Want to hit the road? Want to get in your car and take the adventure of a lifetime? Whether you’re driving across the country or across the state, whether you plan to hit all the National Parks or all the world’s largest things, planning a road trip can be a fun, but difficult, process. Here are a few tips to help you plan your next road trip!
Road Trip Planning Tips
- Research, Research, Research!
While I would love to say that every roadside attraction I come across I just happened to stumble upon on my own, that is very rarely the case. Some might say the best way to travel is to just hop in your car and see where the wind takes you. And while that is definitely a great way to travel, if you’re like me and want to see it all, you might just pass by something amazing. And why leave that to chance? I always research my road trips ahead of time. I search the web and use guidebooks to plan out my journey.
- Plan for everything, but realize that you probably will not make it.
When planning for a road trip I mark out the locations of anything and everything possible and plug the addresses into my phone’s GPS unit. This often includes stops that are miles from a highway and my path, multiple lunch spots, and lengthy museum visits. Usually my maps look like they should take a week to get through instead of a weekend. While I am often surprised at just how much I can pack into a day, it’s more often little surprise that I just can’t do it all.
With this knowledge you might be tempted to plan for less. But why? While it may seem that mapping out everything gives you too ridged of a schedule, it actually allows you to be more flexible in your route. You can decide on the fly which stops you want to make and just how much you have time for. Knowing all of the possible stops, you can travel at your (and your travel companions’) whims to see as much or as little as your mood (or general level of craziness) calls for.
- Map it out online…and on paper.
This is how I plan my road trips: First I research. Then I map out everything humanly possible that I want to visit on an online map program. I like creating a map in Google Maps so I can save it for reference. You can also post difference markers for different things so you can immediately see what is a restaurant or museum versus a roadside attraction. I also usually make a special marker for the end destination (if there happens to be one). Once everything is mapped out I can see everything and where it lies in relation to the route. I then take a look at it and weed out things I know for sure aren’t in the area I will be traveling through.
You may be tempted to stop there. But the best next step is to buy a paper map. I then take the same items that are still left on my electronic map and mark them out on my map using different colored markers. This time I use different colors for things based on my interest or the length of time it would take to see. The paper map allows you to catch what your electronic map missed since you now have something ten times as large. It is easier to get a broad perspective of where things lie. Plus, you then have a great resource to take along on the road with you!
- Go off your planned path.
So you have taken all of this time to research and find everything you could possibly want to see and know exactly what you want to do. So you should do exactly that, right?
Not always. If you see something that catches your eye, or a billboard advertising something that sparks your interest, or come across a historical road marker, or smell something delicious wafting from a nearby restaurant, by all means go! You might be disappointed but you might be pleasantly surprised! Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts and desires. They don’t call it the open road for nothing!
- Respect your travel buddies!
I will admit it. Sometimes I totally and completely wear out my friends. I tend to forget that not everyone is as gung ho about seeing every inch of the planet as me. And sometimes they just aren’t quite as enthralled by seeing yet another giant fiberglass cow. But they should know by now what they are getting into when they hop into my car.
Your traveling mates should also should be respected. I always bring snacks and drinks that we can share, let everyone have a chance to hook up their own MP3 Player, and make stops for bathroom breaks and food when requested. Happy carmates make for a much happier road trip!
- Ignore your GPS when you feel confident.
My GPS unit has been a lifesaver when it comes to traveling. Despite being an avid driver/walker I have absolutely no sense of direction. None. I get lost going to the grocery store let alone across the state! So my GPS is very good at getting me where I want to go…to a degree. A GPS doesn’t know the difference between a gravel road and a paved one. Or will turn you into a river. Or take you off a highway just to get right back on. And while sometimes the road less traveled is the best one to take, sometimes it is not. So use common sense while on the road if, say, you’d rather drive on a lit path than in pitch black.
- Always have plenty of gas.
Sometimes you do want to take that road less traveled. The paved road. The unlit path. The beautifully scenic route that takes you mile upon mile with not a soul in site. All can be amazing times, as long as you are prepared and have enough gas to get you from point a to point b. That beautiful isolated route might not be so pretty if you’re stranded.
While traveling I am often in a hurry to get from place to place in a small amount of time, but I always take frequent stops for gas. Because you just never know.
- Eat local and tread lightly!
I am a huge proponent of eating local while on the road. While it is tempting to grab something at a big chain, I always try to go somewhere new. Eating local not only means that you can try something that is a specialty to the area or something you might not have had before, but you’re also supporting the economy is the place you’re visiting.
It is also important to tread lightly while traveling. When possible, ditch your car and take public transportation and walk. Don’t litter. Don’t damage property. Walk on sculpted paths and not the grass. In general, just respect the country.
- Be Safe!
There are many times while traveling when the situation just doesn’t seem right. Maybe the attraction you want to see if in a sketchy neighborhood or at the top of a hill in the middle of the night. Use caution. If it doesn’t seem safe to leave your car or keep going forward, don’t.
I know I earlier said to respect your car mates, but sometimes the driver’s needs are much more important. Don’t be afraid to keep the music blasting while your friends are trying to sleep. Keeping the driver awake is much more important! And if you are too tired to drive, pull over or switch drivers!
Just use caution and be safe — you want to make sure to make it to your next adventure!
- Remember that you only live once…but also remember that there’s always next time!
Just say yes to travel! Life is short, so don’t let opportunities pass you by! Don’t regret not taking a trip, just gogogo! At the same time, don’t think that you have to pack everything in to one trip. Just breath, relax, and never forget that there is always next time.
Enjoy your next road trip!
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS: