The 7 Biggest Road Trip Mistakes to Avoid

Flat tire, empty tank, lack of plan, wrong travel companion – road trip mistakes seem to grow proportionally to your escapades.

The 7 Biggest Road Trip Mistakes to Avoid

I’d like to say that I heard many stories about the road trips that went bad due to some common mistakes. To continue, this road trip mistakes taught me to be more alert. They were the best guides of what not to do when on the road.

In reality, tough, none of these happened. We road-tripped a lot, but never bothered to check for the potential road trip mistakes to avoid. There was no need for it. Whether we traveled in California, explored the Oregon Coast, or tested the roads of Arizona, there were hardly any inconveniences for us.

But then on our latest road trip to Sequoia and King Canyon National Park everything went wrong. In one day we were forced to face all possible road trip mistakes we had been ignorant to before. I guess, Weston H. Agor was right when he said, “Making mistakes simply means you are learning faster.” I don’t know if he meant the road trip mistakes, but we certainly learned a lot and in a speedy manner. Using all those experiences, we have compiled a list of the most common road trip mistakes to avoid.


Mistake #1: Forgetting to Check Your Spare Tire before the Road Trip

Assuming that your car just went a thorough inspection, it can still be the biggest culprit of your unsuccessful road trip. While you might not have a worry about other parts of the car, the tires are not exempt of random nails, peaces of glass, and sharp rocks anywhere on the road. Thus, to avoid one of the biggest road trip mistakes ever, be sure to have a spare tire. Go a step further and learn how to change it yourself. Waiting for help somewhere in isolated area rubs you of precious time, you otherwise can use to enjoy the road trip.

You don’t need to worry about rented cars as they usually have the spare tires. Be sure, though, to locate the spares before leaving the rental office. In some cars, the tires are stowed underneath the vehicle and need cable winches to retrieve them. Spend a few extra minutes to learn how to do it while there are still people there to assist you. Being stuck on the road with no service is definitely not the best place to do it.

Road Trip Mistakes - Roads and Destinations
Road Trip Mistakes: Never leave for a road trip without a spare tire

Mistake #2: Relying on Online Maps

Online maps are great: they are easy to navigate, convenient, give you the best routes… and not always work. You’ll hardly have any problems with Google or Apple Maps on your phone in a city. The road trips – especially if you want to avoid all-too-common road trip mistakes, – however, require different kinds of navigation. Thus, be sure to get hard copy maps.

Not a map person? Avoid the most common road trip mistakes with offline maps downloaded on your mobile device. These maps help you with the directions in certain areas where the Internet connection is slow or absent. On the downside, you won’t be able to access any alternative routes, bicycling and walking directions. Additionally, the downloaded maps take up storage space on your phone. Nevertheless, you can always delete them after the trip.

Road Trip Mistakes - Roads and Destinations
Road Trip Mistakes: Be sure to have the hard copy maps

Mistake #3: Not Checking Conditions of the Roads

To fully comprehend disappointment caused by the road trip mistakes, let me give a situation. Imagine you’ve been driving on a winding dirt road for a while, succumbing to all the bumps and risking to get dizzy. You didn’t expect this national park to be so deserted and untamed. One thing that keeps you moving forward is stunning waterfall you’ve been longing to see for so long. Your excitement grows as the offline map slowly decreases the number of minutes until you reach your destination. The waterfall is only 15 minutes away. One more winding turn, and you see… no, not the beautiful natural site, but a boom barrier with the sign Road is closed.

The road closures belong to the group of the least expected road trip mistakes. While the travelers take extra time to check the road conditions in winter, they often assume that the majority of the routes are open in summer. Sadly, it’s not always true. Even though the roads are free from snow and ice in the warmer seasons, there are still road constructions and fires you have to account for. So try to avoid these time-consuming road trip mistakes by checking the current road statuses in advance.

Essentials to Pack for Alaska Road Trip - Roads and Destinations -
Road Trip Mistakes: Avoid detours due to the road closures 

Mistake #4: Not Having Room in Your Road Trip Itinerary for Unplanned Stops

After a fair amount of the road trips and ample road trip mistakes, I urge you to have a detailed itinerary. Don’t let endless distractions keep you away from your dream destinations. Nevertheless, if something such as stunning views or glittering water of a lake catch your attention, stop and check them out. Don’t wait until you drive back to see these beautiful spots. You might use a different road to get back to the place where you’re staying after all. Being too tired to get out of the car later in the day is not an excuse either. All it does is adding the new regretful mistakes to your road trip.

Hume Lake - Roads and Destinations,
Road Trip Mistakes: Leave room in your itinerary for the unplanned scenic views

Mistake #5: Waiting Long to Refuel the Car

We made one of our first biggest road trip mistakes on our way to Grand Canyon National Park. Those who drove that road know that the area is very deserted. Apart from Joshua trees and reddish hills and rocks, you barely see any towns. Gas stations also don’t spoil you with their frequent presences.

And yet, despite common sense to stop and fill up our vehicle, we chose to drive a bit farther. Luckily, we had enough gas to get to the park. To be able to drive back to Kingman, where we were staying, though, we had to use services of the local “gas station”. Located just a few miles away from the Grand Canyon, the place was accommodating such unprepared road-trippers like us. You could buy only 5 gallons of gas, which was enough to get to the nearest gas station. The fuel, however, was three times more expensive than elsewhere in the area.

Road Trip Mistakes - Roads and
Road Trip Mistakes: Don’t wait long to fill up the car tank

Mistake #6: Not Drinking Enough Water when on a Road Trip

Hydration is an essential component of everyday life. Drinking enough water is especially important when sitting in the car for many hours in a row. Still, many travelers, including me, keep forgetting it, adding a new problem to their road trip mistakes. It’s true that drinking a lot of water means more bathroom breaks. On the other hand, dehydration pared with the winding roads can make you feel fatigue and even dizzy. It’s certainly one of the conditions and mistakes you want to avoid when on the road trip.

Road Trip Mistakes - Roads and Destinations -
Road Trip Mistakes: Stay hydrated

Mistake #7: Not Packing Snacks for Your Road Trip

Not packing snacks was one of my most frequent road trip mistakes a few years ago. Aren’t there plenty of roadside restaurants and gas stations to grab some snacks or even lunches? The problem with these places, though, is that you’re forced to settle for often expensive and, frankly, not the best food options. I lost count of how many times during our road trips I had to stick to only rice and vegetables. Even in those situations, I could consider myself lucky, as not many roadside restaurants cater to vegans.

Nevertheless, these early mistakes taught me a great deal of what to pack for the road trip. Fresh fruits and vegetables (be sure to wash them before the trip), nuts, homemade sandwiches should definitely find room in the trunk of your car. If you plan to have a mini road trip feast, throw also a few dehydrated backpacking meals in your bag.

Lunch in Sequoia National Park - Roads and Destinations -
Road Trip Mistakes: Always pack your snacks

Road Trip Mistakes: Final Thoughts

It’s easy to get carried away with excitement about your upcoming road trip and forget about anything else. But taking time to check the conditions of your car, plan your itinerary, and  pack some road trip essentials has proven to reduce the amount of the most common road trip mistakes. Let’s enjoy our adventures, not endure them.

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