How To Stay Safe During Late Night Road Trips

Everyone should travel as frequently as they are able, as traveling can be a uniquely enriching experience for any person. Fortunately, modern innovations have made travel much more accessible now than it ever has been, and even travelers on a tight budget have plenty of options. Flying is certainly a popular choice, due to its convenience and even necessity for abroad locations. But making time for a road trip can be incredibly worth it and eye-opening, as some even find such long drives enjoyable and memorable.

Travelers who decide on taking a road trip may be tempted to do the bulk of traveling at night, or at least drive into the night if trying to make good time. Driving at night, though, can come with its fair share of safety concerns, especially if you're traveling solo. With this list of late night travel tips, you'll be able to stay safe while road-tripping at night and be more likely to reach your destination without much incident.

Plan your route carefully

Unless you are incredibly comfortable with grabbing life by the horns and heading out on a long road trip spontaneously, you should absolutely have some idea of what route you are taking, and even what kind of attractions or stop points can be found along that route. This is especially important if your trip involves a lot of night time driving. 

Some of the routes and interstates in the U.S. can be pretty long and lonely (per TreeHugger), so make sure you will not run out of gas while putting some heavy mileage on your car at night. You most likely won't be thrilled about making pit stops regularly, so you'll want to scout out if your planned route has plenty of gas stations along the way, and know when to fill up if you happen to be taking a particularly barren route.

You'll also want to check with your cell phone service provider about their coverage in the areas you will be driving through before you leave. Believe it or not, there are actually quite a lot of places in the U.S. that don't have cell service (via PC Magazine). Considering you are planning a road trip, there's a good chance you may drive through at least one of them. This means you are likely to go off-grid for part of your journey, and if you can plan any long-term off-grid time blocks to not coincide with night traveling, you may save yourself some stress and hassle.

Make sure your car is healthy

Scheduling a check-up for your car is important before any road trip or journey requiring a good amount of mileage. When you are planning to travel both alone and at night, though, car maintenance is an absolute must. You will want to make sure your car is in tip-top shape, keeping the chances of you breaking down on the side of the road somewhere during the witching hour as low as possible.

Running through a simple car maintenance checklist (like this one from Allstate) the week before heading out will greatly reduce the risk of something going wrong with your car. Whether it is getting an oil change or an inspection on your brakes, taking precautions with the health of your car is something that could potentially save you from either getting in an accident or breaking down in the middle of nowhere, in a strange place, with no family or friends to call for help — a situation no one ever wants to be in.

Checking if your car contains the safety items that should always be kept inside a car is also a great idea. Tools like a seatbelt cutter and a car window breaker are excellent safety equipment that you will hopefully never need, but will be glad to have in case of emergency.

Be prepared for the worst

While you can take all the proper safety precautions to avoid being stuck on the side of the road in the middle of the night, it will always be a possibility, no matter what you do. Thus, it's important to know what to do if your car breaks down, especially at night on roads that are not well lit. 

Getting your car off the road with your hazard lights on should be your first priority, and flares will go a long way in increasing your visibility to oncoming cars (per Allstate). Once you are in a safe spot with little chance of accidentally getting hit by oncoming cars, calling for help from either roadside assistance or the local police if necessary is a good next step to ensuring your safety.

There is a chance no one will be available to help for a good bit, though, and you can prepare to spend a few hours stranded in a car that possibly won't turn on by packing some essentials. A warm blanket or two and a comfy set of clothes can go a long way, as well as a portable charger and flashlight. According to Top Driver's emergency car bag recommendations, you should also pack duct tape and first aid supplies. Your car should also have a stash of fresh water and long-lasting snacks in case you get stranded.

Invest in AAA

One thing that may help in case of car trouble is AAA or other similar roadside assistance memberships. Paying for such a service could decrease the time you are stuck on the side of the road alone, and possibly get you up and running again. If not, having a free or discounted tow quickly could also be worth the money spent, for convenience and peace of mind. After all, you'll know that no matter where your long drive takes you, you'll have some kind of help that's just a phone call away.

Though every situation is different and having car issues at night will likely increase your wait time, AAA has a pretty decent response time and can typically reach customers in need in under an hour (per Jerry). If you don't already have the service or something similar and decide to invest in the useful failsafe, you should do so at least a week in advance of your trip, as not all membership benefits may be available right when you sign up.

Keep your visibility as clear as possible

Driving at night can be pretty stressful, especially if you are driving on unlit roads or facing a heavy stream of cars whose headlights are shining directly into your eyes. In these cases, it can be hard to have full visibility, and you will need to expend some extra effort navigating and driving safely. There are, however, some ways to make your visibility on the road at night as good as it can possibly be, notwithstanding uncontrollable external factors.

Keeping your windshield clean and your windshield wiper fluid level topped off is important and a simple and straightforward way to keep your vision clear. If you have corrective lenses, having an updated glasses or contact lens prescription is another way to make sure you are seeing to your best ability. According to Massachusetts Eye and Ear, other ways of increasing your visibility while driving at night that are not focused on your eyes are keeping your mirrors and lights clear, as well as using the night setting on your rearview mirror, which helps reduce light and glare from cars' headlights coming from behind you.

Lastly, if you were thinking about investing in night driving glasses or any of the polarizing glasses that have been marketed for night driving, the cons of the glasses suggest it's best to skip them (per Vision Center). 

Share your location

Just because you're traveling alone, doesn't mean that you have to be off the grid and out of touch with the people who care about you. Sharing your location with your friends and your family can be life-saving. Whether you simply inform your trusted contacts of your whereabouts and plans or share your location passively using an app, letting people who care about you know your whereabouts is vital in case something were to happen.

There are a number of apps that allow you to share your location, and iPhone users even have a built-in way to track both their phone and the phone of their friends who grant access with the Find My app. Other apps like Life 360 can be used on any smartphone and can be turned on at all times, updating whenever your phone has service. While you likely — and hopefully — will have no need of a tracker, it can come in handy if one of your friends or family members notices you have gone off route or haven't moved locations in a long time.

Don't drive sleepy

It can be easy to tell yourself to drive just a little further when you feel yourself nodding off, but it's important to listen to what your body is trying to tell you. 

Continuing on your journey when you are sleepy puts not only your life in danger, but also the lives of those who you are sharing the road with. To combat drowsiness, you can use one of various techniques to keep yourself awake while on the road. Alternatively, you can find a place to pull over for a small nap, until you can plan out a better place to stop for a more satisfying rest.

Drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages is a tried and true method of borrowing some much-needed energy, but pick-me-ups are better paired with other means of staying awake when driving at night. According to the Baltimore Sun, chewing gum is one thing you can do to keep yourself awake while driving, right along with eating sunflower seeds from the shell. The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that good posture will help keep you alert while on the road, in addition to being well rested when you start out on your journey.

Follow safe sleep practices

While safe sleep is certainly an area of focus when road-tripping with toddlers and small children, you also have to be conscious of how you can get adequate sleep while traveling at night. This is almost unavoidable, and requires a certain level of preparedness when it comes to figuring out where and how to safely sleep, especially for those travelers who are on a solo journey.

It is natural to want to avoid stopping for sleep if you intend to forego a room rental, but sleeping in your car is a much better option than attempting to soldier on and risk falling asleep at the wheel. You may even want to make a comfortable sleep space somewhere in your car if your route is long enough that you know you will need to stop for sleep.

Stopping for sleep is all about safety. You will need to find a safe spot to park that allows you to sleep without much worry and safeguard your car before you get some shuteye. A good rule of thumb is to never just stop on the side of the road. You're going to want to go somewhere legal, like most Walmarts or rest stops (via The Winding Road Tripper). It's also important to remember to keep your windows rolled up and your car off — and definitely with your keys out of the ignition — while you are sleeping.

Reduce your pitstops

One of the best ways to stay safe while traveling alone at night, especially for women, is to stay in your car and keep on the move. You can do this by avoiding unnecessary stops at gas stations or rest stops. Of course, not all stops can be avoided (such as when you really do need to sleep), but you can skip some stops by stocking up on snacks and beverages during the day, as well as use the bathroom before you settle in for a night of driving. Topping off your gas tank before settling into the driver's seat for the night is also a great idea.

Gas stations are one of the most common pit stops that drivers make, and there will be plenty of them along the way on a road trip. However, they can also be relatively dangerous. In certain cities, gas stations seem to be a hot spot for criminal activity (via WMAR). While you are likely safe stopping for gas at night, it's best to take the possibility that something could happen out of the equation entirely if your car can make it a night without a fuel refill.

Be mindful of stops when you have to make them

When you are driving long distances, chances are you will need to make a stop or two, even before considering pit stops for gas refills. While you will want to try to make as many of these as possible during daylight hours, you always want to be mindful about where you are stopping and observe whether or not said stopping place has aspects of safety. This goes double for when you're making stops during the night, as there will be fewer people around to help you if you need it — and more chances of undesirable interactions with strangers.

If you absolutely have to make a stop during the night, there are steps you can take to keep yourself as safe as possible during these potentially dangerous instances. According to Hurst Towing, the three most important steps to keeping safe at stops is to pick a well lit place to stop, to take notice of your surroundings, and to get what you need quickly and get back on the road.

While it isn't ideal to park just off the side of the road, if you are somewhere that doesn't have many formal stops, it may be necessary. In these cases, Ford's safety tips of keeping your windows up and doors locked could be valuable, as well as keeping your parking brake on and your keys out of the ignition while stopped.

Be respectful to other drivers

Road rage is a serious but common thing. It's important to keep your cool and not antagonize any other driver on the road, especially when it's dark. You never know who is behind the wheel of another car and how they will react to negativity thrown their way. There are some people who let the blanket of darkness that night provides give them the courage for bad behavior. In other words, people may act more erratically and prone to anger during the night — even though according to Bankrate, road rage seems to be more common during commute hours.

Follow the rules of the road even closer at night than you would during the day, being mindful to not cut anyone off or use your horn unless actively necessary. While we may be telling you not to start any fights, road rage is certainly not the targeted driver's fault. Road rage is a psychological issue and something that more or less requires anger management therapy (via WebMD). Even though it stems from an internal issue with the aggressor, it's important to note that road rage can be targeted at you at unexpected times, and it's best to avoid it while you're road-tripping at night.

Be wary of other drivers

While you certainly want to be courteous to other drivers, specifically while driving at night, you also should err on the side of caution when other cars are on the road. The benefit of the doubt is better left for face-to-face interactions, as no one on the road can be trusted to pay 100% attention 100% of the time. Mistakes happen on the road, but you surely do not want to be on the receiving end of them.

Connecticut injury law firm Williams, Walsh, & O'Connor suggests that the easiest way to increase how safe you are driving on the road is to expect and be watchful of the mistakes that other drivers will surely make. If you are able to anticipate an accident before it happens, you are more likely to avoid it altogether.

Right Driver lays out ways to anticipate another driver's actions on the road and what to look out for to help avoid an accident. Between noting blindspots, leaving space between your car and the one ahead of you, and looking four cars ahead of you for problems or dangers, your watchfulness could be rewarded in the form of an uneventful — and more importantly, safe — drive.