The Ultimate Guide on How to Plan a Road Trip
Road Trip Tips: Everything You Need to Prepare for a Long Drive
It’s no secret that road trips provide some of the best memories. Exploring new roads and seeing new sights can be an unforgettable experience, but planning the trip can seem overwhelming if you’ve never done it before.
Fortunately, there’s no need to worry! This guide will help you get ready for a long road trip by providing:
- Planning tips and a road trip checklist
- A list of things to bring
- Expenses to budget for
- Helpful apps to download
- Ways to stay entertained
- Safety tips for long distance driving
Let’s get started — adventure awaits!
Whether you’re hitting the open road for just a few weeks or are taking the family to a new hometown, there's something freeing about a journey behind the wheel. While you can always jump in the car and start driving, the experience is often better with a little bit of planning. Start with this road trip checklist to help you keep track of all the tasks listed below.
Pro tip: If you’re taking a trip as a vacation, get the house in order first. Be sure to lock windows and doors, put mail on hold and clean out the fridge before heading out.
Mapping the Route
The route you take will largely depend on what you’re looking for. Do you want to get there as fast as possible or see sights along the way? If the goal is to quickly get from point A to point B, a smartphone with GPS capabilities is likely all you’ll need. But if the trip is part of the adventure, it will take a little more planning.
One of the easiest ways to map out a scenic route is to start with the GPS-suggested trip, and then look for interesting sights along that route. For example, if you’re driving from Colorado to Ohio via I-70 East, you could stop in St. Louis, Missouri, to see the Gateway Arch and the St. Louis Cardinals stadium. Or you could visit the Indianapolis Zoo when you drive through Indiana. Check out sites like TripAdvisor® or Yelp® to look for fun attractions, or use one of the resources below.
- Road Trip Route Ideas. See cross-country trips and get ideas for stops along the way.
- Top 10 Scenic Highways. Plan a route along one of these roads with amazing views.
- National Park Vacations. Explore the great outdoors during your trip by stopping at a park.
Getting the Car Ready
Choosing the correct vehicle and making sure it’s able to make the trip are two important tasks to take care of. If you own multiple vehicles, choose the one that’s most dependable, but also consider fuel efficiency and space. A newer car may be a great option, but if it isn’t big enough to hold everything comfortably (or is so large you’ll pay hundreds of dollars extra in fuel), another vehicle may be better. It’s also a good idea to think through the route and time of year when making a choice. Will you need 4-wheel drive or a more powerful engine? Making sure the car has the appropriate features will make the drive easier.
Once the vehicle is chosen, get it looked over by a mechanic (or run through a car maintenance checklist). This will ensure critical components like tires, air filters and belts are in good working condition. The last thing you want is a breakdown!
While spontaneity is a fun part of a road trip, some things may need to be booked in advance. If there’s a certain attraction you want to see, a special hotel you want to stay at, or an event in a town that will make rooms or restaurants difficult to get in to, make reservations ahead of time. You’ll need to stick to a schedule to meet those plans, but it can pay off in the long run.
There are several things that make long car rides more enjoyable: pillows, blankets, coolers and snacks to name a few. Be sure there’s enough room in the vehicle by packing these essential items first:
- Emergency kit
- Jumper cables
- GPS and/or map
- Bottled water
- Device chargers
- Trash bag
Then, add other items each person wants to bring along.
Pro Tip: Depending on the size of the vehicle, you may want to limit each passenger to one reasonably sized bag. This will save space for souvenirs and make riding more comfortable.
Worried about how much the road trip will cost? Make a daily budget by figuring out how much you want to spend overall and dividing that by the number of travel days. Focusing on a daily amount can help prevent overspending. Don’t forget to account for these costs:
Looking to reduce expenses? Try camping in some areas instead of staying in hotels — just bring a tent and sleeping bags. You can also buy food at grocery stores to limit fast food stops and gas station snacks. And be sure to follow these tips to save on fuel costs.
Pro tip: Remember to alert credit card companies of travel plans. This will help prevent accounts from getting frozen due to abnormal activity.
Think about downloading these apps. They might come in handy during the drive:
- Google Maps. See maps with real-time traffic updates to help navigate new cities.
- Audible. Download and play audio books.
- AccuWeather. Get up-to-the-minute weather forecasts.
- Waze. See info about community-based traffic and navigation to avoid potential road issues.
- SitorSquat. Find public restrooms.
- Along the Way. Find food, parks and other destinations along the route.
There are several ways to make driving long distances entertaining. Seeing the sites and having quality conversations with everyone in the car are fun places to start, but sometimes you need a little help curing boredom. Use this list of 26 road trip games for technology-free entertainment ideas, and bring along items like a music device with fun playlists, books (get audio books so everyone can listen along), a deck of cards, or travel board games.
Staying safe on the road will ensure the trip is a good experience for everyone involved. Get to know the laws for each state you’re passing through, and follow some best practices to avoid driving while tired.
Before setting out, look up the laws for each state you’ll pass through. While you'll be following the rules of the road when it comes to speed limits and other traffic rules, each state has laws for things like wearing seatbelts and texting or talking while driving. It’s also wise to look up car seat and booster laws if you’re traveling with kids. Make sure those seats are installed correctly (visit the local police or fire station for assistance if needed) and that you have the proper one for each child.
While not a law, it’s recommended to avoid driving more than two or three hours at a time without taking a break, and keeping it under 500-600 miles per day. This helps keep everyone alert and happy! Stop more frequently if conditions are unfavorable or if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Frequent yawning or having trouble keeping your eyes open
- Zoning out and being unable to remember the last few miles
- Repeatedly driving onto the rumble strips or out of your lane
Driving in the winter? Follow these safe driving tips for snowy and icy conditions.
Planning a Road Trip?
We would love to hear about your upcoming adventure — leave a comment below! And if your trip is taking place as part of a move, check out this guide on moving cross country.