How To Plan A Successful Road Trip

Every year millions of Americans hit the road in search of adventure. For some the idea of a road trip inspires anxiety and exhaustion, but for others it exudes the feeling of freedom and getting in touch with the American experience. Things on the road might not always go as expected, but with a little anticipation and some planning you can set yourself up for a successful road trip.


Figure you where you are going and what you want to see. It might sound simple, but this is by far the most import step. Do you have one destination, several destinations, or no destination? Look at a map, and mark all of the places that you want to visit. Calculate the distances and travel time between these points and chart out an "optimal route" that touches upon all of the places that you want to see.

Unexpected things may occur while on the road, so you might not always be able to see everything that you want. Rank your priorities, and decide whether any destinations take you too far out-of-the-way. Think about the balance of your trip. Do you want to spend most of your time in the wild exploring nature, or do you want to spend time in the cities along the way? How much time do you want to spend outside of the car? Use a road trip planning app or website to chart your course. These services can help you decide how far to drive each day, which roads to take, and how to optimally hit all of your destination points. They even offer great "off the beaten-path" suggestions and can also help you book hotels and other accommodations.


A road trip can last a day, week, month or sometimes longer. Often times the only limits you'll have are your obligations back home. A several thousand mile road trip can be hugely ambitious or very open-ended and they may not even have a set "destination" in mind. Once you've managed step one and figuring out how long your trip will last, you'll know how to properly plan your trip according to your schedule.

Try to fit the road trip into a "free" or unscheduled block of time; like a vacation from school, time off from work, or a time when you don't have any serious or conflicting commitments. The more time you set aside, the more you'll be able to explore along the way. You can drive for ten plus hours straight there, or you can take ten days worth of detours and spontaneous adventures. The style of your trip depends upon the purpose of your trip.


You may have an easier time driving through certain parts of the U.S. during specific times of the year. For instance, you might not want to drive through the desert in the heat of summer, and you might think twice before winding through high mountains in the  middle of winter. If your final destination is far away, you might have the option of a northern or southern route. Check the weather beforehand, and make yourself aware of any storms or other obstacles.

How To Plan A Successful Road Trip
How To Plan A Successful Road Trip


Now that you've figured out where you are going, what you want to see, how long it will take and if the conditions are optimal, it's time to figure out how much it will cost!


Yea you don't have to worry about flights, but you will have to worry about gas. To get a rough estimate first calculate how many gallons your vehicle can hold and how many miles per gallon it can travel. Once you have these two numbers, multiply them and you'll know how many total miles you can get after filling up your vehicle. Then divide this number by the total length of miles your road trip is and this equals how many times you'll have to fill up! Once you know this number it's pretty easy to figure out how much gas will cost you for your entire trip, just google "average cost of gas" because it does very state to state.


Food is one of the most important components you have to account for, especially when you are on the road. You are away from a traditional kitchen, can be stuck in a car for long periods of time and will typically only have poor fast-food options in most places. So you can either cook or eat out. Choosing to cook your own meals will not only save you money, but you'll also have more control over the quality of food that you will eat. All you have to do is invest in a propane stove, an iceless cooler and some delicious recipes (everything else you'll already own).

You can also plan to eat out everyday, but you'll quickly realize that your only options will be fast-food restaurants - which is especially true in small towns. It can also add up rather quickly, so come up with an overall food budget for your entire road trip and break it down by day and even by meal. This will help you determine what will be more realistic, cooking your own food or eating out.


Figure out where you're going to sleep. This choice depends largely upon price, comfort, and convenience. You might book a hotel or motel every night; camp out beside the road; Couchsurf, AirBnB, or crash with friends; or even sleep in your car. You can book all of your accommodations in advance, or you can plan it on the fly, figuring out where you will sleep as you speed toward the night's destination. It can be liberating to not have to worry about where you're sleeping – but it can also be liberating to not know where you will sleep next!

Obviously sleeping in your car will be the cheapest option, but it's not as easy as you might think. There are a couple of rules you have to account for, but with a little research it is possible to score a free campsite. For those who want to sleep more comfortably and don't mind spending some money, you can either pay for a campsite (with showers and wifi) or a motel/hotel.

Sleeping outdoors is an incredible experience! If you're traveling during the warmer months, like the summer, you can bring along a tent or a sleeping bag and sleep beneath the stars. Research state parks, national parks and forests, and other campgrounds along the way.

If you are planning to sleep in a motel/hotel, decide where you'd like to stop driving for the night and run a web search of hotels in that area. If you've planned out your itinerary in advance, consider booking rooms before you even start the trip so that you don't have to worry about booking an accommodation at the last-minute. Be aware, however, that this will make your road trip less flexible. Create a daily budget for the absolute most that you would like to spend on accommodations and plan accordingly.


If you are traveling with friends, you will most likely be sharing all three of these necessities: gas, food and accommodations. Try using a cost-sharing app to log how much money each person has spent on communal goods. Many of these apps will even divide up the sums at the end of the trip so that you'll know exactly how much everyones total comes out to. If you don't want to use an app to track spending, you can record the money by hand and calculate the split-up yourself.


Make sure your maintenance is up to date beforehand. The longer the road trip, the more important this step is. Your vehicle has to be in solid working condition, be up to date on your insurance and documentation and make sure you are ready to pay for repairs if something does go wrong. Consider taking your vehicle to a mechanic for a check-up or even renting a camper van.


Being on the road means that you'll have to find ways of entertaining yourself. If you're happy to spend hours or days in the car simply talking, listening to the radio, and watching the scenery, then you don't need to bring much. Consider downloading a good podcast, creating a playlist and buying an auxiliary jack to play it from your phone or MP3 device. If you will be a passenger for part of the trip, bring something to occupy yourself when the conversation dies down: a book, a journal, or a game. Keep in mind, however, that you'll be driving through new and exciting places. The people, the setting, and the spirit of exploration may provide all of the stimulation that you need!

If you will be traveling with children, they may need some sort of entertainment to stay engaged in the car. Bring a book, a sketchbook, a game, a movie-watching device – but try to keep them engaged in the experience as much as possible.

Lastly, make sure that you have your license, your registration, any relevant car insurance documentation and a map on hand. Consider printing out several copies of your itinerary and reservation information for safekeeping.


About The Author

In 2015, Founder of TMDE Paul Martinez left a career in sales for a life of exploring. In just a matter of months he had visited over 10 countries, 30 cities, 10 states, countless national parks, taken thousands of photographs, and did a ton of soul-searching. His search uncovered a deep passion for exploration; which he now believes to be the essence of the human spirit, and led to the birth of The Modern Day Explorer. You can follow him on his personal journey by visiting his Instagram, and hopefully continue to support TMDE by following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.