“Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.”
– Angela N. Blount
The wind in your hair, music blasting, your hand out the window surfing the breeze. Exploring the open road with your family or friends is an American rite of passage. Yet even with the most careful, thought-out planning, you will inevitably be forced to deviate from your route. If you follow our tips on how to plan a road trip, you will be relaxed, comfortable and open to whatever exciting, unexpected adventures await. So grab your map and hit the road!
Clean Before You Go
Road trips are long. Many days, or even weeks, sharing such a small, confined space with others will eventually lead to some frustrations and small annoyances. Your environment directly affects your state of mind so do a thorough cleaning before heading off as well as every time you stop at a location with facilities.
It may seem like overkill, but trash and debris build up fast and if you wait too long, you run the risk of being too drained and tired to clean when the car really needs it. A de-cluttered space will relax everyone.
Prepare The Vehicle
The last thing you want once you hit the open road, giddy with anticipation and songs of freedom dancing in your soul, is a breakdown, especially if you finally arrived in “the middle of nowhere.” If you don’t know how to check the fluids, tire pressure and tread depth, battery, wipers, spark plugs and belts yourself, pay to have it done.
Bring along tools to change a flat tire, as well as jumper cables and flares. Some other essentials to always have on hand include: duct tape, insurance papers, a flashlight, first aid kit, water, a multi-tool like this, emergency money, a travel charger, a warm blanket (like our Fold N’Go™ blanket and case), matches and a paper map (useful – and fun to highlight your route as you go).
Plan, A Lot
First, the route – you should definitely make some spontaneous stops along the way, but know your final destination, where to sleep each night, and your general time-line, before you leave. Some great websites and apps that can help you in planning and when on the road are Roadtrippers and Along The Way. When picking your roads and highways, avoid main throughways at rush hour or on holidays.
While losing your way every now and then often leads to some of the best memories, you don’t want to get too lost, so bring along two different electronic navigation methods (an app on your phone and a dedicated GPS, or two separate apps).
Check the weather every morning before hitting the road – getting caught in an unexpected storm 50 miles after setting off could really affect how far you are able to go that day, and could also be dangerous. A great website/app for that is The Weather Network’s highway forecast.
Also, when thinking about how to plan a road trip, keep in mind that each passenger will have different ideas, interests and travel styles. Part of the planning should include a meeting of all involved to discuss expectations. Also, you will need to figure out:
- The trip’s purpose – do you need to get to where you are going quickly, or can you meander?
- Who will drive, and when?
- Meal styles – pre-packed snacks, restaurants or fast-food?
- Sleeping styles – hotels, hostels, camping or staying with local hosts?
- Money – how will you divide up food, lodging and gas?
Now Throw Your Plans Away
Advance planning is a road trip tip must, but organizing your journey down to the last mile and requiring strict adherence to the program will kill the spirit of discovery. Construction, downed bridges, accidents and weather will impact your plans. As will chance encounters with soon-to-be new friends, bizarre roadside attractions (even if you comb through RoadsideAmerica.com and think you’ve seen everything, you haven’t), and little hamlets so gorgeous and peaceful that you’ll want to stay longer than anticipated. So try not to research everything before you go and embrace the spirit of discovery.
If you are wondering how to plan a road trip that isn’t over-arranged, here are a few tips: if there’s a smaller, local road running parallel to your main route, take it. Search out scenic routes and follow offbeat billboards. Accept invitations from locals for lunch or an overnight (as long as you feel safe). Let yourself be pleasantly surprised by what some places have to offer.
Stay On Budget
It’s easy to think that driving to your destination is cheaper than flying because you did not buy a single multi-hundred dollar ticket. But gas, food and lodging add up, and you’ll want to have money for activities and souvenirs. While a road trip is not necessarily about saving money, if you don’t estimate your total costs ahead of time and stay within budget, you may end up distressed at how fast the small, seemingly insignificant purchases add up. One easy way to create a budget is to use a travel budget calculator.
Gas And Food – Ways To Save
Gas and food are where you will spend the bulk of your budget, but there are ways to reduce costs for both. With gas, it’s easier to use less than to find the cheapest, though when you do need to refill, take an exit with lots of gas stations and fast food establishments – prices are generally lower due to competition.
To reduce gas consumption, leave the lead foot at home. Efficiency is the name of the game and anyway, if you go whizzing through all the small towns along your route, you’re bound to miss seeing the quirky effects that make each place unique.
Also, keep cargo to a minimum. Though you will want to bring home some mementos, this is not the time to go antique shopping.
When it comes to food, the simplest way to save is bring your own. Load up a cooler – good ones keeps things fresh for up to five days without needing more ice. Though a packed cooler weighs a lot, the savings in food costs surpass the extra gas costs. You will be happier too as you won’t have to make many unscheduled stops just to eat, and you’ll feel better than if you subsist on fast food for days on end.
Pack Light, But Pack For Comfort
When you are thinking about how to plan a road trip, remember that you will be sitting, a lot, in a small space. While you don’t want to bring every creature comfort you own, you do want to feel cozy enough to nap away some of the more monotonous stretches of road. Wear loose-fitting clothes in layers and bring along a pair of soft travel shoes like our Portable Pocket Flats.
If you are planning some days of long routes without stops, you may want to consider wearing compression socks. Our Bamboo Compression Socks™ will reduce foot swelling and leg discomfort that come from sitting or pressing on the gas pedal for hours on end.
When it’s your turn to rest during the daylight hours, pack an eye cover like the Midnight Magic® sleep mask, which also includes memory foam earplugs – handy if the driver needs loud music to stay awake! As headrests never seem to be at the right height or angle, check out our top-rated line of neck pillows – with four styles you can be sure to find the perfect travel pillow for you.
Finally, use packing cubes in your bag, and put the clothes for your first stop on top.
Beware of Boredom
Unlike airplane and train travel, someone always has to remain alert and awake on the road (i.e., the driver!). Boredom leads to sleepiness which is extremely dangerous, so be sure to bring along ideas and devices for entertainment. Music is good as long as it’s not too soothing. Instead, try some car games or bring a book of questions to ask out loud. Serialized podcasts and audiobooks can help keep you alert and on the edge of your driver’s seat!
Make The Road Your Home
A road trip allows immersion in the local culture in a way few other travel methods do. Wherever you stop along the way, ask the natives for the best eateries – often their ideas are cheaper and have better ambience than what guidebooks suggest. Join an online travel community like Couchsurfing or BeWelcome and contact locals on your route – ask to meet for a short hometown tour or coffee, or inquire about what to see and do. You may end up being invited into someone’s home – you may end up making a new best friend.
Off You Go
Road trip. Just the words set the imagination ablaze. With our tips on how to plan a road trip, and our super comfy travel pillows and accessories, you will have the adventure of a lifetime, one mile at a time.