How to Plan a Road Trip – 10 Things to Consider to Make it Awesome

road trip travel travel hacks

Volkswagen Van in Zion park

This post would be less about bags, and more about their purpose – traveling. And more specifically, to the young at heart – going on a road trip. Road trips give us the opportunity to go off the beaten track, explore the local geography culture more freely, and combine visiting big cities with the adventure of the open roads and the wild nature. Besides, everyone loves that image of the open road, warm breeze, playing 'Born To Be Wild', in their head. For many, a road trip represents the ultimate freedom. 

According to statiscticbrain.com, 45% of Americans take a summer vacation between Memorial and Labor Day, 91% of which in their personal vehicles. In the EU, in 65% of all trips cars were the main means of transport, 75% when considering only domestic trips.

Based on our personal experience and many other sources in the all-mighty internet, in this article, we'll try to summarize the most important things to consider while planning a road trip and minimizing the risk of unexpected, unwanted surprises along the way.

 

1. Where you're going

First things first – if you're going on a road trip, that would be choosing your destination. If you're living in the US or Australia, you surely can find tons of destinations in your home country. Go from the East coast to the West coast, drive along the famous Route 66 or through New England during its amazing autumn, or along the Australian East coast along the Great Barrier Reef. If you have your own car, this shouldn't be too hard.

If you live in Europe, you can choose between exploring your home state, let's say Germany or France, or expand to neighboring countries. With the open European borders and the mutual Euro, that's also pretty easy and the options to choose from are literally endless.

So how should you choose your destination?

Think of what you would like the most to experience – mountainous scenery, desert roads, beaches, maybe discovering new foods is what motivates you? Consider the costs of living in your destination – cost of fuel, food, and accommodation can fluctuate significantly between different countries, regions, and cities. Switzerland, for example, is unbelievably beautiful, but also scarily expensive… You should also consider how crowded your destination is expected to be during your visit. Do you prefer doing your vacation during summer? Well, guess what, you're not the only one. Usually, summer is the tourists' high season, and this can affect not only the prices of accommodation, but also their vacancy, and your experience in the more popular sites. You might not enjoy the most beautiful beach in southern Italy with thousands of tourists covering every square inch of it, no matter how clear the water is.

Road trips remind us of freedom

 

2. Finding the right time

So you made it! You got some vacation days left and asked your boss for permission, and he said yes. Your friends also made it and made space in the calendars for a new exciting adventure. The planned duration of your road trip will naturally affect your destination, budget and almost all other aspects. If you only got one week, it would force you to stay relatively close to home, but be sure that you don't have to fly through half the globe to find amazing views, foods, and experience. Sometimes, these would all be waiting for you where you least expect it, not too far away. The duration would also affect the style of the trip – the longer you have, and given that you have some must-sees for which you choose your destination, the more you would be able to allow yourself to go off the beaten road and take things more calmly.

The season on which you'll be going is a huge thing to consider. Will it rain much? Will it be crazily hot? Are the parks you plan to visit even open during that time of the year? Or maybe everything is open but the little picturesque town you've been planning to visit feels like a graveyard during November? Will you have to make early bookings due to high prices and demand, which would limit your flexibility?

So here are a couple of tips:

  • From our own experience, a one-week road trip would feel like it finished before it even started. Try making time for at least two weeks. If you can't and only have this one week, don't try to see everything. It might be stressing, and you might feel like only checking boxes on your list. Leave time to chill, you're on vacation.
  • If you travel during the high season and plan to visit main tourist attractions, book in advance, at least one month in advance. If you want to cut down on costs, consider staying at a bed and breakfast out of town. If they're also full or too expensive, why not use Airbnb? And if you want the full adventure package, couch surfing is a great way to save money and hang out with the locals.
  • Weather-wise, even if you go somewhere which is supposed to be nice and warm, sometimes you might get stuck in cold or rainy weather. Make sure you have a sweater, a hat, and a scarf just in case. If it's too hot it's much easier - you can always get naked ;) Just keep your hat on and drink water.

 

3. Who you're going with

Who's your company? Is it your best friends from school? Is it your girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse? Are you already married with children and you decided to take the kids on an adventure? This would affect your entire plans in terms of the dates, budget, must-see attractions, accommodations etc.

Going with your friends would probably be the most flexible option. You can decide where to go on a daily basis, and as to accommodation, you don't need anything fancy. Sometimes sleeping in the car, camping or couchsurfing in a shared space would do. As a couple, we assume that you would both be looking for nicer accommodation, which would require, in most cases, early planning. Staying at a shared space you found on Couchsurfing or Airbnb you wouldn't enjoy the comfort and privacy a couple needs sometimes. Going on a road trip with your family means very low flexibility, and that the kids' attractions will often be prior to yours.

Green Volkswagen van

 

4. Budget

While everyone got their preferred style of travel, some like the shoestring vibe and other like nice restaurants, you have to estimate how much the whole trip is going to cost you. Otherwise, you might be surprised later… Here are a few things to include in your daily calculations:

  • Fuel money – use Google Maps to plan your estimated route, and write down the overall distance. Divide the distance by your car's average fuel consumption and multiply it by the gas price and you'll get a rough estimate of your fuel expenses. The US Department of Energy has a calculator which considers your car's model to help just with that. Don't forget to account for road tolls and parking if relevant.
  • In case you plan to rent a car – daily rent costs and cleaning costs for when you return it.
  • Accommodation – estimate the average cost per night on your destinations and on your dates that match your travel style, and multiply by the number of nights you'll be out on your trip. A quick search through the main hotel websites and Airbnb will give you that estimate.
  • Food – again, depending on your lifestyle, try to estimate the costs at least for two meals (including tips) a day and some snacks for the way. Again, multiply by the number of days you'll be traveling.
  • Attractions – this includes park admissions, special attractions, museums etc. Estimate a daily average and multiply…
  • Extras – a local sim card if needed, special gear or equipment, travel insurance, nightlife etc. - try to make a rough estimate.
  • Overhead – add 10% on top of all costs combined, to be on the safe side.

Outdoorblueprint.com made a trip cost calculator to make the job a little easier.

 

5. Plan your route

The resources here are so many, that it might actually make it harder to find the information you're looking for. Google your destination and its Wikipedia value would be showing up first in the results. Search for the places you know on Instagram, Youtube, Tripadvisor or Reddit (good for Americans and Canadians, less for the rest) to get a first taste of what you should be expecting. Travel websites like Lonely Planet could also give you some tips, but for more detailed information it would be better to order the hard copy guide.   

From our experience, as it often happens with the internet, too much information can be just as helpful as no information – it's just too confusing and you wouldn't know where to begin.

Our advice is that you act as follows:

  • Start with your must-sees – they are after all the reason you chose to go on this road trip. Mark them on the map and simply connect the dots, and voila, you got your first draft.
  • Check if there's anything interesting on the way, maybe something not many people know but is worth the visit. TripAdvisor could be a great source to find those little places – just enter a search 'best attractions/beaches/parks near New York'…
  • Now it's time to check whether it all works out together – is the daily driving time ok or maybe a bit too much? Is the road interesting or maybe there's a better road? Are there any available accommodations for a reasonable price? Does it make sense to get into a packed city with your big car with and spend hours in looking for parking?
  • Revise your plan until everything falls into place.
  • Make whatever arrangements needed – car rental, accommodation, travel insurance, etc.
  • Print your plan from Google Maps and print all relevant papers in case you get stuck without an internet connection.

Planning your trip

 

6. Your means of transport

Your car is the most important thing you're taking with you. Take good care of it before, during, and after your ride. Don't leave on a 1,000 miles journey if you're not sure everything's working. Make sure you have a spare wheel and the necessary tools in case you need them, and if you plan a trip in remote areas, take another tank of fuel and enough water so that you don't get stuck without.

You should also consider cleaning the inside of the car before you start your trip, as you're going to spend a lot of time in it. It's time to get rid of old soda bottles, mud from last year, and those napkins you took from McDonald's if you ever needed them. And most importantly – get your music ready, on CDs, MP3s, or your phone. The radio may not always match your taste, and sometimes you won't even have reception.

One more thing on this issue - as passers-by, you might not be aware that some places aren't as safe as they look. In Naples, Italy, for example, breaking into cars is pretty common and if you get there by car, locals would suggest that you park it somewhere safe. That is a private, closed parking lot, or at least somewhere with a 24 hours security guy.

 

7. Sleeping arrangements

This part depends very much on the previous ones, but primarily on what experience you're looking for, and your budget. If you go for the outdoors camping experience, make sure you camp where you’re allowed to avoid not only fines but also bears or coyotes attracted to your food late at night. If you plan to book bed and breakfast or a hotel in the high season, make sure to make it early enough to get a fair price. Airbnb's relevancy depends very much on your destination, but it will broaden your options and be useful if you want to save a little on hotels.

Palms motor motel

 

8. Important things to take

Important things to take, not necessarily in this order:

  • A real map (hard copy, made of paper, old-school, not digital...)
  • Warm clothes
  • Extra water
  • Snacks for the way
  • Extra fuel
  • Music
  • Spare tire and tools
  • Good shoes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Toilet paper
  • Basic first aid kit – Ibuprofen, pills for stomach-related issues, band-aids etc.

Here's the story of a guy who went on a road trip alone, and forgot to take some of the things on the list.

 

9. Recommended routes

Here's a list of recommended road trips from around the world:

 

10. Bonus points

So you got everything you need ready, and you're about to hit the road. These next couple of points aren't a must, rather suggestions that could potentially upgrade your overall experience:

  • If you can, bring your bike. Might be nice to go for a short ride once in awhile instead of sitting in the car seat all day. It would also allow you to get to areas where the car can't go.
  • Be flexible. Just because you planned it, doesn't mean you can't go somewhere else instead. Allow for detours, don't always take the shortest way, and if you like somewhere it's ok to stay there for another night. Remember – plans were made to be ignored ;)
  • Take breaks. You're on vacation, allow yourself to stop to smell the roses, no one's chasing you (unless someone is…).
  • Use this opportunity for digital rehab. Put your phone aside, check if there's something important not more than twice a day.
  • Bring a notebook in case you get inspired or just to take notes on the road.
  • Bring a good camera with an extra battery and a big memory card.

 

More road trip sources can be found here:

Enjoy the ride!

Oh, and one last thing – don't forget your bag!

 



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