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How to Plan a Road Trip: A Stress-Free Driver's Guide

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How to Plan a Road Trip: A Stress-Free Driver's Guide
Road trips are one of the best ways to enjoy freedom and flexibility when you travel. Unlike many other types of travel, you don’t have to stick to a specific schedule. With this guide on planning a driving trip, you’ll have the information you need to ensure a seamless and memorable trip!
Abigail Sinsona
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Abigail is a travel enthusiast who enjoys trying new foodie destinations. She graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and has worked as a web content writer since 2010. She enjoys writing about travel, lifestyle, beauty, hair care, and wellness.

Read more about this author

When international and domestic flights were limited, the idea of embarking on a driving trip appealed to most people. And already, more people are loving the idea of hitting the road and exploring lesser-known destinations close to or within driving distance of where you live! 

That’s the beauty of road trips. You get to explore destinations you probably haven’t considered going to before!

Driving trips are also filled with spontaneity because you can take as many stops as you want, especially if you spot something unique during your drive. So if you’ve got more road trips on your calendar this year, this ultimate beginner’s goad on how to plan a driving trip is what you need!

two girls sitting in the trunk of a car laughing
Photo by Jorge Saavedra on Unsplash

How to Plan a Driving Trip: Easy-to-Follow Steps

Sometimes, the most challenging part about planning a trip is knowing where to begin. This practical guide is what you need if you’re a beginner to road trips, so you can get your bases covered. 

Step 1: Choose Your Destination

While it’s an obvious tip, this is where many road trip enthusiasts usually get stuck. So how do you pick the best road trip destination?

It would help if you first decided how much time you have to spare for this vacation.

 If it’s only for one day, you have to choose a destination close enough to drive back home at the end of the day. On the other hand, if you have the weekend to spare, you can choose a destination that requires a long drive. 

Another critical thing to consider when choosing your road trip destination is the activities and attractions you want to enjoy. If you’re traveling with family, especially with kids, look for road trip destinations with family-friendly activities and sights. 

If you’re road-tripping with friends, you can opt for more adventurous destinations that involve hiking, camping, or water-based activities.

Of course, it depends on what the group wants to enjoy. Some road trips can be more leisurely, while others can be more active. Based on what you want to experience, you can create a short list of potential destinations. 

After you have a short list of possible road trip destinations, you can research each and decide from there. 

What’s your budget? And what other nearby destinations or activities are worth checking out? These are also questions worth asking to help you pin down a location. 

Step 2: Map Out Your Route

Once you’ve chosen a destination for your road trip, here comes the nitty-gritty part. You can use the internet to find possible routes to your final destination. 

More popular destinations have a designated route, but the less-traveled ones will require you to plot an original route.

girl with sunglasses looking at a physical map
Photo by Nick Seagrave on Unsplas

Google Maps is your friend when navigating your way to your planned destination. You can download the Google Maps app on your phone for easy navigation. 

In addition, you can use Google Maps to find other noteworthy destinations along your route. Take note of these potential stops, especially if it takes several hours to reach your final stop. Meanwhile, you can find overnight stays if you’re traveling far.

Another option is to take the back roads during your trip. Traveling on interstate and national highways can be more convenient, but they might take longer. You can often enjoy more original and unique views if you take the back roads. 

The only downside to this route is that the road conditions might not be up to par on less used routes. Therefore, only opt to drive out of the main highways if you have a vehicle capable of handling rough driving conditions. If not, don’t risk it and stay on the highway. 

Step 3: Book Ahead

When choosing your road trip destination, it’s a good idea to look for accommodation options as early as possible. That way, you will have a place to stay at affordable prices. 

Even if you are only planning to stay overnight, it’s essential to have booked accommodation to have a place to rest from your long drive.

Suppose you choose to camp at your destination. In that case, apps like iOverlander help you find where to stay with its extensive directory of campsites and RV parks.

Although booking ahead of time can be helpful, you can also book closer to the date for flexibility! This is a delicate balancing act, and you can mix it up between booking early and closer to your stay during your trip. 

Aside from accommodation, I also recommend booking tickets for the attractions you want to visit, at least for those requiring a prior reservation. 

For example, if you are visiting a national park, research the admission tickets cost and if you need to book ahead of time. It’ll save you from a great deal of hassle once you arrive and ensure that you can access the attractions you want to visit and drive for several hours. 

man driving a car with woman in passenger seat
Photo by Alex Jumper on Unsplash

Step 4: Pack Road Trip Essentials

No matter how long or short your drive is, nothing beats having a packing list to prepare and ensure you can stay comfortable throughout the ride.

First things first, make sure you pack an emergency first aid kit. There’s no way to predict when accidents could happen, so you must have a first aid kit to care for wounds and minor injuries.

Another must-have in your packing list is a water bottle and a water filter. When traveling to new destinations, it is always important to be wary about the quality of the water source. A water filter will ensure that the water is safe to drink. 

Always pack essential items, such as a flashlight or a headlamp, if you plan camping. And find yourself a high-quality cabin tent so you can get quality sleep at night. 

During your drive, you need snacks and entertainment too. Pack snacks for your trip, especially if you drive long stretches without cafes or restaurants. 

Pack a cooler bag filled with healthy snacks, like fruits and vegetables. You can make sandwiches ahead of time to enjoy on the go. Your passengers are less likely to get cranky when well-fed.

Regarding entertainment, the Carpool Karaoke Mic is fun to recreate during your drive. It’s a great way to keep everyone entertained and prevent the driver from getting bored or sleepy. 

The 5 Second Rule is another easy yet entertaining game that everyone can participate in. 

Step 5: Prep Your Vehicle

Making sure your vehicle is in the best condition is one of the most important aspects of road trip planning. Take your car for preventive maintenance and servicing before you embark on a road trip. 

It’s crucial to ensure that the oil, air filters, brakes, and engines are in good condition and worthy of a long drive.

It’s also vital that you pack all the essential tools, just in case you encounter a flat tire or vehicle issues on the road. Remember to bring your insurance cards with you, as well. 

Finally, for the worst-case scenarios, make sure you have the number of a roadside service or your trusted mechanic with you.

Big boxy orange van in the dessert
Photo by Daniel Thiele on Unsplash

Another factor to consider about your vehicle when going on a road trip is if it’s the right vehicle for your chosen destination. As mentioned earlier, if you plan on traveling via back roads, you must ensure that your car has the right power and off-road capabilities. If not, plan your destination accordingly. 

If you rent a car for the road trip, check with the rental company if you meet the allocated mileage based on your destination. 

Extra Tip: Be Flexible

The most important tip on how to plan a driving trip is to stay flexible. The freedom of traveling at your own pace and discovering stops that you haven’t planned on is part of the adventure of road trips. 

So, don’t scrimp on making stops. Even if you stop to take pictures of a fantastic view you encountered on your drive, go for it. You can start enjoying the journey before you arrive at your destination! 

Also, making frequent stops is a great way to fight the boredom of a long drive. It’s also an opportunity for the driver and passengers to stretch out and fight exhaustion. 

The Best Apps for Planning a Road Trip

Apps are a lifesaver when planning a trip! You should use them when planning your next road trip because they let you discover things you might not know about a given route. Or, they can ensure you remember everything essential for the journey.

There are all kinds of planning apps, like Pilot, which allows you to build travel itineraries with your friends. However, whether you use an app or not, Google My Maps should still be a go to on your phone. It’s a visual planning tool that takes the functionality of Google Maps to the next level. 

If you need more ideas, here are the top 10 trip planner apps you can use! 

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina 🇺🇦 on Unsplash

vMake Pilot Your Road Trip Partner!

These tips on how to plan a driving trip can help you have a successful and safe road trip. It’s essential to keep an open mind and be flexible when planning a trip. Always prioritize your safety, which is why you need a reliable travel planning solution. 

Pilot - A Social Trip Planner
Pilot is a social trip planner to discover and build travel itineraries connecting you to resources everywhere, for free. Pilot makes it fun and easy to create and share your favorite travel moments.

Collaborate stress-free with your travel companions and have all the features you need all in one place with Pilot. It’s completely free and ready for you to try it out now!

Disclosure: Pilot is supported by our community. We may earn a small commission fee with affiliate links on our website. All reviews and recommendations are independent and do not reflect the official view of Pilot.

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Abigail Sinsona Blogs
Abigail Sinsona
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Abigail is a travel enthusiast who enjoys trying new foodie destinations. She graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and has worked as a web content writer since 2010. She enjoys writing about travel, lifestyle, beauty, hair care, and wellness.

Read more about this author
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