Road Trip! Staying Safe on Your Long-Distance Travels [Slideshow]

Road trips are an easy escape. They usually don’t involve much expense or advance ticket purchases. They also present opportunities to see countryside close-ups that you might otherwise miss.

If you choose this more leisurely option during the year-end holiday season, nearly 100 million Americans may be joining you. But great planning is essential to ensure a road trip is stress-free, safe and successful. This includes considering such factors as road conditions, traffic and weather. Mishaps can happen, but the following tips may help make your next trip more enjoyable.

Ensure Your Vehicle is Road Ready

Before you go, make sure your vehicle is ready and maintained; high-mileage cars may require more attention. Check that tires are inflated to the listed pressure, coolant is sufficient, engine oil is in good condition and filled to the proper level, the battery has ample charge, wipers are functioning well, and exterior lights are all working.

Take an Emergency Kit

Pack an emergency road kit with items such as flares, jumper cables, flashlight, batteries and a first-aid kit. If you’re driving in colder weather, consider a winter storm kit that includes extra cell phone batteries, blankets and warm clothes, water, snow chains and traction mats or sand.

Map Out Your Route

Plan your route ahead of time, with alternate routes in the event of delays. There are a number of GPS-enabled mobile apps that provide real-time information on the time and distance to your destination, traffic conditions and roadside services. But it’s important not to use them while you’re driving. It’s also a good idea to take along a road atlas or folding map in case you lose cell service.

Pack Right and Store Luggage Safely

Pack smart. Take only what you’ll need for the trip and avoid cramming too much in. Don’t pile items in the back that may hinder your vision through the rear-view mirror. Balance your load evenly, with heavy items near the center. Keep in mind loose items become projectiles in an accident. Also, lock your doors at stops and ensure valuables are out of sight.

Remember Your Safety Belt

Buckle up. Besides being the law in every state, wearing a seat belt is vital for reducing serious injury or death in an accident. Make sure passengers are secure in their safety belts and children are fastened into car seats or booster seats. The back seat is usually the safest place to be for kids of any age.

Drive Defensively

Drive safely and defensively, giving yourself plenty of distance and time to react to the vehicles around you. Also, reducing your speed by 10 miles per hour can help improve your gas mileage by about 10 percent.

Let Aggressive Drivers Pass

You may encounter congested roads and impatient drivers. Keep your cool and don’t respond to these aggressive drivers. They’re more likely than other drivers to create an incident. You’re better off just letting them pass.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Get enough rest before you leave, and stay rested during the trip. It’s best to start in the morning after a good night’s sleep, not after a long, tiring day of work (unless you plan to stop). Take regular breaks along the way to stay fresh and alert, stopping roughly every 100 miles or two hours.

Book Ahead

Make your plans flexible. It’s smart to book accommodations ahead of time, but don’t feel you must make it to your destination if you’re tired. Consider avoiding peak travel hours and postpone plans if bad weather is predicted along your route. It’s better to reschedule than to risk your safety.

Savor the Ride

Relax and enjoy the scenery. After all, your vacation starts the moment you leave your home. Entertainment is important with restless kids, so bring along music, audio books, a DVD player, or play low-tech games like auto bingo or I Spy. To get the most out of your trip, consider reading up on your destination and the sights you’ll pass along your route before you leave.