Driving tests

The ultimate road trip checklist

If you’re heading out on a road trip through New Zealand’s awesome countryside, there are some things you should remember to check and remember to take.

Preparing the car

  • Check your tyre pressures – if you’re carrying a heavier load, like several people and luggage, then you’ll need to inflate your tyres 3-4 psi higher than usual. You’ll find a plate on your car which is normally located either inside the fuel cap or on the door pillar. While you’re checking the pressure, check the tread depth, too. 1.5mm is the legal minimum depth, but anything below 3mm has significantly less grip in wet weather. Before you load the car, check the spare wheel, too, as it’ll be difficult to get to it once the car is loaded
  • Your car should have an emergency kit with a torch plus reflective triangle, hi-vis jacket and a jack. A first aid kit is a good idea, particularly if you are going camping. If you’re driving an older car then you could take some tools, but most modern cars are both unlikely to break down and very difficult to work on without specialist equipment if they do.
  • Check the fluids: oil, washer bottle, brake fluid
  • An old towel – something you can clean dirty shoes with
  • If you’re heading somewhere with snow or high altitude then you’ll need blankets and a folding shovel
  • Cargo barrier – if you’re having to load your car up above the level of the seats in a hatchback or station wagon, it’s important you have a cargo barrier to protect your passengers if you have to brake hard. Anything that’s above the level of the back seats will be propelled forward and into the back of the passengers’ heads if it’s not restrained. Luggage straps can help, too, if you have tether points in your boot
  • Check your WoF and registration won’t expire while you are away – you don’t want to be picking up a fine as you go on holiday.
  • Check your lights
  • Fill up with fuel.

Passenger and driver comfort

  • Pillows – essential for staying comfortable on a long trip
  • Audio – load up your phone or media player with songs and/or podcasts
  • Books and magazine – make sure you have enough reading material
  • Toys and puzzles – if you’re road tripping with kids, keeping them occupied will help you maintain your sanity.
  • Tissues and wet wipes – useful in many circumstances, especially if you’re taking kids.
  • A couple of plastic bags for rubbish, wet shoes, etc
  • Smartphones and tablets
  • USB cables for charging devices
  • Sunglasses
  • Motion sickness pills
  • Pen and notepad
  • Snacks – tempting as it is to pack sugary food, it’s actually better when travelling to eat healthier snacks, especially for the driver. You’ll need some easy-to-access snacks, plus you can take a chilly bin for picnic stops and rest breaks that contains more substantial food. You could also take cooking apparatus such as a portable stove.
  • Camera – you probably come across interesting things on the way, so having a camera ready will allow you to capture these without rummaging through your entire luggage.
  • Cash – a bit of cash is convenient for purchases at roadside stalls and for paying parking
  • A written list of your destinations in case your GPS fails
  • Binoculars – good for spotting birds and other things
  • Drinks – water is best for hydration, but whatever you prefer (drinking something is better than drinking nothing, as long as you’re not drinking alcohol)
  • Multi-function knife and some cutlery and plastic plates.
Make sure you have everything you need for an awesome trip

Make sure you have everything you need for an awesome trip

Stops and rest breaks

  • Have a good idea of where you will stop for breaks or sightseeing, particularly if you will be deviating slightly from your main route.
  • Have printouts with details of your destinations, including phone numbers so you can call ahead if you get lost
  • If you have a separate one-night stop before you reach your final destination, pack an overnight bag so that you don’t have to unload the whole car to go to your accommodation. Remember, though, don’t leave your car fully packed if you don’t think you can park it securely overnight
  • If you’re planning a substantial rest break then you might want to take folding chairs and a picnic table (it depends on how much room you have). If you’re camping then you may have other equipment you need, too
  • It’s good to share the driving if possible
  • Take a break every two or three hours of at least 10 minutes. If you feel tired, swap drivers. If everyone is tired then have a powernap of no more than 20 minutes then wait 10 minutes after you wake up to shed the grogginess
  • Ferry tickets if you’re crossing Cook Strait.

Leaving your house

  • Of course, you’ll also need all your other regular luggage if you are staying somewhere overnight
  • Make sure it still looks like someone is at home, if possible
  • Arrange with a neighbour to clear the mailbox if you’ll be away more than a few days
  • Turn off unnecessary power switches
  • Set your alarm, lock everything up (including your shed and garage) and start your great Kiwi road trip!
  • Make sure you have your driver licence with you, plus any details of breakdown services you belong to.
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Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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