For road trippers, car checks are a vital part of ensuring your vehicle survives the trip. And yet they can often be the one bit of preparation that is forgotten. Eager to get on the road, many are quick to head out without looking under the hood. But if there's one thing I've learned from over five years of solo travel and vanlife, it's to always be prepared. Travel is a learning curve and the best way to become a good traveller is to learn quickly from your mistakes. That means wising up when things go wrong and seeing what you could have done to prevent it.
We've all had our fair share of travel calamities and I've definitely had quite a few when it comes to road trips. But the most important thing is to keep your sense of humour when these things happen. Accept that things can always go wrong and you can only be so prepared. The more you can adapt and pick up skills you can use the next time you travel – the better. So because I know I'm just as guilty of doing this. I wanted to share this post on the simple car checks you can do before a road trip.
Driving Australia's West Coast with a group of travellers, from Perth to Darwin. It was no small road trip with over 4,000km to cover. My friend had taken her car for a service and check-up before the trip to ensure it was safe. But the garage must have forgotten to screw on one of the bolts for the wheel. We were driving along the highway when she noticed something was wrong. Then suddenly the wheel fell off and the whole car was lop-sided. Thankfully they had been pulling over to park at the time so no-one was hurt. But it could have been very dangerous, and it was expensive to get towed and fixed.
An ex-boyfriend was driving up the West Coast to meet me in his van so we could drive the rest of the way together. But spookily, around the same area where the wheel fell off for my friend, his van suddenly broke down. He was stuck on the highway with the engine billowing black smoke. Now only did he have to get towed back to the town. But he ended up having to trade his van for a car! We still finished the road trip and loved that car.
I planned a road trip across Bulgaria with some friends and we had just picked up the hire car, parking it on the street. We went to get a bite to eat and returned five minutes later to see our vehicle was clamped. Luckily the fine wasn't too bad but we did end up wasting a lot of time.
Read: 15 reasons you should road trip across Bulgaria
This one was hilarious but a total pain in the arse. I had just spent a weekend in Brighton with an ex-boyfriend and we were on our way home. It was a hot day, and we had the top down in his convertible as we cruised down the M25. We couldn't hear the noise at first but after a while we noticed the grinding, scraping sound of metal and we had to pull over. When I looked under the car, the entire exhaust had fallen down and was dragging under the car. It was a mess, a long wait for recovery, very expensive and still three hours from home on a bank holiday. Not ideal.
So how can you prevent this from happening on your next road trip? Be smart, be organised and follow this checklist I've created. It features all the things you should check on your vehicle before any long journey. Spend a bit of time doing this before each trip. It could save you hours of standing by a windy motorway waiting for the AA man to show up after his Sunday roast.
Car checks don't all have to be done by you. Get a second opinion if you don't know enough about cars. Schedule regular check-ups for your car or van. Make sure you get any concerns looked at. Don't like the sound of that noise? Have it checked before you go.
Top up the fuel, the oil and even things like brake fluid and window washing liquid. Make sure your brake pads are still okay. Check the tyres have enough tread and if they need topping up.
You'd be amazed how many people are driving on the roads without insurance. So make sure you have a comprehensive insurance that covers you for all situations. This includes third party damage, and if you're doing any off-roading or parking in unusual spots.
Don't leave your lights on! This can run the battery down very quickly so be careful to check the inside lights when loading or unloading the car. If you leave the doors or windows open because of the heat then turn all lights off. Always make sure the engine is fully off and don't let your battery run down.
Check the rubber for any bulges or tears, drive carefully and avoid broken glass. Also, make sure the tread is still within the legal requirement. If you're planning on off-roading, be sure your tyres can handle it! Pack chains if you're driving in the snow.
Always pack for emergencies. On long trips it is smart to pack a torch, first-aid kit, blanket and some basic tools. Plus water and extra snacks in case you get stuck somewhere. Whether you break down, crash or simply get stuck in a mega traffic jam, it's always good to have supplies.
If you're planning a long trip, it can be helpful to have a navigation system. Don't just rely on your phone unless you're sure you'll have coverage everywhere. Garmin are good if you're looking at getting a Sat-Nav. But it does help to keep a back-up map in the car in case of emergencies.
Extra weight of overpacking places extra strain on the vehicle and can use a lot more fuel. Pack smart and find ways to reduce the amount you take. If you're road tripping long-term and have a roof rack full of stuff - arrange it carefully to be as streamlined as possible. Trust me, it makes a HUGE difference to how much fuel you consume.
Be smart about your travel times. Avoid hitting traffic or rush hour and you could save a lot of fuel and wasted time. Travelling late at night or early in the morning is great, open roads and not a soul in sight.
Here’s the deal if your car isn’t up to par then you’re either going to have to get it fixed up (which can potentially cost a lot of money) or you should sell it and upgrade to something better. IF you happen to take the route of selling your car one option to consider is Junk That Car, they state that they typically pay $500 or more in cash for junk cars. So, if you are thinking of selling it could be a smart choice.
Most importantly, once all the checks are done. Relax and really enjoy every second of your trip! Make it the trip of a lifetime. Even if things do go wrong, it isn't the end of the world. It just means another funny story to tell afterwards. The most important thing you can pack when things do go wrong is perspective. Take a deep breath, take care of it and then sit back until you're on your way again.
What was your worst road trip experience? Can you think of any other important car checks before a road trip? What was the best road trip you ever did?
I don't know about you guys, but I like travelling at any time of year and I'm not one to let the winter stand in my way. If you're anything like me, January always gets me thinking about hopping on a plane and jetting off on an adventure. This year I'm spending my first January in the UK in three years, using the time to reminisce about my favourite trips and to plan my next exciting move. Over the years I've spent my summers and winters travelling all over the world, regardless of seasons and unworried by the weather. Some of my favourite trips have been Christmas spent in New York or on the beach in Mauritius, or those winter jaunts around Europe exploring a new city, and road tripping around Australia. My motto has always been "travel smart" because by doing so, you can avoid some of the most common problems associated with winter travel. By preparing and spending some time on your planning, it really can make all the difference to your trip and ensuring you have the best possible time. I've teamed up with Slater & Gordon to talk all about some of the most common issues travellers face during the winter months, and how best to avoid them.
The bane of every traveller's life, but sometimes unavoidable if the weather is just too bad as it was recently with snow storms in New York for some people to make it home. Now if the weather is unsafe, it is totally understandable to cancel flights - but the best thing as a traveller is to be prepared. My best advice, always try and book an early morning flight as your aircraft will usually have arrived the night before and won't be delayed, also, the weather is normally much clearer in the morning and gets worse throughout the day. You may well just miss the worst of any storms and still make it home for dinner. It's always a good idea to have a good travel insurance that will cover any weather-related cancellations in extreme circumstances, and I would recommend just having a little money set aside in case there are any problems. I understand there were a lot of problems with people who couldn't afford to stay longer in New York being stuck there in the airport for a few days - sometimes the airlines will put you up in a hotel or provide some support but it's always helpful to have a bit of cash for emergencies. Remember it is not the fault of the airline, they are trying to keep you safe. Be flexible and work with them, communication is key. Be open to different travel options if your route is just not available.
I have always wanted to go on a skiing or snowboarding holiday, winter sports always look amazing, and while I'm sad I haven't yet had the opportunity they are definitely staying on my bucket list. I have friends who have always been sworn beach bums until they die, until they went on a skiing holiday and now they head for snow over sea every single year and love every second. But what if things don't go to plan? Winter sports are physically very challenging and when you introduce ice and snow to the equation, accidents can happen. It's awful if you are hurt while travelling, after spending so long planning your trip it is the ultimate disappointment to be struck down. I had a similar thing happen to me when I was in a bus crash in Cambodia just days before a long-awaited yoga retreat - I was devastated. The most important thing to do is to ensure you have a good travel insurance that is comprehensive and covers you for all your activities. There is no point getting insurance for a skiing holiday if it doesn't actually cover you for winter sports! Plan ahead and make sure you are covered for all medical treatment - you never realise how important it is until you don't have it.
I love road trips. They are one of my favourite ways to travel - check out my guide to planning the ultimate road trip here. I don't see why you shouldn't be able to indulge in a road trip at any time of year. Canada is fantastic to road trip, or if you want something closer to home why not head to Europe to drive from city to city, or head up to Scandinavia. Absolutely gorgeous, but don't forget to take into account the weather beforehand - all of these come with their own harsh conditions, from icy roads to heavy snowfall and it's best to be prepared to prevent your trip from being ruined. Make sure your vehicle is weatherproof - whether you are taking your own van to camp in, or you're hiring a car - you need to make sure the tyres are appropriate for the conditions. Pack a box with warm clothing, a torch, gloves, jumper cables, a windscreen scraper and lots of de-icer – just in case. Take the roads slow and plan your route according to weather warnings so you can avoid the worst of it. If the weather is too bad, find a hotel or somewhere to sleep for the night and start afresh in the morning when it is safer.
Recently there were huge snow storms in New York and weather warnings to stay inside and to avoid getting caught out in it – when you travel during winter there is always a chance you may face weather like this. The best way to deal with it? Accept it and plan ahead as best you can. You can't fight Mother Nature, so don't let it ruin your trip, just adapt. Plan ahead by keeping an eye on weather alerts for the area, if the weather starts getting worse then make a decision on whether to rearrange your trip (if you have this option) or to go ahead. If you're already there, you need to make sure you restrict your activities to ensure your own safety. If it's snowstorms you face then you need to be sensible and to stay warm, sudden floods can be dangerous - stay inside and follow advice. Icy conditions can be slippery and unpredictable - make sure you have shoes with good grip and that you only go as far as you feel safe - a fall on the ice can leave you in hospital and that's the last thing you want on holiday. Overall message? Be smart, be safe and don't be too stubborn to admit defeat.
How else can you avoid winter travel dangers this season? Have you faced any winter travel nightmares?
After a crazy month of travelling and partying full throttle across Laos and Vietnam, and after an emotionally draining couple of days in Phnom Penh, my body was crying out for a break. So after doing a bit of research, I decided to head for the coastline and to spend a few days relaxing on a beach somewhere. Sihanoukville seemed a natural choice being just a few hours from Phnom Penh, and a perfect place to spend a few days before heading over to Koh Rong which had come highly recommended from so many other travellers. I arrived in Sihanoukville around five hours later than planned after discovering quite how shocking the transport is in Cambodia, and as I mentioned in a previous post, was robbed as soon as I arrived. So I didn't arrive in the best frame of mind and when the heavens opened and a huge storm crashed around my hostel - One Stop - I decided to write the day off and go to bed. I woke up early and was pretty disappointed to see cloudy skies outside, but went out for a walk to explore the town with a girl I met in my hostel. I'll be honest, I don't know what I was expecting but the Sihanoukville was a drab, dirty place with way too many tuk tuk drivers lining the streets and leering at us. I spent a couple of days there but it was a power cut that finally made me switch hostels to a cheaper and better equipped one - Led Zephyr bar - down the road. I was really unimpressed by the social side of One Stop and the fact that they were the only place to not have a back-up generator and yet charged the most was ridiculous - even the pool didn't make up for it.I spent the next couple of days escaping each day from the town and heading to nearby Otres Beach with Naomi, here we could get away from the sleazy nature of Sihanoukville. Otres Beach is beautiful - it is one of my favourite places in Cambodia and one of the few places I actually enjoyed. I actually returned from Koh Rong early to spend the best part of a week staying at Otres Beach because it was one of the few places I actually felt comfortable and could avoid the hassle of staying at the other end. Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville is pretty disgusting, with broken glass and various other treats lurking in the sand, and some really persistent touts who just won't leave you alone to sunbathe. I walked on the beach once and that was more than enough for me, Otres is far more untouched and is only really starting to be properly developed now so it offered the peace and quiet I was craving. For around a week I stayed there at Indigo on Otres which is one of the first accommodations you will find along the strip. I decided to treat myself a bit and paid for a bungalow to myself for the week which was a teensy bit more expensive but worth it to have my own space and a lock on my door - it made me feel a lot safer than I had previously.I spent my days lounging on sun beds outside hippie bar Blame Canada, which had the perfect combination of great food, tunes and a laid back atmosphere. I loved spending my days there chatting to backpackers, those on holiday and the guys who worked there. Being there in low season had a few downsides elsewhere like the lack of people to party with, but that was perfect for Otres - it meant I had the whole beach mostly to myself. My own Cambodian paradise! The days were spent swimming in the crystal clear waters and trying to avoid the odd jellyfish, eating fresh fruit and chatting to the ladies who wandered along the beaches offering massages. I can't deny I indulged a few times and found one woman in particular who gave the best massages. Followed by a fresh coconut - it was pretty perfect. My evenings were spent blogging, visiting the local market with some friends I met in Laos, and relaxing - something I hadn't had time to do for weeks. It was really great to have some time just to read and listen to music, to watch the stunning sunsets and take long walks along the bay. The weather was amazing, baking hot days usually with the entertainment of a crazy afternoon storm to cool things down a bit. I'm so glad that I made the decision to leave Koh Rong early so I could really appreciate Otres Beach.Another highlight was going to the market one evening - just a short tuk tuk ride away from the beach, it was a special event held on Thursday nights in the village. There was a huge selection of delicious food on offer including some great vegan and vegetarian options, pizzas, Mexican food and more. There were also some fabulous cocktail bars plus am absinthe bar, along with a few clothing stalls dotted around - one even offering to cover you in glitter and sparkles for a small donation. All of this was soundtracked by a fantastic collection of live bands and acts under a huge sky full of stars. It was a pretty perfect night and I would really recommend you all check it out if you visit. I would also recommend that you eat at Friends Forever at least once during your stay - it's an all white restaurant next to Blame Canada and it does amazing food. Apparently the pizzas are incredible, and if the pasta I had was anything to go by they must be pretty damn good. I'd also recommend my favourite dish - the spicy Asian salad was so tasty! Just a word of warning, although I felt this was one of the safest places I went in Cambodia, be careful on the road between Sihanoukville and Otres Beach. My friend was catching a tuk tuk back to Sihanoukville alone after we spent a day on the beach and a man jumped into the back as it went along the road and tried to rape her. She had to jump out of a moving vehicle to get away and the tuk tuk driver didn't even bat an eyelid. Don't get too comfortable and end up putting yourself at risk, always remember you are in a very much still developing country and travel with someone. Safety in numbers.
Have you been to Otres Beach - where did you stay? Can you recommend any other good places to eat and things to do?