30 Common Mistakes People Make On Road Trips (And How To Avoid Them)

Plains and trains can get us from point A to point B a whole lot faster, but if the real purpose of a cross-country journey is to experience nature with a select few loved ones, taking a car may well remain the preferred method of transportation. While booking a flight is probably the more efficient option, road trips still offer plenty of unique benefits that have kept them popular since the invention of the automobile. People simply can’t enjoy nature the same way from 30,000 feet in the air, and trains are confined to very specific tracks that mean exploration is virtually impossible for the locomotive traveller.

Of course, for every positive road trips offer, there’s also the potential for a sudden bump in the road turning a fun family adventure into a downright nightmare. No matter how intricately one prepares, it’s always possible the most important detail managed to fall through the cracks, slowly but surely leading to outright disaster. Hopefully, nobody will get seriously hurt, yet even sudden expenses and unforeseen difficulties could quickly derail a good time. Luckily, enough people have gone on road trips in the past and shared stories of what went wrong. Keep reading to learn about 30 common mistakes people make on road trips.

30 Over-Planning Stifles Spontaneity

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Obviously, the whole purpose of this list is that people need to plan before road trips, so it wouldn’t make sense to start off by telling people not to do that. However, there should be a limit to how much planning is done, because over preparation can easily suck the fun out of just about everything. While it’s important to ensure everything is going to go smoothly, scheduling a road trip down to the minute defeats the whole purpose of taking one. There needs to be some level of spontaneity involved, or a road trip will feel like a robotic bus ride.

29 Having No Plan At All

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Okay, so it’s a bad idea to over plan a road trip down to the last second, but it should go without saying that there should be a general goal in mind before getting behind the wheel. One can’t simply sit down in their car with a few friends, hit the gas, and hope for the best — they need to have a destination in mind, and maybe a general time frame regarding how long it will take to get there. People attempting to go on a road trip without any plan whatsoever probably aren’t going to get very far before they change their minds.

28 Picking the Wrong Playlist

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It’s fine to rely on the radio when driving around town, but with stations changing every few dozen miles, an MP3 Player is practically a requirement on a road trip. More specifically, it’s very important to ensure the best driving tunes possible are already loaded into a playlist, because there won’t be any time on the road to look for songs, let alone load them onto the device. Also, simply picking one’s favorite tunes may not be the best route to go. It’s important to keep in mind the road trip mentality, so faster, upbeat sing-alongs take precedence over slower jams.

27 Forgetting About Traffic

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One of the main reasons people shouldn’t over plan their road trips is the fact driving is often an unpredictable method of transportation. No amount of careful scheduling will stop other drivers from sharing the same roads involved in the trip, sometimes leading to heavy traffic jams. On the plus side, there are a few apps out there that track this sort of thing, but they’re only as reliable as cell phone service, which is another issue this list will cover as it continues. All one can really do is accept that traffic sometimes happens and be prepared for when it does.

26 Running On Empty

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Just about everyone has experienced the pain of suddenly looking down at the dashboard and realizing their car is almost out of gas. Terrible as this can be when driving to the grocery store, imagine how catastrophic it could become if a person ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere during a long road trip. In addition to the possibility it could be miles to the next gas station, someone on a long trip could be several states away from home, meaning “lost” doesn’t even begin to cover their situation. Clearly, one should never let this happen, and always remember to refuel at the proper times.

25 Turning into a Target

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One of the harder things for a person to do when going on a road trip is making it look like they aren’t going on a road trip. From a social standpoint, there’s no real reason to do this, because there’s nothing wrong with travelling the country via car. However, to a criminal eye, someone who clearly doesn’t intend to stick around town for long may as well have a bumper sticker with a target on it. To prevent this, make sure no valuable belongings are hanging out in the open when leaving the car unattended, even if only for a few minutes.

24 Treating It Like A Race

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For whatever reason, once people start taking a trip from one point to another on a regular basis, it suddenly becomes important to make the journey as quickly as possible. While it’s vaguely impressive to drive a distance that takes most people five hours in three or less, on a road trip, simply driving as fast as a person can is entirely missing the point. Also, it’s extremely dangerous, both in the sense that the driver is putting themselves and others at risk of an accident and for the fact they’ll almost certainly get a speeding ticket.

23 Not Keeping Clean on the Road

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When going on a road trip that only lasts a few days, some people may think skipping out on hotels and sleeping in the car for a night or two is a smart way to save money. That may be true, but one thing hotels offer that no vehicle on Earth has is a bathroom with running water and a shower. Especially if this isn’t a solo vacation, common courtesy suggests travellers should probably come up with a way to clean themselves at least every couple days. Whether this means booking a hotel or carrying a few hundred Handi Wipes is the driver’s choice.

22 Stashing Necessary Items Out Of Reach

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On a longer road trip, simply packing everything one could possibly need is really only half of the battle. It’s equally important to ensure the most important items, like water, GPS devices, or anything else someone in the front seat could need in a hurry, are within reach, and not stashed away in the trunk. It’s always possible that the driver or a passenger will find they urgently need something they did pack, but realize they left it out of reach, and won’t be able to get it until there’s space on the road to pull over, which isn’t always guaranteed.

21 Ignoring Harsh Weather Conditions

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Forget about traffic — the real unpredictable factor of a road trip is the chance of sudden changes in the weather. No amount of intricate planning can assure the weather will be perfect on day four or five of the trip, especially when the traveller is several states away from their departure point or destination. In the very least, they can check predicted weather for the main roads, just to ensure there are no seriously severe conditions like tornadoes or hurricanes along the way. Still, heavy rain or snow might be unavoidable, so make sure the car can handle that.

20 Bringing Way More Than Necessary

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It’s good to be prepared for any situation or emergency, but if there’s no room in the car for traveller to stretch their legs, they’ve probably brought more on the trip than necessary. Even if the journey is going to last several days, it’s not essential to bring a dozen different outfits, because road trips don’t offer many occasions for wardrobe changes. While bringing food and water is a good idea, taking too much of it is probably going to wind up being wasteful. Road trips are ultimately a lot of driving for short vacations, key word being “short,” so travellers don’t need much.

19 Not Bringing Things That Actually Are Necessary

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All right, so the car does need a little bit of breathing room, but there’s a huge difference between “pack lightly” and “don’t pack.” It’s also important to keep in mind what is actually necessary when on the road versus what people normally take on vacations. Flashlights, for example, can be extremely handy if a car breaks down at night, and regular travellers may not think of this as quickly as they do an extra shirt, which they probably won’t even wear. People on road trips need to make sure they’re prepared for every situation, and bring along the tools necessary when problems arise.

18 Letting a Guidebook Do All the Planning

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Despite the sheer number of people who go on road trips solely because they’re fans of Jack Kerouac, every traveller should set out to create their own experiences, not relive someone else’s. Even worse than taking inspiration from a beat poet or ironic travelogue writer would be buying a general guide book detailing major landmarks and following it to a tee. Road trips should be personal and somewhat spontaneous, making them unique to each person, and thus not something that can be found in a book. Being inspired is okay, but travellers should write their own story.

17 Expecting Everything to Go Perfectly

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Perfectionism is rarely a good thing in any walk of life, because it typically leads to a person losing their mind when things go wrong. Unfortunately, such is the nature of existence that things are probably going to go wrong at some point, and that’s especially the case with a road trip. There’s always the potential for a traffic jam, harsh weather, or a popped tire, and it’s important to keep calm in all of these scenarios and remember that every problem has a solution. Hopefully, none of these things will happen, but it’s easier to accept them if they do after acknowledging they’re all possible.

16 Setting an Unrealistic Budget

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Try as people might to keep expenses to a minimum, an unfortunate reality of modern existence is that just about everything costs money. Expecting a road trip to be free or even close to it would be a severe mistake, and even setting a low budget and refusing to break it could lead to real problems on the road. Not only are there the obvious issues of food and gas, but cars occasionally break down and need work, and if a traveller can’t pay for it, they’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

15 Not Telling the Bank About the Trip

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Anyone planning on taking a road trip and exclusively paying for things with cash doesn’t need to worry about this next issue — but who does that anymore? In addition to being unlikely, carrying huge wads of cash on the road can also be problematic for other reasons this list already covered, like thieves and running out of it. Because most people travelling across several states are probably going to be using a credit card in a couple of them, they should probably let the bank in on their plans so they don’t accidentally put holds on the account for suspicious activity.

14 Ignoring Advice from Locals

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Ideally, everyone going on a road trip after reading this quiz will have done their homework and prepared for upcoming traffic and weather issues. However, things can change once they actually get on the road, and there’s a good chance people at gas stations and rest stops will have more up to date information than the traveller had when they left. If a clerk says there’s an issue on the road ahead that the GPS doesn’t know about, it’s probably better to take their advice on the matter rather than soldiering on and hoping for the best.

13 Not Bringing a Camera

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In the modern era of cell phones, far less people carry around disposable cameras when on vacation than once was commonplace. It’s understandable to think a camera phone will capture memorable moments on a day-to-day basis, but when viewing the natural beauties of the world, it’s probably still better to have a standalone high-definition camera. There’s also the fact that phone batteries inevitably run out, and travellers would seriously be kicking themselves if they saw something and wanted to take a snapshot only to realize they couldn’t. Disposable cameras are small and inexpensive; bring one along.

12 Getting Distracted by the Wrong Detours

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Not to contradict everything this list has already said about spontaneity, it should go without saying there are good split decisions and bad ones. If only one person in the car had any interest in the billboard everyone saw, it’s probably not worth the whole gang’s time to go and check it out. Even if several people are interested, there’s a limit to how far off track a road trip can go before a detour causes problems to the overall plan. When side tracked for more than a full day, all the planning about weather and traffic becomes useless, so try and keep distractions short and sweet.

11 Assuming Cell Phones Work Everywhere

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A couple items on this list already touched on this issue, yet it’s important enough to bear repeating all on its own. When travelling long and unfamiliar distances, it’s entirely possible cell phones won’t get the reception necessary to run GPS or other apps, let alone take and receive texts or calls. There should always be a back-up plan for directions, as no one can rely on having service every step of the trip. In the very least, make sure to stay a few steps ahead of the plan mentally in case service cuts in and out in unfamiliar territory.

10 Failing to Pack a Spare Tire

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Of all the things travellers should take with them on a road trip, a spare tire perhaps the most important. When driving down rocky terrain, it’s almost too easy for a tire to pop, and without a replacement on hand, this could turn into a very costly problem. Not only will drivers need to pay for a new tire, but they’ll also have to pay for a tow truck to take the car someplace that sells them. Naturally, along with a spare tire, people should also remember to bring the necessary tools to replace one.

9 Forgetting That Even Parking Has a Price

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For another reminder that nothing in this world is free, even parking a car for an extended period of time has costs in most areas. Especially if people plan on skipping hotels and sleeping in their vehicle, they need to factor in that this isn’t always allowed on regular street roads, and any sort of parking garage costs money. Sure, it’s less than the average hotel room, but that doesn’t make it free, and trying to park someplace where it isn’t allowed can lead to an even costlier ticket. To be safe, just make sure to bring enough money to park in a garage.

8 Missing Out on the Beauty of Nature

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While there’s usually some sort of goal in mind when going on a road trip, the whole point of choosing the road over air travel is to experience the country’s natural beauty. The driver should always keep their eyes on the road, but passengers can stare out the windows the whole trip and take in the gorgeous mountains, flora, and even rare fauna that nature has to offer. There are also plenty of places near landmarks where the driver can also park and take in the scenery for a few seconds, a brief detour definitely worth taking to fully enjoy the trip.

7 Failing to Factor in Food

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Since most people don’t need to travel further than their refrigerator to get a meal, it’s easy to take food for granted in our everyday lives. It’s usually not that hard to find grub on the road, either, considering the sheer number of rest stops and restaurants one sees when travelling down the highway. Of course, one needs to pay for these establishments, and they aren’t as ubiquitous as they seem when a person is truly starving. Travellers should bring some snacks along with them on a road trip, or in the very least, always plan ahead and start thinking about food before they’re already starving.

6 Falling Asleep at the Wheel

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Of all the horrible mistakes a driver can make behind the wheel, this one is the most likely to lead to an absolute catastrophe. Driving for a long time on deserted roads is far more exhausting than it looks, and it’s far too easy for a bored traveller to start nodding off after several hours on the road when not much is going on. If a person so much as yawns a single time, they should probably consider pulling over for sleep or switching drivers for a while until they feel more attentive. Altering plans and losing a little time is obviously preferable to a terrible crash.

5 Overpaying on Hotels and Accommodations

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More than once, this list has already suggested taking time out of the journey to stay in a hotel for a night on longer road trips. While this remains sound advice worthy of repeating, other issues to keep in mind when looking for accommodations are cost and practicality. There’s no reason to seek out a four-star hotel with a pool and gym when the only plan is to sleep there and hit the road again in the morning. All one really needs is a simple, relatively clean bed, so there’s nothing wrong with seeking out a bargain resting spot.

4 Picking the Wrong Travel Buddies

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It’s theoretically possible that a person might go on a road trip entirely by themselves, but chances are the most fun cross-country journeys are experienced with at least a couple good friends. Of course, it’s very important that the right “good friends” are chosen for the trip, because bringing the wrong person along could lead to a whole week of annoyance, arguments, or worse if relations are less “friendly” than previously imagined. Being inclusive of outsiders is nice in a social setting, but road trips are intimate by nature, so only the driver’s best pals should be invited.

3 Misunderstanding Traffic Laws

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Let’s face it, not everyone has read through their driver’s manual recently, and while traffic rules don’t exactly change overnight, they do differ from state to state. Hopefully, every licensed driver is at least well aware that speed limits could potentially change every couple miles, and it’s important to keep an eye out for them when travelling thousands of miles at a time. Nicer traffic officers might give out-of-towners some slack, but they don’t always do this, so the better option for travellers is to play it safe and follow the rules of the road everywhere the trip takes them.

2 Not Giving the Car a Tune-Up Before Departure

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That cars are known to break down at the worst time possible has already been covered, but there’s something drivers can keep in mind to help alleviate this problem. Prior to even checking a map, anyone planning on a long car ride should have their vehicle inspected by professionals and make sure it’s up for the journey. It’s all well and good to assume the car is running fine during daily travels, but road trips are like a vehicular marathon, and not every automobile is up for the challenge, so people taking them need to make sure their car is.

1 Missing the Point Is Wasting the Trip

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Ultimately, the most important thing a person should remember before taking a road trip is why they’ve chosen to take one. People shouldn’t hit the pavement entirely on a whim. If someone ventures out on a road trip without knowing why they’re doing it, they probably aren’t going to get a whole lot out of the experience. For this reason, the first thing people should do prior to hitting the road is understand why they’re going on this journey, and they should keep the answer in mind every step of the process.

References: Trip Savvy, MapQuest, People

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