Want to go on a road trip but don’t know where to start? Here is the complete guide on how to plan a road trip from start to finish.
It’s no doubt that road trips are super fun to go on. In my opinion, packing up your car and hitting the road is the best way to fully immerse yourself in the destination and get the most out of your trip.
But don’t be deceived, it’s not as easy as just packing up your car and hit the road.
Road trippers make it seem so easy but trust me, a lot of preparation goes into it before you can take a photo with your head out of the window car and the wind blowing away your hair as you scream as loud as you can because it’s freeing and no one can hear you. Well, you get the picture.
Before you even reach that step, you’re likely to turn the internet upside down looking for the right information because let me break it to you – planning a road trip can be tiring and time-consuming.
But it doesn’t have to be especially if you have someone (like me) holding your hand, taking you step by step, showing you exactly how to plan a road trip.
Now you might be wondering, why should you trust me to help you plan a road trip?
Simple answer! I’ve been on a number of road trips, from road tripping through Botswana for 3 weeks, taking a short road trip to Victoria falls in Zimbabwe, to the pearl of Africa in Uganda, I’ve definitely picked up a number of road trip tips under my sleeves to share.
And you’ll be happy to know that I’ve used this exact road trip planning guide to plan both the short and long road trips.
Whether you’re going on a short or a long road trip regardless of where this post will show you exactly how to prepare for a road trip.
So if you’re ready, let’s look at the step-by-step guide to planning a road trip for an epic adventure on the road.
How to Plan a Road Trip
1. Choose a destination
You might have had the idea of going on a road trip, but with no destination in mind yet. If that’s you, now is the time to determine where exactly to go. (If you already know where you want to go for a road trip, you can skip to the next section.)
A destination might be a country, a state, or even just a city, whichever works for you.
If you have a long list of crazy bucket list ideas as I do, you may want to narrow it down by bringing in other factors that we will look at later on.
However, not everyone knows the perfect road trip destination. If that’s you, there are a number of places where you can draw inspiration from, and below are some.
Pinterest is the perfect platform to draw inspiration from when it comes to planning a road trip.
Travel content creators are always pushing out detailed guides about the places they’ve been to and precise road itineraries that you can even follow.
Forums have become increasingly popular when it comes to drawing inspiration.
The advantage is that you can ask a number of people and they will suggest a number of possible routes depending on your preferred places. Check out forums like Reddit, Quora, Tripadvisor, etc
Since you’re already here, you know that travel blogs have a ton of posts to inspire you.
I mean, it’s our job as travel bloggers to inspire others to travel to places we’ve been to. The adventurous feet (this blog) has a ton of posts that will inspire you.
Other places where you can draw inspiration to help you plan a road trip include Google, Facebook groups, Instagram, Guide books, Google maps, etc.
When you’re done browsing all those places, write down the top contenders- maybe 5 or 10 – whatever you want.
If you’ve narrowed it down to one place- kudos to you, the search for a road trip destination ends there for you.
But if you’re still torn between a couple of places, this step below with help you land your perfect road trip destination/route.
Things to consider before choosing a road trip destination
How long your road trip will be
If you just have a couple of days, say just a weekend, it might not be a good idea to go to a faraway destination.
A destination near your home is the best option. But if you have a couple of weeks, even an international road trip is possible.
Pro tip* Choose a road trip route that suits the number of days you have but also leave yourself time to enjoy the attractions on that route. You don’t want to spend the entire road trip just driving.
The weather conditions
Weather plays a huge role when it comes to preparing for a road trip.
Choose a destination that has the weather you want to experience at that particular time.
If you want to enjoy the sun and some of the destinations on your list are in winter, cross them out and make the list shorter.
Pro tip* In my opinion, road trips are much more enjoyable in drier months. You would not have to worry about your car getting stuck in snow or mud. So a destination that is not in its winter season during your time of travel would be much better.
Estimated Budget for each destination
It’s no doubt that each destination is likely to have a different cost of living.
If you already have a rough budget in mind, knowing how much each destination is likely to cost will help you narrow down your road trip route.
If some destinations are too expensive compared to what you’re willing to spend, just cancel them out for now and keep the one you can afford.
If you fulfilled all those steps above, I am sure that you now have the road trip destination. And it’s now time to plan a road trip according to that very destination you’ve zeroed on.
Related post: Important things to do before any trip
2. Determine the type of transportation
One of the things to consider when planning a road trip is the type of transportation you’ll use. There are a number of options to consider and below are some.
If you already own a camper van, that’s perfect, you just need to pack all your road trip essentials and hit the road.
But if you don’t own one but the idea of sleeping in a campervan while on the road excites you, then you can rent one from websites like Rental cars.
With rental cars, you’ll get a variety of campers to choose from and then narrow it down to the one that suits your needs.
Rooftop tented car
If you’re into camping and have no issues with sleeping in a tent mounted on top of the car, this is a perfect option to go for a road trip.
I’ve actually used a rooftop tented car a number of times even while road tripping in Botswana and I can say that it’s a fun experience.
We get it, not everyone is into the adventurous side of sleeping in a car or on top of it in a tent.
Some people just prefer driving their own car, park somewhere for the night and check into a cozy hostel or hostel and sleep in a proper ”bed”.
Whichever option works for you, just go for that. Just make sure that you organize everything well beforehand.
If it’s your car, get it checked out mechanically to make sure that it’s in perfect condition.
And depending on the road conditions in your preferred destination, you might want to take a 4 wheel drive otherwise a 2 wheel drive can also work.
If your road trip is an international one where you can’t just easily drive to, you can rent a car on the other side of the world (Rental cars is a good option to book with), fly into that country by booking with Skyscanner or even use a train to get there if it’s possible.
When you’re done determining where you’ll road trip to and the means of transport you’ll use, then it’s time to plan your road trip basing on that particular destination.
Related post: How to plan a trip from scratch
3. Research your destination and create an itinerary
Now that you know which route you’ll be taking, it’s time to dive deeper.
First of all, determine your start and finish points. If this is a local road trip, this might not be a challenge as you’ll have to start from your home and determine where you’ll stop to return back home.
If it’s an international road trip, the ideal start point would be your hotel/hostel after picking up your car (if you hired one) and your endpoint would be where you’ll return the car.
Research activities along the way
The advantage of taking a road trip is that you can make countless stops as you please.
However, making unnecessary stops might also meaning not having enough time to finish your route within the planned duration.
So to avoid that, create a rough itinerary with activities you’ll do along the way. A rough itinerary could be like this;
Drive from A ——————————– (Stop to visit a waterfall and the nearby attractions at B) ———————————–Drive to C. Remember to include the estimated drive time between attractions.
Basically, just plan out all your activities and all your overnight stops along the way.
Overnight stops should ideally be in towns where you can find accommodation for the night.
But this depends on your preferred way of sleeping. If it’s a camper, research places that allow campers to park their campervans, if it’s camping, search for towns with campsites, and if you prefer to sleep well in a proper hotel, search for such places.
However, as you plan for stops (especially overnight stops), factor in the driving time.
It wouldn’t be practical to have your first stop after 2 hours, and your next one after 7 hours. Distribute your time evenly so that you’re not completely worn out.
Research restaurants along the way
For long road trips, you should have some snacks and food in your car.
However, you should also research restaurants along the way should you need to grab something to eat.
Ideally, you should look for restaurants in the areas you plan to stop at so that you don’t waste time making unnecessary stops.
Plan your accommodation
One of the biggest mistakes to avoid while on a road trip is not figuring out your accommodation beforehand.
Some people think that they will just drive into a town and start looking for a hotel. Though this can work in some cases, it’s not a good idea.
What if you stop in a town that doesn’t have a hotel, what if all the hotels/hostels are full? It would be such a pain to deal with this situation – worse if it’s in the night.
So what you should do is to research places where you’ll sleep at every overnight stop. Research hotels/hostels or campsites along that route and zero down on the ones you’d be staying at.
You might not book those hotels as yet, but note them down or better yet pin their locations on google maps.
Ideally something like this could work. I always keep a spreadsheet to organize my route..
|DAYS||START (9 AM)||STOP (11:30 am)||DRIVE (3 PM)||SLEEP|
|DAY 1||Drive from Point A to Point B||Stop at Point B to visit a number of attractions. You could also have your lunch at this point.||Resume journey to Point C||Overnight sleepover at Hotel X at Point C|
You don’t have to do yours like this but I am just giving you an idea of how you can plan your road-tripping day.
Things to consider when planning stops and accommodation
- When booking accommodation, check that the price covers your car parking. Some hotels/hostels might have an extra fee for car parking.
- Factor in the time you might spend in traffic jam when planning your driving time.
- Though I mentioned creating a rough itinerary as you prepare for a road trip, don’t follow the said itinerary religiously- be a bit spontaneous. If you see something along the way that you had not planned to see but looks interesting, stop and visit. After all road trips are not just about driving but enjoying what’s on the way.
- Use stops to restock your groceries and everything you might need.
- Always refuel your car every chance you get. You don’t want to be stranded with no nearby fuel station. You can actually pin a few fuel stations’ locations on the map so that you don’t miss them.
You can also check out these other important road trip tips to help you have a blast along the way.
Related post: Things not to do while traveling
4. Make pins on Google maps
After having a rough idea of which activities you’ll do along the way, overnight stops, and accommodation, it’s time to pin those locations on the map to see if everything flows well and makes sense.
If everything still makes sense, then great- it means that you’ve just planned your epic road trip. But if not, then keep adjusting by adding more pins or removing some.
Don’t forget that the driving distance from one point to another is so important. And since google gives an estimated driving duration, it will be easy to notice if the drive time is doable or not and later adjust accordingly.
Pro tip* When calculating the driving time, always add an extra 30 minutes on top of what google estimates to cater for things like traffic, the terrain, etc.
So ideally, you should have such pins on the map;
- Start point
- Attractions to visit
- Fuel station (Very important to know when to refuel your car)
- Hotels/Hostels/campsites to sleep at
- End point
If everything looks good after the adjustments, download that google maps page to make sure that you don’t lose it should you reach a place with no internet.
5. Make Bookings
Now that everything looks good, you can book your accommodation, hire your car and everything else that might need booking beforehand.
I use Booking.com to book most of my hotels. The good thing about using Booking.com is that you can book without a credit card and you can also cancel your booking 24 hours before your stay should you change your itinerary a bit.
And since road trips are all about being spontaneous, you can choose to stay one more night in another place, which means that you can cancel the other hotel anytime for free.
Air BnB is a great option when it comes to booking accommodation.
They’re normally cheaper compared to hotels and also come with a kitchen in most cases. This means that you can prepare your own meals hence saving money while on a road trip.
Hostel world has a pool of hostels across the world and it’s the perfect booking website to use for hostels.
If you’re going to stay at a campsite, make sure that you book ahead of time as well not to get disappointed.
Unless you have your own car, now is the time to rent the car you’ll use on your road trip.
I am sure by this point, you have already made up your mind whether to book just a car, a rooftop tented car, or a real campervan.
Whatever you choose, now is the time to make your road trip a reality by booking it.
There are so many booking websites around but I still prefer using Rental cars.
Book activities and tours
Though road trips are all about being spontaneous, some activities require booking in time.
It’s actually a good idea to book your tours in time so that you don’t reach when that particular tour or activity is booked out.
The most recommended websites to book activities are;
Get your guide
With Get your guide, you’re guaranteed high-quality tours as their tour guides are always knowledgeable and professional.
And the other best part is that you can skip the long lines at popular sites when you book their tours.
They also operate across the entire world. So you’re sure that wherever you’re road tripping, you’ll find a tour offered by them. Check out all the activities and tours by GetYourGuide.
Are you road-tripping in Asia? 12GO is the largest activities’ booking platform in the region. They not only offer tours and activities but also ground transportation.
Whether it is activities, trains, buses or boats, anything you want can be accessed when you book with 12GO.
6. Get your paper work in order
Check to see if there is any kind of paperwork you might need. If you plan on crossing any border while driving, research to find out if you need ceratin car border-crossing documents and process them.
Also, check to see if you’ll need an International driver’s license if your road trip is outside your country.
And if you need it, start processing it. You can use the International drivers permit association website to process one fast.
In the same manner, check if you need a visa for that destination and work on it.
7. Buy travel Insurance
Just like traveling anywhere, you’ll need to buy travel insurance as you prepare for a road trip.
For your personal Insurance, I recommend buying World Nomads as it can be used literally anywhere in the world.
You can request a quote from here or use the widget below.
On top of that, you’ll need to insure your car. Actually forgetting to buy travel insurance for your car is one of the deadly mistakes you can make on a road trip.
If you’re just hiring the car, check to see if the hiring price includes Insurance and if not, find out how you can cover it.
Related post: How to stay safe while traveling
8. Inspect you car
As you near the start of your road trip, you’ll need to do a full car inspection to make sure that you don’t have any surprises along the way- or worse, a flat tire in a deserted place.
Wondering how to prepare you car before a road trip? Worry not, this checklist will help you know what exactly to look out for.
- First of all, do a general service for your car (this applies if it’s your own car but if you’re renting it, chances are high that it’s already serviced). Take it to a pro mechanic to do the service for you.
- Make sure that you have a spare tire and learn how to change one if you don’t know.
- Get a roadside car emergency kit. This car roadside emergency kit has everything you might need in case of an emergency
- Check if all the tires are in perfect condition.
- Inspect whether the car amenities work well – the lights, windscreen wipers, side mirrors, etc
- Finally, clean up your car. Not necessary but it’s cool to start your road trip in a clean car
9. Get your road trip essentials ready
The best way to have a great road trip is to pack everything you”ll need on the road.
With everything almost ready, its time to pack your bags and hit the road.
Some of the road trip essentials you should take include;
- Dashcam: A security feature you should never leave behind.
- Car charger: Important especially if you’re not traveling alone. This car charger is my favorite.
- Hands-free phone mount: You’ll need to use your phone even when driving. Whether it is to follow the GPS or to keep switching from one playlist to another, this handsfree phone mount will come in handy.
- Daypack: When you need to go on a sightseeing adventure, you”ll need a day pack like this one to keep all your day’s essentials.
- A Small cooler: Store your food well and keep your drinks cold by getting yourself this Coleman cooler.
- Toiletries: Add sunscreen, chapstick, toilet paper, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer to your toilet bag before you hit the road.
- First Aid kit: A must-have before you leave home. I like this one because it is small but has all the items needed for the first medical attention.
- Travel pillow: Stay comfortable while road tripping by taking this compressible travel pillow.
- A killer playlist: Don’t get bored, download all the songs you love to create an amazing playlist for the road trip. Or check out these road trip games to keep yourself entertained.
- Collapsible travel water bottle: Stay hydrated at all times by taking this collapsible travel water bottle.
- Car sunshade: This car sunshade will keep your car cool even when you park it under the sun.
- Camera: You’ll need to capture all the beauty along the way. Check out the best cameras for travelers
- Large scarf: This large scarf will warm you up when it gets chilly in the car or even just to cozy up.
This is by no means a comprehensive list but you can check out this complete road trip packing list to know everything you’ll need as you plan your road trip
10. Enjoy your road trip
Finally, enjoy your road trip. Now it’s the time to do everything you’ve spent hours planning for.
Try not to stress out or follow the road trip itinerary religiously but rather let loose and enjoy the outdoors.
If you were wondering how to plan a rod trip, I hope that this comprehensive road trip planner helped you plan what is likely to be the best road trip of your life.
But before you go, check out these other travel tips that will help you plan all your trips.
More travel tips you should check out
- Hiking tips for beginners
- Backpacking tips for beginners
- Best camping tips for beginners
- Must-know tips for first-time travelers
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