12 Totally Avoidable Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Next Road Trip

Road trips are more popular than ever but make sure you avoid these mistakes to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch.
Last updated May 25, 2023 | By Kate Daugherty Edited By Rebecca McCracken
an older couple in a car, smiling

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Whether you’re traveling with family, friends, or even going solo, road trips are a beloved tradition for many. While it’s easy to think you can just hop into the car and drive, planning can help you avoid some serious mistakes.

Using the following list to help you prepare for your trip can reduce the hassle and help keep your road trip an argument-free zone. Keep reading below for tips that will help you take your dream trip.

Not putting an alert on your bank/credit cards

twinsterphoto/Adobe woman on vacation at ATM

Nothing can cause panic like having your credit card declined. Save yourself the trouble by calling your bank and credit card companies before you leave to let them know you’ll be traveling and making purchases in different locations.

Doing this can also help you prevent credit card fraud if your card information gets compromised, since the bank will have a rough idea of where you’re supposed to be and flag any suspicious transactions.

If you’re looking for a travel card that gives you plenty of rewards at gas stations and restaurants, check out this list of the best travel credit cards to help you decide.

Not bringing cash

Talulla/Adobe A pile of loose change

Many of us have stopped carrying cash because it feels safer to use credit, but remember that not every place takes credit cards, especially if you’re going to a national park or stopping at an independently owned gas station. While you don’t need to pay cash for your hotel stays or every single purchase, it is a good idea to bring part of your trip budget in cash so you have options available if needed.

Carrying cash can also help you stick to your trip budget. Splitting your cash along the entire trip might help you curb your impulse purchases, and since you might not find an ATM in some areas (or else, find one that charges a substantial fee), it could make you think twice before you spend.

Not planning for breakdowns

Idanupong/Adobe Family in car by the side of the road, father changing tire
Flat tires happen at the most inconvenient time, and usually when you’re in the middle of nowhere. To be ready for any minor repairs, keep a small bag of tools, jumper cables, and a spare tire and tire jack in your car at all times.

For problems you can’t handle yourself, add the number for roadside assistance to your phone contacts, or download a roadside rescue app before you leave so you always have help available.

Consider using one of these services:

  • AAA: 1-800-AAA-HELP or 1-800-222-4357)
  • Good Hands Rescue Network is a pay-per-use app run through Allstate insurance and available to everyone, not just Allstate customers. The app will connect you to a local network of tow trucks or mechanics.
  • HONK is an app that can help you with a flat tire, a lockout, or even pull you out of a ditch. They will provide a quote based on the service you select and other factors like your current location so that you know the price before a repairman arrives.

You may even have roadside coverage through your car insurance or cell phone carrier, so be sure to research and confirm before you leave home.

Not doing preventative maintenance on your car

Malsveta/Adobe Broken-down car being pushed by two women, steered by man

The best way to reduce your need for potential roadside assistance is to do preventative maintenance on your car before you leave home. Ask your mechanic to inspect all fluid levels, belts and hoses, the battery, and your brakes, as well as check your tires and fill your spare.

Be sure to mention if you’re planning to drive in high altitudes or off-road so they can make appropriate recommendations.

Not bringing snacks

AntonioDiaz/Adobe Couple sitting in back of hatchback, eating sandwiches

One of the best parts of road trips are the snacks. Not only do you get to indulge in some of your favorite treats, but keeping everyone in the car from getting hangry is essential to keeping the peace on the open road.

While it’s fun to pick up a few indulgences or local treats as you travel, it’s also a good idea to put a cooler in your backseat filled with vegetables, fruit, sandwich fixings, and drinks. That way, you don’t have to stop every time someone needs a pick-me-up, and it will help you save extra cash on your road trip.

Not bringing an old-school map

magdal3na/Adobe Couple in car, passenger holding a map, feet on dashboard

Paper maps might feel like relics of the past, but it's no joke when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with a dead phone and no way to get back to civilization. Keep a couple of paper maps in the glove box, especially if you’re going to remote areas or planning to hike or backpack as part of your trip.

Forgetting car chargers or adapters for your phone

NMANEER/Adobe Picture of a charging smart phone and sunglasses on car seats

You can download maps to your phone for offline use, but they will do you no good if the phone battery dies and you don’t have a way to recharge it. Make sure you have needed chargers, cables, or spare batteries for all of your devices so that you don’t head out with no way to recharge your phone.

Not preparing for extreme weather

kichigin19/Adobe view of the seasonal weather a dangerous road,

You might leave home under sunny skies, but there’s no telling what type of weather you’ll encounter on the road. Prepare for anything that Mother Nature throws at you by packing clothes that are easily layered, and make sure that you have solid footwear, especially if you’re doing anything outdoors.

Consider keeping a basic survival kit in the car consisting of a first aid kit, blankets, water, and non-perishable food, as well as some season or region-specific items like rain jackets or a snow shovel. Make sure you have items that will allow you to be pretty comfortable if you get stranded for a couple of days before help arrives.

Not coordinating playlists

Adobe Girls having a great time on road trip

Fights have broken out and friendships lost over who gets to control the music during a road trip.

Instead of arguing over who controls the speakers, develop a system to take turns playing everyone’s favorite for an hour, or establish that the driver picks the music or podcasts, but the person sitting shotgun acts as DJ.

Not bringing needed medication

svetlichniy_igor/Adobe Dose pill box with medical pills on pink background

One of the most cringe-worthy moments of any trip is realizing you forgot something essential and hard to replace, like your prescriptions medications. Pack enough for the length of your trip, plus some extra, in case you get delayed.

WebMD recommends taking enough medication for two extra weeks, so talk to your pharmacy about getting extra doses or look into a 90-day supply to make sure you’re covered.

Putting your travel plans on social media

Drobot Dean/Adobe Group of happy young friends taking a selfie

While it's tempting to share every part of your adventure on social media, be wary of posting exact details of where you are or how long you’ll be gone to your various social media accounts.

Cyber-savvy criminals can use the photos and details you post online to track your location, and posting photos of your trip can also tell them where you aren’t — at home. Thieves can use your social media feed to scout out the best time to plan a break-in, so be conscious of what you post online and how much information you include.

Not asking locals for their recommendations

luckybusiness/Adobe group of people eating in front of food truck

The country is full of exciting places to visit and people to meet. Make sure that along the way, you’re chatting with the people you meet and asking them for recommendations to local restaurants and fun activities.

Do so safely, of course, and be mindful of tip number eleven, but stopping for lunch at a local-recommended diner or visiting the World’s Largest Ball of Paint might just be the highlight of your trip.

Bottom line

Alessandro Biascioli/Adobe an older couple in a car, smiling

Road trips can be a great way to unplug and reconnect. Use these tips as a place to start developing a list of essentials and plan your next adventure. Remember to avoid these common mistakes, but when problems arise, as they inevitably will, stay calm and remind yourself that it’s all part of the journey. Happy traveling.

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Kate Daugherty Kate Daugherty is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in personal finance, grant writing, and senior health.