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6 mistakes that can ruin a road trip

Young couple in sweaters sitting in the car trunk with paper map on the roadside in the forest. Young family traveling by car Photo by rh2010/

This advice from a veteran traveler can help you have a trouble-free dream road trip.

My wife and I have a deal. Whenever we go on a road trip, I plan the itinerary, but Janice retains the option to declare at least one detour each day.

Our deal originated in Scotland. I was so zeroed in on getting to the village of Campbeltown by a certain time that when we came upon an impressive stone mansion, I didn’t want to stop. But Janice insisted—and she was right. Touring Inveraray Castle and its Armoury Hall weapons display was one of the highlights of our trip.

I had committed a common road trip mistake: overplanning. While I love focusing on the destination, over the years I’ve learned that unexpected stops along the way are often the most memorable parts of any asphalt adventure. Too much planning robs you of the freedom to stop and explore.

That’s not the only lesson I’ve learned after many years of road-tripping. Here are five more mistakes to avoid the next time you hit the open road.

Relying just on GPS. 

Janice and I love printed maps. Some might think we’re old-fashioned, but printed maps provide the big picture of the area you’re driving through. A cell phone’s small screen can be limiting. Plus, unless you download maps to your phone beforehand, spotty cell service can leave you without directions. Keep in mind: AAA members can get free maps at any AAA branch.

Find your closest AAA branch.

Driving tired.

Even though Janice and I trade off on driving duties, we still make sure to get a good night’s sleep before setting out. The reason? We’re human. Drivers who sleep for seven hours or fewer in the past 24 hours have a significantly elevated crash risk, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. About 100,000 accidents each year are the result of driver fatigue, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.

Neglecting a car checkup.

Just as it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before signing up for a marathon, it’s smart to see your AAA approved auto mechanic before setting out on a long trip. Have the shop check the brakes, fluid levels, hoses, and tires to help make sure your trip won’t end with a ride in a tow truck. 

Not planning ahead for gas and food. 

My dad was a lucky guy. Twice when I was a kid, he ran out of gas just as we reached the top of a freeway overpass and we were able to coast into a gas station. But luck isn’t genetic, so when I know I’ll be traveling through an area with few facilities I consult the online AAA TripTik Travel Planner. I can customize my route to show gas stations, restaurants, and campsites, plus places that offer discounts to AAA members.

Forgetting to pack an emergency kit.

Be prepared for common mishaps. A flashlight, jumper cables, a tire pressure gauge, toilet paper, and some first aid essentials should be part of everyone’s breakdown gear. In this era of COVID-19, it’s also vital to pack a PPE kit. Here's what you need in a PPE kit. 

Paul Zieke is a copy editor for AAA Publications. His next road trip is to California’s Kern River.

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