June 02, 2023
Road trips are something that almost everyone looks forward to— a vacation from the daily grind. The open road, the promise of new experiences and the sense of adventure are all aspects of a great road trip. But going into a road trip blind can lead to headaches, roadblocks and even venture into dangerous territories, literally, without proper forethought.
Nothing will make or break an enjoyable adventure like a poor plan. My outdoor education professor always told us to remember the 6 P’s when putting together a trip or adventure program: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Programs. This ideology holds true for anyone planning a road trip.
The list of things to do can feel overwhelming and you may find yourself asking, "Where do I even start?" This collection of 10 road trip planning essentials will help anyone wondering how to plan a road trip.
1. Check your vehicle
One of the worst events on a long road trip is having a breakdown. Being stranded can be a scary experience. Especially if the area feels particularly unsafe, disconnected or desolate.
Checking your vehicle before leaving the house can mean the difference between a quick fix and a misadventure on the open road.
Some things to check include:
- Vehicle fluids like steering, coolant, oil, brakes and wipers
- Spare keys
- Whether the car could use a tune-up
2. Home check
Before leaving the home, make sure you turn the lights off, unplug appliances and call family and neighbors you trust. Leaving a home empty over long periods of time can be nerve-wracking. Do your due diligence and double-checked everything before leaving the house. Asking a friend or neighbor to check the house every few days is a good way to make sure you leave with peace of mind.
3. Activities on and off the road
Long road trips involve hours of driving. At first, it might feel new and exciting. However, when the novelty wears off you’ll want to make sure you know what to do when the road starts getting to you.
Podcasts, new music choices, driving games and a good stretching routine can all be aspects of a more enjoyable time on the road. These small activities make the journey more enjoyable on the way to your next destination.
4. Talk with the group
Communication is important when you plan a road trip with other people. One person might prefer many small breaks while another wants to get the drive over in one shot. Making sure to communicate your needs as well as the needs of others helps the group start off on the right foot.
Also, divvying up responsibilities like driver, navigator and DJ makes sure everyone is on the same page. If one person starts feeling like they’re doing all the driving, that sets the stage for disagreements down the line.
5. Hygiene and toiletries
Stock up on travel items related to hygiene like baby wipes, hand sanitizer, towels, toothpaste, ibuprofen and band-aids. Road trips are like any travel adventure. I’d rather be over-prepared than not have something I need at a crucial time.
Hygiene items are easy to overlook. But when the time comes, you’ll be glad you prepared.
6. Documentation and finances
When planning a long road trip, make sure your finances and official documents are ready. Budget the trip, notify your credit card or bank, and make sure everyone has IDs, registration and other important items. You don’t want to go to pay for gas only to find the bank locked your card due to “suspicious activity.”
Budgeting a trip helps make sure there are no surprises on your return and gives you the peace of mind that you’re finances are good to go. This will guide your activities. In a group, budgets also help decide how to split costs.
Every good road trip needs an emergency plan.
Can you change a flat tire? What happens if you need to get back home? What if someone gets sick?
You can’t plan for everything. And you shouldn’t start a trip worried about what could happen. But having a conversation with everyone about what to do if something unexpected does happen is a great way to prepare. Long road trips draw us away from our comfortable and familiar environments. Emergencies happen when we least expect them. It’s important that we know what to do if something comes up.
8. Local weather forecasts
The people in every state seem to think that the weather in their state is more unpredictable than in another. Regardless of the states you’re driving through, checking the weather daily and planning ahead for rain, snow or shine will make the trip more enjoyable. Keeping track of the weather helps you plan for activities, emergencies and daily events like pit stops and bathroom breaks.
A couple of nice days might make you slow down and visit more areas. But a forecast calling for two days of heavy rain might push you to get to your destination. Tapping into local weather forecasts for the places you drive through sets you up for success.
9. Planning pit stops
Are pit stops run-in, run-out races? Long stretches and a wander around a truck stop?
Planning pit stops and making sure everyone is on the same page is important to keep everyone happy. There are only a few people resilient enough to sit in a car and not feel pressure to move around.
Knowing where pit stops will be and how far apart they are is a good thing to know when traveling alone or in a group. Few things are as surprising as missing the “no gas stations for 100 miles” sign and making it halfway across only to find out everyone has to use the bathroom.
10. Food plan
It might be easy to eat gas station chips and sodas with the odd packet of trail mix thrown in, but a poor diet can make long road trips feel exhausting. Deciding on how you’ll organize your meals, when you’ll eat them and how to transport food is an important part of any road trip plan.
Eating out? Making lunch meat sandwiches in the car? Sweet and salty "snackle box" spread? A Coleman stove with a meal kit ready to go?
There are a lot of options for meals. Don’t wait until you’re tired and hungry to make a decision. Plan ahead so you’ll have meals to look forward to.
There are so many things to remember before going on a long road trip. Different plans work for different people. Sitting down and thinking through how you like to travel will make the experience more fun.
If you procrastinate in your road trip planning, you might make mistakes. Allowing enough time to plan the trip is a service to yourself and to the people in your travel group. These tips are great places to start planning a road trip.
But remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. At the end of the day, the most important things to bring along on your journey are an open mind, a positive disposition and an eye for unexpected adventures. Happy road tripping!