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. Don’t forget to bookmark this page or save it on Pinterest so you can refer back to it later.
This guide provides a step-by-step breakdown of planning your road trip and also includes links to in-depth supporting content and downloadable resources that cover every aspect of your adventure. Drawing from over a decade of experience taking road trips around the world, this site is a treasure trove of road trip tips and insights, including everything from road trip food ideas to finding the cheapest rental car.
This guide has all of the road trip planning tips you need to make your trip memorable and stress-free. Get inspired by our road trip itineraries and ensure you don’t forget any road trip essentials with our packing list. So, buckle up, and let’s embark on the road trip of a lifetime!
When you’re ready to start making bookings you could consider checking out my road trip resources page which lists all my favorite travel companies.
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Create A Planning Document (Or Use Mine)
When I’m planning a road trip I always start by creating a new central location to organize my thoughts and plans. You could use a Google sheet or simply a notepad. Other handy tools include Trello, Evernote, or the Roadtrippers Plus App. I’ve created a Google Sheet that is designed for this purpose.
Deciding where to go on your road trip can be one of the most exciting parts of the planning process. You can start by exploring some of our road trip itineraries and then look to social media platforms for more inspiration. Check out my Instagram for lots of pictures taken during my own road trips! Pinterest and Youtube are also fantastic places to discover exciting route suggestions or car camping ideas.
On Instagram, you can search hashtags for road trips including your country of interest such as #USAroadtrip, #Franceroadtrip, etc. You can also see some famous routes in this collection of the best road trip books.
Plan Your Route
There are numerous apps for planning a road trip, which we’ve detailed in a separate article. Personally, I like to plan a road trip on the Roadtrippers App.
The Roadtrippers App is a comprehensive road trip planning app that suggests unique stops based on your preferences and allows for daily itinerary building. You can book tours and hotels and view insights from a community of road trip enthusiasts like me!
Get $5 Off Roadtrippers Plus With My Promo Code: BTR5QTP
Another excellent option is Google Maps. You can create a road trip route, add color-coded location pins, then use the app for navigation when your adventure begins!
Now that you’ve chosen your road trip planning tool, it’s time to plan your route. First, it’s crucial to decide your start and end point. Make sure the distance between these two places is manageable given the total driving distance and any locations en route where you plan to spend additional time. Try to think about how far you would be required to drive on your “driving days”.
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
Plan one day at a time on the map and on your planning document. For each day include the start point, end point, driving distance, and places you will visit. You may choose to spend multiple days in some of the locations on your itinerary.
Try to plan your road trip itinerary such that the total distance is spread out as evenly as possible across each of your “driving days”. This is especially important if you’re planning a cross-country road trip that involves long-distance driving.
- Choose either Google Maps or the Roadtrippers App
- Download my road trip planning document
- Decide your start point, endpoint, and trip duration.
- On your planning document, write the start point, endpoint, and driving distance for each day of your itinerary.
- Plan out and write down the attractions to see each day
- Work through this article and gradually fill out where you will stay each day, any flight details, rental car details, and other important information.
Create A Road Trip Budget
Before making bookings you could consider estimating costs within your planning document. Use your planning sheet and our guide on how to create a road trip budget to outline the costs associated with your trip.
- Use our advice below to find the best prices on flights, rental cars, any specific attractions you’d like to visit, and insurance.
- Add in a budget per day for accommodation, food, and random expenses.
- Use this to outline the baseline cost of your trip and decide if it’s within budget before continuing with this guide and making bookings.
- If the costs seem too high check out our tips on how to save money on a road trip.
Plan Things To Do
Being flexible by having a car is one of the main reasons why road trips are fun! Take your time while deciding all of the fun things you plan to do on your road trip itinerary. Use this section to fill out your itinerary with a list of things you plan to do. Include some highlights and “must-see” attractions.
Whether you’re on a couples road trip or a road trip with family, it’s a lot of fun to find tourist attractions along your route. Leave some time for spontaneity! You never know when you’ll see something interesting along the way.
Sources of Inspiration
- On Google Maps you can view attractions that are on your route and save them
- Social media
- Travel blogs
- We’ve also got many more ideas in our article outlining numerous fun things to do on a road trip.
A Few Ideas
- Food tour: Map out a route that includes stops at various local food specialties, farmers’ markets, or unique eateries.
- Nature route: Map out a route that stops off at various locations of natural beauty that you otherwise wouldn’t see. This could include hiking, biking, or other outdoor activities.
- Scavenger hunt: Organize a scavenger hunt with a list of unique items or landmarks to spot along your route. You can create challenges for each item, like taking creative photos or gathering specific souvenirs.
Book Your Flights
Now that you’ve roughly planned your itinerary, it’s time to start making some bookings. A great alternative holiday is to rent a hire car in a new country at the airport and plan a road trip. If this is what you’re planning to do check out my guide on finding cheap flights. Spoiler alert! These are the fare aggregators I use:
If you want to offset some of the climate implications of flying check out our article on eco-friendly travel!
Book Your Rental Car
If you’re considering renting a car for a road trip then I’d suggest checking out my guide prior to booking. Remember you can drop off a rental vehicle in a different location than where you pick it up. This is great for road trips as it allows you to simply plan a one-way itinerary between two airports.
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
Don’t forget to read my guide on how to find the cheapest rental car before booking. Use the search box below to see what price is available at your location of choice.
Here are some options for finding cheap accommodation on a road trip. Booking in advance gives peace of mind, but sometimes it’s fun to be spontaneous and book as you go along. After you’ve made the bookings add them to your planning document so you can easily refer back to it later.
Consider staying outside of the city and using public transport to go in for sightseeing. Always consider the cost of parking before booking a place to stay. Check out our guide on finding cheap parking for more info.
Book Things To Do
Take some time to book any tickets required for the activities you’re 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.
I also like to use Google Travel along with these recommended resources:
Get Your Guide allows you to book a wide range of things in 150 countries. These include guided tours, entry tickets, city cards, hop-on-hop-off tours, and transfers.
The world’s largest sightseeing pass business. Pick a city and choose the attractions you want to see. Download your pass to your phone or print it out. Aims to save you money.
Marketplace to book self-guided audio tours and tickets to museums. Guides, local experts, and museums create self-guided audio tours that travelers take with the WeGoTrip app
Another option is Viator which has over 300,000 experiences worldwide!
Choose Travel Insurance
We’ve written a full guide on choosing travel insurance to help you consider what’s right for you. Personally, I never travel without it.
See our road trip resources page for more of our favorite travel companies. If you want to go right ahead and request quotes from our recommended providers, here they are:
SafetyWing – Focuses on coverage for long-term travelers and digital nomads.
World Nomads – Great when you need to add specific high-risk activities.
InsureMyTrip – Comparison site allowing you to compare thousands of providers.
You should now have made all the bookings required for your trip. There is still lots of useful information in the rest of this article. We’ve included sections on what to pack, how to prepare awesome food to take with you, and useful apps to download.
Follow A Road Trip Packing List
We’ve created a comprehensive road trip packing list to ensure you don’t forget anything you need for your adventure. It includes a downloadable PDF checklist that you can use on the day of departure. You can easily work through the article, pack your bags, and order any additional useful items you need for your trip.
When packing your personal items, use a main bag or suitcase, followed by at least one smaller day pack for exploring during each day.
We also have a number of gear articles customized for different needs:
- Family Road Trip Packing List
- Solo Road Trip Packing List
- Winter Road Trip Packing List
- Camping Road Trip Packing List
- Car Camping Essentials For Your Packing List
If you’re taking your own vehicle then you could consider ordering some of these road trip accessories to make your trip more comfortable/enjoyable. Remember – a dashcam can protect you from liability in an accident that isn’t your fault. Among our essential road trip accessories are:
Download Useful Apps
During the road trip planning process, a good thing to do is download all the best apps you might need. We cover all the best road trip planning apps extensively, here: Best Road Trip Planner Apps Here are a few top apps you should consider downloading to plan a road trip yourself on a smartphone.
- Waze or Google Maps – Best apps for navigation
- Skyscanner – Best app for flights
- RentalCars -Best app for renting a car
- Booking.com / Hostelworld – Best apps for booking accommodation
- Parkopedia – Best app for finding parking
- Airalo – Best app for mobile data Esims abroad
- GetYourGuide – Best app for city tours
If you’re interested in looking for entertainment during your road trip we also have an article outlining numerous road trip game apps to keep you busy.
Follow These Final Road Trip Planning Tips
These are some essential points to consider when making a decision on the route as discussed above.
“Because the best part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your final destination”
- 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 at smaller lesser-known attractions. Feel free to check out our article explaining what to do on a long car ride to entertain yourself.
- Driving reasonable distances is also when of the best ways to avoid lower back pain from driving.
- Follow these tips to save money for travel: Need help getting the cash together to embark on the trip of a lifetime? Read our guide on how to save money for travel.
Prepare Your Car For The Road Trip
If you’re planning to use your vehicle then you may benefit from our article on how to prepare your car for a road trip. Before a long road trip, I would recommend a full service on your vehicle. This is especially important if you’re planning to drive an old car long distance. Always at least consider taking out a good breakdown cover policy.
When driving abroad using your own car, always check with your insurance provider where you are covered.
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)
Prepare Incredible Road Trip Food
If you’re traveling from home, you’ll 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 food whilst out on the road. It includes links to recipes for delicious homemade sandwiches, healthy snacks, and meal ideas.
Bookmark These Road Trip Games
It’s crucial to stay entertained during your road trip. Check out our article containing the best road trip games to play in the car! We also have a wide variety of road trip conversation starters to keep the conversation flowing between the passengers. If you need a laugh en route, bookmark these hilarious road trip jokes!
Here are some more articles you might like:
- 28 Incredible Word Games to Play in the Car
- 21 Amazingly Fun Road Trip Games for Kids
- License Plate Game: The Simple Guide
- 12 Amazing Road Trip Games for Two People
- 12 Marvelous Road Trip Games for Couples
- 59 Insanely Fun Road Trip Games for Adults
Prepare A Variety Of Things To Listen To
When you’re on a long road trip it’s important to have a selection of things to listen to for entertainment. Personally, I enjoy a mix of music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Here are some articles for inspiration. They each include a variety of suggestions to keep you entertained for the entire journey.
“Never underestimate the therapeutic power of driving and listening to very loud music”
Road Trip Pre-Journey Checklist
Before you set off it’s important to check everything and make sure you’re fully prepared. Use this road trip checklist to make sure everything is sorted before you head out on the open road. For the full version that includes everything you need to pack, head over to our road trip essentials article.
Car Insurance and Car Documentation
- Car insurance
- Car registration/ownership documents
- Details of the breakdown cover
- Green card (if required)
Personal Documentation and Visa
- Driving license
- International driving permit (if required)
- Personal travel insurance (if required)
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 a 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.
- Inner-city navigation: I’ve 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.
- Consider 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. Always consider how frequently you should take breaks when driving long distances
- Traffic Avoidance and Speed Management: Avoid driving during rush hour and consider staying in accommodation outside of the city. Use Waze to manage speed in unfamiliar locations as it alerts you if you’re speeding.
- 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.
- Avoiding driver fatigue: Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, and take regular breaks to avoid driver fatigue. Don’t drive when tired or under the influence of alcohol/drugs. Read more in my article on how to stay awake while driving.
- Sleep if you need to: If you need to rest, you can check out this article we wrote on how to sleep in your car.
- Take Frequent Breaks: 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.
- Periodically check the condition of your vehicle.
- Park in safe locations: 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.
- Dashcams are useful: I like to use a dashcam whilst on a road trip. This is mainly to protect me legally if I am in an accident that isn’t my fault. Take a look at our post on the best dash cams in the market.
- Take lots of photos: Remember your road trip with lots of awesome photos! Feel free to use these road trip captions for Instagram to describe your images. You could also get some inspiration from this collection of road trip quotes.
- 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.
- 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 Fuel: Use GasBuddy or the Waze feature. Don’t fill up on motorways. Stick to 60-70mph and high gear. Don’t accelerate hard. Don’t forget to bookmark our guide on how to save money on gas to refer back to later.
- Taking pets with you can have an impact on your itinerary: Check out our advice on taking a road trip with your dog or a road trip with your cat.
Tips On Driving Abroad
Driving Regulations: 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.
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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With many thousands of miles of road-tripping behind me, I’d be happy to give any advice required if you are planning a big trip.
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