7 Common Mistakes When Taking a Road Trip

Women using phone to navigate while driving
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Before you head off on a major road trip, there are several pre-trip preparations that need to be completed, such as changing your oil, getting fluids checked, looking over the tires, and inspecting the transmission. But what about things to keep in mind after you set off and you're already on the trip?

Keeping some common road trip mistakes in mind and knowing how to get out of them can help you save time and money during your adventure. Not only that, but they can also keep you safe. While they may seem like common sense tips, these mistakes are frequently perpetrated by travelers who end up regretting them later. Don't fall into the same trap and keep all of these pointers in mind on your next expedition.

01 of 07

Not Knowing When to Ditch the Car

Couple next to convertible on side of desert road

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It might seem strange to issue a road trip suggestion to "ditch the car," but some people become so attached to their vehicles that they fail to take advantage of great budget travel opportunities.

For example, if you're traveling to New York, it might pay to park your car near the station for the Staten Island Ferry and take the picturesque ride to the tip of Manhattan. From there, you can connect to the subway and explore all the city sights and sounds. Doing that will relieve you of parking problems and paying the sky-high gasoline prices typically found near downtown areas.

At the other end of the population spectrum, there are places such as Zion National Park where you can park and ride an efficient bus system to various attractions. This cuts out parking problems, unnecessary air pollution, and overall congestion during peak summer times.

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02 of 07

Ignoring the Road Ahead

View from above of a traffic jam.

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Some routes are plagued by delays. Maybe a major bridge is being reconstructed or severe weather has prompted detours. Whatever the reason, even though road trips are about spending time in the car, no one wants to spend time needlessly sitting in traffic.

These delays often can be detected and avoided, but relatively few travelers bother to do so. Consult the ​​Department of Transportation website for each state, which offers you current information and even camera shots of traffic conditions on the major roads. At the very least, make sure you have navigation mobile apps downloaded on your phone to guide and alert you to upcoming traffic conditions. Many of them give you updated information for current road conditions and can reroute your journey in the moment if something arises.

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03 of 07

Shopping for Cheap Gas the Wrong Way

Person fueling up the vehicle at the gas station.

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You might expect that only the cheapest gasoline is advisable as your road trip unfolds, but not at the expense of traveling far out of the way just to save a few cents per gallon. The gas you'll spend to get there plus the time out of your trip will quickly eat up any savings. And if you're running low on fuel, don't overestimate how far you can go. It's better to get at least some gas at a more expensive station rather than running out when you're in the middle of nowhere.

It certainly pays to know where the best chances for a cheap tank can be found. If you're traveling from a relatively low-tax state to a high-tax state, fill up on the appropriate side of the state line.

It's easy to find state gasoline tax rates. Try the GasBuddy app to help identify the cheaper gas stops along your route so you can make an informed decision.

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04 of 07

Making Your Vehicle a Target for Thieves

A car with a fully packed trunk full of suitcases.

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If you've seen the quintessential road trip movie "​​National Lampoon's Vacation," you'll remember when Clark Griswold decided to drive his family from Chicago to Walley World across the country; the family car was piled high with suitcases and anyone could spot the occupants as out-of-towners by the appearance of the station wagon.

Hopefully, you aren't quite so obvious as the Griswolds, but you should still try to eliminate any telltale signs that you're from out of town, which can make your vehicle a target for potential thieves. Don't leave maps, valuables, or luggage plainly visible in the car. Keep suitcases in the trunk if you have one, or if it's a hatchback, be sure to cover them with something.

Keep your most important valuables on you when you leave the car, and consider parking in guarded places for an extra layer of protection. When you have luggage in the vehicle, it may be worth paying a little more for a parking lot with security guards.

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05 of 07

Missing the Scenic Routes

Couple enjoying overland adventure, looking at remote mountain view next to SUV, Alberta, Canada

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While no one wants to spend unnecessary time in the car, a road trip is generally about the journey, not getting to your destination. Avoid traffic and delays, but don't skip out on scenic routes when they're available. A slower ride through the mountains or winding by the coast is infinitely more enjoyable than just cruising down the interstate.

It isn't always easy knowing where the scenic route is since most navigation apps and GPS systems automatically route you on the fastest trajectory. Luckily, there are apps you can use which help you to find fun detours, quirky attractions, and routes that you would otherwise miss.

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06 of 07

Driving Too Far in One Day

Side view of young man with eyeglasses sitting inside of his car and yawning.

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Even though it's possible to drive for eight hours and hundreds of miles in one day, that's not a reasonable expectation to maintain when you're on a multi-day road trip. Spending all day on the road—especially if you're the driver—is exhausting, and you're sure to arrive at your destination tired and irritable.

A realistic distance to cover in a day is 250 miles, or about three to four hours of driving. That way you're still covering a significant stretch of the trip, but without overexerting yourself. Plus, that gives you plenty of time to see the city you're stopped in before heading off to the next stop.

There are safety factors to consider as well. Hours of nonstop driving can dull your senses and make you more vulnerable to accidents. There are times when a long day of travel is necessary, but be certain those days are few and well-spaced on your next road trip itinerary.

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07 of 07

Ignoring Parking Costs

Person inserting a ticket into a meter to pay for parking.

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Parking costs are more than just an annoyance—they can alter the budget on many trips, especially those to larger cities. It's not unusual to spend $50 per night or more to park in the middle of a city such as Chicago or New York City. Finding cheap alternatives to such outrageous prices might not be easy after arrival.

If you're heading into a major urban area, look into parking before you arrive. Many big cities have their own parking websites or apps where you can see local laws, reserve a spot in a public lot, or even top off your meter while you're out sightseeing. Other apps show private and public parking options for various cities, such as ParkWhizParkingPanda, and Parker. If you can find city parking garages, these typically have better deals than private lots. Just be sure to check the hours, since many of them close at night and your vehicle will be inaccessible.