How to Plan a Successful Road Trip Music and maps are just part of the equation

When we think of road trips, we usually think of long car rides, funny stories, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences with our buddies.  Road trips are a great way to spend time with your best friends, but can also cause a lot of stress when in the planning process.  There are so many options and decisions to make along the way when it comes to where you’re going, where to stay, and what to do, that it often leads to plans falling apart or strains on friendships.  If you break it down and follow these pieces of advice, however, you’ll be ready to embark on the most epic road trip yet.

Plan Your Route

how to plan a road trip preparation

After you decide where, generally, you want to go, you’re going to want to figure out a few initial things for sure just to ensure that everything will go smoothly.

Route Planning Checklist:

  • The dates of the trip.
  • The first and final destinations.
  • The stops along the way.

That being said, you don’t want plans so solid that they’re impossible to change.  Things happen, especially when traveling, so whether it’s a car issue, an unexpected pit stop, or anything in between, make sure you and everyone in your group is prepared to be flexible.  Part of the fun of road trips are the unexpected experiences that happen along the way.  

Budget

how to plan a road trip budgeting

Admittedly not the most fun part about a road trip, but arguably the most important, is budgeting.  Here are a few of the most important things to remember when coming up with a budget. 

Budget Checklist:

  • Have a budget for each individual location.  It can be a different number for each place you go, but overall this makes it a lot easier to keep track of your spending.  
  • Be stingy with the budgets you give yourself because, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, it’s very likely you will go over.  
  • Spend money on experiences, not material items.  It’ll be tempting, especially at first, to buy everything you see because you think it’ll help you remember your trip.  Try to hold off and you’ll soon realize that you’re so thankful you didn’t buy that keychain in Kansas.  
  • Have a buffer: an extra budget set aside for emergencies.

Reservations

To make your life easier, have a good amount of reservations in place before you go.  Here are the most important things to make reservations for.

Reservations Checklist:

  • Places to stay-this will give you one less thing to be thinking about during your trip and will enable you to enjoy your time without worrying about where you’re sleeping at night.
  • Activities-things like tours, rentals, concert tickets, etc. sell out or get more expensive the longer you wait.  So do some research and get tickets for any activities or tours you’d like to do before you depart.  

*Remember to make reservations that can be canceled because, like we said, you never know what can happen when on the road.

Preparation

how to plan a road trip preparation

In preparation for your road trip, you’re going to want to do a few things.

Prep Checklist:

  • Make sure one of your travelers has AAA (or something similar).  The last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of the U.S. with a flat tire (or worse).  
  • Do a thorough check of the car to make sure everything is working and running properly.  

*If none of your travelers have a reliable car to use, or if you’re off-roading and your sedan can’t handle the action, maybe look into renting one.

Packing

We know you’ve heard this before, but pack light!  Limit yourself and your friends to 1 bag each to save on trunk space, too.

Packing Checklist:

  • Clothes for hot and cold weather that are also comfortable.  Most of what you’re going to want to bring is either comfortable car clothes or activewear for those long exploring days. Also, make sure to bring items of clothing that can be worn with multiple things, like lots of layers and your most versatile basics.  
  • The necessities like a toothbrush, medicine, etc.  However, leave other stuff like shampoo and soap at home (hotels usually have those things).
  • Snacks (the most critical of them all).  Bring a bunch of snacks and water to keep everyone happy while you’re on the road.
  • Music is another big one.  Have everyone make a playlist for the trip and you can switch off who gets the aux cord (side note: do bring an aux cord) so you aren’t stuck listening to the same songs over and over. 
  • Podcasts (if you’re into them) are another good way to pass the time and can be the start of some interesting conversations.  
  • Car chargers, of course.

Apps

These are some of the top road trip apps that will help with different parts of the road trip process. 

Roadtrippers

how-to-plan-a-road-trip-roadtrippers

Roadtrippers is the ultimate road trip app.  It helps you discover places to go including diners, roadside attractions, scenic points, national parks, and hotels. You can plan trips directly on the app, make and share itineraries with friends, and save your trips.

GasBuddy

how-to-plan-a-road-trip-gasbuddy

A simple yet useful app, GasBuddy is what will save you money on gas.  It looks at your current location and helps you find the cheapest gas close to you.  

TVFoodMaps

how-to-plan-a-road-trip-tv-foodmaps

Ever see a restaurant on the Food Channel that you’d do anything to try?  This app finds that restaurant you saw Guy Fieri eating at on TV and leads you right to it.  You can search a specific restaurant or enter your location and browse the options around you.   

iExit

how-to-plan-a-road-trip-tv-iexit

iExit has the potential to be a real lifesaver on your trip.  It takes your current location and tells you what exits are coming up along with what is at each exit.  You can search for things like restaurants, wifi, rest stops, hotels, coffee, etc.

Our Suggested Routes

Here are some of the most popular road trips and roads in the U.S.  Do one or do them all!  

PCH (Highway 1)

how to plan a road trip pacific coast highway

  • Length: 655 miles
  • States: California
  • What you’ll see: bluffs overlooking ocean, ocean views, restaurants, unique craft cocktails, beaches, Big Sur, Solvang, Hearst Castle, Santa Cruz

Find more information on this route here.

Route 66 (Illinois to California)

how to plan a road trip route 66

  • Length: 2,451 miles
  • States: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois
  • What you’ll see: one of most famous roads in the U.S., cornfields of Illinois, Grand Canyon, Native American communities, small-town Midwest, great way to appreciate history!

Find more information on this route here.

Overseas Highway

how to plan a road trip overseas highway

  • Length: 113 miles
  • States: Florida (Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Key West)
  • What you’ll see: coral reefs, tropical savanna, secluded islands, historic shipwrecks, big fishing holes, animals (turtles, dolphins, rare species of deer)

Find more information on this route here.

Skyline Drive

how to plan a road trip skyline

  • Length: 109 miles
  • States: Virginia
  • What you’ll see: Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Mountains, 75 overlooks throughout the drive, wildlife (black bears), it’s a mountainside drive for most of the way

Find more information on this route here.

Road to Nowhere

how -plan a road trip road to nowhere

  • Length: 2000 miles
  • States: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
  • What you’ll see: Great Plains, Texas/Oklahoma Panhandle, Rio Grande, Gulf of Mexico, Missouri River roadways, agricultural expanses

Find more information on this route here.

The Loneliest Road

how to plan a road trip loneliest highway

  • Length: 3,200 miles
  • States: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland
  • What you’ll see: 4 state capitals, Washington DC, Sierra Nevada, Appalachian, Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, Lake Tahoe, The Great Basin

Find more information on this route here.

Now that you know everything you need to know and have all the tools you need, get out there and embark on that epic road trip you’ve been thinking about since high school.