Airlines for America estimates that there will be a 2.5% increase in Thanksgiving air traffic this year. AAA predicts only a 1.6% increase in air traffic this season, but a 1.9% increase in auto traffic. This means that there will be 48.7 million people on the road, traveling at least 50 miles. That will be the most traffic since 2007. With that much traffic driving longer than normal, there’s a greater chance of something going wrong. Here are some things you can do to make things go a little bit better.
If you don’t have roadside service coverage, like a membership in the American Automobile Association, get it. In addition to roadside assistance, which can be priceless when you need it, many such “clubs” also offer maps and tour guides, and now is the time to order them. Unless you’ve been doing this drive for most of your life, it helps to know the current road construction ahead of time. You can plan when to go to avoid the worst, and plan alternate routes if the worst traffic happens, anyway. You can also be prepared to find lodging if you can’t get out of the worst.
Check the weather forecast for the entire trip no more than a week ahead, so you can finalize your plans. Knowing what day and what time you need to leave to get where you’re going without feeling a sense of urgency due to time constraints will make the people you travel with much more relaxed.
Get your car checked. Many auto mechanics offer a free service to do a “vacation check” of your car. This includes examining your belts and hoses for wear and cracks; checking your tires and brakes for wear; and checking your fluid levels. Obviously, if you need service there will be a charge for that.
If you use a GPS or a GPS app on your phone, make sure that it is fully charged and that you have charging cables that work in your car. In fact, do this anyway. You may need that cell phone to call for roadside assistance; to see whether that hotel has a vacancy; or to let your family know that you’re running late.
Make a list of what you need to pack and keep it in your luggage. Pack a few days early so you have a chance to find or replace that item you can’t live without but don’t know where you left it. Load the car the day or night before you go. This gives you the opportunity to try stuffing it all in to the car a couple of times without panicking. You’ll still remember something at the last minute, but even that will go better if you’re not in a rush.
Finally, if the worst happens and you’re in an accident, make sure that the first responders can find your medical information and emergency contacts even if you can’t tell them. Over the last few years several states have implemented free programs for this very purpose. Check with your state’s Departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles. Here in Virginia we have two programs that you should look for. First is the DMV’s emergency contact program. If you have any form of ID from them (non-driver, learner’s permit, driver’s license) they can keep two emergency contacts’ info online for you. This means that if something happens and police, fire or EMTs find you they can have someone call your emergency contacts. You can fill out form DL 569 and mail it in, or you can fill it in online after you create an account. Second, is the Yellow Dot program. Go to your nearest fire station and ask for a Yellow Dot Program kit, which includes a personal information booklet to be filled out and placed in your glove compartment, and a Yellow Dot decal to be placed in the lower left corner of your rear windshield.
Fortune favors the prepared. May you never need to rely on any of these precautions. Drive safe and enjoy the holidays.