Road Trip Do’s and Don’ts

March 18, 2024

Road trips are as hit or miss as it gets. That’s why experts say they either make or break relationships. When done right, they’re the stuff Hallmark movies are made of. But when things go awry, it can feel like you’re living in a horror film. While there’s no set script you can follow to ensure you’ll have a foolproof road trip – and you certainly can’t cast A-list actors as your partner or kids – there are easy and affordable ways you can avoid common pitfalls. So, whether your next road trip is a simple three-day weekend to catch April’s total solar eclipse, or a coast-to-coast adventure cutting through 15 states, keep reading. Below are eight things you should do, and more importantly, eight things you shouldn’t do. Think road warrior, not road worrier.

Taking a Road Trip? Keep These Road Trip Do’s and Don’ts in Mind

A group of friends on a road trip snack on chips.

1. Do: Pack snacks

Everyone has seen those Snickers commercials that accurately depict what happens to humans when their blood sugar is low. Emotions are even more heightened when you’re confined to a car or RV. Because it may be a while in between stops, it’s important to pack snacks to prevent anyone from becoming the worst version of themselves: hangry.

Don’t: Pack Snacks That Give You Tummy Trouble

Gas should be in your fuel tank, not your tummy. Whether you smelt it or dealt it, it’s never fun, especially in tight spaces. See here for a list of foods and ingredients that gastroenterologists wouldn’t recommend for road trips. Side note: if anyone in your vehicle is prone to motion sickness, make sure they have a window seat.

2. Do: Be Courteous to Other Drivers, Including Those in the Backseat

No one has ever walked away from a case of road rage a winner. While it can be frustrating when someone cuts you off or is driving below the speed limit, it’s in your best interest to be understanding and patient. (Of course if another driver is a hazard to you or themselves, call 911.) Try not to yell at your backseat drivers, either. Calmly tell them they’re driving you nuts, and if that doesn’t stop their annoying behavior, pull over.

Don’t: Be So Nice That You Pick Up Hitchhikers if it Doesn’t Feel Right

While it may be OK to pick up hitchhikers in certain areas, i.e. where there are a lot of thru hikers, the general rule of thumb is it’s not a good idea to invite strangers, even those with cute dogs, into your car.

Wooden signs posted in a highway rest stop park pointing the way to restrooms and vending machines.

3. Do: Download the Flush Toilet Finder & Map App

Whether you drive with a Big Gulp in your cup holder or you can go for hours without taking a sip, eventually you’re going to need to take a leak. Thousands of travelers swear by this free handy app which shows you where the nearest public bathroom is. It even rates them! There are more than 200,000 restrooms in its database.

Don’t: Pass Up Any Opportunity to Use the Toilet

Kids are notorious for saying they don’t have to go, and then two miles later, saying it’s an emergency. For that reason, make sure everyone (you have to set the example after all) takes advantage of a toilet whether or not they feel like they need to.

Mom buckles her young daughter into the backseat of an SUV.

4. Do: Wear Your Seatbelt

Even if you’re a safe driver who follows the rules of the road, you never know when you’re going to run into a Speedy Gonzalez or Reckless Rick. That’s why you should always be buckled up. According to the CDC, seat belts reduce your risk of death by 45% and the risk of serious injury by 50%.

Don’t: Forget About Fido

Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Hawaii all have laws that require dogs to be buckled up as well. And many other states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Washington have distracted driver laws that mean you could get fined for driving with a dog on your lap or having it in the front seat where it could interfere.

A couple laughs in their car on a road trip.

5. Do: Let Everyone Have a Chance to Play DJ

Even if you don’t play musical chairs and let everyone ride shotgun at some point, it’s a good idea to let everyone feel heard. Prior to leaving, you can all contribute to one road trip playlist. Or, break up the trip by hours and divy the slots up so everyone gets at least one turn at playing DJ.

Don’t: Let it be the Driver

Your driver may be the world’s best multi-tasker, but they still shouldn’t be messing with the radio dial or scrolling through Spotify on their phone. And since they need to be alert, it’s probably not a good idea to play white noise or anything else that could make them sleepy.

Close-up of a person with blue nail polish refueling at a gas station.

6. Do: Know What Kind of Gas Your Vehicle Needs

According to AAA, every year U.S. drivers waste $2.1 billion on premium gas that doesn’t offer any benefits to their cars. Whether you’re behind the wheel of an RV or an SUV, the driver’s manual will tell you what kind of fuel the manufacturer recommends for that specific vehicle based on its engine, not marketing ploys.

Don’t: Get Dangerously Close to E

E stands for empty, not “enough” to get you to the next gas station. Don’t tempt fate when it comes to fuel. Not only is it inconvenient, but it’s bad for your car’s parts and could lead to them needing to be repaired or replaced.

7. Do: Take the Scenic Route if You Have Time

The best road trips aren’t all about getting from Point A to Point B. If your schedule allows, try to make the most of the journey, whether it’s stopping to check out quirky roadside attractions straight out of Atlas Obscura or detouring through a nearby national park.

Don’t: Expect Youngsters to Enjoy it as Much as You Do

When you’re at the “Are we there yet?” age, it’s hard to appreciate beautiful vistas when all you can think about is the pool at the KOA you’re driving to. For that reason, don’t let your feelings get hurt if the kids don’t stop to stretch their legs at every viewpoint or abandon the Animal Crossing they’re playing on their iPads to look for wildlife outside their windows.

Little boy and little girl look at a tablet in the backseat on a road trip.

8. Do: Pack Books, iPads, Games and Stuff to Keep the Kids, and You, Entertained

Whether or not you believe an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, it never hurts to have things on hand to keep you occupied. Maybe it’s a Kindle or maybe it’s a knitting project. Whatever it is, you won’t regret packing it, especially if you find yourself stuck in traffic during rush hour.

Don’t: Miss Out on the Opportunity to have Meaningful Conversations

It’s hard to find a captive audience because there are so many distractions in our daily lives. Much like we have some of our best ideas in the shower, some of life’s best conversations occur in cars. Take advantage of these precious moments/miles to catch up, especially when you don’t have cell service.

KOA Author Katie JacksonKatie Jackson is a writer and media specialist based in Montana’s Big Sky Country. Living and working everywhere from New York to Nicaragua, Katie is no stranger to adventure. When she’s not traveling the world (or writing about it!) she’s busy chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus. Follow Katie’s travels on Instagram @katietalkstravel.


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