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

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It’s the little things that inflict big headaches when you’re driving 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.

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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?

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 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.”

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.

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 deadzones.com. 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.”

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, and 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.

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. It’s 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.

14 thoughts on “The worst road trip annoyances, and what to do about them

  1. Your shoutout for T-Mobile and using the OpenSignal app are somewhat misplaced in the context of a road trip, especially a cross country road trip. Such metrics are quite valuable in population centers, but on a road trip, it is the coverage between those centers that matters most.

    If you look at the coverage map for T-Mobile, for example, Wyoming is barely covered, South Dakota is spotty. Of course, metrics like statistics, can be manipulated to suit the purpose of the study.

    So if you are traveling longer distances, be prepared. Download the map before the journey or, heaven forbid, get a paper map. Download some music beforehand or bring a CD or two, just in case,

    1. While I’m very happy with my T-mobile service generally, I agree with Jeff W. because I can lose cell service on the GW parkway with the Washington monument in sight (right outside of DC), much less some area closer to Washington on Mount Rushmore.

  2. “Restrooms don’t exist”

    Yes, they do. It is just another way of saying they only exist for the employees — typically in the back room or the manager’s office.

    Having worked in a store in my youth with a public restroom, I can honestly say that people can be disgusting. They leave messes in a public restroom that they would never do in their own home. And no one wants to clean up that mess. So smaller places often don’t bother.

  3. When you’re traveling through Texas, stop at a Buc-ee’s store. While I’m not a restroom aficionado and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a QuikTrip, I’ve heard that Buc-ee’s has the best gas station restrooms anywhere and there are usually about 50 stalls, spotlessly clean. Not sure which way you travel through San Antonio, but there’s one on !-10 between S.A. and Houston and one on !-35 in New Braunfels. Plus it’s a hoot to stop at even if you don’t need a potty break.

    1. Buc-ee’s is way more than a gas station with clean restrooms. There is an entire culture built up among their customers around visiting them as their new locations open. They have food, good food, a huge variety of food. You could probably even do your week’s grocery shopping at many of them. I’ve ben to a couple and they are exactly as advertised.

      1. Absolutely. I drive between San Antonio and Austin pretty frequently, and I almost always stop at Buc-ee’s and usually get a pulled pork green hatch chile burrito (heaven), or if I don’t want a meal I will pick up some kolaches for later. And sometimes I do pick up some groceries. They are building one in Boerne, which isn’t right around the corner but definitely close enough for me to go as a destination rather than on my way somewhere.

    2. Some of the QT locations has QT Kitchens where there are made fresh to order food, premium specialty drinks and tasty frozen treat selections.

      I live in the Phoenix area where there are several QT locations; however, I never visited one for the first six or seven years that I lived here. After my first visit, I was quite impressed and we have been going to QT for fountain drinks, gas and food on a regular basis.

      There are differences between Circle K and QT. One difference is the staff…the stores (Circle K and QT) that I have visited…the QT staff is 180 degrees different from the Circle K staff. Another difference is the cleaniness of the stores…it seems like every time that I am in a QT store, a member of the staff is cleaning; whereas, most of the Circle K stores will have layers of sticky soda on the floors.

  4. I’ve dealt with closed roads. On one trip I remember a road closure because of a parade through Twin Falls, Idaho as well as a a road back to Moab closed for a commercial shoot.

    That’s on top of being stuck in rush hour traffic.

  5. i have an apple 5s and t-mobiles system is horrible outside of major metro areas. Their answer, “Tough luck, upgrade your phone.”

    1. I just use and older Samsung Avant with I paid under $300 for (new). I have been all over the USA and western Europe and It has worked really well, voice/text/data. I do admit I use WiFi when in the hotels (if available). But, even on the road I have seldom had any dropped calls or no signal. So, I have been happy with T-Mobile (over 6 years) and my phone does what need it to do. Guess just because one buys an expensive phone doesn’t necessarily mean it ill work better than others.

  6. “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.”

    I must concur…QT (QuikTrip) has the top-rated restrooms.

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