Warning! This may be the most comprehensive article about how to plan a road trip on the entire internet. At least, that was my goal when beginning this project.
This article is over 4000 words long and you may need to return to it multiple times, using the clickable contents to navigate. There are links to in-depth pieces, downloadable content, planning apps, and resources on each of the topics discussed.
It’s full of extensive road trip planning tips and tricks you can implement on the road to save money, time, and find the best attractions en-route.
This step-by-step article will also cover how to plan a road trip on google maps so that you can focus on having fun with your friends.
This is the ultimate article, providing everything needed whilst planning a road trip with multiple stops. It draws on my experience of driving through over 30 countries during the last several years.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you make a qualifying purchase, but this is at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting The Road Trip Expert.
How to Plan a Road Trip Using This Guide
- Get inspired and choose a destination/approximate route.
- Plan your road trip route on google maps.
- Create a road trip budget
- Plan things to do, where you will stay and make appropriate bookings
- Prepare your vehicle, documentation, and insurance.
- Follow a road trip packing list, plan food, entertainment, and budgeting
- Follow our road trip tips and driving rules for abroad (if required)
Work your way through the above to plan a road trip of a lifetime!
- Use a pen and paper, or a laptop, and work your way through this guide, planning your road trip step-by-step.
- Use the links throughout the article to return to the contents section and easily navigate around all the topics.
- Bookmark this page so you can find it again easily and refer to the tips both before and whilst on the road.
Start your engines…
Plan a Road Trip on Google Maps (With Multiple Stops)
You can use Google Maps to plan a road trip with multiple stops and estimate the total driving time. Make sure you add 25% extra to the estimated time to account for traffic and frequent breaks.
I also recommend Waze for the actual navigation due to the other features regarding traffic enforcement and speed tracking.
Planning Your Road Trip Route
The first step is to research possible locations/countries for your road trip.
- Set a time and budget for your road trip
- Get inspired by exploring potential destinations on Instagram, Pinterest, Travel blogs and Reddit.
- Check out our Road Trip Itineraries for ideas.
- Plan out the start and finish destination, and all of the places you will stay overnight.
- Plan out the attractions you see each day.
On Instagram, you can search hashtags for road trips including your country of interest such as #USAroadtrip, #Franceroadtrip, etc.
Look at potential attractions
I also like to google the major cities along a potential route as well as nearby attractions. Big cities make great stop-offs as they have good accommodation options.
You may also have a specific place that you want to visit that is difficult to reach so perhaps you could fly into a nearby airport and plan a road trip loop from that location.
Create A Road Trip Budget
- Set a budget per day for your trip
- Find out the cost of your vehicle by checking the price per day on Rentalcars.
- Allocate a budget per day for food, accommodation, and having fun.
- Check out our full in-depth guide on creating a Road Trip Budget.
Make Bookings For Your Road Trip
You can now use your budget to plan out where you will stay and what you will do. An important thing to get sorted early is your travel insurance. I use World Nomads.
A great alternative holiday is to rent a hire car in a new country at the airport and plan a road trip. Use the search box below to see what price is available at your location of choice.
Book Your Rental Car Using RentalCars.com
If you are finding this guide helpful then I would really appreciate it if you used my link to Rental Cars. That would really help me out. Remember you can drop off your vehicle in a different location if you like.
I’ve done this a few times when I want to fly out of a different airport in a country I’m taking a road trip in.
Book Your Accommodation
Here are some options for booking accommodation for your road trip journey! Booking in advance gives peace of mind, but sometimes it’s fun to be spontaneous and book as you go along.
Booking.com – For hotels and apartments.
Hostelworld – For a social experience.
Airbnb – For something different.
Book The Fun Stuff
Take some time to book any tickets required for the activities you are doing. You might be able to find some online discounts. Below is a search box for Get Your Guide, which allows you to book a variety of experiences all over the world.
Follow A Road Trip Packing List
After you have planned your route and booked all the required accommodation, parking, rental cars, and tours, it’s time to start packing!
But how do you pack smart? And what should you take?
Well, fortunately for you, we have created the complete road trip packing list. Ensure you don;t forget a thing and work your way through the list.
Essential Car Gadgets
Among our essential road trip accessories are:
Top Tip – A dashcam can protect you from liability in an accident that isn’t your fault
Packing the Car Like a Pro
When packing your personal items, use a main bag or suitcase, followed by at least one smaller day pack for exploring during each day.
Top Tip – Use a black bedsheet to cover your bags when you leave the car unattended
Essentials to Keep to Hand
Make sure you keep all essential documentation nicely organized in an easy to reach location.
- Spare key
- Insurance and car registration documents
- Driving license and passport
Best Road Trip Planner Apps
During the road trip planning process, a good thing to do is download all the best apps you will need.
We cover all the best road trip planning apps extensively, here: Best Road Trip Planner Apps
Want a quick run-down?
Here are a few top apps you should consider downloading to plan a road trip yourself on a smartphone.
- Waze – Best app for navigation
- Google Trips / Road Trippers – Best apps for finding things to do en route
- Parkopedia – Best app for finding parking
- GetYourGuide – Best app for city tours
- Airbnb / Booking.com / Hostelworld – Best apps for booking accommodation
Preparing Incredible Road Trip Food
If you are traveling from home, you will need to prepare food to take with you. Check out our article on road trip food ideas to help you plan food and drink for your trip.
The article also covers how to store the food whilst out on the road.
How to eat healthy while on a road trip
- Plan and prepare meals in the morning before you are tired from a day of driving and having fun
- If you are looking to eat out, try to find a restaurant in advance that serves healthy food
- Drink plenty of water whilst on the road. I always have a 2L bottle filled when I start the day
- Buy fruit and veg in local supermarkets and store in a cooler box. Find accommodation with kitchen facilities to prepare healthy meals.
- I use HUEL as a healthy meal replacement drink whilst on the road.
I would also keep the cooler box in an easily accessible place so you can get to your road trip snacks.
Road Trip Itineraries From The Road Trip Expert
One of our primary aims for this site is to create high-quality, easy-to-follow, premade itineraries for you to consider. If you need help with inspiration, you can check out some of our route suggestions!
These itineraries are step by step guides including everything you need to know before you set off and all the things to do along the route. Head over to the itineraries section of our site to browse what we have to offer.
- U.S Road Trip – 9 Drives You Need To Do This Summer
- Canada Road Trip – 9 Awesome Trips
- UK Road Trip – 8 Routes For Summertime
Other Example Itineraries:
Essential Road Trip Planning Tips
These are some essential points to consider when making a decision on the route as discussed above.
Pick a route length that is reasonable given the amount of time you have for the trip
You don’t want to spend the whole time driving. Choose a manageable distance so you can focus on enjoying the attractions along the way.
Plan accommodation and food in advance
When you drive a long way, it’s much more enjoyable if you have some tasty road trip food and a nice place to stay at the end of it. Stay flexible with the social things to keep it exciting but don’t leave everything until the last minute.
Find as many fun things to do en route as possible
It’s easy to focus on the big cities and major attractions when route planning. However, part of the fun of a road trip is the flexibility to stop off in smaller lesser-known attractions.
Feel free to check out our article explaining what to do on a long car ride to entertain yourself.
You can find things to do on your route using Google Trips.
“Because the best part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your final destination”
Don’t pick an excessively long route
Start by identifying how long you can spend on your road trip. This will help you decide how many places are feasible to visit.
Generally speaking, I would keep driving to a maximum of 3.5 hours, as this gives plenty of time to enjoy the destinations.
Below is a reasonable recommendation for total driving time, depending on how many days you have for your trip:
Total driving 10 hours – 3-4-day road trip
Total driving 20 hours – 6-7-day road trip
Total driving 30 hours – 10-14-day road trip
To calculate total driving time, use an approximate route in Google Maps. I would add 25% to the estimated time taken due to traffic and breaks.
This should then help you plan a start and finish destination.
Using a hire car?
Some companies will let you rent it from one location and drop it off at another. Alternatively, apply the above logic but plan a loop back to your start destination.
Driving reasonable distances is also when of the best ways to avoid lower back pain from driving.
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Top 3 Mistakes To Avoid When You Plan A Road Trip
- Not considering parking when you book accommodation
It’s easy to search for accommodation based simply on price, quality, and location and to completely forget about the cost and convenience of parking. When on a road trip make sure to search for parking and accommodation at the same time. Often you can face large parking costs, especially in major cities.
Use these helpful tips:
- Not considering traffic and breaks when planning the drive
When planning your route using a mapping service like Google Maps remember to add 25% to the time stated for breaks and traffic.
- Not getting good breakdown cover
Trust me, the last thing you want is to break down in the middle of nowhere with no cover…
Initial Route Attraction and Accommodation Planning
Now you have identified your start and finish location you can work on planning stop-offs and activities along the way using Google Maps.
- Firstly, break down your trip into a day by day plan including locations for accommodation.
- Next, start to create a list of things that interest you in those locations; any tours you want to take, attractions to see, cool areas you want to explore, food recommendations, etc.
I like to jot them all down. You can edit and prioritize later when you finalize your plans.
To help with this, check out our piece on how frequently you should take breaks when driving long distances.
At the very least, make sure to outline the ‘must-do’ activities for your destination as these are often one of the main reasons for choosing to go to a specific destination.
Route Planning and Apps.
Plan out the trip, day by day, including any driving you will do and what attractions you will see. Use Google Maps for the navigation planning aspect.
Best Planning Apps and Websites for Attractions
Cities vs Outdoor Recreation
One of the great things about having a car is you have the flexibility to visit anywhere you want! This can range from strolling through exciting cities to hiking or exploring national parks.
Some Ideas to Consider:
- Getyourguide.com to view tours and attractions in the area
- AirBnB for experiences
- Visiting cities en route
- Visiting national parks or nature reserves
- Trying out local food and drink
- Hiking, Biking or other outdoor activities
Finding Places to Stay
Now that you have established the main things you want to do during the road trip, it’s time to sort out your accommodation.
As I mentioned earlier, plan to do no more than 3.5 hours driving in a day. From this, you should be able to identify places en route where you want to stay the night.
Once you have chosen some places to stay and finalized the itinerary for each day, move onto Step 3 which is making bookings.
By the end of this step, you should know
- Start and finish destination
- The route, including where you will stop for accommodation
- Day-by-day itinerary of things to do
- Have it all written down clearly, so you are ready to make bookings
Getting The Best Deals When Making Bookings
OK, so by now you have planned out the route you are taking, the locations you will stay, and what you want to do.
Generally, I book things in this order:
In this section, I’ll show you exactly how to book each aspect of your trip
When booking flights, I usually use multiple price comparison websites before making a purchase. You can use Skyscanner, Kiwi, and Kayak.
Check out this article for advice on finding the best flights:
Booking Rental Cars: Hire Car vs Own Car
If you are planning a longer road trip such as around Europe or the United States, you may be considering whether to use your own car or rent a car.
I’ll break down the pros and cons…
Advantages of using a hire car
- Fly into an airport and immediately gain access to your car. Great location flexibility
- Reduction in total drive time due to flying into the start point
- Rent a car that is suitable for the type of trip you are doing, such as a large SUV
- Use a new car and have peace of mind regarding potential breakdowns
Disadvantages of using a hire car
- More expensive
- Requires booking
Booking Rental Cars
I use Rentalcars.com for booking rental cars.
You can book online using a desktop/laptop or use their app.
A major advantage is that you can choose a different drop off location from the pickup point. Perfect if you want to fly into one airport and out of another after a road trip!
Getting the Best Price for a Hire Car
Use the advice in this article:
This article focus’ on the tricky topic of what car hire insurance is best
Booking Accommodation and Parking
When it comes to accommodation you have three main choices:
- AirBnB – Often has free parking, often cheaper and many locations in or out of cities
- Booking.com – Good selection of hotels, great for City Centre accommodation
- Hostelworld – Best app for booking hostels, sometimes you can also get free parking
Before you book accommodation, it is crucial to consider parking. This is not always included.
Visiting a city?
My personal favorite hack is to stay in an AirBnB outside of the city center. This allows you to avoid the city center traffic and you can either drive in or take public transport to go in and visit the city.
When searching for cheap parking, use these sites/apps:
Our article on how to save money on car parking has more on this.
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Booking Tours and Things to do
Use the following resources to book your activities:
Getyourguide – A good option for booking tours in advance
Withlocals – Local experiences with local tour guides
AirBnB – Book activities and ‘experiences’ led by local hosts
Google Trips – Book things to do along your route
I use World Nomads for my travel insurance. You can buy online or whilst traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Keep Track of All Your Booking Information
Download the apps of all the companies you use to make bookings and put them all in one folder on your smartphone. Alternatively, remember to print off all the booking information in advance of your trip, and keep it somewhere safe like the glove compartment of your car.
Road Trip Pre-Journey Checklist
In section A you completed most of the road trip planning process. Before you set off its important to check everything and make sure you are fully prepared.
That is what section B is all about. Use this road trip checklist to make sure everything is sorted before you head out on the open road.
Road Trip Vehicle Preparation
Before a long road trip, I would recommend getting a full service on your vehicle.
Even better, follow the easy steps in this guide:
Quick Checklist For a Long Road Trip
- Check all lights and features on the car are functioning correctly
- Check oil, water, and tire pressure/condition
- Check the washer and brake fluid
- Give the car a thorough clean
- Ensure you have a spare key and the owner’s manual
- Check the air filter, windscreen wipers, and spark plugs
- Check the coolant
- Check you have the spare tire and changing tools
- European driving kit available from amazon (if driving in Europe)
Car Security on the trip
Whilst on the trip you want to ensure that you are parking in safe locations.
If possible, use a car with a shelf covering the contents of the boot from sight through the rear window.
A lot of SUVs don’t have a shelf covering so you can use a black bedsheet or something similar to cover your belongings when you need to leave the car unattended.
What to Have in the Car for Maintenance
If you are driving in Europe, there are several items you need in the car in case of breakdown. We used a European driving kit from Amazon. It’s one of my favorite road trip accessories. It’s against the law to drive around many countries in Europe without the items included in this kit.
You should also ensure you have a spare tire and the tools to change a flat.
I like to use a dashcam whilst on a road trip. This is mainly to protect myself legally if I am in an accident that isn’t my fault. Take a look at our post on the best dash cams on in the market.
Road Trip Insurance/ Documentation Checklist
This section will help you make sure you have all of your insurance and documentation in order.
Personal Travel Insurance
I use world nomads for my travel insurance. You can use the widget below to get a quote and get it booked.
Car Insurance and Car Documentation
Make sure you have copies of the car registration/ownership document, insurance, and your driving license.
- Car insurance
- Car registration/ownership documents
- Details of breakdown cover
- Green card (if required)
Personal Documentation and Visa’s
- Driving license
- International driving permit (if required)
When driving abroad using your own car, always check with your insurance provider where you are covered.
Road Trip Costs, Budgeting, and Saving Money
Don’t want to break the bank?
Follow these 11 super simple tips for saving money on your road trip.
Saving Money on Fuel
- Use GasBuddy or the Waze feature
- Don’t fill up on motorways
- Stick to 60-70mph and high gear. Don’t accelerate hard.
“Kilometers are shorter than miles. Save gas and take your next trip in kilometers”
Saving Money on Accommodation
- Stay outside of the city and drive in or use public transport
- Consider staying in hostels or camping
- Search all platforms for the best offers. Have a folder on your smartphone with all the best accommodation booking apps.
Saving Money on Food
- Prepare food for the day and store in a cool box
- Take a coffee flask instead of buying it on the road
- Look for accommodation with kitchen facilities by filtering in the booking apps
Saving Money on Toll Roads
- You can select the option to avoid toll roads on Waze and Google Maps
- Take the scenic route and see what new places you can explore!
- Use viamichelin.co.uk to estimate fuel and toll costs for a route.
Tips For On The Road
Road Trip Entertainment
“Never underestimate the therapeutic power of driving and listening to very loud music”
Road Trip Games
We have a range of Road Trip Games for Entertainment during your trip:
- 28 Incredible Word Games to Play in the Car
- 21 Amazingly Fun Road Trip Games for kids
- License Plate Game: The Simple Guide 2019
- 19 Awesome Road Trip Games Apps
- 12 Amazing Road Trip Games for Two People
- 12 Marvelous Road Trip Games for Couples
- 59 Insanely Fun Road Trip Games for Adults
Research ahead of time so you know the regulations in the area you are driving.
Here are some quick links for specific country driving advice.
Vehicle Stickers and Vignettes
in some countries, you’ll need a vignette to use the highway. These are special stickers that attach to your vehicle to show you have paid the toll.
Always research the country you are driving in to find out if you need one otherwise you might incur a hefty fine.
Traffic Avoidance and Speed Management
A few tips:
- Avoid driving during rush hour
- Consider staying in accommodation outside of city centers so you have a clear run onto the motorway in the morning
- Use Waze to manage your speed in unfamiliar locations. It uses a function to tell you if you are speeding
Alcohol and Driving
Different countries have different blood alcohol limits for driving.
It’s not a good idea to have any alcohol in your system when driving as this can make you drowsy.
If you’re going to have a beer with your meal, make sure you check what the alcohol limit is. In Spain, for example, the limit is significantly lower than in the UK.
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Inner City Driving
Inner-city driving can be quite stressful.
Overall, I have found Google Maps is best for inner-city navigation, however, Waze is better at identifying speed and traffic enforcement cameras as well as changes in speed limit.
On the Road Tips
How to stay awake while driving
I’ve written an article on how to stay awake while driving. Feel free to have a read in advance of your trip for some top tips in case you find yourself doing a particularly long day on the road.
A few quick tips
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep the night before
- Avoid excessive unhealthy snacks and drink plenty of water
- Take regular breaks in well-lit areas
- Take a 10-20 minute power nap
- Open the driver and opposite rear windows to create cold airflow
If you need to rest, you can check out this article we wrote on how to sleep in your car.
Safety on the Road
If you’re driving abroad, take your time getting used to the roads, especially if driving on the opposite side to what you are used to!
Don’t drive when tired or under the influence of alcohol/drugs, and plan regular breaks.
Car Maintenance During the Trip
If you’re taking a longer trip you should continue to periodically check the condition of your vehicle.
You can follow the guide in the prepare your vehicle section of this article.
Avoid Traffic Penalties and Fines
Waze is a fantastic app for avoiding traffic penalties and fines because it provides traffic enforcement and speed warnings during your journey. It’s especially helpful for determining the speed limit on a given road in an unknown area.
When you complete European border crossings there’s usually a sign showing the changes in speed limits for different types of roads. In addition, watch out for average speed check areas that are frequent.
This website is fantastic as a complete reference point for traffic penalties and fines in Europe.
Always obey the law and instructions from police officers!
The UK Highway Code recommends taking a break of at least 15 minutes for every two hours of driving. Frequent breaks are not just important for driving safety but also to keep the trip fun and enjoyable.
Tips for Different Groups
Here are some simple tips for taking road trips for different groups.
Tips for Taking Pets
Check out the below article on road trip tips with a dog:
Tips for Taking Kids
Take a look at this excellent article for road trip tips with kids.
Road Trip Tips for Couples
Going on a road trip with your partner? Check out this road trip survival guide for couples.
Road Trips With Friends
Don’t miss out on our 21 awesome things you should do on a road trip with friends.
Road Trip Planning Ultimate Resource List
Here we have collated a list of all the resources and links that you will need to plan your perfect road trip.
If you have any other suggestions, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below!
Check out our in-depth article on the Best Road Trip Planner Apps
Best Websites and Apps for Navigation
- Google Maps
- Waze – Alerts for traffic enforcement, monitors speed limits, great functionality.
- Apple Maps
- Citymapper – Great for inner-city navigation
- iExit – Find the best rest-stops on your route
- Viamichelin – Great for estimating the cost of a trip (includes tolls)
Best Websites and Apps for Booking Accommodation
- Airbnb – Great for interesting locations and outer city spots with free parking
- Hostelworld – Best for booking hostels
- Couchsurfing – Stay for free with local hosts
- Parkopedia – Best for quickly finding the cheapest parking. Links to navigation apps
- Park Me Parking – Alternative to Parkopedia
Best Websites and Apps for Finding Cheap Fuel
Best Websites and Apps for Finding Things to do
- Google Trips – Great for finding things on your road trip route
- Trip Advisor – Great for restaurants and nightlife
- GetYourGuide – Great for city tours
- Withlocals – Great for different experiences with local guides
Best Websites and Apps for Budgeting
- Venmo, Cash App or Monzo
- XE Currency Converter
Best Websites and Apps for Entertainment
- Trivia Crack 2
- Quiz Up
Affiliate Link Disclosure
This guide took a long time to compile, so we hope it was of benefit to you.
There are affiliate links within this article so if you would like to support us then you can use the links before you make any purchases ahead of your road trip.
If you have any specific questions, feel free to use the contact us page or leave a comment below!
With many thousands of miles of road-tripping between us, we would be happy to give any advice required if you are planning a big trip.
Sharing This Article
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Iain founded The Road Trip Expert in 2019 and continues to manage the website to this day. The inspiration to start the blog came during an extensive road trip around Europe with two friends that spanned several months and involved over 25,000km of driving. He started backpacking in 2014 and has had the pleasure of exploring over 60 countries. Read more on the About page.