The United States is such a diverse country with many different landscapes and cultures to experience. Laura and I have gone on many road trips over the past few years. We have enjoyed heading south a few times for weekend or week long trips, and our most recent trip was a two week long venture west through approximately 17 different states. We much prefer it to flying – our road trips boast more flexibility, affordability and much more adventure. You just can’t get that with a pre-planned itinerary from some travel agent or cruise line. We learned that being your own travel agent and planning your own trip makes all the difference when it comes to getting exactly what you want for a price you can afford. A well planned road trip gives you the chance to set a budget, locate desired destinations, and enjoy yourself every step of the way. We also enjoy planning our trips; right now we are actually in the middle of planning another trip out to Asheville, NC this July.
Download our PDF road trip planner right here for an easy way to plan your dream trip! (No sign in or email sign up, just download the PDF, print it out and plan away!)
When planning for your next trip, there are a few basic things that always require special attention. First, where do you want to go and how long will you be travelling? For a long weekend, planning your trip to and from one destination may be best. If you have a longer vacation in mind, there are way more possibilities for multiple destinations. Once you have decided where you are taking yourself, the first question should be “how do I get there?”
Planning your Route:
First page of our planner details the route you will take on your trip. The most direct routes usually involve tolls, but the more wandering routes allow you to see and experience more than just black top America. Balancing these two options can really help cut down on your toll and gas expenses as well as allow you to experience some of the local landscape which is one of the huge benefits of road-tripping. So, we like to use Google Maps’ multiple destination directions to help us determine our route and find some other stops that we may want to checkout but not stay overnight at. Google Maps allows you to ‘star’ places of interest, and Roadside Oddities has a cool listing of attractions in each state.
This is the route we took on our latest trip. First we looked at the route from New Jersey to Wyoming and back to New Jersey, since our whole reason for the trip was to visit a family friend. Then we added a few more stops: Chicago IL, Portland OR and Denver CO. Next we got more in depth and took a close look at each leg of our journey, figuring out where to sleep and how long to stop at each city.
Be sure to plan 1-2 hours of extra time for each trip’s traffic, weather, wrong turns and various other stops. When you are travelling such a long distance, these sort of detours are bound to occur. If you do get lucky and avoid all extra stops, it really can’t hurt to show up at your destination a little early. We definitely suggest that you plan a different route home than you took going out. That way you are able to check out more cities as you make your way home, rather than seeing the same thing over again.
By picking many points of interest along the way, you can ensure the road part of your road trip will be anything but boring. Even just driving through the center of a couple towns is so interesting! One of my wife’s favorite stops was a town in the middle of South Dakota where she had us stop at a local winery. We enjoyed seeing Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug in South Dakota as well. It’s so cool to see the community and people walking around, especially after miles and miles of nothing but highway.
Now that you know where you are going, you can start to plan your trip itinerary. Planning when to stop at your points of interest can make a road trip seem a lot more fluid. An idea we try to practice is: don’t plan everything. You take a road trip because of that adventurous thrill you get from exploring the unknown and being in complete control of the now. It’s important to have plans, but balancing this with relaxation and just some time to wander around your new surroundings can provide a much more rewarding experience.
We like to research the different neighborhoods in the city we are visiting rather than only considering individual points of interest. That way we can be open to whatever we see in that neighborhood area. So on our way into Portland, we checked out Hood River to the East of the city for dinner, then checked into our hotel near the convention center. Then in the morning, we walked to the nearby Pearl District, took a bus downtown, then we went back to the hotel when we were tired. We got to see a lot of the city in a small amount time this way. Each neighborhood we went to, we had one or two points of interest in mind and plenty of time left over to discover everything around us. Don’t forget to keep a watchful eye on the weather and have a couple of inside ideas in the back of your mind in case of bad weather.
We made two pages in our planner for planning the trip itinerary, a brainstorm section and a final itinerary. If you have a more extended trip, you can print out multiple copies of each page for more space.
Outside of gas and tolls, your next largest expense will undoubtedly be room and board. After driving all that way, we prefer to stay within walking distance of a few points of interest. If we plan to do some travelling across bigger towns and cities, we will also look into the public transportation to get around easily and affordably. It beats driving around in a new location you are unfamiliar with. Plus, public transportation programs usually will have a cheap day pass option giving you the option to ride anywhere for a one time charge. When it comes to to booking your accommodations, doing your research pays off. In our experience, it boils down to what your expectations are, which makes reading reviews critical prior to booking your hotel.
Researching the neighborhood is also an important part of researching the accommodations. We have booked dirt cheap hotels in nice areas and been very impressed, but we have also booked less savory “brand name” hotels in not as nice of areas and been disappointed. If you are staying for 2 days or more, Airbnb is also a very affordable option. We do prefer to support small businesses whenever possible, but in certain areas the options have been sparse. So, before our long road trip we also chose one brand of hotels to primarily stay with when there wasn’t a good small business option. We got a rewards card with Hilton, so we get member benefits and are steadily building our points towards free rooms.
Pages 4 & 5 of the planner are all about outfit planning and packing. Since packing the right things can be important on a road trip, we made a separate post just about that. You can check it out here!
Pages 6 & 7 are a meal planning/grocery list and budget estimator. For more meal planning info check out our Eating Healthy on the Road post! It may seem like eating healthy on a road trip would be difficult, but our meal planning process actually saves us a lot of time, money and calories.
Planning a road trip well is critical to your success. We welcome any and all helpful road trip tips and ideas below in our comments section. Let us know how YOU road trip, and how our planner helped you plan your next trip.
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