How to Plan a Road Trip

If you are an adventure-seeker you should definitely experience a road trip. Planes, buses and trains are probably the first that come to your mind when you think of traveling, but have you ever considered using a car to reach your destination? No matter how exhausting it may seem, hitting the road with your family or friends promises a terrific adventure. We’re here to provide answers to any possible questions you might have as well as some tips on how to plan the perfect road trip!

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Why should I choose a road trip?

girls on a roadtrip

 It can be more economical. In general, renting a car is not cheap. But if you’re travelling with two or more friends, the expenses are split. It can be even cheaper if the car belongs to one of the travelers and is not rented.

 You can take decisions on the spot. During a road trip you can be as spontaneous as you like, as long as the rest of the passengers agree with you, of course. Freedom is the main characteristic of a road trip.

 You can move at your destination. Having a car is the best way to explore more areas around your destination.

 You create your timetable. While on a road trip, you have the time and the freedom to explore as many places as you want. No flights or buses to catch; just you, your companions, and your car.

 You avoid the tourist crowds. By traveling with your car, you have the opportunity to see places that are not so famous and cannot be easily reached by public transport. Get prepared to explore unique places away from the crowds.

Should I rent a car or drive my own?

girl on a roadtrip

Before taking a quick decision as to whether you should drive your own car or rent one, it is advisable take into consideration the following factors:

  • The condition of your vehicle. First make sure that your car is ready for a road trip and that it won’t break down in the middle of the road. In this case, repairing your car might cost more money than a rental one. Also, don’t forget to check whether the air-conditioning functions properly.

  • The age of your car. It is supported that cars that are more than 7 or 8 years old are unreliable for such a trip.

  • The condition of the road. Even if your car is generally ready for road trips, make sure that it is ready for the specific roads. Watch out for unpaved roads and in case you would like to rent a car, check if the company allows you to drive the vehicle on such roads.

  • How comfortable the vehicle is.Your car might be uncomfortable for your journey and renting a minivan might be a better idea. This mostly depends on the number of passengers that will accompany you on the journey.

  • The cost of driving your own car. And by this, I am referring to the trip mileage and the gas price. Here you can calculate whether it is cheaper to rent or drive your own car, based on the miles and the fuels the car will need.


Should I choose a road trip with family or friends?

on a roadtrip

Road trips give you the opportunity to spend quality time with your family and are an experience that will definitely bring you together. While on a road trip, you are the one in control over your trip, meaning that you are the one to decide where you will go and how. You can choose a destination that you’ve always wanted to visit and you can do it your way. This also means that you can change your plans any moment you like and it will still be exciting for the parents and their little ones. Traveling with family can be difficult and expensive but compared to flights or other means of traveling, road trips are the best solution to save money and, in my opinion, have more fun. You can always decide to make a shorter itinerary if you need to save money.

Family road trips are wonderful; however, there are people who prefer to go on an adventure with friends for many reasons. First of all, it’s economical. Everything is split evenly between the travelers and the trip can be impressively inexpensive. Another advantage is the fact that you can switch drivers regularly. This means that the main driver can rest and appreciate watching the sights by the window. Not to mention that you will all save a lot of money on hotel stays. We grow up and usually friendships are neglected. Taking a road trip with friends bonds people together and creates fun memories that will last forever. When traveling with family, you have to concern yourself with maintaining a certain order whereas while on road trip with friends you don’t have to worry about anything! 

Pick the right passengers.

Pick the right passengers.

Each person has a certain travel style, whether it is your own family or good friends. Before you jump in the car and hit the road, make sure that you discuss and share with the rest of the travelers your expectations.  It is better to clear these things beforehand so that no one will be frustrated during the trip.

It is important to take into consideration some matters that relate to the duration of the whole trip, resting hours or days, the budget that each one is willing to provide for the trip, the type of accommodation, whether you will eat at restaurants or bring food with you, as well as who is going to drive the car and whether he/she needs someone awake. Not everyone is on the same page, so be prepared to discuss and to compromise so that everyone is satisfied.

If you are travelling with family, make sure that you bring what is necessary in order to keep your kids occupied. Kids can draw, play tic-tac-toe and hangman or simply write things. Time will fly if you just give them a pencil and a paper so you can avoid offering them a device, such as tablet or phone, in order to manage fussiness. You can bring stuff for them to play with or come up with games that you know your kids will love.

Plan your itinerary…

Plan your itinerary…

Discuss with your companions how many days you have to travel and map out how you are getting to your destination. Do not choose the fastest route but prefer roads (not highways) that will offer you the best sights and attractions. There are a lot of apps that can help you plan your trip, such as:

 Road-trippers: a service that provides Google-Maps directions and information about all the stops, attractions, services, and accommodations you will meet along the way. Road-trippers also helps you calculate fuel costs, time, and distance.

 Maps.me: a mobile app for Android, iOS and BlackBerry that provides offline maps and GPS support. You can download beforehand all the information about the area that you are visiting and have them available while traveling without the need for an internet connection. Maps.me also offers the option of saving bookmarks so that you remember the places you would like to visit. The most important is that you can still search for places and specific addresses offline.

Despite having GPS in your smartphone, do not forget to bring with you a paper map. GPS services can sometimes be inaccurate and unreliable. Always have a back up in the event of an emergency.

Another thing that you should definitely consider before starting a road trip is the weather. Checking the weather beforehand can help you avoid hazardous roads by taking a different route than the one you were planning.

…but also go with the flow.

roadtrip with the view of sunset

Keep your plans loose and do not set overly ambitious goals. The trip won’t be fun if you’re stressing too much about sticking to the plan. Driving 8 hours a day without making any stops to see attractions along the way will not be fun. You never know what interesting opportunities will arise along the way, so plan on a maximum of five or six hours per day for freedom into the route.

Get your car and tires completely checked.

car and tires completely checked

It is advisable to check your car once before you start your journey, no matter how reliable your car is. This is important for you and your passengers’ safety, and make sure you have all the proper tools you might need in the middle of the road, such as a spare tire, a tire inflater and sealer, jumper cables, and your car’s manual. It is better to deal with any problems before they even occur.


Make hotel reservations in advance.

hotel reservations in advance

Being spontaneous, mainly when traveling with friends, is most of the times what makes the trip more enjoyable. However, it’s a good idea to have lodging reservations before you leave home (read:How to Make a Hotel Reservation). Road trips are tiring and it will be very frustrating trying at the last minute to find a place to spend the night.So, it is advisable to make reservations at the places you want to stop and do not forget to call each place a few days before you leave home in order to confirm your reservations.


Pack wisely.

Pack wisely

Pack only what you need. As already mentioned before, you need to have in your car all the necessary tools for any car repairs. Your supplies should also include a first aid kit, multi-tool, flashlight, matches, water bottles, and flares or reflective triangle. Some extra things you will probably need are:

 Paper towels and tissues

 Spare change, especially for the tolls

 Blanket

 Spare car key

 Change of clothes

 USB mobile device charger

Make sure that you pack your stuff as efficiently as you can and, of course, remember where you put everything. If you believe that you’ll need something from your bag, put it on the top of it for easy access. Only take what you think is necessary. And remember, the lighter you pack, the more gas you save.

To find out more on how to pack smart, read our article on Travel Packing: The What and The How.

Consider the hidden costs.

hidden costs

Before hitting the road, you should create a realistic budget of your trip, taking into consideration both the predictable and unpredictable expenses. Know how much your accommodation costs, as well the admission fees for the attractions you plan to visit. Also, calculate the approximate gas bill and the cost of any tollways you might need to pass through.

Food is included in the unpredictable expenses, because it cannot be estimated precisely. However, you can include an approximate amount of money that you estimate will be needed, depending on the days of your trip. Bringing a cooler with you is a good way to control your expenses and save a lot of money on dining costs.

Make stops often.

Make stops often

  What is the meaning of a road trip if the travelers don’t stop to admire the attractions they meet along the way? Don’t hesitate to stop at the places you discover on the roadside. Restaurants offering local cuisine, places with wonderful views, and attractions are what make the road trips so interesting. Give yourself enough time so that you enjoy the sites that you would like to see.

Stops are necessary not only for the attractions but also for a smooth trip without tensions between the passengers. Stops will give you the opportunity to breathe fresh air and release any tensions created due to the trip. Frequent stops are also necessary for kids. If you’ve got children, plan to stop every once in a while at a restaurant or even a highway rest stop. This is important for passengers of all ages.

Don’t forget to have fun.

Don’t forget to have fun

There’s nothing better than listening to a good mix CD during your road trip. Before leaving home, don’t forget to create a CD of music that everyone likes so that all of you will be happy. You’ll probably identify your road trip with these songs and years later when you’ll listen to them, you will recall this wonderful experience. Another way to prevent the passengers from getting bored is to play some car games.

Make new friends.

selfie with new friends

Meeting the locals and making new friends is always a very rewarding experience. You can find some very nice people along the way who will offer you really good recommendations of the must-see or must-do things that only a local would know. A local insight is always better than any kind of travel guide.

How do I save some cash?

save some cash

Here are some tips on how to save money on:

Food

 Bring snacks and waters from home.

 Have meals at local diners instead of chain restaurants; most of the times they are cheaper than the popular restaurants. Another idea is to stop at a supermarket for meals.

 Bring a cooler with you where you can keep your snacks from home. You can always refill the cooler with snacks that you’ll buy from a supermarket.

Gas

 You can use GasBuddy, an app that will tell you the location of the cheapest gas in the area.

 Drive your car correctly. Except for obvious reasons, driving your car responsibly without speeding up is a good way to save on gas.

 Avoid filling up near the airport. Gas prices are higher around this area where desperate car drivers look for a place to refill their cars.

 Plan your route beforehand and try to avoid any tollways that you might meet.

Accommodation

 Reserving a hotel room in advance will also ensure the cheapest rates. 

 If you are sociable and would like to meet locals, Couchsurfing is a good solution for you. This service allows you to stay in a local’s place for free for a couple of days.

 Use FreeCampsites in order to find free camping areas next to you.

For more tips on how to save money while traveling, read our article on How to Travel on Budget.

How can I be comfortable during a road trip?

comfortable during a road trip

Road trips can be really tiring and physically uncomfortable. Except for planning for several stops along the way, as we’ve already mentioned, consider the following tips before you embark on your next trip in order to avoid or reduce the feelings of exhaustion and discomfort:

 Take a blanket with you. Bring a blanket that can easily fit in the car without occupying a lot of space. Taking along a small travel pillow would make you feel even more comfortable. Consider packing some handheld fans in case you feel warm. Not all passengers have the same temperature preferences.

 Wear comfortable clothes. Wear loose clothing, gym shorts, or even pajamas, if you feel more comfortable in them.  It is a good idea to bring with you both a t-shirt as well as a hoodie with you, so that you can adjust to any temperature.

 Take your shoes off. This way you can avoid any pressure on your calves and, of course, you’

 Bring a portable charger or a USB car charger with you. Listening to music on your mp3 player, smartphone or other devices will definitely help you feel more relaxed during the trip. Make sure you bring a USB car or a portable charger so that your gadgets do not run out of battery.  Keep in mind to avoid listening to music for a long period of time because it can cause you a headache!

 Switch positions.As difficult as it may sound, remember to move around occasionally in order to get the blood flowing in your body. It is a good way to prevent any strains and pains.  Remember to sit straight and stretch your neck once in a while.

 Don’t forget your sunglasses.Sun can cause a lot of discomfort and even headaches especially if you’re traveling for many hours. Be well-prepared by bringing sunglasses as well as sunscreen with you.

 Drink water and avoid junk food.It is important to eat healthy snacks during the trip that you can keep in your cooler. Healthy food will give you the energy you need while traveling. Of course, don’t forget to pack bottles of waterto keep you hydrated.

 Share the driving responsibility with others. Driving for long hours can be really exhausting especially if only one person drives. If some of the other passengers have driving licenses too, consider switching drivers periodically so that everybody has the chance to rest and enjoy the view out of their window. It is recommended driving no more than three hours each person before switching.

When is the best time of the day to start my road trip?

Volkswagen Van Classic on a roadtrip

To be honest, there’s no time that is perfect to hit the road for every person and every situation. However, here are some factors that you should take into consideration:

  The traffic. Starting your journey very early in the morning is a good way to avoid rush-hour traffic. Waking up really so early can be hard, but it will save you from exhaustion and frustration.

 The weather. You should definitely check the weather forecast before you leave home. It might turn out that starting your journey earlier or later than you were planning could save you from a storm or any other weather obstacle.

  Who the passengers are. If it is a family road trip, it could be better if your trip begins late at night. This way, the small children can sleep through the night. However, this is not really helpful for sightseeing.

  The duration of the trip. Take into consideration how long is the travel time in order to estimate the time that you will arrive on your destination. This is mostly important if you have to arrive at a hotel and you have to be there during a specific period of time.

last info

Get ready for an unforgettable adventure for you and your friends or family. In order to avoid any unpleasant experiences, I advise you to devote as much time as you can on planning thoroughly your trip. Follow these tips and you’re ready to hit the road!


Before you panic now that your trip is over, read our article on how to adjust to home after travel and make the idea of returning back home easier!


Edited  by Eleni Gkovedarou

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