Plan a Road Trip

Road Trip Planning Guide

Planning a road trip vacation should involve a little group brainstorming, followed by some online research in order to come up with the right plan for your family. Road trip planning, like many things in life, is harder than it looks. Taking the time to plan your road trip can make the difference between a great vacation full of fun and adventure, and a disastrous detour down the wrong road, one you wouldn’t wish on an enemy.

Road Trip Planning 101

Start to think ahead about some of the road trips you would like to take with your family this summer.

  • You want to understand your family’s ideas for our summer vacation, what would make it really great for them?
  • What sites do they want to see? Toss out names of possible destinations such as Williamsburg, Toronto, Lake Placid, Atlanta, and the Florida Keys.
  • What do they picture in their heads when they think of these places?
  • What types of activities are on their personal “summer bucket list”?

What do you need to know to plan your road trip?

There are so many things to consider when planning a road trip, especially if you want to make it a great one. Think about it, With what little vacation time we have these days, don’t you want your vacation to be the kind that you remember forever and talk about for years to come? Don’t you want it to be jam-packed with good times? Without the right planning, that may not happen.

Everything you need to plan a road trip is in this section or there’s a link to the resource you need. Here are some ways to approach all the information in a way that will best help you plan your vacation.

Select Your Destination

If you haven’t already, select a destination. There are multiple articles here that include trip ideas, free road trip plans, and tips regarding specific destinations. Our Top Ten Road Trip Destinations article is a popular one.

We spent some time at the dinner table recently brainstorming a list of things that would be cool to do and see on our trips. This summer they’ve told me they want to see a bobsled run and a ski jump (they loved watching the Winter Olympics and want to see these things first-hand), and they listed Niagara Falls as a place that they wanted to visit too.

Next, we focus on activities and not ones that necessarily ones that have anything to do with the destinations that we were talking about visiting! They listed things that they love to do like mini-golf and visiting a water park. Then they list some vacation-specific activities such as going on a horseback (trail) ride, going down an Alpine slide, and going white water rafting. These are things that I know if we can make them happen on our summer road trips- it will be really awesome for all of us.

Road Trip Planning Basics

This is the stuff that will help protect you from all of the common road trip problems and dangers. The Road Trip Planning Toolbox includes road trip planning articles and tools that cover the “big stuff” like mapping out your trip, preparing your car, home, and road safety, and preparing a budget.

Now that I have a list of destinations in mind, as well as the time we are allotting to each trip, it’s time to plan the route. When mapping out our journey I spend a lot of time using Google Maps to determine the distance between destinations that we are considering, and whether or not I need to add an overnight stay somewhere in between. And if I think a stay-over is needed, then I’ll make sure to find an activity from our summer wish list to do in that area.

Where to Stay

I know that to make our summer road trip budget stretch further, the more nights that we spend in lower-priced lodging such as campsites, the more traveling we can do! But I also want to balance that against the fact that camping involves quite a bit of work- setting up the tent, taking down the tent, cooking and even showers are less convenient, etc. So our summer travels will be a mix of camping, lower-priced hotel lodging, and perhaps a rental home or condo. And maybe even a splurge night or two in a resort-type atmosphere.

Lodging is a very personal choice. Some families like to make lodging part of the adventure, and some like to really treat themselves to a nice hotel. You need to make the choice that is right for you and for your trip.

Road Trip Games and Songs

This is where the FUN comes in! Road trip games are always a great idea, and the longer your trip is, the more you’ll enjoy them. Creating your own soundtrack is another key to a fun road trip. Whenever you hear those songs long after your trip, they will bring memories flooding back and a smile to your face. I save some of my songs just for those gloomy days when I need a pick-me-up. Put one on and I’m dancing.

Packing Lists and Tips

Before you go, you’ve got to figure out what to pack. Our road trip packing lists and tips cover every kind of trip from camping to family to Spring Break to romantic. There are also general tips including how to pack a suitcase, create a packing list, and pack your trunk most efficiently.

What to Eat

Road trips are a great chance to try new foods (see our road food section for state-by-state tips and places to eat) as well as try some new recipes. Using our road trip recipes you can make some of your own trail mix, pack some delicious sandwiches, or pull off the road and grill your dinner at a scenic rest area. These road trip recipes will inspire you to think outside the vending machine/fast-food box.

Save Money

Some people might say – isn’t a road trip itself frugal? Not necessarily. Things can add up fast. These frugal road trip tips will help you cut corners a little, making your vacation that much more affordable.

Maximize Your Travel Experience

Having traveled all over the world since I was a child, I’ve gained some insights into getting the most out of traveling. Travel is more than just going to a place, it’s an inner journey as well. Growing as a person while on a road trip – or any kind of vacation – is the best kind of souvenir to bring home.

Final tip: Don’t think that a travel agent is just for booking around-the-world tours. A good travel agent can help you find the best deals on accommodations and activities for your road trip too. But you should definitely do your own homework first so you can provide your agent with a list of exactly what you want to do!