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How to Plan a Road Trip // Tips and Tricks to Have the Best Road Trip Yet

Road and pine trees at Sandia Crest Albuquerque New Mexico

Looking for advice on how to plan a road trip? You’re in the right place.

Road trips are one of the best ways to travel, in my opinion. Even though there might be long stretches of road with nothing to do for several hours, you get to see so much more than you ever would have been able to by flying, and you are sure to stumble upon something that you could never have imagined.  

Driving across the country may seem much more daunting than simply jumping on a plane, but I guarantee you that it isn’t. You’ll thank yourself endlessly for choosing to drive instead of fly. Not only that, but it is so much cheaper!

If you’re still a little unsure, though, take a look at these tips on how to plan a road trip. Then get busy fueling your wanderlust!

How to Plan a Road Trip in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Choose Your End Point

You could definitely set out on the road with absolutely no destination in mind and a simple longing for adventure. But without the last stop in mind, you might not know where to start!

Take into account how long you have for your road trip and what sorts of things you’d like to see and then pick a point on the map to be your final destination.  

Road leading towards a mountain at Mojave Desert National Preserve

Step 2: Plot Out Your Route

With Google Maps and a million other GPS tools, it is easy to leave your route planning up to the satellite gods. When you’re stuck without reception, though, you may come to regret that, and it’s also important to note that the most interesting route may not be the fastest.

Before setting off, take a look at the different ways that you can get to your destination, and weigh the pros and cons of each one before deciding which way to go.

In addition to planning out your route ahead of time, you’re going to want to have at least some idea of where you’ll stop for the night each time. You don’t have to go as far as making hotel reservations, as you may end up being too tired to keep going or want to keep on driving for another hour, but it’s definitely good to have at least a faint idea of where you’ll end up at the end of every day.  

Addie overlooking the Grand Canyon Mather Point Addie
If we had simply followed Google Maps to our endpoint on our recent road trip, we never would have made a detour to the Grand Canyon. And that just would have been tragic.

step 3: Research, Research, Research

If you don’t see at least one world’s largest item on your drive, did you really take a road trip? Everyone knows that a good road trip is filled with tons of fun stops and kitschy attractions, and while sometimes the best way to find out about those is from signs on the side of the road, there are other gems that are well documented and you really don’t want to miss.

Whether you use a travel guidebook such as Road Trip USA (my personal favorite) or your favorite internet sources, make sure to do some research on the best stops along your route.

old fashioned sode bottles lined up on glass shelves
500 different soda flavor options is definitely a road trip worthy stop!

Step 4: Narrow Down

During your time researching, you’re going to come across ten times as many things to do as you’re possibly going to have time for. Take a look at your list and pick out the things that you’re most interested in doing and put them on a shorter list of must-dos.

Don’t throw out your complete list of items just yet, though, as you may well come across an extra bubble of time and need something to fill it with.  

petrified tree trunks strewn across the ground at Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park wasn’t ever at the top of our list, but it surprised us by how cool it was!

Step 5: Throw Your Plan Out the Window

No matter how much planning you do you’re going to come across at least one thing that throws your plan completely off course. There’s no need to freak out, though. Spontaneity is what road trips are all about, and as long as you remember this you’ll be just fine.

Embrace every little bump in the road, and feel free to veer right when you were planning to go left if something amazing presents itself to you. Enjoy your journey!  

Road and pine trees at Sandia Crest Albuquerque New Mexico
What are you waiting for? It’s time to get on the road!

How to Plan a Road Trip: Bonus Tips

  • HotelTonight and Priceline Express Deals are both great places to check for last-minute hotel deals while you’re on the road.
  • I love the Roadtrippers app for planning out my route and finding quirky roadside attractions!
  • It never hurts to have a physical map on hand just in case.
  • If you don’t have it already, get AAA membership! Not only will you have roadside assistance if you need it, but a TON of places offer discounts to AAA cardholders.
  • If you’re planning on visiting more than one national park on your road trip, a year-long National Parks Pass will save you money.

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Addie Gray is a recent college grad and a passionate solo female traveler. Having traveled to more than 20 countries, she now shares her knowledge on budget travel, solo female travel, and travel photography.

1 Comment

  1. Another national park tip, if you have a 4th grader (or for 2021 a 4th or 5th grader) they receive free entrance to the national parks for the whole family!

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