A Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Road Trip

Hitting the road to explore a new, or familiar, area is our favorite way to travel. We might fly to a region, but then we are back in a car to explore. We’ve investigated Iceland, navigated Namibia, searched Switzerland and plowed down the Pacific Coast Highway in California. We loved renting a car, or using our own, to see, do, taste and experience the world around us.

How to plan a road trip

If you are leery about driving around while on vacation, or driving as a vacation, here are tips for planning a road trip. This is your guide, as a beginner or seasoned traveler, to making it an easy planning process and a wonderful vacation.

This is first, because it is the most important to any road trip: Pick your car wisely. This car will be your home away from home, your constant and your home base for the duration of your road trip. Here are some guidelines:

  • Pick a car that has room for you and your luggage.
  • Pick a car that you are comfortable driving. Can’t drive a manual? Do not think saving a few bucks will make ii worth it, pay for the automatic.
  • Pick a car with decent gas mileage.
  • Make sure to go with a reputable rental car company.
  • Splurge when and if you can. For example, you HAVE to rent a convertible when driving the PCH, it’s a non-negotiable.

Tahoe Rental Car

Budget your MONEY for a few more details than you typically would when staying in a small area. Road trips tend to be a little more spontaneous. Gas stops turn in to snack stops. Random signs that point to a waterfall require 20 mile detours and muddy back roads might warrant a car wash.

  • Gas
  • On the road snacks
  • Car washes
  • Spontaneous stops at random road side attractions

Budget your TIME with more flexibility. As mentioned above, road trips are about spontaneity.

  • Spontaneous stops are a given. You will stop more than you expect. You will drive less than you expect. Plan accordingly.
  • Hotels can be a factor too. If you book your hotels ahead of time, make sure that they are not entirely too far apart. The last thing you want is to miss a great coffee shop, hike or town square because you have to make it to your bed and breakfast that is 100 miles away before they close.

PCH Road Trip in a Convertible

Navigating the trip can be fun, but also stressful. Having a rough idea of your route will help in picking hotels, stopping points and points of interest.

  • Map apps are great for road trips.
  • Good ol’ paper maps still work and can be fun to use for navigating.
  • Use road signs more than maps. There were more times than I can count when we’ve gotten out of sticky situations just by following the highway signs instead of the map.
  • If you are a party of two, the “co-captain” should use clear language. I can’t tell you how many arguments I have had with Mr. Wife with Baggage because I say things like “turn here.” I am learning to say “you will turn right in 1 mile.” Then, “turn right at this stop sign.” “Now we are looking for Saltwater Lagoon Road.” Seriously! I am like Google Maps navigating us through foreign roads … I was not always this thorough, but 27 fights later, I am learning! 🙂
{Note: Mike and I turn off cell service when traveling abroad and rely on paper maps to navigate. It is sometimes scary, but hugely beneficial to our overall communication and connection throughout the vacation. You should try it too; but that is just my two cents!}

Plan for physical activity throughout your day. Sitting in a car all day can cause lower back pain, stiffness and lethargy. Plan to move around at a few points each day.

  • Whether it is a stroll down to the beach, around a park, down city sidewalks or even at a rest stop, make sure you move around a little bit each day.
  • Stretch, walk, even get in some push ups. Keep your blood pumping and muscles relaxed.

Stay comfortable. Road trips do require sitting, a lot of sitting. 

  • Wear comfy clothes; nothing too tight or restrictive.
  • Wear shoes that you can slip on and off for quick exits at the random places you pull off to see.
  • Consider packing an ice pack if you know you will experience pain.
  • Consider packing nausea remedies if you get motion sickness.

Beautiful Deserts in Namibia

Stay fueled – you and your car.

  • Consider packing a cooler in your car with water and healthy snacks.
  • If your route takes you through desolate areas, buy a gasoline can that  you can fill with gain case the worst happens and you run out of gas during your road trip.
  • Use apps to locate the closest gas stations in your areas.
  • Fill up before leaving a populated area, even if you are not close to being empty.

Stay entertained.

  • Create playlists for when the radio signals fade
  • Download audio books.
  • Write a list of 10 questions or conversation starters to use throughout the road trip.
  • Play games such as the license plate game, I spy or others to pass the time.
  • Look out the window, not at your phone. (This one is hard for me! But what is the point if you aren’t looking at what you’re passing?)

Stay safe by asking yourself these questions:

  • What side of the road do people drive on?
  • Can I drive on the opposite side of the road?
  • Does the car have a spare tire, and tire changing tools?
  • Do I need to have an international drivers license to rent a car here?
  • Is this a safe place to drive?
  • Can I drive in city traffic? snow? mountainous areas?
  • Can I parallel park?
  • Do I know this country’s driving laws? Can I read their road signs?

Leave us a comment or question!