A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

14 Road Trip Etiquette Rules Most People Ignore—But Shouldn’t

Updated: Jan. 25, 2024

Road tripping promises adventure on the open road, and the only thing standing between you and a good time is your manners.

1 / 15
Rear View Of Couple On Road Trip Driving Classic Convertible Car Towards Sunset
monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

The rules of the road (trip)

Road trips are a great time to lean into closeness and togetherness with friends and family members. Whether you’re going on a day trip with your significant other or taking a multiday road trip across the country, road-tripping is as good or bad as you make it. Taking the time to learn these etiquette rules will show your fellow passengers that you respect them and want them to enjoy the experience just as much as you do.

2 / 15
young adults enjoy a road trip on a sunny day. Mixed ethnic group.
RyanJLane/Getty Images

Establish boundaries before you hit the road

Although the term boundaries may seem off-putting and like a way of distancing yourself from others, setting boundaries actually brings people closer together in an authentic way. It’s a win-win for everyone on the trip. Why? When you and your companions communicate about what will and won’t be OK for each of you on the road, you know what’s expected from the start, lessening stress and aggravation that’s otherwise bound to pop up down the line.

One of the biggies that you absolutely need to discuss: money. “Everyone should be clear on who is going to pay for what,” says Kimberly DeCarrera, a frequent RV road tripper and the founder of RV Tailgate Life. “Like divorce, the biggest fight on a road trip is about money. And I’ve seen people lose friendships over people not picking up their share of the road-trip tab.” While we’re on the topic, avoid these 12 rude money habits you need to stop ASAP.

3 / 15
friends sharing food on a road trip
AzmanL/Getty Images

Be mindful of every passenger’s dietary needs

With veganism growing by leaps and bounds, and the increased awareness of food allergies and sensitivities, you may be taking a road trip with guests who have specific dietary needs. This is another thing you should talk about in advance and think about when planning your snack pack.

“It’s nice to take into consideration that most vegans won’t be able to share your travel snacks if they’re full of cheese puffs, milk duds, and beef jerky. Consider tossing in a few packs of tasty nuts and fresh fruit, too!” advises Jackie Day, author of The Vegan Way. You may be surprised by how much you already eat that’s actually vegan. And if you plan on making sandwiches, grab some Tofurky slices and Daiya vegan cheese for options that will be delicious for both vegans and omnivores.

The key to traveling happily with a vegan is simply to plan ahead. “When considering dining out, a quick look at the menu online or a call to the restaurant should help everyone know if there are vegan options available,” says Kristin Lajeunesse, founder of Will Travel for Vegan Food. “The trick is to not sweat it or make a big deal of your friend’s vegan ways. Simply planning ahead and being considerate is really all it takes.”

4 / 15
Closeup of young woman hand control radio volume
mucella/Getty Images

Don’t take over the car’s stereo system

Spending hours in the car with your friends or family members gives you the perfect chance to learn more about their musical tastes and discover some cool new songs. Avoid the temptation to dominate the airwaves with your own playlists. Instead, make sure to alternate everyone’s playlists or figure out a listening situation that feels fair to everyone. If you have the time, try coordinating an agreed-upon playlist before the trip. Ask every guest to choose 10 of their favorite road-tripping songs, then arrange the choices on a playlist.

5 / 15
Two young women having fun driving along the street singing and laughing
FlamingoImages/Getty Images

Sing only if everyone wants to

Singing along to music as the wind blows through your hair can be one of the greatest pleasures of driving. However, during a road trip, it’s best to belt out tunes only if everyone is in agreement and ready to sing along. Ask each guest how they feel about singing in the car. If everyone’s on board, it’s time for some road-trip karaoke! Some surefire crowd-pleasers: music from these 12 movies with amazing soundtracks.

6 / 15
public toilet sign on a wall
bbbrrn/Getty Images

Use the bathroom every time you stop

Although it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a bathroom break any time you need it, try to be mindful of others’ time when it’s not an emergency. That’s why it’s a good idea to try to use the bathroom every time the car stops for gas, food, or whatever else. Paul Johnson of North Outdoors explains, “This will avoid having to make multiple stops for multiple people each time someone needs their own bio-break.” Download these 10 road-trip planners for your best adventure yet.

7 / 15
woman driving a car calmly
MesquitaFMS/Getty Images

Be courteous to your fellow drivers

Reminder: This trip is supposed to be pleasant, so leave the road rage at home! One of the best ways to show consideration for your car mates is to drive carefully and be especially courteous. That means letting other drivers in to your lane when needed and keeping up with the flow of traffic as long as nobody’s speeding. Plus, it’s OK to (nicely) request a little bit of quiet when you need to it, like when you’re switching lanes, driving in less-than-ideal weather conditions, or otherwise need to concentrate. By staying focused, you can help you keep everyone safe. Also, make sure you know exactly how to handle these 10 scary driving scenarios.

8 / 15
Shower head close up with water supply is turned on

Shower and wear deodorant

Yep, we’re going there. Someone has to say it! As we all know, this can become a real issue when you’re in close quarters for an extended period of time with someone who hasn’t done either of those things. “If you plan to spend long hours in the car together, proper hygiene is a courteous way to give respect to a fellow passenger. Don’t keep your feet on the dash, wear deodorant, and brush your teeth,” advises travel photographer and frequent road tripper Emily Mandagie of The Mandagies. By taking the time to double-check that you put on deodorant after your shower, you can ensure that other passengers aren’t miserable for hours in the car. Read up on these rude driving habits you need to stop.

9 / 15
two women talking in the backseat of a car
RyanJLane/Getty Images

Be mindful of how much you’re talking

If you’ve ever sat in a car while someone rambled on (and on and on), you know what it’s like to get bored and tune someone out. However, common sense can go out the window when you’re sitting in silence with a group of people. The initial awkwardness of that can inspire incessant chatting that can annoy other passengers who would prefer silence.

Jeremy Scott Foster of TravelFreak explains, “Some car trips can be long, so talkative people can either help or hinder the journey. With that in mind, it is important to read the situation and adapt your company accordingly. If it is a group of people and you don’t know everyone, judge how much other people talk on the journey and contribute equally or less, never more.” Here are 12 rude conversation habits you need to stop doing.

10 / 15
man and woman in a car. focus on passenger.
South_agency/Getty Images

Stay awake during the drive

If you’re a passenger, try to stay awake to keep the driver company. Darah and Garrett Aldridge, the avid road trippers behind Where Food Takes Us, say that “it’s important that the passengers in the car don’t fall asleep unless they’re resting up for their turn at the wheel. If passengers are snoozing at will, then the driver will have a harder time staying awake.”

11 / 15
Mature Vietnamese man with his wife and daughter sitting in car and searching destination point on a map
SeventyFour/Getty Images

Assist the driver if you’re the front-seat passenger

“The job of a front-seat passenger is multifaceted and critical on a road trip,” says Jared Nusinoff of Out Here Travel. He explains that the front-seat passenger should help the driver stay focused and in good spirits. For example, if the driver wants a drink of water, open the cap and hand over the bottle. Help them with opening snack bags, too, so they can keep their eyes on the road.

12 / 15
Young woman in yellow sweater holding gift box
Craft24/Getty Images

Bring a gift for the car owner and driver

If you’re not using your own car for the road trip, it’s a nice gesture to bring a little something for the car’s owner. “You should be at least be offering to pay for your portion of fuel for the drive,” says Nusinoff. “Remember the wear, depreciation, insurance, and other costs the car owner has to pay for you to be on an amazing road trip. At the end of the trip, a small token gift also goes a long way. Something small that shows your appreciation—from a bottle of wine to a gag gift like a car air freshener.” If you are renting the car and only one person is driving, it’s also a nice idea to bring a gift for the driver. Here are some perfect thank-you gifts for every occasion.

13 / 15
hand holding a cigarette over the windowsill of a car
Matthias Lindner/Getty Images

Talk about smoking with each passenger

Smoking is bad for you. We could go into all of the reasons for that, but you know them already. To each his own…until you’re in a tiny, enclosed space and someone wants a nicotine fix. Since smoking’s on the decline, you might not think to bring up this topic, but you absolutely should. “Before setting off, it’s important to note whether smoking is allowed in the car or not,” advises Will Hatton of The Broke Backpacker. He also says it’s a good idea to establish if and when you’ll stop for smoking breaks. “If there is more than one vehicle traveling, you can put all the smokers in one car,” he suggests. That way, either all smokers can agree to smoke in the car or take specific breaks, while the non-smoking car won’t have to stop for them.

14 / 15
Back passenger seats in a car
zenstock/Getty Images

Treat the car with respect

Road trips can easily get messy. If you’re the driver, politely make any requests you have for keeping the car in good shape. If you’re a passenger, go the extra mile to treat the car well. Bring along a canvas bag to gather trash in, then empty it at every gas stop. Ask the driver about their preferences and whether there are any rules for the car, then be sure to follow them. By the way, people who always have clean cars have these 15 things in common.

15 / 15
Smiling casual woman sitting in back seat using mobile phone. Cheerful young woman reading messages in smartphone while sitting in a taxi. Attractive girl with red hair wearing blue shirt in car using cellphone.
Ridofranz/Getty Images

Send updates to loved ones back home

On a road trip, courtesy extends beyond the car. Be considerate to friends and family back home by sending updates a couple of times per day. That’s a way to ensure that someone is looking out for the safety of you and your companions—something that’s a smart, courteous idea for everyone on the road and back at home. If you’re heading to a campsite, make sure you know these 12 unspoken rules of RV camping.