USA TODAY International Edition
Don’t let bumps in the road ruin your summer trip
How you can avoid irritations like potholes or cellular dead zones
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.
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 annoy- ance 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 mo- ment. 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 Ha- waii 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.
Make no mistake, there’s still plenty to worry about this summer. But bathrooms, bad roads and missed connections shouldn’t be among them.