Long Road Trip Tips To Become a Road Tripping Pro

Road trip like a pro!

I recently took the biggest road trip I've ever taken. In fact, before this road trip I had only driven a couple hours at a time without stopping. I'd never driven long distances or driven in extreme weather conditions and terrain.

My best friend and I drove over 1,800 miles across the country so I could make a huge move to another state. We drove through seven states to get to our destination. We saw mountains, lakes, rivers, unique animal life, streams, parts of national parks, national monuments, and the most perfect sunset we've ever seen. We drank huckleberry shakes, saw otters, and got bit by the biggest mosquitos in Montana.

It was the best road trip of my life, but it didn't come without its own difficulties. I had to pack my entire life into my vehicle, prepare it for the trip, create a moving budget, maintain my vehicle on the trip, drive through steep mountains, drive through torrential downpour, take care of two very confused and anxious animals during the trip, anticipate unhealthy air quality and fire-related detours, and drive 29 hours in less than three days.

All the obstacles and work that went into the road trip taught me a ton about preparing for a major road trip, so in this guide, I give you all the tips tricks and good habits I learned when preparing and taking a long road trip.

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Get Your Snacks Right
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It's pretty obvious that road trips and good snacks go hand-in-hand, right? Twizzlers, Bugles, and chocolate are all pretty tempting when taking a long road trip. However, it's about so much more than taking tasty, indulgent snacks to munch on along the way.

Packing snacks can save you money, prevent you from going hungry between stops, and provide energy for your trip. So, having the perfect combination of road trip snacks is crucial for having a great road trip.

How to pack the perfect snacks:

  • Pack mostly healthy snacks.
  • Have some indulgent snacks, but only a few. This will prevent spending on every tasty treat you see along the way.
  • Pack plenty of water.
  • Have a combination of snacks such as seeds and nuts, fruits, vegetables, crackers, and beef jerky.
  • Have some snack money set aside for bigger meals.
  • If you love coffee and tea, pack tea bags or instant coffee. Most gas stations have a hot water stand and to-go cups.
  • Pack any pet food you might need for the trip.
  • Have snacks for any children you may have with you during the trip, things you know they will enjoy and will satiate them between stops.
Have Some Oil Handy
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While most cars don't need oil or oil changes at less than 3,000 to 5,000 miles, there are many variables that go into how your car burns oil and how fast. This is especially true when on long road trips packed into small time frames.

How to maintain your oil:

  • Know the type of oil your car takes. You can find this information in the owner's manual.
  • Know how to check your oil.
  • Know how to change your oil.
  • Check your oil a few times during your trip. Make a plan to check your oil at certain stopping points or distances.
Plan Out Your Stops
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Sometimes it's nice to be spontaneous, but being spontaneous about refilling your gas tank in a state you've never been in is not fun. There are many times during a long distance trip where you might find yourself without a gas station extended periods of time.

It's also easy to get turned around when you are driving on roads unfamiliar to you. So, planning some realistic stopping points is critical to making sure you get gas when you need it, have a chance to stretch your legs, and have some place to use the restroom or grab essentials.

How to ensure regular stopping points:

  • Know your gas mileage. This will tell you how far you can get with a full tank of gas. Use this number to plan out stops. Note that the kind of driving you are doing (highway, mountain, high speeds, etc.) may alter this calculation slightly.
  • Never plan out stops that leave you with less than a quarter tank of gas. Always give yourself a little leeway.
  • Find a map or map app (there are many apps that can give you exact locations of gas stations, restaurants, and rest stops), and mark stopping points along the way. I would recommend stopping once every two to three hours, but make sure to factor in your gas needs first.
Clean Your Car First
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It sounds silly, but a clean, organized car will improve your trip more than you think. You're going to be in your car for extended periods of time, having a clean car will make things a little less stressful, especially if you have a lot to pack for your trip. A clean car means a more peaceful trip. It also makes cleaning up your car once you get home a bit easier.

How to clean your car for your trip:

  • Vacuum all the floors and crevices.
  • Throw out all garbage.
  • Clean all windows (inside and out).
  • Clean out glove boxes, cup holders, and other compartments.
  • Have a garbage bag or other bag to use as a garbage bag during the trip.
  • Have wipes for messes that come up during the trip.
  • Get an air freshener of some kind for your car, during your trip.
  • Clean your windows along the way.
Bring a Road Trip Buddy
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Have a road trip buddy, and not just any road trip buddy. Have a road trip buddy you can really count on, I mean really count on. Don't pick someone you don't know well and don't pick someone you can't spend several hours with peacefully. Even the people you love the most can start to get a bit annoying after days in a vehicle together.

People who make the best road trip buddies:

  • Close friends who you have a good relationship with.
  • People who know how to drive long distances or have previously driven long distances.
  • People who have a good driving record and experience.
  • Someone who knows a little about cars (if you don't).
  • Someone who is willing to take turns driving with you.
Print or Buy a Map Before Your Trip
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If your navigation app on your smartphone or GPS device fails you by losing connection, having a paper map may just save your trip and your time. This is especially helpful if there are times where you will be in mountains, national parks, or out of service. There's nothing more stressful than being in the middle of nowhere and not knowing your next turn, especially at night time.

How to have the best map options:

  • Print a map before you leave. This option is great because you can include your planned stops before printing.
  • Buy a map before leaving. It can't hurt to have one big map in the event that you find yourself outside the bounds of the map you printed.
  • Buy maps along the way. Across the country, especially near national parks, there are visitor's centers for tourists. You can speak to someone with experience who will tell you where to go and what sites are along the way. They will often give you free maps and even mark the way for you. I highly recommend this option, especially if you get lost and find a visitor's center along the way.
Be Prepared for Obstacles and Delays
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There is no perfect road trip. There is always going to be an obstacle, detour, or weather-related issue that comes along during a trip, especially a long distance one. Anticipate them. Be prepared for them. Don't worry, it is much easier than you think to be prepared for whatever obstacles come your way.

How to be prepared for obstacles:

  • Have a gas can if you are able to.
  • Make sure your windshield wipers work.
  • Make sure you have enough time to deal with possible delays. Perhaps, leave hours earlier than your intended arrival time to wherever you are traveling.
  • Have a spare tire on hand and the tools to change a tire if needed.
  • Have a compact car fire extinguisher.
  • Have a combination of cash and credit on hand. You never know if the places you visit will be able to take one or the other.
  • Be prepared for a possible hotel stay by having the funds if needed.
  • Know what your insurance does and doesn't cover and what it offers.
  • Have a GPS.
  • Pay attention to road signs and know what road signs mean.
Have Emergency Money
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Have emergency money. I repeat, have emergency money! This is maybe the most crucial advice I can offer someone going on their first big road trip. Don't nickle and dime your road trip budget. Have enough money to handle any emergency that might come along. You never know what will happen during big trips. Having extra money may save you and your trip.

How to plan emergency money:

  • Have enough money to cover at least one extra hotel stay, fill your gas tank at least once, buy emergency medicine, pay for an extra day's food and essentials, and get you home if need be. This number is different for everyone.
  • Have a mix of cash and credit. Some places may not take credit.
  • Have smaller bills. Many places wont take 50 dollar bills or higher.
  • Have your money in a safe, easily accessible place.
Save Your Receipts
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Keep all your receipts. It sounds extensive, but it's a small step to take to ensure your finances in the event that there is a charge you need to dispute. It's also helpful when filling up your gas tank. If you put $20 on the pump, but you only needed $15, having a receipt will definitely come in handy.

How to save your receipts:

  • Keep them all in one place regardless of which option you choose. It will keep things organized.
  • Go basic. Keep them in an envelope in your glove box.
  • If you don't want to keep the paper copies, take pictures on your smartphone.
  • Get e-receipts. If the option is provided, try e-receipts.
Download a Road Trip App
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Road trip apps like Roadtrippers, inRoute, TripIt, and more are available on your smartphone, and they can be real miracle workers. Using these apps simplifies your trip by helping you find gas stations, restaurants, rest stops, hotels, and more. You can even book hotels right from the apps. You can add stops to your trip, and it will tell you how far into your trip each stop is. Super handy, super efficient.

How road trip apps can help you plan your trip:

  • You can use them to plan all your stops.
  • You can use them to book hotels.
  • You can use them to plan rest stops and food breaks.
  • The apps are fairly affordable and often have free trials.
  • They acccount for historical sites, national parks, and other sites to see.
  • You can add points along your trip, see how far apart they are, and this can help when planning out gas station stops.
Consider Giving Your Car Breaks
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Though under normal circumstances you don't need to give your car breaks, there may be instances where you do, especially on long road trips or in extreme weather conditions. If you notice your car is overheating, your car has a history of overheating, or you are driving in extremely hot weather conditions, give your car a bit of a break here and there.

How to give your car a break:

  • When making your regular stops in extreme weather conditions check out the heat of your engine.
  • Give your car breaks when you take breaks.
  • Never put oil in an over heated car. Let it cool down a bit first.
Pre-Book Any Hotel Stays
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Don't wait on booking hotel stays. While the unexpected stay due to an emergency is impossible to fully pre-plan, those expected stays are really important to pre-book. Don't wait on this. Once you know your itinerary is set in stone, book the stay, so you don't end up at a hotel that isn't up to your standards or doesn't have the accomidations you may need.

How to pre-book the right way:

  • Find out how far in you want your hotel stays to be. Find the hotels nearest to that.
  • Know what time you will get to that area by, give or take some allowances on your trip.
  • Know the hotel's cancellation policy.
  • Shop around. There may be hotels that offer more for cheaper. So, don't take the first one you look at.
  • Make sure the hotel accomidates you in the way you need. For example, if you have a pet, make sure the hotel accomodates them.
  • Keep your receipt.
  • If you have points from previous hotel stays, try to use them.
Check Out Your Cellular Data Plan
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If you are using navigation on your smartphone or want to have it available for safety purposes, make sure you know how much cellular data you have available to you. Some cellular data plans will decrease after you get to a certain point. For example, you might have 25GB of data and after that, your speeds may decrease exponentially to the point that you can't access most websites or apps. So, find out what your plan is.

How to make sure you have enough data and service:

  • Call your cellular company and see what your data limit is and what happens when you reach it.
  • Consider getting unlimited data for the time period of your trip.
  • See if you have any points with your cellular company. If you do, you may be able to put them toward increased data limits.
  • See what your cellular coverage is and if you will be in areas where your smartphone will be "roaming." This could result in charges or loss of service as you travel.
Make Sure You Have Roadside Assistance
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It's really important to know what your insurance offers, what it doesn't, and who is going to help, or not help, if worst comes to worst. If you end up with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere or in a serious accident, having roadside assistance might just feel like having a knight in shining armor come to your rescue if the time comes.

How to get roadside assistance:

  • Call your insurance company. See if you have roadside assistance.
  • If you don't, see how much it costs to add and all that it includes.
Plan Some Fun Stops
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This is a given. Road trips should be fun. There should be plenty of fun stops along whatever trip you have planned. The trouble is, it's easy to get caught up in getting where you're going. After hours in the car, it's easy to get restless and focused on getting to your final destination. Don't. Enjoy every second of the trip. Enjoy every mountain, stream, hillside, and historical site that you can. To avoid getting caught up in getting to that final stop, plan some fun stops along the way.

How to plan fun stops:

  • Use your road trip app or map app to see what fun stops are along your path.
  • Find out what historical sites are a must see along your route by doing some research online.
  • Cross some things off your bucket list. Find out what of the to-dos on your bucket list might be doable along your trip. You'd be surprised what you can cross off your list along the way!
  • Consider stopping at some humorous sites. Go see the world's biggest ball of twine, biggest ketchup bottle, or walk through a dinosaur park. It will add some laughter to your trip.
  • Stop at overlooks. Where there are hills and mountains there are beautiful overlooks. Stop at them. Those stops might be the most beautiful experiences of your trip.
Get Your Car Ready
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Don't just get in your car and go. In a perfect world, you would be able to do that, but preventative car maintenance is the way to go before a big trip. Knowing your car is safe and fully-functional while driving is not only going to give you the peace of mind you deserve, but it's going to save you a lot of hassle and worry as you travel.

How to get your car ready:

  • Go to a professional. Tell them you are traveling and how far.
  • Make sure they change your oil, check and top off your fluids, check your tire pressure, and any concerns or issues you've recently had with your vehicle.
  • Check your windshield wipers. You'll need those working if you drive through inclimate weather.
  • Check your tires. Make sure they can make the trip.
  • Make sure you have a good, reliable spare tire.
  • If you are traveling in extreme temperatures, make sure you have working air and heat if needed.
Make a Playlist
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Of course, a good road trip includes good music. Good music makes the time past, keeps you awake, and provides the soundtrack to your new adventure. It can also boost your mood, help make memories, and provide the necessary entertainment on the trip. So, a good playlist, and possibly one relevant to your travels or those you are traveling with, is a must.

How to make a good road trip playlist:

  • Consider the trip you are making. Where are you going? What type of music will fit the vibes of your travels?
  • Have more than one playlist. Have a chill playlist, a throwback playlist, and an energetic playlist. This way, you can adjust the playlists based on how you're feeling or what part of your journey you are on.
  • Consider your road trip buddy. Maybe have a playlist using an app like Spotify that both of you can edit. Make sure there is music both of you enjoy.
Try Seasonal, Local Foods
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Bringing snacks and food for your trip will definitley save you tons of money and time. However, for bigger meals and a few snacks, don't forget to enjoy the local cuisine. There are moments when indulging is just a fun part of a good vacation or road trip. For example, when I was traveling through Montana, I have my first huckleberry shake. This was an experience I wouldn't have been able to have otherwise.

How to enjoy regional cuisine:

  • Find out what foods are unique to the areas you are traveling through. Plan to stop at places that offer those foods.
  • If you see a unique cuisine and want to give it a try, do it! Stop at that exit where the huckleberry shakes are.
  • Do some research. Find out what diners and restaurants are the ones you just have to try in each area you travel through.
  • Find the best rated restaurants in the area.
Have a First Aid Kit
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You may think you don't need it, but having a first aid kit can literally be life saving. Every car should have a first aid kit, road trip or not. Having a car-specific first aid kit is important in this case, since you will be traveling long distances. If you are unsure what a first aid kit should include, think of all the basics a first aid kit normally includes and then add a few car-related essentials to the mix.

How to make a car-related first aid kit:

  • Get all the basics a first aid kit includes. Bandaids, gauze, cotton balls, burn treatment, and the like.
  • Include a compact car fire extinguisher.
  • Include a flashlight.
  • Include emergency clothing.
  • Include scissors.
  • Include any other items you feel are essential to your wellbeing.
  • Consult a professional about what items should or shouldn't be included in a first aid kit.
Know Where You'll Be Driving When
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Knowing where you'll be driving when is important not only to your enjoyment of the trip but to the overall safety of the trip. There are some areas that you may not want to drive through at night, either because the roads are iffy or because you want to enjoy the views in the daylight. Alternatively, maybe there are some areas you prefer to just get through so you can enjoy others.

How to plan where you'll drive and when:

  • Avoid driving on dangerous roads at dangerous times. For example, avoid driving at night in the mountains or on highways known to be dangerous at night.
  • Check out your trip and do the math. Where would you be at day and where at night? Does the times thetrips fall work for you? For example, you wouldn't want to be driving past the best sites during the darkest part of the night.
  • If there is some place or restaurant you want to visit, make sure you will get there during business hours.
Don't Wait to Get Gas
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If your gas tank is getting close to empty, don't put off getting gas until the next stop. Stop while you know there is a gas station nearby and avaible to you. Especially, if you are driving at night. Not all gas stations operate through the night, so playing it safe is the way to go.

How to avoid running out of gas:

  • Have plans to stop along the way.
  • Know your gas mileage and take into consideration the variables of your travels.
  • When you make your routine stops, see if there is a gas station nearby. If you are half-empty or more, get gas.
  • Don't get comfortable and forget about your gas tank. Check it out at each stop.
  • Get gas when you see the best prices. If that means getting gas a stop earlier, do it. You'll thank yourself later.
  • Have a gas can on hand if able.
Have an Essentials Bag Packed
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Have a bag that has all your basic, most needed essentials packed seperately from the rest of your belongings. Have it nearby and easy to access, preferably hanging from the back of your seat. There are hooks you can buy for extremely cheap to hang bags from the back of your car seats. I highly recommend them. They make those quick to reach items easy to reach but out of the way.

How to pack a road trip essentials bag:

  • Have the clothes you need most for your trip.
  • Have any medicines you need for your trip.
  • Have your emergency cash in this bag.
  • Include any needed documentation in this bag.
  • Include a hoodie or sweater if it gets cold.
  • Have your toiletries in this bag.
  • Have an essentials bag for any pets or children going with you as well.
  • Have your phone charger in this bag.
Make a Road Trip Budget
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There's a budget for everything and a road trip is no different. In fact, it's more important than ever to budget in advance, Know what you can and cannot afford while going on this journey. Avoid overspending by setting up a budget before planning your itinerary. This way, you don't plan anything outside of your budget.

How to plan a road trip budget:

  • Find out how much your road trip will realistically cost.
  • Find out how much you can spend.
  • Find out how much your emergency fund will be.
  • Have some "fun money," so you can buy that coffee mug or t-shirt.
  • Find out how much your gas will cost.
  • Have a food or snack budget.
Pack in Advance
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Pack in advance. Don't pack the morning of. Don't pack the night before. Pack in advance. I promise it's worth it. Pack a little each day until you get closer to your trip. By packing in advance, you avoid forgetting to pack things last minute, not being able to find that one thing you really need, and messy packing. The more organized and efficient your packing is, the more organized and efficient your trip will be.

How to pack in advance:

  • Start packing in advance depending on how much you need to pack. If it's a couple days trip, start a week in advance. If you are packing away your whole life, start a month in advance and pack one thing each day.
  • Do your laundry before packing. Avoid your favorite shirt being dirty for your trip.
  • Have tupperware, luggage, or bags that you need ready to go and fill them up with something each day.
  • Pack the least necessary items at the bottom and in the back, work your way towards packing the most needed items.
  • Pick out your moving clothes in advance. Choose what will be most comfortable and easy to move in.
Stop at Historical Sites
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There are so many beautiful, historical sites to see and enjoy in this world. We often pass them while driving on the road without a second look. Not all of them are all that exciting or wonderful to see, but many of them are. When driving on your road trip, don't pass by all the historical sites you see. Stop for a few of them. Enjoy them.

How to enjoy historical sites on your road trip:

  • Plan out some historical sites to stop at.
  • Do some research. See what ones are the bee's knees.
  • Consider your interests and hobbies and find relevant historical sites that way.
  • See what historical sites are right along your path. This may be a good time to use that road trip app.
  • Take pictures!
Clean Before Your Trip
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Clean your house or apartment before leaving for your trip. Coming back to a clean apartment is so satisfying after a long trip. Plus, after a road trip, though you will be having tons of fun on your trip, you will be exhausted and in need of a good night's rest in your own bed. You won't have the energy to clean your home. So, don't wait until you get back from your trip to clean up.

How to prepare your apartment for when you get home:

  • Declutter.
  • Clean the floors or vacuum.
  • Wipe down the surfaces.
  • Make sure you have a clean bed to rest in when you're back.
  • Do your laundry.
  • Let the last thing you do before you leave be taking out your trash. Don't leave trash in your home during your trip.
Check in With Your Body
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Check in with yourself. Make sure you aren't just pushing through the drive to get where you need to be. Take time to do what you need to do to take care of you. It's hard to enjoy your trip if you are physically uncomfortable in some way. Don't forget to put your health first.

How to check in with your body:

  • Notice any discomfort caused by the prolonged sitting and driving. If you are feeling it, make sure to stop and stretch.
  • Drink plenty of water. Try not to overdo sugary drinks.
  • Have regular, healthy meals.
  • If you are feeling tired, take a break. Stop and rest. Don't put yourself or anyone else in danger.
  • If you have pets or children, make sure you are checking in with how they are feeling too. See that they have food, water, fresh air, and have stretched.
Give Yourself Time to Burn
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This goes without saying. You need extra time to enjoy yourself, stop at gas stations, take the necessary nap or two when needed most, stretch, eat, or explore. No road trip should be go, go, go. If you need to be somewhere by a certain time, I recommend leaving much earlier to avoid the need to rush right through all the fun of your trip.

How to give yourself time to enjoy the trip:

  • Find out how much time it will take to get where you need to go.
  • Find out how many stops you need to make.
  • Find out how much fun you want to have. Are you wanting to take a hike or stop at hotels? Account for this time.
  • Depending on how far you are going, give yourself several hours more than you need.
Have a Reliable GPS
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Having a map is lovely and absolutely necessary, but having a GPS will get you where you need to go without you having to do all the leg work. There is a lot more thought and energy that goes into using a paper map to travel. A GPS will make things more convenient. Having a GPS along the way will also ensure you don't get lost without knowing how to reroute to your destination, since a GPS can easily reroute when you get lost.

How to find a reliable GPS:

  • Use your smartphone.
  • Buy a GPS.
  • Do research. Find out what GPS is most reliable from reviews.
Make the Ride Comfortable
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Don't skimp on having comfort items for the long journey. However, don't overdo it either. If you have too many comfort items, you will find your car stuffed and then you wont have enough room to stretch out. If you don't have enough comfort items, you may have trouble sleeping when it's not your turn to drive. Also, consider taking non-standard comfort items.

How to have a comfortable road trip:

  • Bring a neck pillow and standard pillows. Having a neck pillow is just as convenient in cars as it is on planes.
  • Have thin blankets versus big fluffy blankets. You can always layer them.
  • Have socks and a change of shoes. If your shoes get uncomfortable you will be grateful to change them.
  • Have comfortable clothes that allow you to really move, such as exercise clothes.
  • Make sure any pets you have have enough room to stretch, rest, and sleep during the trip.
These places are summer vacation worthy!

Travel is a passion. Whether you love road trips, vacations, weekend getaways with friends, a long day's hike, or sporadic adventures, there is nothing like a summer trip or vacation.