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The Ultimate Guide on How to Plan a Road Trip

February 28th, 2018 - 8:55 AM

Planning an amazing road trip starts here

What songs come to mind when thinking of a road trip? "Life is a Highway" or "Take it Easy" probably make the list for many people. There's a reason road trips are a common theme in music: they're iconic and fun! Whether you dream of hitting the open road for weeks at a time or taking the family to see the sights for a few days, there's something freeing about an adventure behind the wheel. While you can jump in the car and start driving, the experience is often better with just a little planning.

planning a road trip

How to plan a trip

Even if you prefer flexibility, there are a few things to do before heading out. Use our printable checklist to walk through some things to do before you head out. 

Road trip printable checklist

Check out road trip maps​

Most people have a smartphone with GPS capabilities in their possession at all times, but it might not suggest the best routes for a road trip. Because GPS applications are normally used to find the quickest or most convenient roads, it may not help with finding trips with unique sights, state parks or fun activities. So, we’ve created a list of great road trip routes that break it down by season, sights and activities. These road trip maps are ideal for cross country trips, but if you’re looking for something shorter, just hop on and off at any point along the way.

Get the car ready

If there’s a choice of vehicles, take the one that’s most dependable, but also consider fuel efficiency and space. This car maintenance checklist helps ensure everything’s in good working order, or if you don’t want to do it on your own, visit an auto shop for a tune-up before hitting the road. It's also a good idea to clean the vehicle and stock it up with things like an emergency kit, phone chargers, and a travel trash bag. Don’t forget to plan for where the luggage will go, too.

Pack and plan

Depending on the size of your vehicle, you may want to limit each passenger to one reasonably sized bag (save space for the souvenirs everyone picks up along the way). Of course, each person should pack essentials like daily medications, toiletries and seasonally appropriate clothing, but also consider things like a travel blanket and pillow for comfort. And don't forget the snacks!

Traveling with kids? Make sure the car seat or booster is installed correctly (visit the local police or fire station for assistance if needed). Though this isn’t for everyone, if your child sleeps well in the car, consider leaving at bedtime and driving through the night. Give kids plenty of breaks and choose stops where they can play and let energy out. Pack a small bag with car-friendly toys, and try to stick to routines as close as possible for meal times and naps.

What about pets? If you plan to take a pet along, check out these pet travel tips to keep them comfortable. Finding pet-friendly hotels along the way may take a little more work — sites like  bringfido.com can help. Keep a leash and bowls in the car to walk and feed them at stops.

Prep your home

Make sure everything is ready to travel:

  • Notify banks and credit cards that you’re traveling out of state
  • Ask your cell provider about roaming fees and nationwide coverage to avoid extra charges
  • If you'll be gone long, place mail and subscriptions on hold, and ask a friend or neighbor to check on your house
  • Turn on the alarm system (if applicable) and lock the doors and windows
  • Turn off water and gas to avoid leaks while the home is unattended

Get entertainment options​

Of course, part of the fun is the drive, but you also may want entertainment options. How about making a road trip playlist, downloading audiobooks or podcasts, or having some road trip games ready to play?

Make a budget​

Don’t forget to plan for gas, food, lodging, souvenirs and activities! Of course, depending on the budget, there are lots of options. Travel on the cheap by camping out along the way — just bring a tent and sleeping bags. You can also buy food at grocery stores before leaving (and along the way) to make sandwiches. Or, plan to spend a little more by staying at hotels and eating at restaurants while you travel. Regardless of food and lodging plans, figure out how much there is to spend overall and divide that by the number of travel days. Then, stick with the plan.

One expense that doesn’t change much is fuel (unless gas prices fluctuate). Check out these tips to lower gas costs as much as possible.

Another cost to consider is toll roads. Make sure to have plenty of change available. Round up spare coins and place them in a zip-top bag in the glove compartment, so it's handy at toll stops.

Get familiar with laws​

While you'll be following the rules of the road when it comes to the speed limit and other traffic rules, each state has laws for things like wearing seatbelts and texting or talking while driving. Before hitting the road, be sure to look up the laws for each state you’re passing through. While not a law, it’s recommended to avoid driving more than 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!

Download road trip apps

Lastly, before hitting the road, think about downloading these apps for planning your road trip online.  They might come in handy during the drive:

  • Google Maps — See maps with real-time traffic updates (will help navigate in new cities)
  • GasBuddy — Find the cheapest fuel close by
  • Audible — Download and play audio books
  • Yelp — Find reviews for local restaurants and accommodations
  • 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

Planning a road trip? Let us know!

We would love to hear about your upcoming adventure! Especially if the road trip coincides with a long distance move. Leave a comment and tell us all about it!