Road tripping is hands-down our favorite way to travel. You can cruise at your own pace, indulge in spontaneous detours, and haul a gear closet’s worth of toys. But while road trips are easy to love, they’re easy to ruin, too. All it takes is a busted air conditioner, a gassy co-pilot, or a tyrannical DJ to have you wishing you never pulled out of the driveway. On a more serious note, other mistakes can be life-threatening, like driving at night in sketchy areas or speeding up a snowy pass with bald tires.
Luckily for you, we’ve learned from our countless miles and misadventures on the road. Below, you’ll find 14 road trip mistakes and how to avoid them. Some are lighthearted, some are heavy as a fully loaded Chevy Suburban, but all have the potential to spoil your next trip. Read up—and maybe send this to your road trip buddy before your next adventure.
Unforgivable Audio Blunders
One of the best parts of road tripping? Tapping the steering wheel as you boogie down to your favorite jams. Or logging miles as podcast detectives solve a whodunnit. Nothing ruins a road trip quicker than a malfunctioning stereo, a misplaced aux cord, a dead phone, or forgetting to download music before you lose service. You’re the roadie of your road trip: make sure the sound is dialed before showtime.
Once the audio is accounted for, only one question remains: what to listen to? For the most part, DJing should be a democracy—find common ground, whether that’s roots reggae, Disney musicals, or an audiobook. The only exception to the rule? Driving late at night. Then, of course, driver becomes dictator and can listen to whatever helps them keep the rubber on the road.
Food Faux Pas: Check Your Odor-meter, Be Aware of Allergies, and Pack Snacks
When it comes to packing food, use common sense. Don’t stink up the car! No one wants to smell your pickled herring sandwich at 6:30 am. And if you’re lactose intolerant, skip the grilled cheese. More critical than stinky food or flatulence? The allergies of your fellow road trippers—anaphylactic shock tends to put a damper on even the chillest of vibes. Oh, and stock up on extra snacks, because getting hangry is long car ride kryptonite.
Houston, We Have a Problem. There’s No AC.
Ever driven through the Utah desert without AC in the summer? We have. Sadly, there are still sweat stains on our front seats to prove it. If temps are approaching triple digits, AC is a trip-saver. As a matter of fact, make that a life-saver. The same goes for heat when the mercury plummets. Long story short: make sure your AC and heater are working before driving into extreme temperatures.
Don’t Forget to Check Roads and Weather
Speaking of extreme temperatures, it’s always smart to check weather and road conditions before you hit the road. It’s one thing to drive into a blizzard if you’re well-prepared for it with high-quality snow tires, 4WD, warm clothes, and emergency provisions—it’s another if a blizzard comes as a surprise and you’re piloting a sedan that fishtails at a hint of snow. This foresight applies during the warmer months, too: checking weather and roads before and during your trip can help you avoid everything from tropical storms to scheduled closures.
Snow Tires and Chains
Not sure who needs to hear this, but all-terrain tires aren’t snow tires. And 4WD doesn’t mean jack if your tires are balder than The Rock. If there’s a hint of snow on the horizon, make sure your rig has proper winter tires—we’re fond of Nokian—and 4WD. Alternatively, invest in chains. Chains are the umbrellas of the road trip world: if you bring ‘em, you’ll never need ‘em, but the moment you leave ‘em behind is the moment you’ll be facing puckering precipitation.
Driving at Night
Many road trippers prefer driving at night—there are fewer cars on the road, the stars are out, you can save daylight for activities, etc. But driving at night can be dangerous for a few reasons:
- When road tripping through sketchier locales, it’s common practice to avoid driving at night, as you’re less likely to run into trouble.
- When the sun melts snow on mountain roads during the day, driving is a breeze. But at night, that meltwater can solidify into solid ice, making roads much more hazardous. Also, icy patches are much easier to spot in daylight.
- The biggest reason we don’t like to drive too much at night is exhaustion. According to a 2018 study by AAA, approximately 9.5% of accidents are an offshoot of driver drowsiness. The best solution for drowsy driving? Pull over, inflate your Luno Car Air Mattress, and catch up on sleep before truckin’ on.
Emergency Gear: Better to Have it and Not Need It
Chains aren’t the only emergency gear we like to keep on hand. A first aid kit, warm layers, and sleeping bag are all worth stashing in your vehicle, too. We’re big fans of Uncharted Supply Co.–they make everything from compact, field-friendly first aid kits to full-fledged survival systems. We keep one of their 72-hour survival kits in our vehicle 24/7–whether we’re embarking on an epic road trip or just driving to the grocery store.
Bringing Pets When You Should’ve Left Them At Home
Don’t get us wrong, we love road-trippin' with doggos. In fact, we purposefully craft our mattresses out of material durable enough to withstand puppy paws. But there are a couple of instances when bringing a pooch isn’t a good idea—namely, if you’re heading to National Parks.
National Park pet access is limited to certain areas—often campgrounds, paved parking lots, and not much else. Rules vary from park to park, so be sure to research the specific park ahead of your trip and then decide if boarding your dog or hiring a dog sitter is a better option. Additionally, some dogs do well in the car. Others go nuts. If you’re driving 14 hours in one go, ask yourself, are you bringing the pup for your sake, or theirs?
Reactionary vs. Preventative Maintenance
Most drivers wait until the “check engine” light flashes, strange noises emit from the undercarriage, or the hood starts smoking before asking a mechanic to take a look. That type of reactionary maintenance is acceptable if you’re always a quick tow from home, but frequent road trippers should take a more preventative approach. Proactive, preventative car care might seem pricier short term, but you may just save yourself an unwanted breakdown on your next road trip.
Basic Road Trip Mechanics
You don’t need to be a certified mechanic to go on a road trip, but it’s a smart idea to familiarize yourself with the basics: changing a tire, jumping a car, etc. We like to keep jumper cables, spare tire and jack, and a AAA card on hand whenever we hit the road.
Road Tripping is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Unless your name’s Ricky Bobby, driving isn’t your favorite part of a road trip. Just because you can drive from San Francisco to Salt Lake City in a single day doesn’t mean you should. Our advice? Don’t make one Red Bull-fueled push if you don’t have to. Break up drives into doable chunks, or pick a closer destination if you’re tight on time.
Messiness = Mayhem
On a road trip, mess is magnetic. A little mess attracts more mess, and more mess, and more mess, until you’re cursing under your breath and rummaging in the trunk for fifteen minutes because you can’t find a freakin’ shoe. Staying tidy is essential on any road trip, but especially longer ones. We like to use ski and bike racks, roof boxes, clear plastic bins, Shoe Storage Bags, and Seatback Organizers to keep the rig in ship-shape. Systems, people, systems.
If you’re road tripping with a few friends, keeping track of spending can cause flashbacks to calculus class. Luckily, with Splitwise, you can leave the scientific calculator at home. Invite your road trip buddies to download the app, start a new group, use Splitwise to keep a running tally on the road, then settle up once the trip is a wrap. Another option: just have one person pay for everything, then divide the total up equally after the trip. Either way, you’ll avoid hard feelings because someone feels like they shouldered the bulk of the expenses.
Don’t Assume You’ll Have Service
Losing service on a road trip is par for the course. In fact, losing service is oftentimes the point of a road trip in the first place. That said, research your route ahead of time, assume the worst, and download everything from maps to music before you leave.
Pro tip: Get Onx for detailed topo maps.
Another pro tip: Looking for a place to spend the night can be exhausting after a full day of driving. Get iOverlander to scout for campgrounds.
Last pro tip: Get a satellite communication device like the Bivy Stick. This nifty gadget links to your smartphone through an app and lets you share your GPS coordinates and send text messages from anywhere in the world. It also has a “check-in” button on the device that sends a preprogrammed message to select contacts and an S.O.S. button for worst-case scenarios. Satellite coverage is remarkable—the Bivy Stick works anywhere you have an unimpeded view of the sky.
Mistakes are Inevitable
While most of these mistakes are avoidable, mistakes, in general, are inevitable on the road. And funnily enough, mistakes often lead to the memories and moments we look back upon most fondly after the dust settles. Still, keep these common mistakes in mind and chances are that your next trip will be a little smoother. Safe travels, and see you on the road.