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Road Trip Tips: 21 Mistakes to Avoid When on a USA Road Trip

Road Trip Tips: 21 Mistakes to Avoid When on a USA Road Trip

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Taking a road trip around the USA, or anywhere, will be one of the most epic and memorable trips you’ll take—no doubt.

So don’t F it up…

JK—No pressure. I got your back with all the road trip tips and everything you should NOT do on your trip. This way, you can have more time for fun, snapping pics, chasing waterfalls, hiking to viewpoints, and so many other amazing activities!

Make this a trip to remember with these road trip tips. Learn now, and have fun later. It’s easy! I’ve done a ton of road trips in the USA and around the world, and these are some of my best road trip tips and mistakes to avoid for you to keep in mind.

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19 Road Trip Tips

Road Trip Tips—What NOT to Do on Your Road Trip!


1. DON’T Wait for Gas

Fill up here, fill up there, fill up ev-ry-where!

The next gas station could be lightyears away in many states around the US.

Small gas station road trip tips
One of the most vital road trip tips: always fill up.

If you’re the adventurous type who wants to wander down random roads and who will detour in a split second, fill up when you can.

If you don’t, guess who needs to say goodbye to adventurous detours? YOU.

Make sure to fill up at the half tank every time if you can. I often pretend the last half doesn’t count. What did using this road trip tip result in? Never having to worry about running out of gas. That’s a win!

RELATED: 17 Legendary American Road Trips

Resources for Your Trip:

1. Check out my travel resource page for the exact companies I use for everything travel-related.

2. This is the travel credit card I use to get lounge access and even FREE flights!

3. MUST BRING – Anti-theft bags that I swear by.

4. Travel safety tips no matter where you’re going.

5. SAVE MONEY! 11 ways to travel for almost FREE

TOP MUST PACK ITEMS

Anti-theft backpackFilter WaterbottleSolar ChargerCamera

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Don’t forget it! Here’s what you need to know about travel insurance or get a quick quote now from Safety Wing (the one I ALWAYS use on my trips!)

ACCOMMODATION & CAR RENTAL

– I’ve had the most luck with renting from HolidayAutos.

– Hotels.com offers a free night every 10 bookings!

2. DON’T Underestimate the Cost of Gas

Going on from my last thought, unfortunately, this may mean you are stuck paying higher prices for gas because you’re in the middle of nowhere-land, and they are charging the same prices as the bigger towns PLUS your firstborn child.

Sorry little Billy, I sold you for gas money…

Gas station in Fields Oregon road trip tips
You’ll probably pay more here than in a big city

Seriously though, small towns are pricier, you may have to pay the price, but you could also top up for just a few bucks to make it safely to the next big town/city.

Either way, inflate the budget here so you don’t get any surprises, and make sure you are definitely topping up in the big cities as often as possible.

Pro road trip tip—Peek at the GasBuddy app often to see where the next cheapest gas station is. This app is a lifesaver!

3. DON’T Forget to Carry Cash

Those small town gas stations may have a charge for using credit cards, or worse, they only accept cash! So make sure you have some on you.

Also, some state and national parks require cash payments for parking and using facilities.

Mt Rainer Park with cloudy sky
Bring cash for national parks!

There isn’t always someone on-site, and you’ll be required to place your cash in an envelope. You’ll need an exact change too. I’m all about using my card, but having some cash stashed away is necessary. It is smart to have a mix of bigger and smaller bills.

Another cash tip to keep in mind is having quarters on you for any parking meters or using laundry facilities.

4. DON’T Forget About Music

I know you’re thinking, DUH, Nina. But seriously, don’t forget the music! Radio is almost a non-option unless you enjoy the sweet sounds of static and want to give your index finger a major workout by scanning the channels.

Woman driving
Road trips are even better with music.

Cell service will also be in and out, so while you may be one smart cookie and have Spotify or the like on your phone, don’t forget to download all those cool playlists to enjoy it offline.

Don’t forget an aux cord if needed unless everything can be connected via Bluetooth. You may also want a portable speaker so you can listen to music outside the car and on the go.

It’s not essential, but this is one of the road trip tips that’ll just make the journey more enjoyable.

READ MORE: My badass road trip packing list, don’t forget a thing!

5. DON’T Be Unrealistic with Your Time

Did you actually think you would be able to fit those two hikes in AND drive five hours? Ekk!

You really do need to be realistic with your time.

If you get all excited about a bunch of places and you only make it to half, you may be pretty bummed.

Make sure you take time to enjoy being on the road and exploring.

But instead, if you get excited about the POSSIBILITY of going to about half of the places on your list, you will ultimately be satisfied with what you got done.

Don’t get your hopes up and try cramming in too much, so you’re rushing, speeding, driving too late at night, not sleeping enough…etc.

It’s OK to pass on a few places; trust this road trip tip when I say your list will only get longer, not shorter. So don’t get flustered when you need to pass things up to gain more time.

READ MORE: Here’s a realistic itinerary for a West Coast road trip!

6. DON’T Sleep In

I would TOTALLY be the annoying friend that pushes you out of the car, shoves a bagel and coffee down your throat, and makes you put clothes on so you’re ready to get on the road no later than 9 am.

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about getting your day started at 6 am.

Woman at lake below Mt Hood
Too many things to do to sleep in!

While I think it can be ideal, probably makes for great sunrise pictures, and you check more things off the list, let’s not get crazy. 6 am is rough.

However, being on the road by 8:30-9ish is totally doable.

Luckily, I refuse to road trip with people who aren’t on the same page as me because I’m a stickler on this one. Also, I’m a terrible sleeper, so I am awake this early anyway!

There are far too many things to see and do—go to bed earlier and get up and go. You’ll thank yourself when the trip is done. (You can sleep when you’re dead, right?)

7. DON’T Buy Water and Don’t Forget to Fill up Often

Fill up water bottles and jugs instead. It would be SO wasteful to buy 100 jugs of water on your trip.

Instead, I buy a few one-gallon jugs and reuse them for my entire trip. I also never travel without my reusable water bottle. At the end of a trip, I recycle the jugs. Most recently I also got this water jug which fits nicely in the corner of my car and I don’t even need other water jugs now!

Woman drinking Grayl water bottle road trip tips
My handy reusable water bottle

It’s very easy to prioritize convenience but try your best on your road trip to not be wasteful.

Filling up water is actually very easy. Many of the parks have drinkable water fountains where you can fill up, and Walmarts have water fountains you can use.

A few jugs or one big reusable jug is just what you need. They don’t take up too much room, and they will last you a couple of days, giving you plenty of time to find the next water fill-up area.

Fill up every time you can; it goes without saying that water is NOT something you want to be without at any point and time.

Don’t forget to factor in using water to boil pasta, make coffee, etc.

RELATED: Your Southwest Road Trip Itinerary (1 Week – 2 Months)

8. DON’T Forget to Download Maps (One of the Easy Road Trip Tips To Forget!)

Bringing paper maps is not really my thing, but I knew I couldn’t always rely on my phone to have service. I can’t stress how clutch it was to have maps downloaded.

I always have Google Maps AND Maps.Me both downloaded on my phone. And if you’re riding with someone else, make sure they do the same just in case someone loses their phone, forgets to charge, etc.

9. DON’T Assume All Roads Are Paved

Oops. I’d venture to say that most of us forget this road trip tip. I know I did.

If I saw the road on the map, I generally thought it was a legit road with something more than loose rocks to follow. Uh, no. Not so much!

Don’t assume you won’t come across many gravel roads, particularly if you want to get a bit adventurous or take some of the less busy roads.

Road trip campervan below rainbow
Just chugging down a dirt road!

Driving on gravel roads when they weren’t expected can be a bit stressful, not to mention it will cut into your time since you’ll be driving much slower than you thought.

10. DON’T Get Fancy with Your Meals

What are you trying to do on your trip? Spend your time cooking or doing and seeing things?

Yeah, that’s what I thought… So why would someone voluntarily choose to make a borderline 5-star meal for lunch is beyond me but let me tell you, you’ll be much happier with an easier meal than a fancy-schmancy one or one that is labor-intensive.

Road trip essential - good food!
Yes, this is me prepping food in our campervan bed.

Here’s what I usually eat while road tripping:

Breakfast is 1-2 of the following items:

  • Boiled eggs (boil all of them at once and keep them in the fridge)
  • Yogurt
  • Bread /bagels (usually untoasted because ain’t nobody got time for that…nor a toaster)
  • Oatmeal with fruit and granola

Lunch is usually a sandwich and or a snack such as:

  • Fruit
  • Chips
  • Popcorn
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Sandwiches are usually cheese, spinach, a hardboiled egg or some tuna, pickles, and maybe avocado. And then mustard and mayo for condiments.
  • A favorite is my “camping charcuterie board,” which is usually a mix of cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts, and “rough hummus” (smashed chickpeas with spices and EVOO)
Healthy food is a road trip essentials
Cheap, healthy, quick—This is my road trip meal goal! This is showing my “camping charcuterie.”

Dinner is one of the following:

  • Lentils and rice (I found these amazing, tasty, and easy to make packets to make lentils and rice, it literally takes 2 minutes, and it’s healthy)
  • Pasta and sauce
  • Frozen vegetables which we would add to both of the items above.
  • Beer and or wine 🙂

On a similar note, eating out costs a lot, and if you’re trying to be quick, it’s often pretty unhealthy.

I often try to eat out only when it’s mega worth it or when I’m deep into my trip and need a break from eating out of my car! Making it a treat rather than something expected saves a bunch of cash AND time.

RELATED: Your Adventurous Utah Road Trip

11. DON’T Be Disorganized

Your vehicle has everything you need BUT, it’s still just a vehicle, which means space is precious and limited.

Get everything in its “home” on day 1 and make sure that item lives in that spot forever and always.

I always have a system down from day 1, and I keep it that way! It keeps everything SO clean and organized the entire time. I usually have zero casualties of items flying out a window, falling out of the car, or going mysteriously missing.

Get your car in order and keep it there! My mantra is “everything has a home” and I don’t put it down, I put it in its home.

12. DON’T Plan Too Much… or Too Little…

I’m not toying with you. Hear me out!

Road trips are supposed to be fun, and a bit spontaneous, so planning too much and keeping yourself to a rigid schedule doesn’t allow for fun, adventure, and random detours.

Plan too little? And you’ll be wasting a large chunk of the day figuring out what you want to do (if you even have internet).

I usually have a few “rules” in place…

On this West Coast road trip, I wanted to drive on a certain route (the inland route, not the coastal route). I wanted to be outdoors and in nature (so no stops in big cities and walking around buildings), and I wanted to do pretty hikes with waterfalls and great views.

I made a rough route with plenty of places to stop that matched my criteria, but nothing was set in stone.

lake house
Not a planned stop.

If I didn’t have the time, the spot was too out of the way, or if the road was closed (wait for it…), there was no disappointment and plenty of other things just a few miles away to explore.

Keep your options open and have a few options on the table. Find a balance, don’t set expectations too high, and don’t pigeonhole yourself to an exact itinerary. It will be nothing short of miserable.

This is one of my best road trip tips because it’s really one of the most important to keep in mind for the trip—for your own sanity!

READ MORE: How to Plan a Road Trip

13. DON’T Assume All Roads Will Be Open

Yeah, revolutionary information, right? Luckily the USA is pretty good at announcing when a road will be closed. There will likely be signs and even info on a state’s website.

This happened to me on a few road trips, and it threw a wrench into my plans… for a whole two seconds.

This is one of the many beautiful views you'll see on your Montana road trip.
Check that roads are open when planning your route.

Since I’m always loose with my plans (hello, road trip tip #12!), it wasn’t the end of the world, but it did cause me to end up in a few places I didn’t expect a couple of times.

It’s usually not a big deal but just something to watch, particularly if you’re taking the smaller roads like I sometimes do or are driving during fall and winter when road closures are more common.

14. DON’T Drive at Night (A Road Trip Tip for Safety!)

It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I’m mentioning this because depending on where you are, you’re increasing your chance of putting yourself (or adorable animals) in danger.

Night driving road trip tips
Avoid night driving if you can

Cute woodsy animals like to come out at night and graze and hop around. Sometimes they wander in traffic. If it’s a little guy, poor thing but at least your car will be fine. If it’s a big boy, you’re totally screwed.

Overall, night driving can be a bit more challenging and you also need to be a bit more careful with choosing your sleeping spot for the evening in the dark.

I always make it a goal to find a place by sunset, and if I go a bit later, it’s not too big of a deal, but I don’t like to push it.

RELATED: Your Adventurous Arizona Road Trip!

15. DON’T Choose the Wrong Person to Go With

Seriously though, don’t underestimate the amount of time and closeness with the other person. Make sure they are cool, and make sure you’re cool too…

Women looking over the mountains on Yosemite road trip
Yosemite road trip with my bestie Robin! We’ve traveled together numerous times and always get along!

This trip will be a disaster if you both don’t jive with each other and work as a team. Luckily I’ve only had one miserable road trip, and funny enough, it was with a very close friend. So even if you’re friends now, make sure you can stand each other for the entire trip.

16. DON’T Underestimate the Size of the USA

Seriously, this country is f-ing huge. We literally have 48 small to medium-sized countries on the enormous landmass of the contiguous USA.

Make no mistake, no amount of time is the “perfect” amount to see this place.

Vancouver to San Francisco is only a measly 15-hour drive if you JUST DRIVE. One person could technically do this drive in two long days.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco
The USA is huge… Add on Canada, and you have an unconquerable amount of land to cover! Give yourself time.

When I road-tripped it, it took 17 days to drive a bit more leisurely, and see things along the way. I could have doubled that and still not had enough time. There’s an insurmountable amount of things to do and see, don’t cut yourself short and try squeezing your trip into a few days; you’ll spend the entire time just driving.

My PNW road trips are anywhere from 1 to 2 months, and I’m just scratching the surface of what I want to do! So one of the best road trip tips you can take in is, don’t overwhelm yourself with things to do and know that driving times will eat up a LOT of your time.

It might be smart to target just certain parks, or perhaps focus on just one state. Whatever it is, don’t underestimate drive times.

17. DON’T Forget to Roll with the Punches

I have to tell you something. And it’s going to happen on your road trip! It’s a guarantee… Ready for it?

Things won’t always go as planned.

Shocking, right? If this road trip tip seems so obvious to you, just remember while on the trip, that’s how you felt when reading this.

Camper van in the Mojave Desert on a California road trip
Camping in the Mojave Desert—Not pictured, the moment our hitch slipped off the base and dug itself into the sand! We had no service and nobody was around us. Took us a few hours but we fixed it!

Sometimes we get caught up in the moment, want things to be perfect, and when one string frays, we break apart. You’ll run into a delay, a park is closed, a flat tire… Something.

It’s a guarantee that SOMETHING will go wrong, so just accept it when it does. You’ll only make it worse by having a meltdown.

RELATED: Your Adventurous Montana Road Trip!

18. DON’T Forget to Check on the Season (And Not Just for What to Pack)

You’ll need to check the specification of the states you’ll be rolling through to be sure that you pack accordingly. Do you need more scarves or more swimsuits? Both?!

You’ll have to research to make sure, but aside from clothing, you’ll need to know what else happens in certain states.

Being from Florida, I can tell you that road tripping around August and September could mean potential hurricane weather.

I spend a lot of time in Oregon and the entire West Coast. The past two summers have been LIT. And not in a good way; forest fires during July and August can get really bad and make the air quality terrible, obstruct views, and even close down roads.

Me looking on the side of the road
Just a few more miles down, the gorge in OR was closed-off in some areas due to a fire a year ago!

While on a West Coast road trip a few years back, a bunch of forest fires had just died down. However, there were still tons of signage warning of potential dangers from the loose ground from the fires and a fire ban in most places.

There were even trails and campsites that were closed because of this.

19. DON’T Be a Jackass and Have Fun!

Remember, there are people from all around the world, the USA, and Canada on the road!

The USA is eclectic; avoid getting road rage, don’t be the ass who doesn’t let someone merge, don’t stop in the middle of the road for pictures, don’t litter, recycle when you can, and just be a good person. There are so many different people on the road; try to be accommodating and understanding.

Oh, and have fun! 🙂

20. Don’t Forget to Insure Yourself (And Your Car)

No matter where you’re traveling—you want everything and everyone covered! For road trips anywhere in the world, you can look into using World Nomads (they cover Americans in the US if you’re over 100 miles from home!), Safety Wing (for Americans abroad), or check out my travel insurance post for more options, don’t get caught without it!

RV in front of rocks on a California road trip
Check that your insurance covers RVs.

For your vehicle, it’s always smart to have your vehicle insured, and more often than not, it’s required! There are many ways to go about this.

If you’re in the US, your car will be insured but getting AAA can prove to be a lifesaver too – they will tow you, help change a tire, and get you back in your vehicle if you locked yourself out!

Sometimes your credit card can cover car rentals (but be careful, many don’t cover vans and RVs!) check this article on the best travel cards to see which credit cards can help lessen your costs on your trip and can cover your car rental.

It’s going to vary widely how insurance will work for you and your vehicle depending on where you are but the bottom line is – just don’t forget about it!

RELATED: A Guide to Finding The Best Long Term Travel Insurance

21. Don’t Rent the Wrong Vehicle for Your Trip (Perhaps the Most Important Road Trip Tip!)

So which vehicle are you going with? Your own car? A rental? An RV? A rented campervan? There are tons of options but which is right for you and your trip?

Choosing the right vehicle, especially if you’re renting is probably the most important road trip tip to keep in mind. If you’re renting, here are some options to consider:

  1. Outdoorsy – One of the best RV and campervan rental sites in the USA
  2. Northbound – Find your car or campervan in Iceland
  3. Holiday Autos & Rental Cars – I have good luck finding deals for car rentals on these sites.
  4. Indie Campers – Rent a campervan and road trip across Europe!

There’s Wicked Campers for South America, Britz and JUCY for Australia and New Zealand, and tons more options!

I hope these road trip tips were helpful! Have fun on your next road trip!



>>> Even More About USA Road Trips <<<

How to Plan a USA Road Trip & Choosing a Vehicle

Your Road Trip Essentials Packing List and Tips (+ Printable Checklist!)



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Don't Make These Mistakes on your Road Trip

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  1. Shyla says:

    Loved your tips! Most we (my son and I) live by when we road trip around the US. Only 7 states left to visit but so many to go back and visit again!

  2. Tara says:

    Thank you for this list, it will come in handy this summer when my boyfriend and I roadtrip from Kentucky to Galveston, TX

  3. Nina Ragusa says:

    Yay, glad to hear this was helpful, Tara 🙂 Have fun!

  4. Courtney says:

    Another important thing: every state drives differently. Californians speed like crazy and a lot of slower drivers sit in the passing lane. Oregonians appear to have no clue where their going and you’ll get a ticket for going 1mph over the speed limit, and Washingtonians pace each other for miles so no one can pass and their traffic is starting to compete with LA.

  5. Nina Ragusa says:

    So true!!! Cross the state border and you could be in a new world of drivers for sure.

  6. Daniela says:

    I like to do a bit of research first before going on a trip. This was so useful.

  7. Nina Ragusa says:

    So happy to hear! 🙂 Have fun.

  8. Tony Richards says:

    Next time, invest in Sirius SATELLITE radio and a rent a sat phone. You will NEVER be out of contact, or music, again.

    Keep enjoying those road trips.

  9. Elizabeth Cafaro says:

    Driving home now from a twenty- eight day road trip with my hubby, 9 yr old and two yellow labs. Drove from Florida to Seattle and visited over twenty-five national parks. 80 dollar annual pass for the parks was the best investment .

  10. Nina Ragusa says:

    YES! Those passes are a great idea!

  11. Michaela Hemsley says:

    I like that you said that while on a road trip it’s a guarantee that something will go wrong, so just accept it when it does. My husband and I are thinking about going on a road trip because we think it would be a great way to spend more time together while also getting to see some beautiful scenery.

  12. Dee says:

    Hi

    This was the best road trip blog poay on road trips I have seen. I agree with many of your ideas.

    I particularly agree on no nighttime driving. Many road trip bloggers mention yhay driving at night is ideal.with kids. While I agree it is easier to drive when the kids are sleeping, it is not as safe as driving during daylight hours. Your vision is decreased and you are driving in unfamiliar areas. Unless you work at night you are not ised to being awake at night either. Safety is paramount

  13. Laci says:

    Love this list! With covid we have been road tripping more and things like this are super useful. Thank you!

  14. Nina Ragusa says:

    Yay! So happy to hear 🙂 Thank you!

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