Tips for road trips

The longer the journey, and the more it differs from your routine driving, the more important it is to prepare carefully. If you are travelling with children or going in winter, there are special things to consider.

Before leaving

While driving

When you stop

If you break down

Many countries require you to have a warning triangle to use in case you break down. It is not always a requirement but definitely always a good idea. Leave it at least 50 meters (others say 35 yards) behind your car if you break down; on freeways double this. It will prevent your being rear-ended or causing collisions if you have to stop in an unsafe location. A tow-rope and jumper cables are also handy.

Automobile associations

Various motor clubs or automobile associations provide roadside assistance to members:

A membership card is issued for an annual fee. Many are not-for-profit service organisations, although companies which sell roadside assistance plans on a for-profit basis (such as RAC Motoring Services in the UK or the Dominion Automobile Association in Canada) do compete directly with the motor clubs.

If you break down, call the number provided by the automobile association (such as *CAA or +1-800-AAA-HELP for CAA/AAA members); the motoring club usually has some existing arrangement with a local tow company at a station rate which is cheaper than what a tow company would charge if you (or worse, the police) call them directly while you are stranded at roadside.

Often, members of one automobile association can obtain roadside assistance from a partner organisation in another country if a vehicle breaks down while abroad; for instance, an ADAC member could obtain AA assistance in the UK or CAA/AAA assistance in North America. Where the coverage applies to the driver (and not a specific vehicle), the roadside assistance remains available when behind the wheel of a hire or rental car.

While services provided by individual motor clubs vary, most provide some level of roadside assistance (towing and recovery, battery boost, spare tyre installation or delivery of enough fuel to get to the next filling station). Some provide locksmith service to unlock a vehicle if keys are inadvertently locked inside. Most provide printed road maps and guidebooks to their members at no additional cost. Other common services include a travel agency and passport photos, travellers cheques and currency exchange, advocacy for safer roads and discounts at motor inns and lodges. Driver training and vehicle inspection may be provided, or membership may allow the motorist a discount on these services from approved vendors. Some sell luggage or clothing for travel, some sell insurance or financial services; in the United States of America the AAA may provide a bail bondsman for members charged with minor out-of-state traffic offences, while in Germany the ADAC provides medical evacuation (by aircraft, if necessary) to members in an emergency. An automobile association may also produce a list of inspected, approved repair facilities; this effort is usually independent of the motor club's inspection and rating of the hotels and restaurants in its guidebooks.

In some countries more than one automobile association exists. This is often due to the political efforts of automobile associations that have been construed as being "lobbying" for cars, roads and fossil dependency. Therefore motorist-clubs of this vein tend to market themselves as "green" and de-emphasize the word "car" in their name. One example would be the the Verkehrsclub Deutschland. Similarly named associations exist throughout Europe, as well as the Better World Club in the United States. While their services are often similar to those of "traditional" automobile associations, they may be cheaper if you drive less or have a more eco-friendly car. Furthermore they offer more resources geared towards alternatives to cars, e.g. maps for cycling trips. Some also offer assistance for cyclists, but if you are an avid cyclist becoming member in a cyclist association instead might be a better idea.

Obtaining roadside assistance for "motor caravan" or "recreational vehicle" (RV) campers may be awkward; while a small camping trailer is relatively easy to separate from its tow vehicle in the event of roadside breakdown, a truck-sized motorhome is a one-piece rig which requires specialised equipment to tow and recover. Not all caravan clubs or associations can provide roadside assistance, although a few (like the Motor Caravan Club of Ireland, Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) or the Caravan Club in the United Kingdom) resell commercial insurance from third-party underwriters; in the USA, the for-profit Good Sam Club provides roadside assistance for RV'ers. Even if your vehicle can be detached from a trailer-style camper, not all roadside assistance plans provide a tow vehicle for both the disabled vehicle and the trailer; if you don't have the extra coverage, your camper might be left behind at roadside until the main vehicle is driveable again.

Limits on exactly what is covered vary between roadside assistance plans; most include a limited number of tow calls at no charge over a limited distance at no extra cost. A higher (more expensive) level of coverage will usually relax these limits.

Border Crossings

Check with the consulates of the countries you are crossing: there may be special requirements when crossing by car, for example driving from Hong Kong to mainland China requires a change of number plates at the border and a PRC issued driving license, In some cases, crossing borders will require you to change the side of the road you drive on (eg. Hong Kong/mainland China, Thailand/Laos, or UK/mainland Europe).

Some countries (including Mexico) impose specific requirements for customs documents (such as a Carnet de Passage) to prove that a temporarily-imported vehicle will be taken out of the country at the end of a trip. Insurance requirements also differ between countries; don't assume that cover which is valid at home will be honoured abroad (Canadian insurance policies usually are valid in the US, but US/Canada insurance is most likely worthless in Mexico). Even if the policy is valid in the country to which you intend to travel, there may be a higher minimum amount of liability coverage in another jurisdiction or a requirement to carry a specific document in-vehicle as proof of valid insurance. In some countries, the wealthy foreigner is at high risk of being found at fault in any collision.

A rental car firm may refuse to allow their vehicles to be driven to another country (with restrictions prohibiting operation of western European hire cars in eastern Europe or US hire cars in México being common; Argentina does not permit rental cars to leave the country at all).

Countries in dark blue are party to the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. Countries in light blue are not party to the 1949 Convention but may honor International Driving Permits. Always check before travel to avoid legal problems abroad.
This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 01, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.