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How to Plan a Successful Road Trip

How to plan a successful road trip

I love our trips, but I think I get even more joy out of planning them.  There’s something creative and adventurous to me in the researching and daydreaming portion of this that I get very excited about.  This is also the most important phase in creating a successful trip with epic memories so here are some tips for planning an epic road trip:

La Flegere decsent, Tour du mont blanc, French alps

You Have To Dream, That’s The Only Way You’ll Want To Plan.

What type of Adventure Traveler are YOU? Take our quiz and find out.

Step 1: Dream and Research 

For me, it all starts with a dream.  Maybe I’ll see something in a magazine, on a blog, on Pinterest, or hear about it from a friend.  Often it’s driven by my sports (climbing at Ten Sleep, Wyoming; or surfing the Lost Coast near Mendocino, California).

Find something you want to witness, visit, see, and OBSESS OVER IT.

Obsess over that destination, or that thing, and look at it every night, every morning, and if it doesn’t get you excited find something else.

Climbing over Jackass Pass, standard Cirque of the Towers route
Climbing the standard hikers route over Jackass Pass

Make Your Travel Exciting Enough To Make It Worth The Effort

See finding the inspiration for travel is the easy part considering the number of travel articles there are on the internet and how much marketing is done trying to gain your vacation dollars.  

The hard part is the actual booking and the actual budgeting, trust me, I have planned countless Road-Trips and still to this day it’s always tiring when the actual Gas-Costing and Campground Booking comes along. So make sure your Road-Trip is exciting enough that you don’t get burned out.

BE INSPIRED

For Inspiration try these blogs.

Tips On How to Get Excited for Travel

  • Look up travel families on Instagram and see where they go (PS do you follow us on Instagram?)
  • Search for travel destinations on Pinterest (this is my favorite method). Check out all the rad destinations we pin
  • Choose a random activity that spikes your interest. Hiking. Biking. Bungee Jumping
  • Search Travel Blogs (like this one) related to this activity.
  • Find a specific location surrounding a specific Star Destination. (like World Largest Bungee Jump)
    • If doing a Road-Trip. Look at things to do on the way
    • If not looking for a Road-Trip. look for things in the close surrounding area.

You can’t go everywhere on one trip and there’s no perfect place so try not to put all your hopes, dreams, and expectations on your first road trip adventure. 

If you do it right, if you set yourself up to succeed, if you keep it manageable, it won’t be your last trip.

Have fun researching and try not to get overwhelmed. I really encourage people to start a bucket list way before they are ready to start traveling so they can find their perfect destination.

Best climbing destinations in Europe- Spain
climbing near Lleida

Step 2: Outline a rough itinerary + pick your priorities

Once you’ve scoured the travel blogs and magazines and have taken notes on a few destinations that look fun, it’s time to do a little research to make sure you get the best experience out of your travels.

It takes a lot of the fun out of traveling when you are constantly researching where to eat, sleep, and what to do each day

My daughter calls me a mad scientist because I’ll make pages and pages of notes researching all the possibilities until I’ve narrowed it down to a concise plan on what I want to see, where we will play, and how long I need to fit it all in (there’s never enough time for that).

When I plan a trip, I will plan the main destinations that we will go to about six to twelve months in advance, that way I can get the best deals on airfare or ensure I get the campgrounds I want.  But once that is done, I do the day-to-day research in little chunks over the next few months.

Playa San Martin, Best Adventure in Northern Spain
Going surfing at San Martin

Tips on The Unkown Roadtrip

Can you still have fun not knowing where you’re headed?  Of course.  But with knowledge comes power and in the case of our travels, that power is in the form of excitement and energy. 

If you want to plan an UNKNOWN ROADTRIP, (one where you don’t exactly know what you’ll do) i still highly recommend having a set destination in mind.

Tati in Bishop, How to Plan a successful Road Trip

Tati is always ready for a Roadtrip, Unkown or Known.

How Much Should I Research?

Because Gabi was so great at researching, we found a lot of hidden gems (secluded beaches, incredible food, off-the-beaten-path hikes, and unique locations) that we wouldn’t have found if our research was centered only around Trip Advisor or travel books.

But we are addicted to research, enough so that I have to tell my fifteen year old son to stop trying to find more obscure off-the-beaten path adventures.

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU RESEARCH? depending on what naturally feals right, some people love to find all the data before heading off, others prefer to do the classic adventure on the way. it’s your choice. But I do have to say, Research is an endless pit, the more you do it, the more you’ll want.

Easy way to research

fill in the gaps with the location or activity you are looking for.

  • Best hikes to do in _______ blog
  • Best places to eat in _______ blog
  • Off the beaten path places in _______ blog
  • Best things to do in _______ blogs
  • Hiking near _______ blogs
  • Cheap things to do in _______
  • Outdoor activities near _______

Our favorite adventure resources

Bonus: Ask someone else in your traveling group to research something and surprise you (it could even be your kids)

Brugge Belgium, How to Plan a successful Road Trip
Brugge, Belgium

Step 3: Decide when the best time of year is to go

I know the weather patterns seem to be all over the place these days, but if you can, try to time good weather.  Trust me on this one, it’s not fun to drive a thousand miles (or fly across an entire ocean) and be stuck inside your tent or RV because of rain. 

Camping in a tent is also much more challenging if you have rain or really cold nights.  Also, keep in mind that depending on how active you are wanting your trip to be will determine if you can tolerate more fluctuation in weather.  

National Park websites have a page about when to visit to get the best weather conditions. 

I also check weather.com to see what the yearly averages are so I have a better idea of when I should go based on the temperatures I like. 

Hiking in Spain, How to Plan a successful Road Trip

Shoulder seasons can be a great time to travel but pay attention to tendencies.  We hit Croatia in the shoulder season (September) and got great weather, but by the time we got to Spain in October, it was much colder than we had hoped for.  You might be surprised at how much of a difference ten degrees can make in your enjoyment of your trip. 

Step 4: Get out your maps and make an itinerary

I seriously have a sick addiction to maps.  I love in putting random destinations and seeing the various paths (roads) I can take to get there.

Most of our road trips start with me having one destination in mind and then playing on the map to see how many different possibilities I can come up with until I end up with a plan that I am happy with. 

Google Maps allows you to enter up to 10 destinations so pick your top 10 stops and see how many total miles your road trip is at. 

I always print out a blank calendar, then I open up Google Maps again and start calculating miles between where I will be stopping. 

Try and incorporate some flexibility in the first two days if you are taking a long, boring route. At the same timetThe good thing with these types of highways is that there are usually a lot of places to sleep for the night and finding a campground at the last minute won’t be a problem.

Anytime I can, I try to put the longest driving day at the end so that I don’t get extra tired going into my epic trip.  Also, make sure you aren’t underestimating the driving time. 

If you are in an RV, account for 10-20% longer than Google Maps says and time for fueling or pit stops. 

If it’s less than an hour of driving I don’t include it at this point and wait until I’m creating the detailed day itinerary (see step 7).

Step 5: Budgeting

A couple of things to keep in mind when budgeting your trip:

  • Big Cities Tend to Cost More Money

In the U.S., and especially when we did our road trip through Europe, I had the best time in the small (those with populations under 30,000) to mid-size cities (those with populations under 80,000).  I like that most of these small cities still have great food options and fun things to see and do, but they aren’t as overwhelming for me. 

  • It’s hard (often impossible) to drive an RV into a big city too, which makes going into big cities even more exhausting and expensive because we then have to factor in parking and using public transportation to get into the city.

If you are spending time in cities, it’s helpful to check Trip Advisor ahead of time so you have an idea of where you want to eat or any activities to budget for.  

Budget Your Fun Money Wisely

A good way to predict what this amount will be for you is to look at Trip Advisor for the destinations you will be going to and look under the “Things To Do” section to see if there are “museums, amusement parks, or other attractions you want to prioritize seeing. 

We spend very little in the actual “Things To Do” category and try to sift through to find any free activities in these areas.  This is where search engines can be very helpful. 

Hiking is almost free and National Parks Passes are quite inexpensive.  A lot of our fun budget is spent on food or in the clothes/equipment budget.

One of the most “fun” things we’ve spent money on in our travels was sleeping in Ouray.  It was a big deal for us to spend $250 on something, but it was worth every penny. 

In Costa Rica, we spent about the same to zip line through the canopy and it was also worth the money. 

Get your kids and spouse involved in the planning and decide as a family ahead of time where the best places are to allocate money to your fun budget.

On a side note: Use trips as an opportunity to teach your kids budgeting 

I find that doing this budgeting process with my kids is a great lesson in learning the “fun value” of money.  We try to be as cheap as we can in some areas so we can splurge on things that will add value to our lives. 

Constantly sacrificing on expenditures will leave you feeling frustrated, but if you have a goal for the sacrifice, it makes it much more rewarding.

Create a Mishap Fund

This is not essential, but it can bring a lot of peace of mind. To be honest, I am not good at this, but I also realize it would have been nice to have had on past trips to prevent a lot of stress between Victor and I. 

If you are road-tripping abroad, another option is to just get travel insurance which we’ve found is a pretty cheap option and covers most mishaps like injuries, sickness, stolen items, dental, lost baggage, adventure accidents, and more.  

Click here to see what’s covered with World Nomads travel insurance or get a quote for where you’re going.

Step 6: Reservations + Campgrounds

For RVing and Camping

Once you have the driving days accounted for and have an idea of how many days you want to stay at each location, the next step should be to confirm that you can get reservations at the campgrounds you want

Warning – Many fill up six months in advance if you are going at popular times, like summer, or to popular places, like the coast.

The majority of campgrounds in the US, especially state and national parks, can be found on reserveamerica.com or recreation.gov except California which has it’s own reservation system now on reservecalifornia.com

If you are going to a national park, check out NationalParkService.Org

You can also use Google Maps and search “campgrounds” then zoom into the area you are looking for or use the Allstays app.

A lot of National Parks have first come serve campgrounds, which are very helpful if you didn’t plan ahead.  Try to get to these campgrounds before 10 a.m. since they tend to fill up fast.

Milky Way and RV in City of Rocks
Camping under the stars in City of Rocks. Photo courtesy of Sammy Spindel

I reserve the highest-demand campsites first, or the ones I am most excited to visit, before filling in the gaps of campsites between my main destinations.  

I also alternate between paying for more and fewer amenities. For example, many campgrounds in the national parks don’t have hookups so it is helpful (not necessary) to find a campground with hookups before or after. 

I also try to get a campground the first night we arrive somewhere that we will be staying at for a few days (especially if we just drove a lot) so that I have a chance to unwind and get settled.  I find this helps me enjoy my experience of where we are going more.

For AirBnbs

If you’re staying in Airbnb, reservations are usually much easier to find since there are so many Airbnb’s available.

If you are new to road trips or on a schedule, it’s much more important to have all your accommodations lined up so you can expend your energy in taking in experiences and getting as much adventure as possible into your life.  To make this part of your trip go smoothly, it requires a bit of research ahead of time to make sure you are staying close to the activities you want to be doing and have a place you will feel comfortable at each night. 

As you start booking sites, you want to start putting in the actual miles and time for each drive along with it to help you gauge how much time you have at each spot.  It won’t be fun to just be driving and sleeping.  Make sure you leave time to enjoy your destination.

Step 7: Create your detailed itinerary

Last, fill in exactly what you want to do each day whether it’s a cool hike, a paid excursion, a certain restaurant in the city.  

A few quick packing tips

To save money, remember to pack items that are versatile, you can wear them many days in a row, and they are great quality, which means they last through all the abuse we put them through.  

If you will be doing a lot of hiking, make sure you have a good reusable water bottle, a sturdy, but light, backpack, and optional hiking sticks. 

Click here to see what people always forget when traveling abroad + what you need for tent camping or dry camping gear you need for your first RV trip

In summary:

  1. Dream with magazines, blogs, and Pinterest
  2. Narrow down your favorites and map them out
  3. Decide what time of the year is best to go to your favorite destinations
  4. Look for cities or attractions on the way to your favorite destinations (don’t forget the smaller cities).  Get details from blogs and Trip Advisor so you know how much time you will need in each spot.  This helps in executing step 6.
  5. Budgeting how much your trip is going to cost and where you should spend your money.
  6. Book your accommodations like campgrounds, Airbnb, hotels
  7. Write out a day-to-day plan

If you have questions about planning your road trip, let us know in the comments! We love planning road trips and we’d be happy to help!

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How to plan a successful road trip

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ViaTravelers

Tuesday 7th of September 2021

To have a stress-free and successful road trip is among the best travel experience. These tips for road trip planning are nice and helpful. Thank you for sharing! Cheers for a successful road trip!

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