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How to avoid these 7 mistakes every road tripper makes at least once

May 04, 2022
10 min read
Father and daughters preparing to begin backpacking trip at back of car
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Editor’s note: This post is regularly updated.

Nothing says summer in the U.S. like road trips, and for the past two summers, travelers packed up their cars and hit the road in record numbers instead of flying.

More than 47.7 million Americans celebrated the July 4 weekend last year with a road trip, marking the second-highest Independence Day road travel on record, according to data from AAA, which expects "road trips continue to dominate" summer travels, despite record gas prices.

Looking ahead to this summer, AAA says car travel will account for 97% of summer travel, with more people booking last-minute trips.

“Americans will get out and explore this summer, though they’re taking a ‘wait and see approach’ when it comes to booking and are likely to book more long weekend getaways than extended vacations,” Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of Travel, said in a statement. “When they do venture out, the greatest share of travelers – 683 million – will take to the road to satisfy their wanderlust.”

This approach means more travelers on the road – and therefore more room for logistics to slip through the cracks.

If a car trip is on your agenda this summer, avoid the following mistakes before pulling out of your driveway.

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1. Not having a predeparture checklist

(Photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images)

One of the best things about road trips is the flexibility afforded from having your own car and being able to make stops along the way for any essential items accidentally left at home.

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Even so, it’s always helpful to be organized and prepared before embarking on a road-trip vacation That's why creating a predeparture checklist is so important to minimize the stress of potentially forgetting anything.

In crafting a checklist, ask yourself the following questions related to packing and logistics:

  • Do you have your vehicle registration and a copy of your auto insurance card?
  • Are you crossing into another country and need a passport or visa?
  • Did I pack extra phone chargers?

Whether you're embarking on a short weekend jaunt by car or an epic cross-country road trip, going through an essentials checklist prior to departure will help start the trip off stress free.

Related: 3 unique road trips you can take from Houston in 4 hours or less

2. Failing to get your car road-trip ready

(Photo by sutiporn somnam/Getty Images)

Beyond just peace of mind, there’s never a better time to get maintenance done on your car than a few weeks before a big road trip.

A tune-up on your vehicle prior to hitting the road should ensure all essential fluids and filters are topped off and clean, tire pressure is accurate, and lights and brakes are operating as they should. Even so, don’t solely leave it up to a mechanic to have your car road-trip ready.

An emergency roadside kit in your trunk can come in handy during a worst-case scenario with no immediate help in sight. The kit should include items such as jumper cables, road flares, flashlights and even a first-aid kit. Some kits also include all the necessary tools to change a tire — including a spare — in case you experience a flat.

If you’d like an added layer of security, consider purchasing a AAA membership with roadside assistance starting at $59 a year.

Or, check to see if any of your credit cards offer a roadside assistance benefit. As of March 2022, TPG ranked the four best credit cards offering such benefit:

  1. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for overall travel protections, including roadside assistance.
  2. Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for roadside dispatch at a set rate with no annual fee.
  3. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best Capital One card for roadside dispatch at a set rate.
  4. Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card: Best Bank of America card for roadside dispatch at a set rate.

3. Not planning the best route in advance

(Photo by Thomas Winz/Getty Images)

Read more: Road trips from Washington, DC, for every type of traveler

Of course, time management is crucial for a successful road trip, particularly when you have a fixed amount of vacation days to work with. This is why mapping out the best route in advance can help improve the efficiency of your vacation.

In the preliminary stages of road-trip planning, it’s good to identify the distances between your starting point and each destination you’re visiting, as well as the type of terrain you'll be driving on. Consider if your trip is mostly on a major interstate with gas stations in abundance off the exits or if it involves driving on more remote, mountainous roads with no facilities in sight.

Once you know the distance and topography, use Google Maps to plan the best route based on your preferences and available time. Keep in mind you’ll need to consider unavoidable stops, such as refilling your gas tank, restroom breaks and attractions you want to check out along the way. If timing is a non-issue, choose a route with a detour worth exploring.

For example, you can get from San Francisco to Los Angeles via the freeway (I-5) in as fast as seven hours. However, with zero time restraints, you can take the scenic route between the two cities and enjoy beautiful coastline views for nine hours along the Pacific Coast Highway.

4. Not taking your own snacks and refreshments

(Photo by Jamie Kingham/Getty Images)

Although you can find convenient food options on the road at gas stations, convenience stores and fast-food chains, constant stops slow down your trip and impact your budget — all for less than healthy food. Additionally, you may not find any food retailers or convenience stores during long stretches of driving in rural areas, resulting in an uncomfortably long wait for food or water.

Savvy travelers never leave home without a cooler packed with refreshments and snacks for everyone in the car. This is even more important when kids are in tow on the road trip. This way, you can control your food intake and have snacks readily available.

Consider investing in an insulated water bottle to keep liquids hot and cold for long periods of time. They're not only excellent for saving money but great for reducing stops on the road and quenching your thirst or satisfying your caffeine fix.

Related: 4 road trips you can take from Charlotte, North Carolina

5. Trying to squeeze it all in

(Photo by Jose Luis Peleaz Inc./Getty Images)
(Photo by Jose Luis Peleaz Inc./Getty Images)

When you’re putting together an organized, well-thought-out trip, it’s easy to get excited and try to fit lots of sightseeing and driving time into a day. Be that as it may, you should still account for possible detours and some spontaneity on your drive. Unforeseen factors like traffic, highway diversions and construction are common occurrences on a road trip and it’s OK to adjust accordingly.

Although the scenic route is usually more enjoyable, make sure there isn’t a much shorter alternative. Overdoing the driving hours or trying to fit several attractions into a day is exhausting, making you more prone to accidents. Plan to make multiple stops along the way or consider an overnight hotel stay on long-haul road trips.

6. Not getting entertainment in order

(Photo by Sally Anscombe/Getty Images)

Failing to download movies, podcasts and audiobooks and create playlists before leaving the house could prove to be a costly mistake, especially if traveling with children. You’ll undoubtedly encounter stretches of boredom on your road-trip journey, so it’s best to consider your entertainment plans ahead of time. Use your Wi-Fi at home to download sufficient content onto your electronic devices to last a long time.

Driving several hours with children on board will almost surely test your patience, so play movies and provide hands-on activities (coloring books, tablets and toys) in exchange for your sanity. Everyone in the car will be thankful you did.

Read more: 4 family-friendly road trips you can take through Arizona

7. Not choosing the right vehicle

(Photo by Photography by Devon OpdenDries/Getty Images)

Summertime brings sunshine, the end of school and an opportunity to trek by car with family and friends. Whether you take your own car or rent a car, choosing the right vehicle requires careful consideration.

Off-roading when your car wasn’t designed for the terrain, or choosing a gas guzzler when a simple midsize vehicle would do, are things you should consider before hitting the road. Nothing can turn a promising road trip into a headache faster than choosing the wrong wheels.

Road trips consist of extended time sitting in a car, so comfort and safety features are paramount. You’ll want a car big enough for all occupants to fit comfortably. Check there is plenty of legroom to stretch out while ensuring your vehicle is equipped with safety features such as airbags, antilock brakes and a backup camera.

Especially with current gas prices, look for a fuel-efficient car that provides a generous miles-per-gallon ratio. A fuel-efficient vehicle will have better range, requiring fewer stops and fewer refills at the gas pump.

Read more: If you’re tired of high gas prices, here’s how to rent an electric (or hybrid) car

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Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.