How to Plan a Road Trip

Four Parts:Setting a VisionConsidering the LogisticsBooking LodgingRoad Trip Help

There are many ways to plan a road trip. Some people like to plan out every mile of their road trips, while others prefer to leave the whole adventure to whimsy. Either way, you will need to decide where you are going, and when, and why. If you want to plan ahead of time, you'll need to consider the logistical details of your journey: where you will sleep, what you will eat, how you will pay for gas, and how long you'll be gone. Remember: it's good to be prepared, but it can also be freeing to leave certain things open.

Part 1
Setting a Vision

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    Define the purpose of the road trip. Perhaps you are trying to visit a friend in another city, or perhaps you want to explore a handful of famous national parks. Perhaps you are fed up with the rigors and routines of workaday life, and you just want to go somewhere else. Keep perspective. If you want to plot out the whole trip in advance, then you'll need to do a bit of booking and organizing to make everything run smoothly. If you just want to hit the road for a few days and see where you wind up, then you don't need to plan much at all.[1]
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    Decide where you're going. Do you have one destination, or several destinations, or no destination? Look at a map[2], and mark all of the places that you want to visit. Calculate the distances and travel times between these points. Chart out an "optimal route" that touches upon all of the places that you want to see.
    • If time is a constraint, you may not 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 rambling through wild, outdoor spaces, or do you want to see the cities along the way? How much time do you want to spend outside of the car?
    • Try using a road trip planning app or website to chart your course.[3] 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.[4] Some of these sites will even help you book hotels and other accommodations!
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    Know how long you'll be gone. A road trip might last a day, a week, a month, or even longer. The only limits are the length of the road and the strength of your obligations back home. The longest road trips can be hugely ambitious or lushly open-ended – and they may not even have a set "destination" in mind. Try to fit the road trip into a "free" or unscheduled block of time: a vacation from school, a break from work; any time when you don't have any serious, conflicting commitments.
    • Consider the basic logistics. Ensure that you have enough money to take this trip. Check that you can get the time off of work. Make sure that everyone who's going on the trip can get this time free.
    • The more time you set aside, the more you'll able to meander along the way. You can take ten hours to drive straight there, or you can take ten days of detours and spontaneous adventures. The style of trip depends upon the purpose of the trip.
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    Gauge various routes. You may have an easier time driving through certain parts of the world 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 midst 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.[5]
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    Communicate with your traveling companions. Keep everyone's expectations on the same page. You don't need to do all of the planning yourself! You should all be comfortable with the balance of spontaneity and scheduling, and you should all agree on where you're going. If you don't establish this from the start, you may wind up arguing in the car. You may even damage friendships.

Part 2
Considering the Logistics

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    Plan for the price of gas. If you are road-tripping with a group of friends, consider asking everyone to split the cost of the gas. If you plan to pay for all of it yourself, make sure that you've set aside enough money to reach your destination. Consider that fuel is the one absolutely essential piece of the road trip budget: it literally makes the road trip possible. Make sure that you'll have consistent access to gas stations along your way – and if not, consider bringing along a few extra gallons of fuel to extend your reach.
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    Work out your food situation. If you are on a budget, consider preparing meals before you leave, buying a lot of snacks, or bringing along a bulk of nutritious and easy-to-prepare food items. Feel free to buy food along the way, but make sure that you build this into the budget. If your road trip is more about adventure than comfort: don't be afraid to get creative!
    • Be aware that eating out for the whole trip is often not the healthiest choice – nor the most cost-effective. It can, however, be convenient if you don't want to deal with the logistics of food prep.
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    Tune up your car beforehand. The longer the road trip, the more important this step is. Make sure that your car is in solid working condition, that you are up to date on your insurance and documentation, and that you are ready to make repairs if something does go wrong. Consider bringing your vehicle to a trustworthy mechanic (or a mechanical friend) for a preparatory check-up.
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    Bring along any entertainment that you'll need. 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 bringing a few good CDs, or buying an auxiliary jack to play music 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, a game, or a puzzle. Keep in mind, however, that you'll be driving through a new and exciting part of the world. The people, the setting, and the spirit of adventure 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 don't let them miss out on the entire experience!
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    Consider splitting all of the costs. If you are traveling with friends, you will likely share most of the big necessities: food, gas, and lodging. Try using a cost-sharing app[6] 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 know exactly how much everyone owes everyone else. 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.
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    Secure any necessary documents. If you're driving into another country, then everyone in the car will need a passport. For certain countries, you may need a Visa. Make sure that you have your license, your registration, and any relevant car insurance documentation. Bring a map. Consider printing out several copies of your itinerary and reservation information for safekeeping.

Part 3
Booking Lodging

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    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 lodgings in advance, or you can plan 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![7]
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    Consider whether you need to book lodging. If you're trying to get somewhere very quickly, you can switch off driving so that the car never stops. Sleep in shifts, in the backseat or the passenger seat, and make sure that there is always a well-rested driver at the wheel! If nothing else, consider doing this for part of your trip so that you can spend more time driving through an area that you really want to see.
    • Try sleeping outdoors! If you're traveling in a warm clime, or during the summer, you can bring along a tent or a sleeping bag and sprawl out beneath the stars. Research state parks, national parks and forests, and other campgrounds along the way.
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    Book hotel rooms ahead of time for cheaper prices. Decide where you'd like to stop driving for the night, and run a web search for 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 need to worry about securing lodging at the last minute. Be aware, however, that this will make your road trip less flexible. You will need to hustle to your next destination, each night, and you may find that this limits the spontaneous joys and surprises of the road trip experience.
    • Look into hostels along the way. If you are visiting an unfamiliar city, staying in a hostel can be a great way to meet other travelers and plop yourself directly into the action.
    • Trying using AirBnB and other short-term house rental services. This can be a relatively cheap way to stay in the midst of the action, but in a place that's homier than a hotel.
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    Only plan as much as necessary. The best road trips can be those ruled by spontaneity: journeys undertaken with an open mind, a restless spirit, and an air of joyous possibility. The time and budgetary constraints of your trip may not allow you to do this. Consider, however, that you don't need to chart out absolutely everything ahead of time.
    • Some people are more comfortable with uncertainty than others. If you feel comfortable leaving your sleeping arrangements flexible, then you don't need to book all of your lodgings in advance.

Road Trip Help

Road Trip Checklist

Road Trip Tips and Tricks

Sample Road Trip Games


  • Look into purchasing a roadside assistance plan.
  • Look for a cheap hotel as a backup that you will be able to stay at, book a room, on your way to the destination look on a website for a nicer hotel that has an extra room.
  • If you'll be paying with a debit or credit card, consider calling your bank before the trip to tell them where you're going. Sometimes, banks cancel cards on principle when they see a sudden rash of unannounced spending in a seemingly-random location. Make sure that your bank knows that your card has not been stolen!
  • Bear in mind: many road trips are spontaneous in the sense that they're about escaping. Planning is a relative term. It might mean packing your car full of gear and following a detailed itinerary – or it might be a rambling, unplanned exercise in thinking on the fly.


  • Be careful when booking your lodging! Some hotels advertise that they are "five-star" when they are actually far from it. Check a hotel out at a couple of websites before you book a room.
  • Be sure to obey the local traffic laws. Speed limits, seat-belt requirements, and other laws may vary widely across your country.

Things You'll Need

  • Tickets
  • Passports (if needed)
  • Bags
  • Gas Coupons (if in Europe)
  • Money

Article Info

Categories: Planning Travel