5 Travel Cheats for the Busiest Fourth of July in History

Freeway traffic
Freeway traffic | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

As the Fourth of July weekend looms over us and the barbecue and beer shopping list begins to grow, nearly 43 million Americans prepare themselves for the ultimate freedom-filled weekend. But this year in particular marks a voyage that will more than likely be nuttier than most, as a report by Automobile Magazine shows that AAA predicts 84% of all travelers plan to drive to their holiday destination, up 1.2% over last year.

After crunching the numbers, that equals out to a total of around 36.3 million people hitting the highway, leaving just 3.3 million to fly or take alternative modes of transportation. With low gas prices encouraging drivers to own the open road, and around $20 billion of added fuel earnings in their pockets when compared to this same time last year, AAA predicts that fuel prices will likely remain at their lowest since 2005 in most areas.

Technically speaking, Independence Day weekend starts on Thursday, June 30, and runs all the way through Monday, July 4, this year. So if you plan on traveling over 50 miles from home during that time frame, congratulations! You are officially a part of the largest freedom-focused, firework-powered road trips in American history.

According to Automobile Magazine’s report, “the number of Independence Day travelers has grown steadily since 2009, when only 29.8 million people went out.” While last year pulled a total of 42.3 million people out onto our nation’s roads for the Fourth of July holiday, this year’s Independence Day is predicted to trump Memorial Day weekend, with 5 million more travelers.

But before you hop in that red, white, or blue American-made slab of Detroit steel for the weekend, you might want to do a little extra preparation work in order to play it safe. Traffic congestion, shitty drivers, and car problems are already enough of an issue around town during the morning commute, so we can’t even begin to imagine what the busiest weekend in Fourth of July history has in store for all of us.

1. Travel under cover of darkness

2016 Subaru Forester XT
2016 Subaru Forester XT | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

It may be a bit more risky due to limited visibility, but making your peregrination under the cloak of night is one of the speediest ways to get to a destination that’s more than just a few hours away. With the roads free of most traffic, and modern cars featuring adaptive headlamps, various collision warning systems, and things like automatic braking, the midnight road trip never looked more appealing. Just be sure to watch out for deer and keep the caffeine coming.

2. Always have a backup route

Lexus RX 450h
Lexus RX 450h | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Even if the cover of night is doing you just fine, an overturned semi an hour up the road could turn that six hour drive into an eight hour stop-and-go serving of straight agony. Plan out your route well in advance, and don’t always rely on your car’s navi to bail you out. Get your copilot to pull up Google maps every couple of hours in order to double check traffic flows, and if everything suddenly comes to a crawl, be ready to take some back roads in order to make up some time.

3. Pack for the worst, not just for fun

Exhausted cargo
Exhausted cargo | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

“There’s no such thing as being too prepared,” my grandfather always told us. While we may have laughed it off when we were kids, as adults I see the wisdom this statement holds for dedicated road warriors. So don’t just grab the cooler full of beer, the stogies, suntan lotion, a cowboy hat, and your favorite star-spangled Speedo, because that’s going to do jack shit for you if a tire iron slices you open while changing a flat. Pack all the emergency gear and water you think you might need, and then throw in a few extras like road flares just in case.

4. Don’t skimp on the maintenance

Oil drain bolt
Oil drain bolt | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Earlier this year we did a piece on seven ways you can prepare your car for summer’s wrath. All of the things on that cheat sheet are crucial in guaranteeing that your ride is ready for an extended haul down the highway, but it doesn’t stop there. Remember, when a car is loaded down with gear and a cabin full of passengers, the strain placed on it is multiplied considerably, and nothing messes up travel plans quite like breaking down on the side of the highway.

5. Beware of drunks and trailers

Chevy truck with trailer
Chevy truck with trailer | Source: GM

It seems everyone wants to take their boat to the lake, the beach, or out on the river to celebrate the Fourth. This means our nation’s highways are going to be littered with trucks and SUVs towing these water-inclined beasts around, not to mention all of the horse carriers, campers, and gear trailers. Remember, it may look like just a regular pickup from the front, but as it crosses the intersection you might suddenly find yourself confronted with a 30-foot speedboat. Slow down and keep your eyes peeled because even if they aren’t towing something they might be drunk, a claim that we can stand behind after completing our recent in-depth investigation on drunk driving.