Want to plan the perfect road trip?
Everyone loves a good road trip, but without a plan, it can quickly turn into a chaotic mess. This guide will help you cover the road trip planning process from start to finish, ensuring your next adventure is nothing but memorable and fun!
How to plan a road trip
Map your route and stops along the way
Mapping your route is the first step to a great road trip. If you’re planning to travel across the country, these road trip routes break down the best roads to take by season. During the spring, a road trip from Barstow, CA to Wilmington, NC would be ideal. Or for autumn travel, Atlantic City, NJ to San Francisco, CA would be nice. If you plan by season, you can make the most of the sights along the way.
Another road trip planner is Roadtrippers.com. This site gives you options to show attractions, natural wonders, hotels, and much more on your route, making it easy to plan where you’ll stop for fun and rest along the way.
Whatever route you choose, use a GPS or navigation system (like Google Maps) to stay on route, or to get back on track if you get lost.
Choose your ride
Depending on a few factors, it might make sense for you to rent a vehicle instead of driving your own. Consider these points to help you decide what’s best:
Vehicle size. Choose a vehicle large enough to accommodate everyone in your group comfortably. Also consider a vehicle that has plenty of room for everyone’s luggage.
Depletion. The vehicle you drive will rack up miles and natural wear and tear as you travel across the country. If you would rather not put your personal vehicle through the trip, consider renting.
Fuel efficiency. You could lower your gas cost just by driving a vehicle that gets great gas mileage. For example, it costs $173.63 for a trip from Boston to Seattle in a 2012 Toyota Prius V vs. $317.05 in a 2012 Toyota Venza. That’s a savings of almost $150! Try the My Trip Calculator from Fueleconomy.gov to see your estimated fuel price.
Get your vehicle ready for the road
Perform basic car maintenance to ensure your vehicle’s ready to drive. Here are some things you can check yourself, or have your local auto shop check for you:
- Fluids (oil, gas, antifreeze/coolant, brake, transmission, windshield wiper, power steering)
- Hoses and belts
- Tires for traction and pressure, tire rotation
- Headlights, wiper blades, horn, turn signals, reverse lights, brakes, battery, AC, air filter, and gauges
Clean and pack your car
It’s a good idea to clean your car before your trip. Remove trash, clean up any messes, take it through the wash, and organize the glove box for easy access to registration. Once the car is clean, pack it up! Here are some things to consider taking with you:
- A travel trash bag or container
- Blankets and travel pillows
- A cooler with bottled water
- Plenty of snacks
- Essentials like chargers, hand wipes, GPS or road map, etc.
- An emergency kit (flashlight, blanket, first-aid kit, basic tools, reflectors/flares)
- Jumper cables and car jack
- A spare tire with good traction and pressure
- Daily medications
Here are some more road trip packing tips:
- Set a limit of one bag per person to prevent over-packing and conserve space
- Pack belongings into soft duffel bags and backpacks for tighter packing instead of bulky suitcases
- Keep the load light, as extra weight in your vehicle can reduce your MPG
- Secure loose items – if you end up in a fender-bender, loose items can be a danger to everyone in the vehicle
- Pack plenty of chargers to keep all your devices ready to use
Create a road trip budget
Keeping your costs under control is definitely doable if you budget for it. Here are some costs to plan for:
Gas. Determine what gas prices will look like along your route (gasbuddy.com is a good resource). Simply enter the city, state, or ZIP to see the average regular gas price by area. Try these extra tips for other ways to save money on gas:
- Look for exits with multiple gas stations – the prices should be very competitive
- If you’re a member of a warehouse store (like Sam’s Club or Costco), plan to stop there for gas since it’s typically cheaper
- Avoid excessive idling, as it can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour
- Turn off your engine when the vehicle is parked
- Use cruise control on the highway to maintain a constant speed
- Observe the speed limit. Gas mileage usually decreases at speeds above 50 MPH
- Avoid aggressive driving such as speeding and rapid acceleration and braking. It can lower your gas by 33% on the highway and 5% in town. It’s also safer for you and others on the road
Food. Trying out new foods is practically a road trip requirement, but it’s a good idea to plan ahead to avoid ending up with a hefty tab. Here are some tips for saving:
- If you plan to eat out every meal, set a budget and stick to it. Plan for a few splurges to help you resist overspending on treats
- Buy food at a grocery store and pack meals or snacks in a cooler
- Pre-plan where you’ll stop to eat instead of just pulling off somewhere – this will help you stay on schedule and prevent any arguments about restaurant choices
- If you know where you’re going to eat, look online for coupons
- Snack on healthy foods that can tide you over till the next big meal (here’s a big list of healthy road trip food)
Lodging. A good night’s sleep is essential to a successful road trip! Here’s what you can do to catch some ZZZs for cheap:
- Use online hotel sites like Expedia, Trivago, Kayak, and Priceline to compare rates
- Find a hotel online, then call the manager at the hotel directly to see if they can offer a cheaper rate than what the online site offers
- Sign up for hotel rewards programs for extra perks
- Look for hotels on the outskirts of big metro or tourist areas to score better rates
- If you’re arriving at your next hotel stop late at night, ask for a discounted rate—they might be more apt to comply if there are empty rooms to fill
- Choose hotels with free breakfast and WIFI to save costs
- Use the hotel’s ice machine to fill up your cooler instead of buying bags of ice
- Take free tourism guides and pamphlets from the hotel – you might find something fun to do before you hit the road
- Try Airbnb. You can rent someone’s unused space (like an apartment, townhouse, or spare room)
- Road trips provide opportunities to visit family and friends you haven’t seen in a while; consider stopping in for a visit (and bonus: you can likely spend the night in their place for free!)
- Use the National Parks Service Website to plan camping stops along your route
Activities. What’s a road trip without fun stops along the way? To budget for this, consider three types of fun: the free, the planned, and the unpredictable.
- Free activities include: natural sites( such as a scenic views or national parks), some museums, and national landmarks
- Plan for fun activities: visiting a theme park along your route, stopping at outdoor shopping malls, or catching a concert or performance along the way
- Plan for unpredictable activities: seeing a billboard for the world’s largest shoe house in York, PA –there’s no way your group would miss that, right?
Other road trip costs. Of course, there are always other costs that can spring up during a road trip, such as:
- Start-up costs (a new cooler, car maintenance, camping essentials)
- Tolls (pack a few rolls of quarters so you can roll on through, or set your navigation to avoid tolls entirely)
Follow the rules of the road
Here are some rules to consider putting in place before you drive even one mile:
- No texting or cell phone use while driving: check out the distracted driving laws by state
- Always wear your seat belt (view seatbelt laws by state).
- No speeding or aggressive driving
- No one drives individually more than 3 hours without a break
- No more than 500 to 600 miles per day to avoid exhaustion
Download these road trip apps
These are the 10 best apps you can take with you on your trip:
Have an app to add to our list? Let us know in the comments below.
Plan for a road trip with kids
Traveling with kids requires a little more planning. Here are some ideas:
- Make sure you’re using your child’s car seat correctly; go to safecar.gov to look at car seats by child’s age and size, then check car seat laws by state
- Give the kids plenty of rest breaks and time to run around – maybe pack a football or frisbee for a quick game of catch
- If your child sleeps well in the car, consider leaving in the early morning or around bedtime
- Dress your kids in comfy clothes, like a t-shirt, shorts, and shoes that are easy to take on and off for maximum comfort
- If you’re driving a larger vehicle, space your kids out so they have plenty of room to themselves
- Pack a prize bag and reward good behavior
- Look for exits with local parks nearby so the kids can take a play break and burn off energy
- Bring sunscreen for extended periods of time outside
- Try to stick to usual nap and bedtime routines so it doesn’t make for an unhappy child the next morning
- Let each child pack their own bag with a few things they want to bring
Preparing for your road trip
Before you take off, make sure you tie up loose ends at home:
- Clean your house before your trip so you’ll return to a clean house (and have plenty of time to unwind)
- Place your mail or newspaper subscription on hold for the length of your trip
- Set your alarm system
- Switch off the water and gas to avoid a potential flood or gas leak
- Lock windows and external doors
- Store valuables in a secure location out of sight
- Schedule bill payments for bills that will be due while you’re gone
- Put your landline phone on soft ring or mute so anyone around your home won’t hear it go unanswered
- Leave a set of keys with someone you trust in case anything goes wrong
- Fill up your car the day before you leave
Road trip entertainment
It can be easy to get bored on a road trip for kids and adults alike. Here are some easy road trip ideas to make the time fly by:
- Listen to music or podcasts through the car speakers or your personal music device
- Watch a movie on a portable DVD player
- Read a book on your tablet (or listen to a book using a service like Audible)
- Play road trip games
- Work a crossword puzzle or Sudoku game
- Color in a coloring book
- Read your favorite magazine
Don’t forget about pets!
Sometimes, people aren’t the only ones going on the road trip. If you plan to bring Fido or Fluffy, take a look at these resources:
- Use gopetfriendly.com to find pet-friendly hotels
- Learn how to pack for your pet
- If you’re not taking your pet, arrange care with a friend or pet boarding business.
Other Road Trip Tips
These useful tips and tricks are sure to make your road trip even better:
- Notify credit cards that you’re traveling out of state
- Be flexible – road construction, traffic accidents, and even weather can cause delays
- Make sure all travelers agree on the start and end point for the trip
- Plan some free time in your itinerary for unexpected stops
- Ask your cellular provider about roaming fees and nationwide coverage to make sure you won’t incur extra charges
- Anticipate traffic in big cities, like morning and evening rush hour
- Avoid these 10 most dangerous roads in the U.S.
- Check that your vehicle registration and driver’s license is up-to-date
- Sign up for a roadside assistance service in case you need a tow or get locked out
Enjoy the trip
A road trip isn’t as much about where you’re going, but the fun you’ll have along the way. If you do even a little planning and prepping, you’ll be set for a very enjoyable trip!
If you have any questions about how to plan a road trip, or you want to share your best road trip tip or idea, let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.
If your road trip coincides with a long distance move, consider Box Ox Moving, a professional moving company. We’ll take care of the moving so you can road trip your way to your new home! Call 512-861-8707 or get a free moving quote online.