The Top 12 Road Trip Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

From skipping the pre-trip car maintenance to not checking the traffic on your route, these 10 road trip mistakes to avoid can turn your road trip upside-down.
Written by Michelle Ballestrasse
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
From skipping the pre-trip car maintenance to not checking the traffic on your route, common road trip mistakes can turn a fun adventure into a headache—quickly.
A successful road trip means more than jumping in your car and taking off into the sunset. Without the right preparation, road trips can be boring, stressful, or downright awful.
And one of the best ways to prepare for your trip is to make sure your insurance has you covered—for
, inclement weather, and everything in between.
If you’re looking to boost your spending power on the road, switching to a
cheaper insurance
company and policy can certainly help!
is on hand 24/7 to help you find complete coverage for any mishap on the road, at a price that won’t eat into your souvenir funds.
Here are 12 road trip mistakes to avoid.
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1. Skipping the pre-trip maintenance

Even if it’s only been a month since your last oil change, take your car in to get it fully serviced.
Nothing quite dampens the spirit of a road trip than winding up on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. This is especially true if the cause of the breakdown is something that basic maintenance could’ve caught before you left—or prevented entirely.
Have your mechanic:
  • Top up all your fluids
  • Fill your tires and check their tread
  • Check your brakes and brake pads
  • Check your timing belts
  • Check all your signal lights for dead bulbs
  • Test your battery
These are all simple, inexpensive fixes that can help prevent costly catastrophes. Don’t let a sudden breakdown and the subsequent repairs drain your trip funds.
But even if you suffer a breakdown on the road that maintenance didn’t catch,
mechanical breakdown insurance
can help cover some of the costs that your standard car insurance won’t.
Key Takeaway Even if your car was recently in the shop, have a mechanic conduct a thorough check before you set off on your trip.

2. Forgetting to download your maps and entertainment

GPS and streaming services are luxuries many of us are starting to take for granted.
But WiFi and/or cell service isn’t always available everywhere you go—so if you hit a dead zone, you won’t have any maps to consult and your passengers won’t have anything to watch or read.
So before you even begin packing, download maps for your destination and the cities and towns where you’re planning to stop. That way, they’re on hand no matter where you end up along the way.
Download entertainment like music, movies, or e-books on a separate device than the one you’ll be using for navigation. If you’re only using one device for the whole trip, prioritize your maps. Storage can sometimes be an issue, and it’s better to have your navigation tools available than a movie.

3. Not getting the house in order

Don’t get so caught up in getting your car ready that you forget the home you’re leaving behind.
Life around your home will continue as usual while you’re away, so be sure that you’ve prepared it for your absence.
Make sure you have a trusted friend or neighbor on hand to take in your mail and any packages you might be getting delivered. Thieves often see excessive mail as a sign that the house is empty.
Identity thieves can also snag compromising data from your mail, particularly bills and credit card statements.
Double-check that all doors and windows are locked. This may seem like a no-brainer, but even the best of us miss a point of entry that a would-be thief won’t. It’s also wise to invest in a couple of security cameras that stream to your phone or tablet—especially ones that alert you if there’s movement detected in the house.
Power down and unplug all appliances except for your fridge. This can help save money on your electric bill and mitigate the possibility of an electrical shortage that can lead to a fire.
Bundle your
car and home insurance
to save money and give you added peace of mind. These preparations don’t guarantee that your home won’t be damaged or broken into, and home insurance can protect your assets in case something goes wrong while you’re away.
Key Takeaway Preparing your home for a road trip is just as important as preparing your car.
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4. Skipping out on snacks

It’s easy to think that a gas station is right around the corner to grab snacks from, but stations are fewer and farther between in rural areas. Not only that, but most gas store options tend to be more sugary, less filling, and low on the health scale.
Pack water and snacks in a cooler to have on hand whenever you need them.

5. Not taking breaks

Staying alert while driving is key to a safe journey. Energy drinks aren’t always going to cut it, and fatigue can be debilitating and downright dangerous.
Long periods of uninterrupted driving can lead to lethargy and distraction. Schedule driving breaks along your route as often as is reasonable.
If you’re feeling tired or easily distracted while driving, stop. Pull off the highway and take a nap if you can. Highway patrol discourages stopping on the shoulder for long periods due to the risk of being hit by the passing traffic, so find a rest stop, motel, or another safe place to sleep.
If you’re not tired, but find yourself getting restless or easily distracted, stop somewhere you can get out of the car safely. Take a moment to stretch your legs and clear your mind. A break from driving can help you regain your focus.
Key Takeaway Lethargy and distraction are extremely dangerous when combined with driving. Stop safely when and where you can to deal with fatigue or lack of focus.

6. Overplanning the route

You may be a Type A who has to have every minute of the trip planned to the smallest detail. But not leaving enough time to improvise or check out destinations you hadn’t heard of or thought about is a disservice. Improvisation can lead you to some hidden gems!
While there’s nothing wrong with tourist attractions, they’re usually crowded, more costly to visit, and don’t offer much insight into the culture and history of the area beyond a very specific lens.
You don’t necessarily have to hit up
the scariest roads in America
, but don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. Talk to locals who know more about their hometown’s hidden gems and discover something new and exciting that you would’ve missed by sticking to tourist traps.

7. Not checking traffic conditions

Road and traffic conditions can vary wildly depending on where you are at what time of day.
More densely populated areas and their surroundings mean more traffic during rush hour. Roads with fewer lanes can also mean more traffic if there are accidents or obstructions.
As a general rule, avoid dense urban/suburban areas during typical rush hour. Try to schedule your route so that you pass through these areas during periods of reduced traffic, such as midday or late evening.
Other road conditions are far less predictable, like construction or road closures. Check ahead for scheduled road work along your route (and any detours you can take to pass it). Nothing quite dampens the spirit like planning on taking a drive down California’s famous Highway 1 only to discover that it’s closed near Big Sur.
Key Takeaway Traffic conditions are usually predictable in urban/suburban areas, but check your route in advance for planned maintenance or construction that could impede your way.

8. Forgoing an emergency fund

Even if the car is well-maintained and you’re fully prepared,
unexpected expenses
can crop up at any time.
Whether it’s emergency maintenance, an unplanned hotel stay due to fatigue, or an unexpected medical emergency, make sure you have some extra cash allocated for unforeseen events.
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9. Overpacking

When it comes to road trips, less is more. Having more than you need can affect more than just your available space.
Overpacking your car has two particularly unpleasant side effects.
First, the excessive load weight can negatively impact your car’s fuel economy. You’ll be paying for the extra stuff with more frequent gas stops, which can add up.
Second, having a full car makes your vehicle tempting to thieves. Leaving your car unattended in a parking lot or garage can make it vulnerable to thieves—leaving you with less stuff and fewer windows.
Before you start packing, make a list of absolute essentials and limit what else you bring. Instead of packing for every day of the trip, pack your favorite clothes and schedule in a few stops at the laundromat. Your passenger-side window and your fuel tank will thank you!

10. Being unprepared for basic maintenance

Even if you remembered to take your car in for basic maintenance before you left, there’s no guarantee that nothing will go mechanically wrong on the road. Flat tires and batteries are the most common unforeseen grievances.
If you don’t know how to fix them yourself, you’ll be shelling out extra money to someone who can.
Tows can be expensive and repairs, costly, but if you wind up on the side of the road with a flat, knowing how to take care of it yourself can save you time and money. But make sure you’re prepared for such an emergency.

Learn how to change a tire

If you don’t already know how to change a tire, now’s a great time to learn! There are plenty of resources online that can guide you through the process, or you can ask a mechanic to show you. Then, make sure you have all the tools you’ll need on hand:
  • A working jack
  • A lug wrench (preferably a four-way cross wrench)
  • A spare tire with good pressure
Even if your tire is low rather than flat, it’s still fairly hazardous to drive on and can damage your tire’s rim. Pick up a small air pump that runs off of your battery to fill any tire that’s registering below its recommended PSI.

Know how to jump a dead battery

Mixing up your positive and negative connectors can have catastrophic consequences. Make sure you have working jumper cables on hand in case you need them.
You may not always find another driver able or willing to provide the battery to jump yours. Consider a portable car battery charger. Charge it before you put it in your car—it can take up to 24 hours to fully charge, but the charge can last for years. With these preparations, you should be ready to
jump your battery
back to life.
Key Takeaway Knowing how to do basic repairs yourself can save you time and money. Learning how to change a flat, fill a low tire, and jump a flat battery will save you a headache and more.

11. Not being prepared for an emergency

It’s impossible to predict an emergency, but it’s not impossible to prepare for one. An emergency can be a catastrophic breakdown in an area with no nearby populus, a sudden heavy storm, or other inclement weather disasters, to name a few.
Here’s what you should have in an emergency kit:
  • Spare charger for your phone (consider a portable charger)
  • Flashlight with spare batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Bottled water and non-perishable food items
In addition, have your pertinent medical information on hand, including allergies, medications, and blood type, and emergency contact numbers.
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12. Not having adequate car insurance coverage

Even the best preparations, a carefully planned route, and a fully stocked cooler can’t protect you or your car in an accident. Whether it’s a multi-car collision or an unexpected hailstorm, you aren’t fully prepared for a road trip if you aren’t fully prepared for an accident.
Having adequate insurance, with
liability, collision, and comprehensive coverage
is an investment that can protect you and your car from the often staggering costs of accidents.
No matter what you need or what you can afford,
is right there in your pocket to find you the best rates and coverage. So when you hit the road, you can rest easy knowing that Jerry has found the right company to cover you—even after you get back home.
"I recently inquired about this new insurance service, Jerry. I’ve received phenomenal service. They helped switch me to a new nationally known provider with all my same coverage and saved me $159 a month. I’m very impressed and able to save money for my next vacation. It’s a win for me!" —Jerry user


What do I need to know before going on a road trip?

Before you head out, take note of the following:
  • The best routes to take
  • The location of rest stops, hotels, and gas stations (and their hours)
  • Any planned construction on the roads
  • Potential shortcuts
  • Things to stop and see along the way
It’s also a good idea to see if your car insurance provider offers mechanical breakdown insurance to cover any mechanical problems that may arise.
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