7 mistakes every road tripper makes at least once

May 3, 2021

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The summer of 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Travelers packed up their cars and hit the road in record numbers instead of flying. In fact, road trips made up 97% of all summer travel that year for vacationing Americans, according to AAA.

Although more than 50% of adults in the U.S. are now at least partially vaccinated, many people are feeling anxious about their first trip in a long while. So, it’s no surprise road trips are expected to remain popular for the summer of 2021 with travelers dreaming of a much-needed escape from isolation. If a car trip is on your agenda this summer, avoid the following mistakes before pulling out of your driveway.

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In This Post

Not having a predeparture checklist

(Photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images)
(Photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images)

A road trip affords more flexibility than other forms of transportation since you’re able to make stops along the way if any essential items were left at home. Still, it’s never a bad thing to be organized and prepared before embarking on a road trip vacation. That’s why creating a predeparture checklist is so important to ease the stress of potentially forgetting necessary items.

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? Forget to download entertainment on your child’s tablet or leave your phone chargers at home?

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

Failing to get your car road-trip ready

(Photo by sutiporn somnam/Getty Images)
(Photo by sutiporn somnam/Getty Images)

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 not only provides peace of mind but also ensures all essential fluids and filters are topped up and clean, tire pressure is accurate and lights and brakes are operating as they should. But don’t solely leave it up to a mechanic to have your car road-trip ready.

Keeping an emergency roadside kit in your trunk can come in handy during a worst-case scenario with no immediate help in sight. An emergency roadside kit includes items such as jumper cables, road flares, flashlights and even a first-aid kit. Some kits include all the necessary tools to change a tire — including a spare — in case you encounter a flat. If you’d like an added layer of inner peace, consider purchasing a AAA membership with roadside assistance starting at $68 a year. Or, check to see if any of your credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer a roadside assistance benefit.

Not planning the best route in advance

(Photo by Thomas Winz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thomas Winz/Getty Images)

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 for your road trip in advance can help improve the efficiency of your trip. In the preliminary stages of road-trip planning, it’s good practice to know the distances between your starting point and each destination you’re visiting as well as the type of terrain you will be driving on. Is your trip mostly on a major interstate with gas stations in abundance off the exits or remote, mountainous winding roads with no facilities in sight?

Once you know the distance and type of drive, 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 desired attractions you want to check out along the way. If timing is a non-issue, choose a route worth exploring.

For example, you can get from San Francisco to Los Angeles via the freeway (I-5) in as fast as seven hours. But with no 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.

Not taking your own snacks and refreshments

(Photo by Jamie Kingham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Kingham/Getty Images)

Convenient food options on the road are largely found at gas stations, convenience stores and fast-food chains. Many of the snacks and foods are unhealthy, but they’ll also impact your vacation budget and slow down your trip with constant stops to refuel your body. In addition, during long stretches of driving in rural areas, you may not find any food retailers or convenience stores, 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. These are not only excellent for saving money on beverages but also are great for reducing stops on the road and quenching your thirst or satisfying your caffeine fix.

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 diversions and leave an ounce of spontaneity on your drive. Unforeseen factors such as traffic, highway diversions and construction are common occurrences on a road trip and it’s OK to shift your route.

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 will likely result in exhaustion and make you more prone to accidents. Plan on making multiple stops along the way and consider an overnight hotel stay on long-haul road trips for a good night’s rest.

Not getting entertainment in order

(Photo by Sally Anscombe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sally Anscombe/Getty Images)

Failing to download movies, podcasts, 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 resolve your entertainment plans ahead of time. Use your home Wi-Fi to download sufficient content onto your electronic devices to last a long time.

Driving several hours with children in tow will almost surely test your patience, so play movies and provide hands-on activities (coloring books, tablets and toys) in exchange for your sanity. You won’t receive any judgment from others and everyone in the car will be thankful.

Not choosing the right vehicle

(Photo by Photography by Devon OpdenDries/Getty Images)
(Photo by Photography by Devon OpdenDries/Getty Images)

Summertime brings the sunshine, the end of school and the opportunity to trek by car with family and friends. Whether you take your own car or rent, choosing the right vehicle for your trip needs 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 considerations you should mull over before hitting the road. Nothing can turn a promising road trip into a headache faster than choosing the wrong wheels.

Related: Which rental car company is right for you?

Road trips consist of extended time sitting in a car, therefore comfort and safety features are paramount. You’ll want a car big enough for all occupants to assure comfort with plenty of legroom to stretch out. Make sure your vehicle is equipped with safety features such as airbags, antilock brakes and a backup camera. Assuming travel costs are of concern, look for a fuel-efficient car that provides a generous miles-per-gallon ratio. A fuel-efficient vehicle will have better range and therefore require fewer stops and fewer refills at the gas pump.

Featured photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

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