Summer means travel. The kids are out of school, working parents schedule vacations. Be it the beaches, the lakes, the mountains, or even relatives—they all call to us to hit the road. It's a carefree time of year when we can count on sunny days and open highways. Well, most of the time anyway.
The Weather is Here.
When we travel through familiar territory, we pretty much know what to expect. The south is hot and humid with occasional, and startling, thunderstorms. The southwest is dry with unrelenting heat. The Midwest offers up a little bit of everything. But that carefree attitude is threatened when we leave our climatic comfort zone and head out into the great unknown. Bone up on your route and your destination. Local Chambers of Commerce rarely mention the monsoonal rainstorms and ensuing flash floods in Arizona, the vast expanses of absolutely nothing across the Great Plains, or those steep switchbacks on mountain passes.
The key to maintain some semblance of that carefree spirit is to be prepared with what we call our Summer Safety Pack. Of course, we all know that the best safety measure, no matter what the season, is to have a vehicle that's well maintained and has been checked out by a mechanic prior to the trip. If your tires or belts and hoses are marginal, they may choose a long stretch of steamy highway to fail. Have your oil and oil filter changed and pay special attention to other fluids: transmission, power steering, anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluid. In addition to variable weather patterns, different regions of the country have swarms of bugs, some the size of small birds that can turn your windshield into a Petri dish.
If you're planning a trip that takes you across the desert, take extra precautions. Every year injuries and even fatalities are reported in Death Valley and most could easily have been prevented by a little common sense. Deserts are captivating, beautiful places but during the summer, they're hostile.
Now for a list of things to bring:
Cell Phone and Charger: Most of us have one, but there's still a stalwart group that honestly doesn't want to be bothered. For those, think of the cell phone as your number one piece of safety equipment. If you don't own one, pick up a pay-as-you-go phone. Another tip: before you head into the great unknown, make sure you have service. Believe it or not, there are still some pockets of non-service tucked away in rural areas, especially close to major mountains. It's not a bad idea to sign up for a roadside service program. Even if you're traveling through long stretches of rural countryside where the nearest tow is miles, and hours, away, at least you've got a number to call.
Water Everywhere: Figure out how much water you'll need on each leg of your trip, and then double it. Whether the humidity is 99 percent or in single digits, bring water. Even if you cruise through a long leg of your trip with no incidents, bring water. Forget the herbal tea drinks—some are diuretics, which means they suck the water out of you. And caffeine or carbonated drinks don't slake your thirst nearly as well as water. Choose a cooler size in direct proportion to the heat you'll be traveling through. Freeze water bottles so you'll have cold water no matter how long between water sources. Dehydration makes you lethargic, gives you killer headaches and, generally, ruins a good time.
Car Fix-Its: Pull together an assortment of tools and include a flashlight and radio, especially if your car has Sirius. Tuning into a local radio station may not give you the music you like but can keep you up to date on unpleasant weather surprises. Tool suggestions: screwdrivers, hammer, rubber mallet, adjustable wrench, pliers, wire cutters, needle nose pliers, bailing wire, WD40 and rags. Toss in a gallon of anti-freeze while you're at it. We always carry a can of that flat-tire fix-it stuff, which can be a bit messy, but can get you get you out of tight spot in a jiffy.
You may not know how to use the tools, but bring them anyway. Years ago, I re-attached a throttle cable to the carburetor thingy, made it home and saved myself the cost of a tow—with a paperclip, proving that desperation is truly the mother of invention. Bring jumper cables, make sure your spare is in good shape and all the factory jack system is intact. Also, consider a windshield gizmo, you know, those really tacky screens with sunglasses printed on them. You might not have any choice but to park in the sun during rest stops. The screens can keep your car a little cooler.
First Aid Kit: Unless you plan on taking little trip detours to do some rock climbing or treks through the woods, a simple first aid kit from the local drug store should suffice. Add to it sunscreen, bug spray, antacids, antihistamines (you never know what interesting allergens your vacation holds) and skin cream just in case the sunscreen wears off or you're into the dry western mountains from a humid sea level. You might want to bring along towels as well. Slipping into vinyl car seats that have been baking in the sun, and you with those nifty shorts, can be a painful experience.
Pack Light, Literally: Wear light, loose, natural-fiber clothes. Those skin-tight jeans look great but can be as torturous as wearing a wetsuit in a hot car. The same goes for spandex tops—a cotton T-shirt is a lot more comfortable.
Know Where You're Going: Bring plenty of maps and consider a GPS if your vehicle doesn't come equipped with one. On the plus side, they open up the possibility of interesting side trips and help you get back on the main highway if the side trip leads you astray.
That's basically all you'll need. Our Summer Safety Pack is fairly simple with components you'll likely have around the house. Now it's time to toss everything in the car and hit the road for a healthy dose of summer fun.