The iconic road trip is making a mean comeback. Road trips are the best way to explore new places with your favorite people. The best part is, you’re in control of what you see and do. But the perfect road trip takes a little planning.
For a stress-free vacation, you need to plan your trip with a little forethought. Fortunately, we’ve done the hard work for you. All you have to do is follow this guide, and you’ll be well on your way to the road trip of your dreams.
Follow these steps to plan the perfect road trip for you and your family.
Table of Contents
Plot Your Route
Pick a destination. Deciding to go on a road trip is half the battle. The other half is choosing a destination. Maybe you have a bucket list, or you’re ready for an impromptu adventure. Either way, you can customize your trip to make it perfect for you.
Plot a route. Once you have a destination in mind, you’ll need to plot your route. If you want to simplify things, pick a route that already has an excellent reputation. For a more customized experience, plot your own route using tools like Google Maps, Roadtrippers, or Waze. For now, focus on the beginning and endpoints. You can add waypoints to the route later on.
Build an Itinerary
Set a time budget. You might have a constricted time allowance due to work or school responsibilities. Or maybe you have more flexibility in your schedule. Either way, you need to decide how much time you want to spend on your road trip. You’ll want to consider factors like driving time, sightseeing, meal breaks, and traffic. Determine which sights are must-see and which ones are optional. It doesn’t hurt to have a few plan Bs on the docket. Whatever figure you come up with, add 25% for possible delays, unplanned stops.
Set a monetary budget. Save yourself some trouble by setting up a daily budget rather than figuring out the total cost. You’ll want to consider the cost of lodging attractions, souvenirs, tolls, food, fuel, and possible rental fees. You can estimate fuel costs by calculating the fuel efficiency of your car and tracking prices with a tool like GasBuddy. And again, add about 25% to your budget for possible price fluctuations or unexpected costs. It’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand for fees and emergencies.
Add waypoints to your route. Use your trip planning tool to add stops along your route. You can drop pins for landmarks, attractions, fuel stations, restaurants, and hotels. Don’t be afraid to play around with the tool until you find a route that feels balanced. You may also want to consider the types of roads you want to take. Do you want to stick to the highways or take the scenic route? Before you leave, check phone numbers, addresses, and hours of operation for all your stops.
Choose a Means of Transportation
Pick an appropriate vehicle. Depending on your budget, you may opt to use your vehicle or rent one. Each option comes with caveats—a rental car comes with extra fees, but using your own adds mileage and wear. Whether you’re renting or not, pick a vehicle type that fits your budget and style. If you have a large family, or you’re spending most of the trip outdoors, you may want to consider a campervan or RV. A smaller electric vehicle is a better option if fuel economy is more important. Or if you don’t want to drive, you can go by bus or train.
Prepare your car. If you’re using your own vehicle, make sure it’s fit for the trip. At a minimum, you’ll want to change the oil, top off fluids, adjust the tire pressure, and fill the gas tank. Even better if you get a full tune-up. It might be worth joining a roadside assistance club like the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Prepare Your Accommodations
Make bookings for your trip. Book your lodging accommodations before the trip. If you’ve accounted for spontaneity, keep an eye out for places that allow last-minute cancellations without a penalty. You can find affordable accommodations on sites like hotels.com and Airbnb. If you’re camping, you can find campsites on The Dyrt or recreation.gov. If you’re on a tight budget, you can find free campsites along your route or pitch a tent on federal land. You’ll also want to book things like tours and attractions.
Get Ready for Your Trip
Pack your bags. Make sure you pack the usual travel items like toiletries, accessories, and chargers. When it comes to clothes, think about weather conditions and utility. If you’re traveling through hot climates, pack light. If you’re heading into the mountains, bring layers. You’ll also want to plan for possible formalwear or outdoor gear. And your drive will be a lot more enjoyable in comfortable clothes and sunglasses. Pack your bag as lightly as possible while still bringing everything you need. It can be helpful to pack a duffel bag with essentials and keep a day pack handy for adventures.
Outfit your car. In addition to prepping your vehicle, make sure it’s comfortable for everyone on board. Check to make sure your registration and insurance are accessible. Pack the car with auxiliary cables, chargers, GPS devices, and other helpful electronics. If anyone in the car is prone to carsickness, be prepared with medication, water, and garbage bags. It’s also a good idea to bring emergency supplies, road flares, jumper cables, and a first-aid kit.
Prepare your food. Even if you plan to eat out, you’ll want to prepare some nutritious snacks to munch on during the drive. You’ll save time and money by preparing food ahead of time. Plus, it grants you more control over what you eat. Snacks will help keep you alert, calm your nerves, and make the trip more pleasant. It’s especially important to have snacks for kids. Fruits, veggies, protein bars, and beef jerky are great options. Make sure you have enough water as well. It’s important to stay hydrated throughout your trip. Bring plenty of refillable water bottles or plan to make regular stops to rehydrate. It can also be helpful to pack hand wipes for sticky snacks.
Bring entertainment. Driving long stretches of road can wear you down after a while. You can combat fatigue and boredom with entertainment to keep your mind busy. Some great options for road trip entertainment are music and podcasts, audiobooks, games and puzzles, and journals.
Enjoy Your Road Trip
The most important thing you can do is enjoy yourself. Sit back, relax, and appreciate the open road. Allow spontaneity and welcome surprises. Keep an eye out for unique scenery and pitstops. Remember, it’s an adventure. Above all, bond with your loved ones and make memories that will last a lifetime.
10 Tips for the Perfect Road Trip
- Plan as much as possible. You’ll inevitably face surprises and setbacks. With some preparation, you can minimize stressful events. Planning is especially important during holidays and busy travel seasons. Accommodations might be harder to find, parking lots fill up, and traffic slows down. If possible, start planning your trip four to six months in advance.
- Bring a paper map in case your electronic devices stop working or you lose cellular service. Most online planning tools give you the option to download an offline version.
- If you’re taking the scenic route, add extra travel time. You’ll probably be traveling on dirt or single-lane roads, and you may encounter closures or wildlife. It’s also a good idea to account for frequent stops, to take in the scenery.
- Talk to the locals. If your schedule has some flexibility, take advantage of local recommendations. Nobody knows the area better than the people who live there.
- Keep a close eye on your gas tank. It’s not uncommon to travel long stretches without any fuel stops. Make sure you know how much gas you’re using, and keep a gas can in the car.
- Start early. Driving long distances can be exhausting, so it’s best to get started when you’re fresh. It can also be helpful for drivers who don’t see well in the dark.
- Allow for some splurging. You’re on vacation, so enjoy yourself. Save some room in your budget for fun souvenirs, exciting tours, or the occasional fancy meal.
- Take advantage of technology. There are tons of great apps, online tools, and social media strategies for making the most of your trip. Let technology do the hard work while you relax and enjoy yourself. Use it to help you plan, make bookings, and find attractions.
- Get plenty of sleep. The trip will be smoother if you’re rested, energized, and ready for action.
- Keep a travel journal. Jot down your favorite parts of the trip, take fun photos, and record memories. You can relive the road trip of your dreams for the rest of your life.
5 Breathtaking Road Trips in the US
You can’t go wrong with these road trips through some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes.
The Pacific Coast Highway runs through California, Oregon, and Washington along the Pacific coast. It winds you through ancient redwood forests, rugged sea cliffs, and moody seashores. It’s the best way to see the west coast in all its glory. Highlights include Big Sur, Ecola State Park, and Olympic National Park.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a diagonal tour through the best of North Carolina and Virginia. You’ll pass through breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s especially beautiful in the autumn when the leaves turn brilliant shades of crimson and gold. Highlights include the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park.
The Florida Scenic Highway (or Overseas Highway) runs along the vibrant Atlantic coast through Florida and The Keys. Some sections practically place you right on the ocean. It’s a great way to sample Florida’s culture, nightlife, and tropical getaways. Highlights include Palm Beach, Daytona, and Key Largo.
The Million Dollar Highway (or the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway) is a thrilling adventure through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. You’ll also pass through some of the country’s best-preserved mining towns. It runs through Colorado and New Mexico, shifting between mountain roads and quiet locales. Highlights include Silverton, Red Mountain Pass, and Aztec.Scenic Byway 12 is the best way to appreciate the diversity of Utah’s unique beauty. You’ll pass through vibrant deserts, dramatic canyons, and lush forests. It’s one of the few places where you can see the remains of ancient civilizations. Highlights include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.