Before the pandemic, 1 in 4 Americans took a road trip every year, according to AAA. Now, everyone has a car…. and road trips are the new backpacking. In fact, road trips are a quintessential American pastime, known for self-discovery, nostalgia and immersing in beautiful parts of the country. If you’re planning a road trip, there are best practices to take, including things you should never do on a road trip.
Yes, that’s right. There are rules. Oh, how there are road trip rules you must follow! You don’t want to be a bad road tripper, but you also just don’t want to be a bad tourist (here are 7 of the worst tourist behavior revealed, which is a whole other thing!).
I’ve taken dozens of road trips, from California and Hawaii to Australia and Spain, so I know what works… and what doesn’t work. Follow these 10 commandments of road tripping, and I guarantee you’ll have a seamless journey. Here’s our essential guide to planning a road trip.
Planning a road trip? Rent with Thrifty. I found that they do offer the best rates nationwide.
10 Things You Should Never Do On A Road Trip!
1. Don’t pick the wrong travel buddy.
Picking the right travel partner will make all the difference.
Trust me: you don’t want to spend hours with a backseat driver, a loud singer, a constant nagger or a cheapskate. Having a road trip partner that is great with directions, enthusiastic and shares the same road-trip “vision” as you can make your trip more memorable—and bearable.
Also, remember: you’ll likely stay with your travel buddy at hotels, motels and Airbnbs! Think about who you can spend days to weeks with (without losing your mind). If you’re checking into a hotel, your chances of being upgraded to a suite with a friend is extremely high (I wrote about the one trick that will almost always get you upgraded to a suite when traveling with a friend), so be prepared to spend a lot of time with them!
2. Don’t underestimate your budget.
Discuss your budget *before* you hit the road. You don’t want to be stuck with a traveler who A) has a budget to something ridiculous like $5 a day or B) wants to splurge on five-star hotels and Michelin restaurants the entire way (which would be great if they pay for you!).
Obviously, everything should be discussed before you depart—nothing is worse than arguing over money the entire trip—but, more importantly, make room for unanticipated expenses like an oil change, roadside attractions, tolls, tickets, entrance fees and other surprises.
3. Don’t rent or drive a terrible car.
Some road trippers believe their hatchbacks make the perfect vehicle to drive cross-country. It’s not. In fact, a bad road-trip car is a thing.
When I rent a car, I check the mileage and condition. If you’re driving your own car, make sure you take it in for a check-up before you trek the back country. You don’t want your vehicle breaking down in a place there’s no cell service.
Also, with the popularity of social media, you may want to rent a car that will turn heads, like this Bentley we rented for my birthday road trip.
4. Don’t put your feet on the dashboard.
If I’m the driver, I get nervous when my travel partner kicks their feet up on the dashboard. Keep your feet on the floor because it’s good manners, but more importantly, it’s a lot safer.
In the event of a collision, an airbag can deploy at up to 220 m/h and deliver a force of more than 880 pounds to a front-seat passenger. Feet on the dash results in knees being slammed into the chest or face (This poor passenger learned first-hand). Please allow this to be a lesson: Safety first!
5. Don’t spend hours on a playlist.
You love techno, your travel buddy prefers disco, but at the end of the day, a good road-trip playlist is essential.
If you’re putting the playlist together, think about what your travel buddy would like to hear, and add them, or go somewhere in the middle and play classics that everyone loves. Fortunately, for anyone who travels with me, I’m pretty chill with music (as long as it’s not hardcore anything: hardcore rap, hardcore country, hardcore techno, hardcore easy listening!)
Another idea: Ditch the playlist and tune in to the radio. Radio stations are just as nostalgic as actual road trips and often considered part of the journey as they introduce road trippers to regional DJs and fun local advertisements.
6. Don’t rely on one GPS.
Many iPhone and Android navigation apps are available to download, and we learned from a recent road trip to use them all.
Waze is great for the fastest route (it computes the best route based on traffic). Google Maps is perfect for indicating national parks and other places of interest. We thought using both GPS apps to compare was ideal, and if you’re planning a road trip, it’s one of our best tips.
7. Don’t drive familiar roads.
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost famously wrote this line in his poem, The Road Not Taken, and it applies to road trips.
Going off the beaten path can not only often save you travel time but back roads are fun and exciting and frequently harbor scenic routes. The other road could even end up being the highlight of your trip.
On a recent journey through the southwest, we initially mapped out the iconic Route 66 from Santa Fe to Phoenix but decided to drive 377 and Hashknife Pony Express through Payson, about the same distance but definitely off the grid. It was worth it. The landscape was green and verdant, barren and mysterious, with hills and windy roads that hugged the hills in Tanto National Forest. We have absolutely no regrets.
8. Don’t assume on-time arrivals.
The GPS may predict you’ll arrive to your destination in two hours but the roadside accident, inclement weather, stadium traffic and other unforeseen snags may have other plans.
On a recent trip through New Mexico, a major accident backed up our two-lane highway for almost two miles, and we lost a significant amount of time we had designated for the hotel pool before sunset. We ended up missing dinner, too, and it wasn’t the only time we arrived at our destination past schedule.
Learning from our lessons, we left an hour early every day for the last leg of our trip and, in actuality, it got us to the destination at the time we originally planned.
9. Don’t supersize it.
Vacationers are known to gain weight on a cruise ship, but road trippers may even have it worse. Healthy food options are rare on the road, and you’re literally sitting most of the day. I gained four pounds on an eight-day road trip, and it could have easily been avoided had I packed healthier snacks than Pringles and Twix and also avoided justifying fast-food drive-thrus as convenient (but, honestly, it was worth it!).
At the end of the day, I was too tired to hit the hotel gym and made excuses that I would exercise when returning home. Lesson to learn: Be mindful on the road! Knowing what’s best to put in your body is essential if you’re planning a road trip.
BTW: Amazon has all these cool road trip essentials! Check them out, some are hilarious, some are actually pretty necessary.
10. Explore cool boutique hotels rather than roadside motels.
Cheap motels have come a long way, but they take all the fun out of staying at cool hotels along your route. Why not splurge a bit? Some hotels in road-trippy destinations are not that much more costly (when splitting with road trip buddies) and can offer value-added amenities you’ll appreciate when you arrive, like complimentary breakfast, a nice pool, fitness centers and comfy mattresses.
Are you planning a road trip? Let us know in the comments below!
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