Newsflash: 2016 is officially the Summer of the Great American Road Trip. The season kicked off with nine straight days of declining gas prices, finishing at the lowest they've been in years (down $0.46 per gallon from this time in 2015). But you’re going to need more than a Wagon Queen Family Truckster to get the most out of the open road. We map how to plan the most kick-ass cross-country vacay of your life.
Route right Whether you go old school with a highlighter and a Rand McNally Road Atlas ($20), or simply type your destination into Google maps, knowing your route before you go ensures the trip gets off to a smooth start. If you want to go the easy route, download the free Roadtrippers app, which taps experts and app users to generate itineraries with points of interest and alerts you to interesting side trips and quirky roadside attractions along the way.
Pick up a digital hitchhiker Want to make some money while on the road? Pick up a digital hitchhiker with the ridesharing app Coride (think Airbnb for your empty back seat). The app has a nationwide community connecting trusted riders with drivers. Simply create a profile or connect via Facebook, post your trip, and field queries from would-be passengers; once you accept a traveler, you can stay in sync before and during the trip with live chats.
Know when to pass gas Road trip rookie mistake #1: Don't wait until your gas gauge is on E to look for a station. Prices can swing significantly when you cross state lines, so log on to GasBuddy or download their app ahead of your trip to find the cheapest fuel and receive daily updates on changing prices along your route. Also, make sure your tires are filled with the right amount of air pressure. You can actually improve gas mileage up to 3.3 percent just by keeping your tires properly inflated.
Invest in a GPS If your ride didn't come with an in-dash navigation system consider investing in a standalone GPS. Sure, your trusty smartphone could do it all, but you're already draining its battery using it as a DJ and a camera. Plus, mapping apps are known data suckers and if you lose cell service, you could be stranded on a remote road (no bueno). We love Garmin's new DriveSmart 50LMTHD ($350) — the sleek 5-inch display is crystal clear with split screen view and lane guidance. It also alerts you of upcoming sharp curves, construction zones, speed limits and traffic jams.
Throw shade The right sunglasses can make all the difference on a summer road trip. When you're picking out a pair of shades, look for polarized lenses to reduce glare, curved lenses to protect the entire eye, and thin frames to free up peripheral vision. Zeal Optics' new Ellume copper lenses aren't just polarized, they're also plant based, instantly greening your vacay style; check them out in the Barstow aviator frame made of stainless steel ($199). Oakley's Prizm Daily Polarized lens are designed for all the light conditions on the road and look slick in the feather-light Tailhook Carbon frame ($250). Smith's Nomad shades are also a top pick and can be customized with your eyeglass prescription (starting at $279).
Buy insurance Before you put the pedal to the metal, check your insurance to make sure you're covered. Get the HONK app to be connected with 24-7 roadside assistance nationwide. It uses your location to dispatch service from its network of 45,000 partners based on your issue, ETA and price. You'll get a fair price and low wait time, plus tow trucks are immediately notified when you need one.
Pack an emergency kit No matter how handy apps are, they can't fix a dead battery or a flat tire. Do yourself a favor and put this 70-piece AAA Explorer Roadside Assistance Kit ($45) in your trunk so you're ready for whatever the road throws at you. It comes with a booster cable, hand-charged LED flashlight, tools, full first-aid kit, an emergency whistle and duct tape.
Get extra storage We've all done it: packed the car with so much stuff, you can't see through the windows. While it makes for a funny photo, it's dangerous not being able to glance at your rearview mirror. Buy in a roof rack with a cargo box to free up space and help balance the load for safe driving. We love Yakima's new StreamLine system, which adds 15 cubic feet of storage, so you can haul bikes for exploring charming towns or a surfboard for riding the waves along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Avoid swamp ass Let's be real. The worst part about sitting in a car for hours on end? The dreaded swamp ass. You know, that oh-so attractive sweat stain on the seat. Luckily, the right pair of undies can make all the difference. Slip on the breathable Ex Officio Give-n-Go underwear to keep you fresh, and Under Armor's new Iso-Chill to stay cool.