Preparing for a Road Trip

Updated on March 17, 2018
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Maya enjoys the outdoors, camping, and traveling to different places.

Plan Your Route

Once you've decided where to go, the next step is to plot a loose trip so you have an idea of what route you want to take. Here are some helpful tools for planning your trip:

TravelMath can help you decide if you want to drive or fly and rent a car. Even if it is better to fly, I sometimes just drive to see more of the country. TravelMath will quickly give you an idea of how many miles the trip will be and some places you may want to stop.

Roadtrippers is one of the best road trip planning apps for traveling in the USA around today. It has information on millions of locations and also some great trip guides. There is an Android and IOS app and a web trip planner. Roadtrippers is coming out with a Pro version in the spring of 2018. This will be a paid version that will include offline maps and traffic information.

My Scenic Drives is a great road trip planner created by a husband and wife team. It allows unlimited stops and you are able to share your trip with others. You can enter how many hours a day you want to drive, how fast you want to go and it will calculate stopping points, though you can change these easily. I use this tool for all my road trips because of its flexibility and people I’ve shared it with have also adopted My Scenic Drives for their road trips.

TripIt helps keep travel plans organized. You can put hotel, flights, activities, dinner reservations and all travel info into TripIt.

Stay Organized

Google Drive is a great place to keep packing lists and other travel plans that you want to share with others. I create a trip planning template after coming up with a general plan, then share it with others going on the trip and ask them to add what they would like to do or see along the way. This makes it a lot easier to decide what we can fit in and everyone gets a chance to do something they really want on the trip.

Once you have a general trip plan, look for points of interest, places you wish to stop and see, activities you wish to do along the way. Add these to your trip.

You will need to decide if you need to book lodging along the way. Depending on your plans, it may be real difficult to find a place to stop that is clean, safe and reasonably priced without a reservation. Also, lodging fills up on holiday weekends. One year, I had to go 50 miles out of my way to find lodging over Memorial Day weekend since I didn’t have reservations. In retrospect, I should have planned better.

If your trip allows, it’s great to have a home base for few days and do day trips or activities around the area.

Pack Wisely

A friend of mine packs everything and the kitchen sink when doing a car camping road trip. While it is nice to have some comforts when camping, having too much stuff can take so long to find things and can end up in a big mess since there’s too much stuff to organize. On one trip, my friend ended up borrowing things because she couldn’t find it in her car. Then when you get home, you have so much to clean up. Better to try to bring the right amount, though that’s sometimes tough to figure out. I tend to go on the less is more side and either do without or if I really need something, I can buy it. It’s amazing what you can do without and really not miss it.

Create a packing list that is geared for your trip.

Start with a general packing list, but edit it for the type of trip, number of people and space you will have. If there’s a number of people going and we plan to do shared meals, there’s no reason for everyone to bring a stove. Add how many of each shared item you think you will need to the packing list. You can put the packing list in Google Drive and share it with the rest of the group. People can select what they are bringing or the trip coordinator can assign the shared items.

It tends to be tough to figure out how much clothes to bring on a trip. You can possibly bring less clothes if you are lodging at a place that has a washing machine and dryer. I don’t really like to do laundry when I’m on vacation, but sometimes it can be easy to pop stuff in the washing machine while having a glass of wine.

Here are some key items to include:

  • First Aid Kit: It’s good to carry some basic first aid supplies in your car, such as band-aids, antiseptic, and bandages
  • Flashlight: Even if it is daylights, a flashlight comes in handy to look under the car or even under the seat
  • Reusable Water Bottles: Make sure you have a few large water bottles filled up to stay hydrated or in case of an emergency.
  • Quick Dry Towel: It’s nice to be able to wipe your face after a hike or use to cool down on a hot day. These towels dry quickly.
  • Reusable Shopping Bag: These take up no space and are great to have if you are picking up some food at the store or need to carry some items around.
  • Toilet Paper: Always good to have some around...don’t get caught short at a rest stop
  • Extra Money: It’s good to have some spare money including change just in case
  • Paper Maps: Bring paper maps along in case your electronics fail

Get Your Car Ready for the Trip

Make sure your car is ready for a long road trip before you leave home. Here are some things to check:

  • Perform basic maintenance on your car. Make sure the fluids in your car are filled up. Even bring spare car fluids, such as oil and power steering fluid.
  • Check the spare tire: Make sure the spare tire has air and is in shape in case you end up needing it. Also, today, some cars don’t come with a spare or if you are using a rental, check if there is a spare tire. It’s good to know if you have one ahead of needing one. For extra credit, you may want to read up on how to install the spare ahead of time.
  • Emergency Roadside Service: If you already have emergency roadside service, make sure you pack the phone card. If you don’t have it, then seriously consider the pros and cons. I’ve had to use it a few times on road trips so I really think it’s worth having. One time in the middle of nowhere, one of the hoses blew and all the power steering fluid drained out. I had to have my car towed about 50 miles to get fixed. Another time, in the Mojave desert in July, we had a flat tire...which we fixed with the spare, then about 10 minutes later, we had a second flat. Emergency Roadside service showed up pronto and we were able to ride to the repair station in the cool tow truck cab.
  • Insurance card: Be sure to carry your car insurance card.
  • Spare car key: It’s good to have a spare key stored in a safe place and let others on your trip know where it is.
  • Jumper Cables and Tools: Good to have a few tools and jumper cables just in case.
  • Organize how you pack the car: Use car trunk organizers or bags to keep everything in its place.
  • Use a car garbage can to get rid of trash and smells.

You're On Your Way!

The time has come for your road trip. Here are some more tips for a pleasant trip:

  • Let your family and friends know where you are going. Share your Google Drive Road Trip Plans with them ahead of the trip. During the trip, email or text your location and plans every few days or if you will be disconnected for longer, then let your family and friends know when you will be back in contact with them.

  • Have some snacks and water available in the car. Stop to eat before you are starving, especially if you are planning to cook meals.

  • Stop for gas before you are down to the last gallon. Use GasBuddy to help find stations with the best gas prices.

  • Be safe. Make sure you are driving safely and follow the rules of the road.

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