The worst road trip annoyances, and what to do about them

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By Christopher Elliott

It’s the little things that inflict big headaches when you’re on a road trip during the summer, like poor road conditions, cellular dead spots and pretty much anything to do with bathrooms.

Road trip irritations are so prevalent that someone even went to the trouble of conducting a survey on the topic. Wyndham Vacation Rentals polled travelers recently and, to absolutely no one’s surprise, concluded that drivers are perpetually annoyed.

Their top gripe? Other drivers, of course. But that’s not all. The survey showed just how tormented American motorists are. For example, did you know 43% of women get annoyed about disagreements about the car temperature? Or that 28% of men are irritated by stopping too much?

The little annoyances

Here’s what annoys me: On long-haul drives, I require caffeine in high doses. Will someone please tell me why Starbucks won’t make an Americano in the 31-ounce trenta size? I asked when I was driving through San Antonio with my kids last week and my barista laughed out loud.

It’s not funny. I want my coffee!

Like I said, it’s the little things. But there’s some good news for those of you who are hot under the collar. For every little annoyance there’s also a little fix.

Like potholes. Sydney Ziverts, an investigator for a consumer safety website, says she’s vexed by poor road conditions. Her least favorite stretch of highway is Interstate 81 near her home in Syracuse, N.Y.

“I’m not talking a couple bumps in the road, either,” she says. “The potholes on 81 South are probably about a foot deep and could easily ruin your car or cause an accident.”

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There are workarounds. For example, 81 parallels U.S. Route 11 for part of the trip, and there are numerous alternate routes that allow you to avoid this, or almost any, bumpy road. Most mapping sites and programs now include construction alerts, and users of the Waze app report bad conditions to drivers on the same route.

Another category of road-trip pet peeve: inadequate cellular reception. Like the dead zone I experienced on Interstate 10 a few miles from the California-Arizona state line. I should have known better than to call Uncle Pete with directions to my brother’s college graduation at that moment. A few seconds into our conversation, the line went dead. (Related: Who do you think you are?)

An even bigger, related problem is finding anything to listen to out in the middle of nowhere.

“When my mother and I drove cross country together, we had the darnedest time finding decent music on the radio, especially as we traversed the desert and parts of Texas,” says Billie Tekel Elias, author of the book Pearl’s Party.

There are fixes, of course

Cellular companies publish coverage maps, which can highlight problem areas and allow you to anticipate those irksome blind spots. Also, check out the independent dead zone database at For your entertainment issues, preload music and audiobooks onto your smartphone, or consider a subscription to SiriusXM, which works almost everywhere in the United States except Hawaii and parts of Alaska. Or you could do what I like to do when I drive through the desert — enjoy the beautiful silence and the inspiring solitude.

But perhaps the biggest of all complaints are the bathrooms. And you know that’s true because every now and then, you’ll pass a billboard for famous barbecue or the luckiest casino that also prominently advertises “CLEAN BATHROOMS!” It’s a selling point.

Bathrooms are a point of contention on road trips for Sage Singleton, a financial writer from Holladay, Utah. “How often will we stop for bathroom breaks?” she asks. “Growing up, my mom wanted to stop at every rest stop, while my dad wanted to push through and get to our destination.” (Related: How to survive an RV vacation with your family.)

Yet even when you can agree that a stop is necessary, you’re faced with numerous roadblocks. They include: Restrooms are closed, restrooms are for customers only, restrooms are too dirty to use. My personal favorite, restrooms do not exist. Seriously, where do the employees go when they have to go?

A recent GasBuddy survey puts our collective bathroom anxieties into perspective: 64% of those surveyed say their biggest road trip fear is not knowing when the next restroom will be. The obvious antidote is uploading an app like GasBuddy or USA Rest Stops which shows you the location of the next clean rest stop. But over time, you can also hone your own bathroom-finding instincts, knowing which service stations are likeliest to have a clean WC — or any, at all.

Make no mistake, there’s still plenty to worry about this summer. But bathrooms, bad roads and missed connections shouldn’t be among them. (Here is my ultimate guide for traveling this summer).

How to ensure a pleasant drive

  • Stop at a QuikTrip. According to the GasBuddy survey, the top-rated rest stop bathrooms belong to Tulsa-based QuikTrip, which secured the top spot in nine states, the most out of any other brands. Chevron came in second, leading in five states on the West Coast, followed by Sheetz and Wawa, each ranking highest in four states.
  • Drive Nebraska’s roads. They’re the best-maintained in the country, according to a recent McKinsey/U.S. News study, and presumably the state with the least pothole-littered roads. Followed by Tennessee, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Wyoming.
  • Choose the right network. In its latest State of Mobile Networks report, crowdsourced app OpenSignal gave T-Mobile the top spot in four out of the six network metrics for which it tested, including all three speed categories. So if you want to stay connected longer, consider making a switch.
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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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