The summer vacation season is officially in front of us. Although flights continue to be comparatively cheap, the recession means that many folks will be hitting the road.

When I was a child, my road warrior family made many trips crisscrossing the U.S. in a car. Unlike a quick flight, a car trip provides the ability to see our magnificent country unfold before your eyes. We passed it all — the horse farms of Kentucky, the orange groves in Florida, the St. Louis arch, Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, the Arizona desert, Las Vegas and more. I have some great memories, and a got a much larger world view by the time I was eight.

If you’re traveling by car this summer, maybe my years of ‘practice’ can offer you some valuable tips:

• Take the car in for an over-all inspection to make sure its safe. Check tires, brakes, hoses, the battery and fluids to ensure all are in working order. If you’re traveling to a hot climate and need air, test that. If heading for the mountains, make sure the heat works. Always make sure your wipers are operational.

• Make sure you have a jack, tire iron, and a spare in the car. Make sure the jack has all its parts.

• Check your car insurance policy to see if you want to make any temporary changes in coverages – you can always drop them after the trip. A zero deductible for one month doesn’t cost that much.

• Take an old fashioned road map. GPS is nice, but if you’re making a multi-state trip, or going places you’ve never been before, it helps to see the bigger picture a map can provide.

• Carry a car emergency kit. Mine is equipped for numerous all-season needs. A good basic kit has first aid, flashlight, blanket, flares, energy bars and water. If you sometimes wear footwear that is more fashionable than functional, throw in a pair of boots or anything you can walk in for a while.

• Never assume your mobile phone will work everywhere – consider getting a phone card to take with you.

• Don’t get stuck – join the auto club, if you don’t already belong. There’s nothing worse than being stuck where towing is exorbitant and you have no insight into the local mechanics. Some clubs guarantee work at certain garages, others give you a break on the cost. AAA’s extended coverage will even pay up to a certain amount to ship your car home, and pays your travel expenses such as lodging. (Note that some have a waiting period after enrollment before you can use benefits).

• Confirm all your lodging arrangements before you leave & get them in writing. I remember once sleeping in the car when the motor lodge turned us away. Consider identifying a second hotel as a back-up before you leave.

• If you’re worried about whether the area where your hotel is located is safe – call the cops! I used to call the local precinct when my children were traveling by themselves to ask the sergeant if he would allow his kids to stay there.

• Lastly, always make sure someone back home knows where you are traveling to and how to get in touch with you.

What are your best car tavel tips?