting robbed, obviously. But it’s quite important to know what to do if you have been robbed, as well.
We can try to follow as many road trip safety tips as we want, but if luck is not on our side, many things can happen.
Lock the car
But lock it not just when you leave the car, but when you wait for someone in it as well.
For example, someone from the car is quickly running into the store to buy something and the other person is staying in the car waiting for them. Well, lock the car doors!
An acquaintance was robbed while they were talking to someone on one side of the car. The thief just opened the door on the other side and took a backpack full of valuables! No one even noticed anything!
It’s even more important to lock the car if you want to sleep in it, which is quite a normal thing to do when driving in summer.
Keep valuables on you, especially your phone
Speaking of sleeping in the car, as I said in the beginning, my parents were lucky that they had their phones on them while they were sleeping.
If they didn’t, they would have no way of contacting anyone.
For that matter – keep your valuables, at least a part of them, on you. Either put them under the pillow or keep them in a small purse.
Better yet, make sure that the thieves can’t see that you have these things on you so that they don’t think of threatening you for them.
And it’s not only the “typical” places (stereotypical really) where you should be careful. Even in countries that you’d normally consider safe, such as Italy, you shouldn’t leave your valuables in the car.
Write down important contact information before the trip
Even if you’ve memorized a bunch of phone numbers, it’s better to write them down somewhere where you can easily find them. In case your phone gets stolen, you might want to contact someone from the family or friends who can help you.
Some examples of what contact information to write down:
- Family member who you can contact in case of emergency
- Insurance company
- Local police (in Europe that’s 112)
- Bank – to block the credit cards
- Embassy – they might be able to help when noone else can
Don’t leave valuables in the car
And obviously, always have copies of your ID cards and other important documents somewhere on a cloud service or with you in a suitcase. It’s very helpful to have them!
Again, one of the obvious road trip safety tips that we tend to overlook, right?
Well, at least keep them somewhere where they can’t be seen, and I don’t mean seen easily.
Thieves are usually quite smart – they might even be looking at how you’re hiding the bags, you know.
So, besides keeping all the most valuable valuables on you, make sure to hide your stuff with the door closed and no one looking at you.
Don’t keep all of your payment cards and cash in one place
Try to keep them separately, for example, in at least 2 different wallets, which are placed in separate bags.
And keep those bags in separate places in the car. For example, keep one bag with a wallet that holds some cash and cards in the boot of the car so that if someone tries to rob you, they don’t get everything that you have.
It’s incredibly hard if you don’t have any money when you’re stranded somewhere.
That’s the situation my parents were in, but luckily, they had food with them – when travelling long distances, my mom usually takes enough food to last more than a day in their little car fridge. But it’s not so usual to do it – imagine if you’re without money, you can’t get food as well. It’s just crazy scary to think about.
Have some money hidden in the car
Besides keeping your money in separate places so there’s less of a chance that all of it will be stolen, make sure to hide some cash – banknotes, not coins – in the car itself.
You can make a hidden compartment for it, or maybe hide it under the seat cushions, or in the glove compartment, or maybe even somewhere else.
In case all of the cash that you have in your wallets does get stolen, you still have some money for food or fuel or even a hotel.
Park under cameras when possible
As proven by my parents, it doesn’t really help if you park under lanterns and close to other cars.
The light was broken by the thieves (my dad was half awake and noticed it going out) and the other drivers that were sleeping in the parking lot didn’t come to help when my mom was screaming her head off.
So, to protect yourself, try to park somewhere where you are visible in cameras. The robbers might be scared off by them or consider it too difficult to break the cameras as well.
What to do if you have been robbed?
Well, first – don’t panic (easy to say, right?)! And don’t try to stop the people – if you’re in shock and they have prepared before, the situation might worsen a lot.
The first thing you should do is call the police. There are usually at least some people who work for emergency services, like 112, that speak a foreign language. Even if they don’t, with Google translate and things you might get each other understood. But you must let the police know.
Second, call and block the credit cards if they were stolen.
Then, contact the insurance company if you’ve taken out insurance before the trip.
Afterwards, you pretty much have to do what the police tell you to.
If you’re without documents, it might be best that you try to get home. In my parents’ case, as I said, my brother brought them their passports so they continued the journey, but if you don’t have an ID, you can either turn back home or contact your embassy for advice on how to proceed.
Don’t forget basic road safety when driving
You’re having fun, you’re excited about the places you’ll see, you’re becoming a bit distracted while driving, and bam! An accident.
As much fun as road trips can be, it’s important to not forget some of the basic road safety tips.
Always wear a seatbelt
Not just the driver should always wear a seatbelt, but the passengers as well. Seatbelts are some of the best things to protect you against injury in car accidents.
During road trips, you might feel more lax and feel like enforcing the seat belts is just not worth it. Plus, you probably need to reach so many things, and the seat belt is just in the way…
But this is one of those road trip safety tips that save lives, and you shouldn’t overlook it.
Children should always use a proper car seat or booster seat
I’ve been there.
The road trip has been going on for the whole day already, everybody is tired, the destination is alllllmost there, but the child is getting restless and just wants to run around. There’s the temptation to just let them run around in the car for a bit because you know that stopping will mean another half an hour of delay.
Just like a seat belt, the car seat, if used correctly, can save your child’s life in an accident.
Make sure that the car seat is appropriate for your child as well!
Check that they are still within both weight, height, and age limits. Plus, that they haven’t been recalled or expired – yes, even car seats have expiry dates. Infants should use a rear-facing car seat as long as possible because they are safer for the child’s neck.
And make sure that the car seat is installed properly. I know that in some countries it’s possible to go to the fire stations, for example, to check the car seat. But if it’s not possible for you, just check the instructions for installation properly and maybe even watch some YouTube videos to double-check.
Don’t get distracted while driving
I know these are all basic road trip safety tips, but it’s important to remember them.
Don’t use your phone while driving – that means, don’t text, call, or play on it. That includes taking pictures – I’ve seen so many of my friends post pictures where they are by the wheel and driving 100+ km/h, it’s scary. Just, please don’t do that, people.
Another one – don’t set the navigation while you’re on the road. Either do it before starting to drive or let one of the passengers do it for you.
A bit less obvious one is – don’t scan the radio while you’re driving. I know many cars have radio controls on the steering wheel now, which is good, but still make sure to keep your eyes on the road.
And the last of the basic road safety tips – don’t eat while driving and try to not drink as well. It’s better to do these things while you’re stopped. But I know that sometimes you just want to drink or snack, so… just be careful, ok?
Take regular breaks while driving
The longer you drive, the harder it becomes to focus.
It’s advised to take a break at least every 2 hours – to stretch your legs, go to the toilet, drink, eat etc.
The break should be at least 15 minutes.
And don’t just remain seating in the car on your phone for this period of time – get out in the fresh air so your body can move and your brain – relax.
If possible, share the driving with another person
It’s just logical, but somehow many people seem to overlook this very basic road safety tip.
If there is another driver who is willing and able to share the drive with you, do it!
It’s a good way how to give each other a break from time to time and help both of you not become bored, distracted or drowsy.
Make sure that you have enough fuel to get to the next gas station
And not just “enough”, but more than enough, because you never know what can happen on the way.
So if your car’s fuel level is going below 1/3 of the tank, I’d suggest starting to look for a gas station.
If you’re driving on a highway, you can be kind of sure that there will be gas stations available regularly. The prices will probably be much higher than somewhere off the highway, but at least the stations are there.
But if you’re driving on smaller roads and especially somewhere off the main roads, there might not be gas stations available for hours and for more than 100km.
Drive according to the weather
I know how it is – you just want to reach the destination as soon as possible to go and explore.
But don’t get reckless.
It’s important to remain safe when driving – slow down if it’s raining heavily.
Don’t speed on snowy roads.
Use sunglasses and the sun visor when it’s sunny so you don’t get blinded.
These road trip safety tips sound so obvious, but when you can’t wait to arrive at the new place already, you may overlook some of them.
Road trip safety tips when driving during Covid
We’re all tired from the pandemic, that’s not a question anymore, and we all think that we know how to keep safe.
But just like with the basic road trip safety tips, it’s a good idea to iterate the things that we should do and pack with us now during these times.
If you’re going on a road trip during coronavirus, make sure to follow these few simple rules.
Check the rules for the places you’re going to
Some countries have lax rules, some have very strict ones.
Some require loads of documents to be filled in before travel.
For example, when we were going to Italy in September 2021, we needed to fill in a very long Passenger Locator Form, which was checked at the airport – for every single passenger.
For coming back to Slovakia, though, no one cared that we had filled in any papers.
In Italy, only masks are required when entering premises.
In Slovakia in certain districts, you need respirators and only vaccinated/tested people can enter some places.
So, check the rules properly so you know what you need.
Don’t forget your masks and respirators
As I said, some places in Slovakia require respirators to be worn.
And most places need you to have at least a mask.
So be sure to pack enough masks and respirators for the length of your trip.
Make sure to put them somewhere they can be easily reached as well – you wouldn’t want to dig through your luggage when you need to go to a toilet in a gas station, right?
Pack disinfectant and/or disinfectant wipes with you
Let’s even ignore the pandemic – the gas station bathrooms are almost always naaaaasty and dirty.
But I think we all know that many people are now so overworked that places are not getting cleaned properly, so it’s a good idea to wipe surfaces before touching anything.
Use the sanitiser after you use the restrooms and even after pumping gas.
But, of course, wash your hands with soap whenever possible.
Use the bathroom when you can
Speaking of washing your hands, many public bathrooms might be closed now, so – use one when you have the opportunity.
The bathrooms in gas stations on highways are probably open, though. But again, wash your hands afterwards and use a disinfectant.
Book your accommodation in advance
As sad as it is, many places had to close down during Covid.
It might have been because there were no clients and they just bankrupted or just because they couldn’t work with the rules that are being enforced.
Or, you know, the places that are open might be extra full because of all the people who couldn’t wait to travel again.
Double check the rules of the places you want to visit
It might be mandatory to book your visit in advance at some places. In many places, there is a limited number of people allowed at the same time.
Or some of the places might even be closed up completely.
The pandemic is evolving and changing every single day, so make sure to add some flexibility to your plans. If you have to cut your trip short or extend it, be ready.
That means, when booking accommodation, it’s a good idea to book one which you can cancel without losing money.
If you have to rent a car, the same thing – cancellable is the best option.
Tips for a long road trip
If your road trip is going to be quite long, remember these short tips:
- Pack a portable battery or a car charger for your cell phone
- Make sure to have enough water with you to last more than one day
- Stock up on non-perishable snacks
- Put snacks and drinks in easy-to-reach places in the car
- Have entertainment for kids with you
- Make a playlist of your favourite songs
- Prepare some road games for some fun on the road
- Take regular breaks, especially when you have driven for a few days before already
Easy enough, right?
Get an insurance before the trip
It’s not as expensive as you think, and it can help in case something goes wrong.
It’s too late to get it once the incident or accident has happened.
In case something goes wrong, it’s a good idea to have insurance so that you don’t have more expenses on top of everything.
Many insurances cover things like car accidents where you are to blame, document renewal in case they are lost or stolen, medical expenses including a dentist, trip cancellation costs etc.
Last words about road trip safety tips
Most of these things seem obvious, right?
We follow so many of these road trip safety tips during our day to day lives as well.
Well, going on road trips doesn’t really differ so much from other types of vacation or even our day to day lives!
We just have to remember to use our common sense! And remember that just because we’re on a vacation doesn’t mean that nothing bad can happen to us.
Have a safe road trip!