Having Fun Yet? 9 Ways to Ensure Your Road Trip Sucks

I love summer. It’s my favorite time of the year — after spring and autumn.

I know. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it’s true.

Anyway, one of my favorite things about summer is our annual family vacation; my favorites are when we go on extended cross-country road trips. I’ve made seven coast-to-coast trips during my lifetime, so suffice it to say that I have at least a little bit of experience in this arena.

When it comes to road trips, half the fun is in the planning. Unfortunately, if you aren’t careful, it only takes one or two bad decisions to turn a family vacation for the ages into a family vacation of the rages.

In fact, if you want to guarantee your next family road trip is a real loser, then simply follow these tips:

1. Put the brakes on planning. Remember, a road trip is all about experiencing the adventure, so why bother doing any research ahead of time? Don’t even think of tapping fantastic travel guides like Fodor’s that have already done much of the leg work for you.

2. Bypass Auto Associations. Be sure to save a few bucks by failing to become a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA). Never mind that their free road maps, TourBook guides to sights and hotel and restaurants, and on-line interactive TripTik Travel Planner are well worth the price of membership.

3. Forget maintenance. Cars today never break down, so don’t bother getting your oil changed, or checking the tire pressure and belts before you leave. After all, if an idiot light does come on, you can always add water, oil or other fluids while you’re on the road. (Er, unless you’re in the middle of nowhere.)

4. Be a traffic scofflaw. Nobody ever gets pulled over by cops while they’re on a road trip. Nope. So don’t bother checking to see if you have your updated license, registration and insurance papers with you. The odds are you aren’t going to be tempted to speed on those long lonely stretches of highway anyway. That being said, if you do get a ticket in another state, you can always avoid paying the fine. Well, assuming you never plan on coming back.

5.   Over-pack. Don’t forget to stuff your luggage to the gills because nothing says “relaxing vacation” like lugging a bunch of heavy bags to and fro each time you stop for the evening. Packing intelligently is so overrated.

6. Drive a compact car. Why bother maximizing your family’s comfort — or ruin your street cred — by traveling in a spacious minivan or large touring sedan?

7. Adhere to a strict schedule. While you’re on the road, stick to your schedule at all costs. Do not — I repeat, DO NOT — deviate from it. Remember, it’s all about the destination and getting there on time — so stick to those sterile interstate highways and stay away from those two-lane back-country roads. Make unplanned sites and other points of interest strictly verboten. Yes, those half-buried Cadillacs sticking out of the ground off the side of the road do look interesting, but it’s more important to make sure you get to the next hotel on time. Hey, maybe you’ll get a prize from the front desk staff for getting there before 5 p.m.

8. Stay in sardine cans. Speaking of hotels… Forget putting your family up each night in a multi-room extended-stay suite — because, at the end of a long hard day on the road, there’s nothing better than being cooped up in a tiny 300 square foot room with a couple of cranky rugrats and a single television set.

9. Fast food or bust. Whenever it’s time to eat, make sure you always dine at the same old tired chain restaurants you have back home. Even though the best meals you’ll ever have will never be found at those national establishments, trying the local cuisine while dining at a local mom and pop restaurant is just way too risky — even when you see a parking lot full of patrons.

So there you have it, folks. Hopefully I didn’t miss anything.

Good luck with your next road trip!

Oh, and don’t forget to send me a postcard.

Photo Credit: garbyal


  1. 1

    Panda Mike says

    Too funny!

    I would add number 10:

    If you are driving more than 3 hours with kids, forget about bringing a DVD player in the backseats. Suggest your kids to look outside and count the red cars instead. It is so much fun to sing kid songs for 5 hours in a car, who would need a DVD player that would bring peace among your children?

    Cheers 😉


    • 2


      LOL! Good one, Mike! Absolutely, don’t bother trying to keep the kids busy – to the veteran road-tripper, the sound of repeated “Are we there yets?” is as beautiful a sound as the first robins’ songs at springtime. 😉

  2. 3


    I miss our old minivan for road-trippin. Before the seat-belt law, you could get up, walk to the back and grab a soda out of the cooler. It had way more comfort and freedom than a car, for those long trips to Oregon.

  3. 4


    I confess to committing sin #7 a lot! My husband and I are always over-optimistic about timing so we over-schedule. We tend to get places tired and don’t leave enough time to fully enjoy them. Maybe we will get this right on our next road trip to visit both our folks in NC.

    • 5


      @Prosper: Yeah, Bret. The Honeybee and I have made two cross-country trips with our two kids in the Honda Odyssey and it was much more comfortable than the previous two cross-country trips I made with buddies of mine in sedans – one in an old Mustang (packed so tightly there was no air space in the back seat, it was packed from floor to ceiling). If you are going to be in a car for 10 hours per day, you better be comfortable!
      @Jennifer: I think #7 is one of the easiest road trip sins to commit. I can’t stress how much fun it is to go off the Interstate for long stretches. Some of the best road trip memories and experiences I have came on back-country two-lane blacktop. That is where you get to really experience the joys of America.

  4. 6

    Kathy says

    I used to be guilty of #5. I’ve learned my lesson though and now I am a hardcore light packer. It’s not hard to find a laundromat and because you are packing light you won’t be there all day washing clothes anyway! Good tips Len!

  5. 7


    When I was a kid, my father loved taking road trips. My cousins and I would cram into my aunt’s station wagon and head off to some completely unplanned and vague destination. Oh, what memories. After a day or two on the road everyone was cranky, at each others throats, and ready to go home. But we’d stick it out for a full week or two, we just had to get in all the sights! Needless to say, my cousins, siblings, and I haven’t subjected our own families to this tradition.

    • 8


      @Kathy: I have always been a notoriously light packer. Sometimes dangerously light. I figure in a pinch I can always mooch off the hotel for spare toothpaste and buy spare toiletries and even underwear in the event of an unlikely emergency. (I know, TMI. LOL)
      @LittleHouse: What???? You hate road trips??? Blasphemy, I say! LOL Seriously though, I do realize road trips are an acquired taste for some. I also realize a lot of people absolutely HATE them! It really helps to take road trips in small chunks of, say, 300 miles per day tops. That way you maximize site seeing and minimize time in the car. That is rarely possible though if you plan on driving coast-to-coast unless you have three or four weeks vacation saved up.

  6. 15


    My girlfriend and I went from Tucson to the Grand Canyon and it was amazing. I feel like I’ve experienced 98% of the state.

    You really miss out on so much when you fly.

    Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances

    • 16


      Well said, Austin! :-)

      It’s tough to appreciate the size of the US when we fly. A lot of people who travel between the coasts by air have no idea what America is REALLY like between New York and Los Angeles.

  7. 17


    LOL this is awesome! These nine tips will ensure you will have a trip that you will never forget!

    I’m guilty of #3 for sure.

    When down for a trip to San Fransisco and didn’t check the tire pressure or bother seeing if my tread was good enough for such a long drive…

    Low and behold the tire pops on I-5 in Oregon on the way back. We had to drive for 5 hours (when it would normally take maybe 1 hour) because we couldn’t go over the 50km/h on our little dinky spare tire.

    That was fun. =)

    • 18


      Good point about the tires, Y&T. Nobody should be heading out on a road trip on bald tires. When I was in high school, I ran on bald tires for a long time – not because I didn’t have the money, but because my priorities were misguided. Eventually, I had a blowout on one of my front tires while I was on the freeway and I ran right off the highway. Luckily, the freeway traffic was fairly light and I wasn’t hurt.

  8. 19


    Some of my best memories of childhood were of those long driving vacations. I ended up visiting 47 of the 50 states, and probably 1/2 of them involved some wacky experiences. Planning has to happen, and it’s easier now than ever…but it’s fun to be flexible on what you do, as well. And try some local mom-and-pop restaurants, or even a few regional chains if you must. I discovered Chick-fil-A this way, far from my midwest roots…good stuff! Or In-and-Out burger in Southern California…more good stuff! May not have contributed to my health, but good anyway:)

    • 20


      Me too. I have great childhood memories driving cross-country. I have driven in 43 of the 50 states, and I intend to knock out the other 7 soon! :-)

    • 22


      That was a cool video! What an awesome idea! You know, I was planning out the itinerary for my trip to Washington DC in a couple weeks, but I just ripped it up – I’m going with the dice now too! (And yes, Mom, I love to gamble – er, within rigidly defined financial limits, that is.) :-)

  9. 27

    James says

    i have never made the trip across the entire country by car. i have flown back and forth 10+ times. i don’t mind a 4 hour car trip but more than that i i might as well fly.

    that being said there are so many wonderful historic places i still want to visit so at some point i DO see a trip in my future.

  10. 28


    Hi Len,
    Our fave summer road trip is to Cape Cod, MA, about 4 hours from our house. The weather is always stunning when we go, and the whole family just turns into beach bums. Very relaxing.

    I’m rarely frugal on this trip. I usually book a loft suite with ocean view, and our meals are had at our favorite local restaurants.

    We tend to do enough planning where the trips go smoothly, and the kids are content. They only get going with the “Are we there yet?” refrain the last half hour or so. :)

  11. 29

    DE Mom says

    One of the best trips I made was two years ago. My daughter and Sister in Law took a week to go look at Colleges. We hit 5 states, 7 schools and we made a pledge to only eat local. We did stay in some budget hotels but rented a full sized car, packed light and had a great time!

  12. 30


    Hmm … gotta disagree about the compact car thing, Len, since using up all the gasoline that a bigger car requires would drive me bonkers.

    But I’ll also add the caveat that I’ve never traveled with small children, and that might change things. Oh yeah, and I’m 5’1″. :-)

  13. 31


    Sorry, don’t agree on the AAA membership anymore. :) Google’s better! Even for roadside help.

    But my #1 way to have a miserable time? Go with a baby who starts screaming when (s)he’s strapped into the car seat and doesn’t stop until you take him/her out. That was my first two. #3 is AWESOME. He falls asleep in the car!

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