Road trips are an incredible way to explore the world. But some road trip mistakes can quickly turn into source material for “worst travel experience” stories.
While it can be fun to retell these “worst travel experience” stories, these moments aren’t much fun while they’re happening.
Keep yourself firmly within the “good travel experience” stories by avoiding the road trip mistakes below.
1. Not getting your car serviced before the trip
I’m unfortunately guilty of this one (and most of the ones listed below, too). On a recent road trip to the Outer Banks, I failed to get my car serviced before the trip. Then I had huge anxiety driving through rural North Carolina, wondering what I’d do if my car broke down.
Luckily, I didn’t have any car problems, but I could have avoided the anxiety by servicing my car before the trip.
Don’t be like me. Make sure you get your car serviced before your next road trip.
And if you’re driving a rental car, don’t try to save money by going with the cheapest company. Use a reputable company that has good reviews for reliable cars.
2. Traveling only by interstate
Interstates are fantastic for getting from one place to another quickly.
But they can be monotonous and don’t always provide a clear picture of the area you’re traveling through.
If time allows, try traveling by smaller highways or local roads for at least a portion of your road trip. You’ll likely discover amazing scenery, interesting places to stop, and a much more enjoyable road trip experience.
3. Not having a functional toll pass
I’ve spent more time in toll plaza lines than I’d care to admit. All because I’ve failed to update my credit card information on my toll pass.
Avoid road trip mistakes by getting a toll pass. Then make sure that toll pass has your updated credit card information and is set to automatically replenish if your balance gets low.
If you’re driving a rental car, consider renting a toll pass from the rental car company. There will likely be a daily fee in addition to the toll itself, but it’s worth it.
4. Not allowing for impromptu stops
One of the best things about a road trip is making impromptu stops. This might be at a roadside fruit stand, an obscure attraction, or a scenic overlook.
Try to allow for time in your schedule to make impromptu stops. These stops will help to create great travel memories.
5. Not checking the weather along all parts of your trip
My brother, mom, and I once drove the fairly short distance from Denver to Vail, Colorado. It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver. When we got to Vail it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The sweatshirt shops made some good money on us that day!
The weather and temperate can change pretty drastically when you’re moving between high and low altitudes and between inland and coastal areas.
Save yourself the trouble of having to buy new clothes to accommodate weather changes. Check the weather in advance for all parts of your trip.
6. Not pre-booking accommodations
When you’re traveling on a road trip, you might be tempted to book your accommodations as you go along. In most cases, this will likely work out.
This didn’t work out for my family when we rolled into Ohio one night on an Iowa to Virginia road trip. When we got to the hotel we wanted to stay at that night, we were told that a pottery convention had booked up all the hotels in the area.
So, without any accommodations, we had to keep on driving. It was not an enjoyable experience.
7. Booking non-refundable accommodations
When it comes to road trip accommodations, you want to have something booked for you at some point on the road. But you also want some flexibility if you have to stop for the night and won’t make it to your pre-booked accommodations.
On a recent road trip, I realized I needed to stop and sleep for the night in Toledo, Ohio. That was more than two hours from my pre-booked accommodations in South Bend, Indiana.
Luckily, my pre-booked accommodations in South Bend were fully refundable, so I was able to cancel without a penalty. I was also lucky enough to find available accommodations in Toledo. It would have been an uncomfortable night at a rest stop if that hadn’t worked out.
8. Letting your gas tank get too low
Do you know what’s not fun? Driving through a rural area with the gas light on and not being certain when the next gas station will appear on the horizon. Or whether it will even be open.
Try to avoid letting your gas tank fall below a quarter tank when you’re driving through rural areas.
9. Driving through rush hour
If you’re on an extended road trip, there’s a good chance that you’ll pass by a larger city at some point.
I’ve made road trip mistakes of starting my trip during a non-rush hour time but then getting caught in a major city’s rush hour along the way.
An already long road trip can get exponentially longer if you get caught in rush hour.
If possible, schedule your drive so that you’re not driving by larger cities between 7-9AM or 5-7PM.
10. Relying entirely on on-line maps for directions
If you’re planning on driving through a rural area, it’s possible you won’t have access to data. If you’re relying on that data to provide you with on-line directions, that could result in a bad situation.
To avoid this road trip mistake, have a backup plan for directions. You can download an offline version of Google maps, take screenshots of your directions, or print directions before you leave on your trip.
If you’re in a pinch, don’t be afraid to call a friend or family member and ask them to read directions over the phone. The minor inconvenience to them is much better than having you stranded.
11. Not being mindful of sunset times
A few years ago, I was driving with a coworker from Phoenix to Show Low, Arizona. It was an incredibly scenic drive, so we pulled over often to take pictures.
I didn’t pay attention to the time, since we were driving during the summer and the sun sets so late in the summer.
Except that Arizona doesn’t operate on day light saving time. So the sun set an hour earlier than I expected.
That meant that I was driving on narrow roads on the edges of steep canyons with lots of elk for company in near total darkness.
It was a miserable experience. Please learn from my road trip mistake and check when the sun sets. While driving in the dark is fine in many situations, it’s not so great on rural roads.
12. Not paying attention to what you’re eating
If you’re like me, what you eat has a direct impact on your level of energy, which is key to being an alert driver on a road trip.
You likely know the foods and drinks that will help you to stay more alert. And which ones will make you feel lethargic.
Pay extra close attention to all these foods during a road trip so that you can be as alert as possible during the drive.
13. Assuming you can readily buy supplies
Rural areas don’t always have stores that operate 24/7. While you may be able to purchase that forgotten item at 10AM on a Monday, you might not be able to get it at 10PM on a Sunday.
Try to make sure that you pack your essentials. If you forget something, buy it as soon as you have the opportunity to do so. You may find it difficult to find items later at night or on Sundays.
14. Not considering road construction
Many road trips happen during the summer. And so does a lot of road construction.
Google maps and Waze are great about providing alternatives to road construction. Whenever you stop along your route, check these apps to see if there is any construction on the road ahead.
Maybe the road construction will give you a chance to skip the interstate and travel along the more scenic highways. No construction and beautiful scenery? It’s a win-win.
By avoiding these road trip mistakes, you increase your changes of having a wonderful road trip. I hope your road trip brings you many great travel memories!