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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

Road trips are a really popular way to vacation right now. You have the freedom to go at your own pace, map your own route and maintain social-distancing protocols. But despite the best planning before a road trip, there can be roadblocks. Here are some unfortunate situations that can happen, and how you can prepare yourself for them.

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1. You can’t access maps due to lost GPS or data signal

Road trips can take you through mountains, rural stretches and open roads which can literally take you off the grid. If you are relying on your phone or car’s maps to find your way, be sure to download your destination and route through Google Maps before you travel, so that you can keep navigating offline. Once your route is downloaded, you can use the mapping features even when there’s no signal.

2. You’re away and realize you need prescription medications

What could be worse than realizing you’re away from home and don’t have the medications you need? Before you leave, make sure you pack a list of medications you take with the dosages, your insurance prescription card and the phone numbers of your pharmacy and doctors. This should be packed in your travel bag. If you run out of medication or suddenly need, say an inhaler, you can have your prescription transferred from your pharmacy—unless it’s it happens to be closed for the evening, weekend or a holiday. In that case, you’ll have to call your doctor and have the name and location of a nearby pharmacy handy. When you go to pick it up, make sure you have information such as your prescription plan number and RxBIN ready.

3. The weather forecast abruptly changes after you leave home

Labor Day weekend near Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Labor Day weekend near Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Weather can be very unpredictable, especially in mountainous areas. If you are headed to the mountains—even if it’s late spring or late summer—opt for a rental car with four-wheel drive, just in case it suddenly snows. When you’re road tripping, it’s also important to pack some necessities like rain gear, lots of layers, sweatshirts and an extra pair of shoes. And always leave a warm blanket in the car, just in case. If the weather does dramatically shift, use your smartphone to find a nearby thrift shop where you can affordably gear up with hats, gloves, boots or rain gear. Big box retailers are generally found near interstate highways and in a pinch you can purchase an extra outfit or two to keep you warm and dry.

4. Your car breaks down in a super remote area

Rural Wyoming

Rural Wyoming

Prevention can go a long way. Before you leave on a road trip, be sure to have your vehicle serviced. Have tires and brakes checked, get an oil change and make sure the spare tire is in usable condition. (Alternatively, leave your car at home and opt for a rental.) Also, pack an emergency roadside kit which includes flares, blankets, flashlights, jumper cables, a tire jack, bottled water and non-perishable snacks. (If you’re renting a car, ask the agent if these items are included.) A transistor radio, a back-up cellphone charger or power booster are also smart items to put in your trunk. But what if your car does break down? First, put your flashers on and try to safely get your car off the road. Then call roadside assistance (many insurance policies come with this service). If you don’t have it, call a local tow company to come out. In the event you don’t have a signal and nobody stops to help, you’ll have to call 911. It might seem drastic, but in this scenario you have few other options. And be sure to conserve your phone battery as best you can: Quit all apps, turn down screen brightness and turn on smart battery mode. This is crucial because authorities may have to rely on pinging your phone’s location to find you.

5. You run out of gas

Running out of gas might seem like a rookie move, but keep in mind there are parts of the U.S. where you won’t see a town or gas station for dozens of miles. That’s why it’s a good idea to leave a clean, empty plastic gas container in your car (warning: even a small amount of gas left in the container could potentially combust). To reduce the chance of running out of gas, keep an eye on your gas gauge and don’t let the tank drop below a quarter full, if possible. In the event you do run out of gas, pull over as soon as the engine starts to sputter. If your phone is charged and has a signal, see if the closest gas station is walkable. If not, call road-side assistance if you have it: This could be either through AAA or through your car insurance. If that’s not an option, call a local towing company to bring you a few gallons. Again, if you don’t have a signal, you’ll have to resort to calling 911, so be sure to conserve your phone battery for this scenario, too.

5. You can’t dine in that iconic roadside diner or bucket-list restaurant due to COVID

Bluebird Diner, Iowa City

Bluebird Diner, Iowa City

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we travel, especially where dining is concerned. It’s a wise idea to pack food in your car but, of course, a big part of travel is trying iconic local restaurants and throwback roadside diners along the way. Despite local dining restrictions, most of which only allow outdoor seating or carryout, you can still tick off spots on your road trip dining list—no patio seating or in-car scarfing required. Here’s how: Just bring your masks and hand sanitizer, natch, and pack a few camping chairs and a small foldable table. That way, you can create your own sidewalk seating at just about any restaurant.

6. Your trip seems like nothing but boring Interstate

One classic road-trip mistake is to spend too much driving and not enough time exploring. First, keep your route reasonable so you don’t have to suffer through too many all-day drives. Secondly, get off the Interstate, because you will keep seeing the same boring gray stretch of road, marked by the same four gas station and fast food chains, over and over and over again. Instead, research a few scenic byways or rural routes that might have a few charming small towns and other interesting sights along the way. State highways are almost always more scenic than interstates. Download an app like Roadtrippers to see what else is en route.

Tagged: Cheap Tips, COVID-19, Tips & advice

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