Road Trip Planning: 5 Easy Steps

Want to hit the road? All a road trip takes is a vehicle, a sense of adventure, and a plan. Well, and some money, but will be sharing our money saving tips for road trippers in another post, so stay tuned! We can’t help you with the funding, the vehicle, or the mind set, but we do have the plan! Today, we’re sharing our 5 easy steps for planning the perfect road trip. Let’s get going…

1. Where to go

Road trips don’t necessarily need to have a destination, it’s about the journey after all, but every trip starts with an idea of what you want to see or do. Is it a particular city, visiting friends or family, simply looking at scenery, a national or state park, or something else that interests you? Making the decision can be hard, but we’re fortunate to have multiple trip idea resources at our fingertips. Here are some great places to start:

  • Travel blogs, magazines, and books
  • Online news site travel features
  • National and state park websites
  • Google, along with Google Maps and Google Images
  • Only in Your State –
  • Friends – ask them for recommendations based on where they’ve been
Wildflowers on a Texas road trip

2. When to go and for how long

The nice thing about road trips is that they can happen any time of the year. Is your trip going to be for a weekend, a few days, a week, or longer? Most people have limited vacation days per year, so time can be a big consideration when planning a trip. Some of our best trips have been weekend or long weekend trips, so don’t let a shortage of time be a discouraging factor. 

Lonely road in West Texas. Taken on our road trip to Big Bend National Park.

Here are some timing guidelines:

  • Weekend: plan a trip to a destination that is less than a three-hour drive from home and consider leaving on Friday evening.
  • Long Weekend: plan a trip to a destination less than a five-hour drive from home. Leaving early in the morning is a bonus because you can get to your destination by lunchtime.
  • One Week or Longer: figure out the distance between home and the destination then decide whether to drive from home or fly to the beginning point.

Once the destination has been decided, Google the distance between point A and point B. (For example: Distance between Amarillo, Tx and St. Louis, Mo.) Then plan your itinerary from the Google map. This allows you to see what interesting cities are along the route, the travel time, and it even allows you to add up to nine additional destinations. Consider taking a different route home so you get the bonus of seeing more great places.

3. Have a plan

We make an itinerary for every trip whether it’s a weekend trip or a long trip. The reason for this is it provides structure and helps with the financial planning aspect of the journey. Nobody wants to get in the car and waste valuable time trying to decide what to do or where to go next. Writing it down makes it a commitment even if we don’t always stick strictly to our plans. Below is an example of one of our itineraries.

Itineraries can be super detailed or as simple as some notes jotted down on a piece of paper. Our theory is that it’s better to have too much of a plan than no plan at all. We don’t want to arrive at a destination without a hotel or rental car reservation or not have a clue about what a city has to offer. On the other hand, we have a lot of admiration for the free-spirited road warriors who are brave enough to just get in the car and go!

Blue Ridge Mountains. Road trip to Shenandoah National Park.

4. Do some research

Find out everything you can about your destination and the cities you will be passing through using Trip Advisor, Chamber of Commerce websites, and other online resources. Google “things to do” in every town or city on your route and add the things you want to see to your itinerary. Atlas Obscura and Roadside America are great resources for finding unusual or quirky sights in a specific city or along the road. If you’re like us, we want to see it all and do it all in every destination because we’re probably not going back.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas.

Remember all those times as a kid when you wanted to see a roadside attraction and your parents would never stop? Well, now that you’re in the driver’s seat you can stop all you want. Go ahead and check out that alligator farm! Spray paint those cars at Cadillac Ranch! Spend thirty minutes browsing around that quirky tourist trap! This is your trip, so plan it the way you want.

One more thing about our planning strategy: we try to plan where we’re going to eat so we don’t waste time driving around looking for a place to stop. We make three choices per meal via Trip Advisor, blog, or other website recommendations. Asking hotel desk clerks for recommendations is also a good way to find the best local dining hotspots. In fact, on the trip from the itinerary above we didn’t eat at any of the listed restaurants. We ate at the restaurant recommended by the hotel clerk and ended up having one of the best meals of the trip!

5. Don’t take chances

Before you hit the road, make sure you and your car are in shape to travel especially if you’re going to be driving a long distance. Here is a short checklist:

  • Make sure tires are in good shape and aired properly, including the spare, and be sure you have a jack. Check the wiper blades and oil levels too.
  • Check to make sure the vehicle’s instruction manual and insurance information is in the glove box or console.
  • Outfit your vehicle with a roadside emergency kit including jumper cables, mini air compressor, flares or reflector triangles along with a few tools and other emergency needs in case of a flat or breakdown.
  • Keep a first aid kit handy for little scrapes, bug bites, blisters, etc., and add a nail clipper and emery board because someone will probably need them.
Our snack caddy goes on every trip with us.

Do take:

  • A cooler or basket full of your favorite road snacks and drinks.
  • A great road trip playlist.
  • A paper map or road atlas in case your electronics don’t work – it happens.
  • Chargers for electronics.
  • A few plastic bags of various sizes, including zip lock types, because they have thousands of uses besides for trash: muddy shoes, wet bathing suits and towels, dirty clothes, leftover snacks, just to name a few.

Now you’re ready to buckle up, crank up the tunes, and hit the road! Have fun and travel safely.

We will see you down the road…

Mike and Kellye


Need some inspiration? Check out these exciting road trip destinations:
 Abilene, Texas Road Trip: Things to Do
Things to Do in San Antonio: River Walk
Things to Do in Sedona, Arizona

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.


29 thoughts on “Road Trip Planning: 5 Easy Steps

  1. Well we’re just coming to the end of this section and will be handing the hire car back on Monday. All of your advise is sound…good advice all round. One small thing I’d add….Like any other type if travel, it’s necessary to budget. The cost of road trips is one form of travel where costs can vary massively according to destination (fuel, hire costs, accommodation, eating out, even parking) so we would say that it’s really helpful to do a realistic analysis of cost before you set out (with appropriate research). Nothing worse than realising you don’t have enough cash resource to do everything you want to do on a trip!

  2. Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips. I do follow most of your advice except the one where I don’t plan much with hotels or campgrounds. Just a day before, or on the way is what worked for me. As you said, free spirited is why it drives some to travel. But I do agree with planning more as well. Thanks for the share.

  3. Thanks for the tips! I agree with the idea to do research and to plan; however, I am not as detailed on the itinerary as you. I had not heard of Roadside America, and I have now bookmarked it as a site. I also like to do Day Trips.

  4. Great advice for road trips! I used to use AAA for road trip planning. The Trptiks were excellent and included much information on road conditions, travel times, sights, food etc,. I don’t know if AAA still does Trptiks. Its a shame if they don’t.

  5. Some solid advice guys. A U.S. road trip remains high on our bucket list but, as non-drivers we recognise it’s going to be tricky to pull off. The lonely road in Texas really appeals to my inner road trip romanticism. And as for the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s on the list and has got me thinking of that wonderful song by Fleet Foxes ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’. Love the snack caddy!

  6. Great list! I’ve done a two week east coast road trip that was a lot of fun. I think the hardest part is narrowing down where to go. It’s a tough balance between covering a lot of places, but not feeling rushed in each place. Hope you have a great week!

  7. This is fantastic good advice for road trips! I especially think you time considerations were perfect since you really don’t want to spend all the limited time you have driving. Only in your state is one of my favorite sites to peruse- so many great ideas for anywhere you want to go. A very helpful and well though through post…although it does make me want to grab the car keys and hit the road right now 🙂

  8. I enjoyed your itinerary and writing very much. I like your style. You paint a picture in the mind very well,thank you! I like to fly by an idea, so having this option in my back pocket is wonderful thank you!

  9. Great tips Kellye
    We are currently on a mini road trip and I now realise I didn’t plan well at all! Just a bit of going back on ourselves
    Should have looked at the map first!

  10. Always good to be prepared, know where you are going and how to get there. Oh, and snacks, bring snacks. You never know when a short drive will turn into a long drive. Cheers Kellye. Allan

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