Road Trip Etiquette Tips With the Emily Post Institute

Taking a road trip can be a transformative experience that strengthens relationships and enriches the soul — in theory.

In reality, road trips often feel like riding in a smelly box of tension and regret.

As millions of Americans prepare to hit the road for Thanksgiving, we wanted to arm you with some tools to make that road trip a little more bearable.


Daniel Post Senning shares some road trip etiquette tips with editor Brittany Jones-Cooper.

Bad manners can make a road trip miserable, so we reached out to Daniel Post Senning, etiquette expert from the Emily Post Institute. He picked me up in a 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum, and drove around New York City answering all of my road trip questions. We should note that Dan is the great-great grandson of Emily Post, so he knows what he’s talking about.

Follow these tips and everyone is guaranteed to arrive at grandma’s house in one piece.

Who controls the music?

The majority of people think that the driver should have the final say. But according to Dan, it is also polite for the driver to consider the feelings of his or her passengers when it comes to music selection.

If passengers want to take an active role, Dan suggests offering to help. “As a polite passenger, defer to your chauffeur and offer to play DJ or navigate the control screen to make their job easier.”

Is it rude to eat in a car?


If you eat in a car, make sure it’s not something smelly or messy. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Eating in the car can be considered impolite in a car pool scenario. However, when it comes to a long road trip, eating in the car can be an important tool to save time. In these instances, Dan suggests eating something that is easily contained. “Think about foods that aren’t too messy or smelly,” says Dan. “No bananas or tuna!”

Who controls the temperature?

Ultimately, the goal is to limit the amount of distraction to the driver,” says Dan. “So if the driver makes a call on a closed window, that’s the driver’s call.”

Is it impolite to fall asleep while someone else is driving?

This is an issue that pretty much any road trip is bound to encounter. The key, according to Dan, is to communicate, and if you’re a passenger who is getting sleepy, it’s polite to ask the driver if it’s OK to get some shut eye.

The driver will say yes if they want you to get sleep so they can snooze later, but if the driver needs a passenger to help them stay awake and alert, then sleep will have to wait.

Additional Tips from the Post Institute on having a successful road trip:


Family road trips don’t have to be stressful, here are some tips to ensure a smooth ride. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Chip In

If you’re not driving, it’s polite to thank the driver for bearing the stress of holiday traffic by taking on other responsibilities. Offer to help pay for gas, fetch snacks, or pack the car with suitcases and holiday gifts.

Build an Itinerary

Talk about stops for food and restroom breaks so everyone knows what to expect. It’s also a good idea to talk about who will be in charge of the GPS ahead of time.

Don’t rely on your GPS

While traveling through remote areas, it’s highly likely that you will lose cell reception, and your GPS will be pretty useless. According to Dan, you should always have a Plan B. “Keep actual maps in the car, ensuring you have a backup plan if connectivity goes out.”

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