After 24 days on the road, I just returned from my 5th cross country road trip! Between a few coastal city moves and a book tour, I’ve been lucky to make the drive several times. Each trip was different and full of learning experiences that I want to share with you! If you’re planning to hit the open road anytime soon, here are my 10 tips for how to plan a road trip:
I also made a YouTube video covering my road trip tips! You can see clips from my most recent drive across the country in it as well, so be sure to head over to my channel or watch above!
Before you even pull out of the driveway, it helps to have the following taken care of:
1. Get your car in for a tuneup! Your safety is top priority in such a big trip. Have the oil changed, new windshield wipers if it’s been a while, and even have them look at the tires and fluids. There will be long stretches of highway with nothing around and you don’t want to have to walk miles to an exit if your car breaks down.
You may also want to sign up for a AAA membership as a safety backup. Plus you’d get a 10% off discount at hotels along the way!
2. When planning your route, map your ideal big cities and stops then go in and see how many hours you want to drive each day. This will help you discover smaller cities along the way that you wouldn’t typically get to visit. Research as much as possible before leaving and create a Google list so that regardless of who is driving, you can see potential places to stop.
3. Give yourself enough time. If your drive time says 7 hours on Google Maps, that could easily turn into 9 hours on the road with stops. Inclement weather and construction can also end up adding hours to your trip.
You will be in the car for days and your body will definitely feel it. Unless your destination is the only reason for the trip, let yourself explore and experience cities and towns along the way. We tried to keep it max 6-7 hours of drive time on our most recent trip, but if we did it over again I wouldn’t go more than 5 so we could take more time in each city.
Sometimes stops aren’t that close so it’s okay to drive more. Other times it’s better to go slower just to avoid burnout.
4. Create your playlist and download podcasts before you leave. This will help save on data since you’ll be using a lot to map the trip. It will also ensure that when you’re in areas with limited cell reception that you’ll still have music.
Once you have your route and stops planned, your car is tuned up, and music downloaded, you’re ready to go! In no particular order, here are just a few of my other tips to help you have the best road trip possible:
1. Pack Snacks. And ones that won’t melt in the heat. You can go to the grocery along the way to refuel or buy fresh produce if you need. This will be so much cheaper than making those impulse gas station buys. Eating at rest areas can actually be a lovely way to get fresh air and be outside of your car for a bit.
2. Don’t forget water. If you stop to buy a water every time you get gas, you’ll be broke and dehydrated. You might not be able to stop for a while and don’t want to be stranded without water. If you bring a refillable water bottle, I suggest also having a backup jug of water in the car for emergencies.
3. Get a mini cooler. This is a great way to keep water and snacks cool. You can bring it into the hotel at night and refill it with ice before leaving the next day.
5. When it comes to landmark stops, make sure you know when they close. If you’re trying to see a stop at the end of the day, but are driving in with 20 minutes to spare, it might not work. Keeping this in mind when planning your route will help you to optimize your time at must-see places.
6. Keep timezone changes in mind. It will be easier driving east to west because you will get an extra hour as you’re driving. On the reverse route, you’ll be losing an hour.
7. Use hotel rewards programs and discount travel apps like Hotel Tonight (use code RASMITH18 for 20% off). We booked our hotels in major cities a bit ahead of time, but kept our schedule flexible along the way, often times not booking the hotel until a few hours before stopping for the night. It’s best to call hotels on your way to the city, to see if they have vacancies.
Keeping your schedule flexible will allow you to stop sooner or drive more that day depending on how you’re feeling. Walk ins to a hotel might even get a discount, especially depending on the time of night. Sometimes you get 10% off!
8. Don’t overpack your car to start. You might find things you want to buy along the route and they’ll need a place in the car. I found this flower painting for my collection on the second day of the trip and we drove it around for weeks.
Having a packing strategy will also help you unpack the car faster at night if you’re staying in a hotel. Have a system for easily unpacking your items to be able to bring them inside. It will get easier each time you stop.
9. Pack medicine. Some places might be far away from a pharmacy or a hospital (I’m talking an hour or more drive), so make sure to pack for those just in case moments.
10. Go Local. Remember the reason why you wanted to travel by car and not plane: to see and experience new things. I know sometimes you have to just pull off the side of the highway to eat, but try to go as local as possible as you drive. Stop in at the local restaurant, visit small businesses and shop, talk to people around you. It really will open your eyes to other ways of life and it will give back to communities over chains.
So those were my 10 tips for how to plan a road trip! I hope that you found them helpful and that you have a wonderful time on the open road!