Common Road Trip Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

This list of some common road trip mistakes and how to avoid them came from our trials and errors on the road as well as conversations with other travelers. We hope they will save you time and money rather than you having to experience them for yourself. How many of them have you made?

Not packing enough food or drinks.

Uh, if you’re hangry, no one else is happy. If someone else is hangry, they’re no fun to be around. Do everyone a favor and pack a ton of snacks and drinks. Real food beats cheap sugar snacks that you buy just because you’re starving. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve failed to bring enough food on an adventure and then when I finally find a gas station I go in and buy all of the Combos, several Snickers bars, a chocolate covered granola bar and at least one Mountain Dew. Is that gross or awesome?

Erin McGrady eating in Colorado
Snack break in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Not having a plan.

Sometimes getting in the car and just setting out is exactly what you want and what you need. And then other times it’s exactly what leads to frustration and irritation. We’ve found that it’s best to have a general idea of where to point the car. It cuts down on gas consumption and lost time and reduces trip “fails.” You know what I mean, right? When you set out and then end up spinning your wheels so that at the end of the day you feel like you didn’t do or see anything cool. There’s enough stuff out there on the internet these days that with a little bit of research, you can put yourself on the good stuff without a lot of wasted effort.

Having too much of a plan.

Am I confusing you yet? I just told you to go ahead and come up with a plan and now I’m telling you that having too much of a plan is a common road trip mistake? We’ve found that by jam-packing our day and coming up with too much of a plan just leads to stress. It’s sort of self-defeating in a sense because we’re trying to have an adventure and yet too much of a plan brings that to a screeching halt. Balance, I guess, is what we’re trying to emphasize.

Not carrying a spare tire.

Do you actually know where your spare tire is? Better question is, do you even have a spare tire? And is it a doughnut or an actual regular-size tire? If you don’t know the answers, there’s no shame! But go looking for it AND the jack before you actually need either of them. And then either teach yourself or get someone to show you how to change it for yourself in a pinch.

middle of the road in Joshua Tree National Park
If you’re in the desert and have a problem, can you work your way out of it?

Relying on your cell phone for navigation.

It’s hard to believe that in 2018 there are places in the country where you do not have a cell phone signal. But there are numerous places out there that are worth going to that flat-out will not let you send or receive messages or calls not to mention use your GPS. Arm yourself with a compass, a good detailed map and/or atlas and slowly wean yourself off of digital directions. Who knows, you might actually really enjoy navigating without some annoying automated voice telling you when to turn.

Running out of fuel.

car on a dirt road near Yosemite National Park
Do you have enough gas to get where you’re going?


Uhhhh … it happens to the best of us. But nothing says buzz kill like watching the gas light come on and realizing the next fueling station is about 20 miles away. Does this mean carry spare gas with you all the time? Not necessarily. It just means having enough situational awareness to know when to top off your tank and when it’s safe to keep on truckin’. We tend to err on the more conservative side of things by refueling when sometimes we’ve still got 3/4 of a tank left. This was hard-won learning. When we first started traveling together, we had a number of close calls where we coasted on into the gas station on fumes and cuss words. I’d rather roll into town with the windows down and the music up but hey, gotta take a few lumps in the beginning, right? Right?

Neglecting vehicle maintenance.

Start by buying or traveling in a reliable vehicle. Do not go for vintage unless you know what the hell you’re doing. (More on that later, we’re just not ready to write about that yet – it’s too damn painful!) At the very least get regular oil changes. Tire rotations, changing the filters, tune ups, all of that stuff is money well spent. You know the old saying “an ounce of prevention…” We just recently purchased a Ram ProMaster and will be doing our very best to keep her in great working condition.

longhorn steer in a rearview mirror
Hindsight is always 20/20 …

Driving too much in a day.

Travel is supposed to be fun but beating the road for hours at a time can get even the best of us down. We’ve done long stretches of driving, but we find we’re happiest keeping the days behind the wheel short and sweet and spending the rest of our time exploring. Same goes for spending too much time together. Read our article on how to get alone time while traveling if you area craving a little bit of quiet.

Are you road trip ready? Come take our Quiz!

Road Trip Ready?! Take our Quiz!





Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

8 thoughts on “Common Road Trip Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

      1. Luckily no, and I’ve driven halfway across the country twice! (Although I was moving and my car was full; don’t know where I would’ve put a spare tire!) But I’ll definitely get one this summer.

      2. Glad to hear it! And so excited for your trip – it’ll be here before you know it! Do you have a route picked out? Currently writing from Flagstaff though we live in Asheville and have been exploring I-40.

      3. oh wow that’s going to be an incredible adventure. Haven’t been to LA in so long but Charleston is not too far from where I live and it’s a great city.

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