One of the best ways to travel is by hitting the open roads. Whether you have rented a car or you have your own, there is something totally liberating about getting out on the road. Unlike flying, road tripping lets you see everything along the way, so you don’t miss anything. Unlike bus or train travel, road tripping lets you have some freedom about where you go and what you see. Under the right circumstances, road tripping is the best!
This guide takes you through all the ins and outs of exploring the world on the road.
1. Planning your route
Planning is essential in a road trip, for many reasons, but above all so that you avoid losing money or time or both. One of the first and most important things to plan is your route.
One of the best parts about road trips is the freedom to go where you want, off plan. However, to save yourself money and the headache of getting totally lost, have some sort of primary route in mind before you leave. You should map out the main roads that will take you from where you are to where you ultimately want to be. Also plan out some alternate routes that you can take if your first choice is closed, has a ton of traffic or for some other reason is not ideal.
Do some research so that you can pick a route that meets your likes or needs. There are often alternate routes to the most popular that are more scenic, take you by something amazing, or are just more pleasant. Look into what people are saying about different options and pick one that fits you.
Another thing to keep in mind when mapping your route is where you plan on staying and where you will fill up the tank. Don’t get yourself in a position where you have no gas (although, see below for a tip on that) or nowhere to stay. Familiarize yourself a bit with how far apart hotels, restaurants and gas stations may be from one another. Know when you are in more remote areas so that you know when to take that break when the opportunity arises.
Finally, check out what would be awesome to see along your journey! Use that freedom to go wherever you want well! Know where you want to go, so you can take a detour to check out that Wanderlist item, or so you can see the world’s largest ball of yarn, you never know the gems you can find on the road!
Many people think road trips are the frugal option for travel. When you are traveling with a larger number of people or for long distances, this can definitely be true. The costs of a road trip can add up quickly, however. To make sure that you don’t run out of money half way to your destination, you should plan out your budget before you go.
You should track gas prices in the month or so leading up to your trip. Based on the current prices, the cost of your trip can vary tremendously. If you are planning on driving in a country different than your home country, make sure that you keep in mind exchange rates and whether prices are per gallon or per liter. The difference can be significant and can totally throw off your budget, if not properly calculated.
Make sure to add in a budget for food and accommodation. If you plan on camping, a popular option on the road, check out where you can do that and see if there are any costs associated. Try to get an idea of hotel prices, if you plan on staying in one, so you have at least some idea as to what you will be paying, even if you don’t book in advance.
Have a food plan in mind and budget accordingly. If you don’t plan on bringing along pre-packed food (which we would suggest doing for at least some meals, as discussed below), then know what your daily food budget is going to be. Maybe you will need to hit up grocery stores, to save costs, or maybe you plan on relying on fast food. Know your plan before you go so you have a daily amount you can stick with.
Finally, budget in some money for things that go wrong. You never know when you may have car issues or get lost and end up needing more gas than expected. Have a flexible budget that leaves you with some security to cover for things that don’t go as planned.
3. Preparing for when things go wrong
When you are dealing with a car, there are seemingly countless things that can go wrong. That is the bad news. The good news? You can do a few things to plan in advance for some of the things that may pop up.
First of all, make sure that you have a proper insurance policy and have all required documents for that policy and the registration of your car with you. If you have some sort of membership to a road assistance program (like AAA in the U.S.), bring the contact information with you and make sure you have your membership card with you.
One of the most frequent issues is running out of gas. As discussed above, you can sometimes be in a more remote place than expected and find yourself in a situation where a gas station is nowhere to be found and your tank is on empty. Prepare for this situation by keeping some gas stored in your trunk. In other words, have a back-up supply. Also, if you use your back-up supply, make sure to replenish it!
Take along a basic mechanic kit so you can handle some of the most common car issues. Some things to consider packing in the boot include: jumper cables; screwdrivers; crescent wrench; socket set; adjustable pliers; wire dykes; a sharpened pocket knife; hammer; baling wire and zip ties; J.B. Weld; silicone sealant; duct tape; coat hanger (for picking locks!); and tire plugs, a tire plug tool, tire deflator, and tire plug cement. Also, make sure you have a good spare tire and the jack and tools to be able to put it on if you get a flat.
Take along some sort of GPS system, preferably two (on two devices) so you can re-navigate if you get lost. Download the Roadtripper app on your phone, as well as Waze or Ontheway. The Weather Channel’s trip planner is also a great option for staying on top of weather conditions that may impact your route. Check out our navigation article for more suggested apps to keep you on the right track!
Keep at least one warm blanket or a sleeping bag in the car so you have something to bundle up in if you get stuck somewhere in the cold.
Have some cash in the car, in case you come across somewhere that will not take card. This is particularly true when traveling in more remote locations.
Have your charger and some backup charging device with you so that you always have battery on your cell and can use it in sticky situations to contact who you need to be contacted.
Finally, get a full tune-up before you hit the road. Make sure everything is in top shape before you start out on your journey.
4. What to pack
Make sure you have everything you need inside the car before you hit the road. At the same time, try to keep the weight of your car as low as possible, as this can have an impact on the amount of gas your car is guzzling. Some of the most important things to make sure you pack are:
- License and registration
- Insurance card and contact information
- Road assistance membership and contact (AAA, for example)
- Car’s manual
- Any clothes and toiletries you will need for the entire journey
- Your cell phone and charger
- Maps or written directions (for when your devices don’t work)
- Mechanic kit (see above)
- Spare tire and jack
- Cooler for food storage
- Snacks and easy meals
- Blanket or sleeping bag (one per person, preferably)
- Some entertainment (reading or music)
- First aid kit
- Snow scraper (if in a snowy area)
5. On the road
You have done all the planning you could possibly do and you are finally ready to hit the road! Here are some tips for the road.
A road trip can quickly derail your healthy eating habits and leave you with a less than ideal tummy. This doesn’t have to be the case, though. Pack healthy options before you go. Bring a cooler with you so that you can keep food fresh and have options for a longer period of time. Bring along plenty of water, so you can stay hydrated and avoid opting for sugary drinks.
When you do stop for food, look for a unique option. Don’t just pull into the nearest chain restaurant. Have a look for something authentic to the area you are in. Food is one of the best parts about traveling and road tripping allows you to sample all of the best!
Road trips can be boring. This is just fact, especially on longer trips. Plan for the boredom and bring along great music and other entertainment! If you can read in cars (many can’t because of road sickness), bring a book along. Better yet, share the book with the whole car by getting the audio version loaded before you go. There are also countless games to play on the road, just do a quick search and you will have hours of ideas if that’s your thing!
Do not forget to factor sleep into your travels! No one can go forever without sleeping and on a road trip sleep is essential for your safety. Don’t plan on driving through the night, unless you have plenty of able drivers in the car that can take turns behind the wheel. Map out where you plan on staying ahead of time, regardless of whether you plan on camping, staying in a hotel, or sleeping in the back of the car. Have an idea of when you plan on stopping and stick to it. Make sure you get enough rest to make you an able driver!
When you have to stop, do it with purpose. Don’t forget to enjoy the trip and stop at the places you think are fascinating or maybe just super weird and worth a visit! At the same time, though, make sure you stop for gas when you know there are not going to be many options up ahead. Pull off the highway when there are signs for many different restaurants and gas stations. The competition can actually result in noticeably lower prices and save you some money. Add in quick stops with longer rest periods where you can stretch your legs.
Above all advice, enjoy the ride! Remember your reasons for choosing a car trip over a plane, train or bus and take advantage of the perks of road tripping!