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Top 15 Common Road Trip Mistakes To Avoid

Road trips are the ultimate dream. There’s no better time to do it than the holidays, when you can dust off your favorite car, set the destination on your GPS, chart your course with our route planner, and set off into the sunset. Or, if you haven’t set a destination, wear a blindfold and throw a dart on the map. Wherever the dart lands, prepare yourself (and your car) and go. You can enjoy the scenic symphony and Dave Mathews songs with your family along the way. The best part about road trips is that you can take them any time of the year, as long as you’re mindful of the season, type of car, and common road trip mistakes. You can take an SUV or sedan during the winter or autumn. Or you can throw the top down for a summer road trip convertible experience.

No matter the destination, road trips promise a treasure trove of experiences. To get the best from your road trip, you need good preparation. Without preparation, even the most scenic routes can lead to unforeseen challenges. To ensure your road trip is a seamless adventure, master the art of planning, mindful packing, and adept navigation. There is a lot that goes into it.

This guide explores the top 15 common road trip mistakes to avoid, with insights on vehicle maintenance, emergency, budget management, and maneuvers.

1. Ignoring Traffic Conditions

Before you begin your road trip, check the traffic conditions on the road. There are many ways that you can check the traffic and road conditions. Imagine planning a 12-hour road trip and finding yourself stuck on the road somewhere for 2 hours or more. This situation often happens when you don’t check the traffic conditions.

Neglecting to assess traffic conditions beforehand can significantly impact your road trip experience. It’s crucial to check the current traffic status on the route you plan to cover before embarking on your journey.

Consider exploring alternative routes, such as scenic backroads, to sidestep prolonged hours stuck in traffic. Traffic dynamics may vary based on factors like the day of the week or holiday events. By staying informed about road conditions, you empower yourself to make optimal choices, ensuring a smoother and more enjoyable road trip.

2. Forgetting To Check Your Car (Servicing and Maintenance)

Overlooking your vehicle maintenance and service before a road trip is one of the most common road trip mistakes that can lead to challenges. Servicing and ensuring your vehicle is in optimal condition are critical steps to guarantee it can handle the demands of a lengthy journey.

Road trips often involve extended hours of driving, traversing diverse terrains, and encountering various weather conditions. It’s imperative to confirm that your vehicle is well-prepared for these challenges.

Thoroughly checking your vehicle before your road trip enables you to identify and address potential issues. Simple concerns like low tire pressure, warning lights, or a malfunctioning battery can be addressed at home, preventing breakdowns and mitigating the need for costly and time-consuming repairs during your journey.

Investing time in pre-trip vehicle checks ensures a smoother and safer road trip.

3. Wasting Time

Optimizing your time during a road trip is crucial for maximizing the fun and minimizing unnecessary delays. While spontaneity is a key aspect of road trips, some stops are essential, such as refueling, grabbing meals, and taking bathroom breaks.

The challenge lies in these necessary stops consuming a lot of time. With planning, you can combine these essential activities into a single stop, significantly saving time. This approach requires preparation and collaboration with your travel companions.

Consider planning your essential stops. Moreover, opting for less crowded exits and rural areas can further optimize your time. These locations typically have less traffic and fewer construction-related delays.

4. Neglecting To Have Roadside Assistance

Roadside assistance becomes your reliable ally when faced with issues like a flat tire, a dead battery, or running out of gas. This indispensable service ensures a swift and safe resolution to these common road trip mishaps, allowing you to resume your journey with minimal disruptions.

Most roadside assistance programs like the AAA provide extensive services, which include towing, jump-starting your battery, fuel in case of depletion, and even changing a flat tire. Some programs offer additional benefits like trip interruption coverage. This feature provides reimbursement for unexpected expenses if your road trip encounters a disruption due to a breakdown, adding an extra layer of support to your travel plans.

5. Leaving Your Valuables Visible

At some point during your road trip, you might step out of your vehicle for some fresh air. Leaving your valuables visible poses a significant risk. Whether you’re stopping for a meal or sightseeing, safeguard your belongings.

Whenever possible, bring your valuables with you when leaving the car. Keep your Money, electronics, jewelry, and other valuable items secure on your person. If you can’t carry them with you, store them out of sight. Leaving valuables in plain view makes your car an attractive target for thieves.

6. Driving Too Much In One Day

Driving excessively in a single day can quickly lead to burnout during a road trip, especially if you plan to cover multiple days. Spending 12 hours on the road each day is not only physically taxing but also poses safety risks. Set reasonable limits on your daily driving time to prevent fatigue and ensure a safer journey.

When planning your road trip itinerary, consider restricting each day’s driving leg. This approach helps you stay alert and minimizes the risk of getting tired. You can also avoid falling asleep at the wheel.

In addition to limiting driving time, incorporating regular breaks into your schedule is crucial. These breaks provide opportunities to grab food, stretch your legs, and rejuvenate, contributing to a more enjoyable and safer road trip experience. Prioritizing your well-being by avoiding excessive driving and taking breaks helps maintain the excitement of the journey without compromising safety.

7. Waiting Too Long To Get Gas

Procrastinating on refueling during a road trip, especially when gas stations become scarce along the highway, can lead to precarious situations. While timely refueling is widely known, it becomes critical in remote areas (fewer gas stations).

Refuel your car sooner rather than later. Keeping an eye on your fuel level ensures that you won’t unexpectedly run out of gas, a scenario that can significantly disrupt your journey and consume valuable time.

Plan gas stops, especially in areas where fuel stations are sparse.

8. Forgetting to Pack an Emergency Kit

An Emergency kit is among the most important things you can carry. Emergency kits ensure your safety on the road. You can put together all the items you need. Sometimes, they come as pre-made, often including essential items such as MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) and medical supplies.

Your Emergency kit should include first aid supplies, a flashlight, non-perishable food items, water, and any specific medications. This preparation ensures that you’re ready for unforeseen challenges.

9. Forgetting To Check The Weather Forecast

Before you set off on your great adventure, check the weather forecast of your destination and route areas.

Utilizing a weather app or receiving weather alerts, along with thorough research on current and upcoming weather conditions at your destination, is imperative. This information helps you plan your travel routes more effectively.

Being aware of weather patterns allows you to make informed decisions.

10. Forgetting To Carry Important Paperwork

Always carry your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance. Forgetting the paperwork can lead to unnecessary complications, especially if law enforcement pulls you over during your journey.

Also, make sure that your vehicle registration and insurance are up to date.

Modern conveniences also allow digital copies of insurance, eliminating the need for a paper copy. Whether physical or digital, you should have easy access to these documents. You can streamline any interactions with law enforcement and ensure a smooth continuation of your road trip. Take a moment to confirm the presence and accessibility of essential paperwork.

11. Driving Faster Than The Speed Limit

Exceeding the speed limit on a road trip can turn a fun journey into an unwelcome encounter with law enforcement. Be conscious of speed regulations and refrain from engaging in excessive speeding.

Spotting flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror is an unsettling experience, especially during a road trip.

In unfamiliar surroundings, pay close attention to your driving and adhere to designated speed limits. If maintaining a consistent speed is challenging, consider utilizing your cruise control as a helpful tool to stay within legal speed limits.

12. Forgetting to Pack Essential Items

A well-prepared packing list becomes your roadmap to a hassle-free and well-equipped road trip experience. Some items are not easily replaceable, and searching for them during your road trip can be frustrating and time-consuming. To avoid this common road trip mistake, use a packing list. This strategy allows you to check off items as you pack.

13. Traveling Without An Extra Car Key

Embarking on a road trip without an extra car key can quickly turn a minor inconvenience into a major hassle if your primary key is lost or misplaced. It’s even worse when you lose your keys miles from home. To prevent this road trip mistake, consider having an extra car key.

Entrust this extra key to your travel companion. If you’re traveling alone, store your spare key discreetly stored somewhere. This way, you don’t have to stress out when you lose your primary key. Also, this approach saves you valuable time and money that would otherwise be spent on replacing a costly, vehicle-specific key.

14. Starting Our Road Trip At The Wrong Time

Leaving at the wrong time is one of the common road trip mistakes as it can turn your road trip into an unexpected traffic nightmare. In the past, leaving work early on a Friday was a popular strategy to get a head start on the journey and avoid the congestion typical of weekends. However, the traffic dynamics changed. In some places, Friday traffic rivals that of Saturday and Sunday.

Plan your route strategically before hitting the road. Utilize map apps such as Google Maps or Waze, even in areas you may be familiar with, to receive real-time traffic updates and optimize your route. This proactive approach helps you avoid busy cities during peak times, ensuring a smoother and enjoyable road trip experience.

15. Neglecting Or Overlooking Insurance

Overlooking travel insurance is among the most significant common road trip mistakes you can make on a road trip or any travel endeavor.

While health insurance provides sufficient coverage, not all policies extend the same benefits when you’re away from home. This is the concept of “out-of-network” coverage.

Check with your insurance company to verify the extent of your out-of-area coverage. Purchasing a travel insurance policy is valuable in filling the gaps where your regular insurance may fall short. These policies often offer additional benefits, such as emergency evacuation and life-flight services.

Investing in travel insurance is a small price for the added peace of mind and security.

Photo Credit: Leah Kelley

Wilfred Nkhwazi
Wilfred Nkhwazi
🚗 About Wilfred Nkhwazi - Founder of Flagship Drive 🌍 Meet Wilfred Nkhwazi, an automotive writer, and explorer of the open road. 📚 With more than five years of experience in the world of automotive writing, he's the visionary behind Flagship Drive. As a seasoned writer, he brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to Flagship Drive, providing readers with the latest news, reviews, and trends in the automotive world. Wilfred has a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the technology and engineering behind cars, making him the go-to expert for all things automotive. When he isn't behind the wheel, you can find him exploring the latest automotive innovations or attending industry events. He is also the curator of, where he dissects the finest details of automobiles.


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