Planning a road trip can be a daunting task. Especially if its your first time in the state or country and you’re not the only one embarking upon the journey. I have summarized some basic tips and created this guide that has helped me plan road trips seamlessly. I hope it helps you too.
I’m not going to state the obvious here, just assuming that if you’re flying to a different country, you have a valid passport, visa, currency, medical insurance, travel insurance etc. These tips exclude the other obvious “things-to-do-before-you-leave-your-home-for-a-long-trip” like lock the doors and windows, setup home security, close faucets and the likes.
If you’re planning a road trip, its obvious you have some destinations in mind. My first tip is: CHECK WEATHER CONDITIONS in that particular region. It may happen that the period you intend to hit the road may not be the best season to explore the area. If not ideal, at least the weather should be bearable for you. You must be prepared in case of snow, fog, humidity, torrential rains.
Now that you know its the best time of the year to visit the location , there may be more enroute that you’re unaware of. So my second tip is: DO SOME RESEARCH! Essentially, what you want to make sure is that you pick the best route from place A to place C which may include a less trodden yet worth visiting place B. If not a place B, then at least ensure the drive is scenic or the highway is historic. You get the gist. This will also give you an idea to estimate the duration of your road trip. Mark your route and may be print out copies of the route map if you must. Distribute it if need be.
Calculate your time estimates appropriately based on the number of people travelling along. Simple things like reaching airport, going through security check, having lunch/dinner takes time when there’s a crowd. Its important to take the time factor into consideration when you have children travelling with you on the road trip.
I would also suggest getting some background knowledge on the driving rules of the country, parking situations, speed limits, fines/tickets.
Note that you may need to fly from your current location to the start location of your road trip. Planning beforehand would mean saving on flights. So be smart and BOOK YOUR FLIGHT(S). Find cheap deals if you don’t mind flying odd hours or weekdays to save on flight tickets. Track flight prices using Kayak or Skyscanner.
At this point you have a route in mind (and in map, snapshot of google maps), a start point, an end point, a start date, an end date, possibly a return air ticket in hand and a list of companions. It might seem weird but this is the point where you count the pennies. DECIDE UPON A BUDGET! Yes, it has to be done after booking flight tickets because flights are major part of the expenditure and getting that out will make you stick to your budget. While estimating a budget, consider two kinds of expenses – anticipated and unanticipated. Anticipated expenses comprise of lodging, rentals, gas, tolls, average food expense per day, entry fees or passes or tickets. Expenses like deviated toll rates, extra food, medical emergency, checkin luggage etc. So keep a buffer for these.
If you’re travelling with your family, multiply expenses by the number of people.
There are budgeting apps available for keeping track of your expenses.
Next big step in planning a road trip is LODGING! Book your stays first at the locations you wish to spend the longest time. Keep track of room availability at your preferred hotels. Check on Airbnb for budget lodging or even luxury rentals. If you’re travelling solo and don’t mind crashing on couches, check Couchsurfing. Traveling with a friend and both of you are on budget? You might prefer staying in hostels – Hostels.com, HostelWorld.com, HostelBookers.com. For couples looking for easy options, Hotel.com and Booking.com have good deals. There are good Motel choices in the US as well.
Best part about road trips is that if you have your tents, camper vans, RVs, you can book campgrounds, put up your tents, build a campfire and have the time of your life. No need to spend on fancy lodgings. Campgrounds do need booking though.
Now is a good time to RENT A CAR. Depending on your group size and comfort level book an appropriate vehicle. You may choose to book a camper van or RV. Check the usual car rental companies like Enterprise, Hertz, Avis, National if you’re in the Americas. I highly recommend checking on Costco Travel or BJs if you have the membership. If not, check on EconomyBookings. The secret to saving on car rental is to pick up the car from any outlet besides the airport one. You’ll thank me for that.
If you’re intending to drive your own car instead, a quick round checkup of the car before heading out seems like a reasonable thing to do.
Excellent! You have the basics down. Transportation and Lodging done. Now PACKING. I would say travel light, but then I would be a hypocrite. Nevertheless, I should mention that I have traveled with nothing more than a backpack across Costa Rica. Never cut down on essentials and safety items like toiletry kit, vanity kit, first aid kit, safety kit, important documents folder, electronics (camera, laptop, mobile, chargers etc). Keep a spare money pouch hidden or tied to your waist under clothing. Keep your passport/ID card, spare car keys and a spare credit card in it. Power banks are a must! And so are torches. Using luggage organizer cubes or travel cubes is recommended.
Pack for the weather!
Make sure your car is weather equipped!
Pack that FOOD!
I’d say keep perishables to the minimum. Carry dry or dehydrated food. Healthy snacks are always better than fried stuff. I keep a bag of mixed nuts, a bag of fruits, crudites for immediate consumption, healthy snack/energy bars, dry fruits, fruit chips, dark chocolates, instant oatmeal, green tea bags. Apart from that, you may carry your own kettle (if you have a checkin bag) to make coffee or even coffee pods to avoid carrying filters.
In our early road trips, the first thing we would do after picking up the rental car was buy a pack of 40 water bottles and store them in the trunk of the rental car for the rest of the trip. But I no more recommend using so many plastic water bottles, especially if you’re traveling in summer when the plastic bottles tend to melt under excessive heat and the water quality is compromised. Consider buying multi-use large kegs of water and donate it at the end of the trip or carry your own bottles along with purifiers.
Keep a garbage bag in the car at all times and dispose of the garbage timely. Having tissues/napkins, hand sanitizers in the car helps. Leave no foot print behind.
If everything is on your phone, why scramble around for information? DOWNLOAD USEFUL APPS like TripIt for itinerary, Google Maps for getting offline maps, Waze for alternate routes incase of traffic, Uber or Lyft for taxi, Trell or Travelibro to record your route timeline along with photographic memories. You’re going to be in the car for long so have a huge list of your favorite tunes ready to plug and play. I’ve been using all of these apps excessively on every single trip. Make life easy!
BOOKMARK FOOD JOINTS on your route. Or copy paste the name, address, hours and contact number of these places in notes. I find that doing this beforehand is so helpful than trying to check Yelp on the go when the network is fluctuating. Check for last minute changes. Any routes that may be closed, flights that may have been rescheduled or delayed, any pending confirmations for reservations that you may have made.
There you have it! Ten tips to help you plan a road trip without a hitch. Let me know in comments below if you found this information helpful.