Few experiences are quite as exciting as hitting the road.
Whether you’re planning the ultimate trip around your home country or hoping to traverse several countries on a foreign continent, the beauty of a road trip is that you’re in full control.
But there’s a lot to think about. To have the best road trip experience possible, you need to be prepared.
The good news for you is that this guide is the most comprehensive road trip planner you will find anywhere on the internet and covers everything you need to know before hitting the road.
Within each section, you will find practical tips and helpful information to turn your road trip dream into a reality, so we hope you find it both helpful and inspiring.
Planning your Road Trip Route
Naturally, the first thing you need to think about is where you’re going to go. When you’ve selected your destinations, you need to begin by planning your route.
While you’re likely to have a rough idea in your mind about where you would like to go and what you’d like to see along the way, it’s useful to refer to some guides that give you some pointers.
It’s helpful to refer to a guide, particularly if you’ve never been to the place before, so you don’t miss anything that might be interesting. Guides also give you important tips about your destination and ensure you are as prepared as possible.
When you’ve done your research, it’s time to get your desired route down on paper (or on your PC). You can use Google Maps or Waze to help you plan your initial route. Just be mindful about journey times, particularly if you’re planning a road trip in Africa or parts of Asia.
The maps don’t necessarily take into account the difficult terrains of some roads, so make sure you don’t try and plan too much on the same day! When planning your initial route, consider the following:
- Set a timeframe and rough budget for your overall trip.
- Make a list of points of interest you want to explore along the way. You can take inspiration from pretty much any source to help you with this, from Lonely Planet to hashtags social media posts.
- Look for accommodation options for each night of your trip.
- Make sure you look for gas stations and services, particularly if you’re road tripping through the wilderness.
At this stage of your road trip planning, you don’t need a concrete plan. Just get as much information down in front of you as you can, so you can pay attention to the sites you most want to see and the places you want to pass through.
When you have your initial itinerary down in front of you, you can then move onto creating a budget for your road trip.
Creating a Road Trip Budget
Creating an appropriate budget for your road trip isn’t easy, as there is so much that you need to consider. The best thing to do is to think about what money you have available, and then plan the trip from there. For instance, if you have $100 available each day, you need to make sure the distances you travel, the food you eat, the places you visit, and where you stay will be comfortably covered by that cost.
When budgeting for your road trip, you need to think about the following costs:
Vehicle hire: Unless you’re using your own vehicle, you will need to factor in the daily cost of hiring an appropriate vehicle for your trip. Whether you’re planning to travel in a luxurious RV or a simple rental car, the cost of the vehicle is likely to be one of the biggest costs associated with your trip.
The price of gas: The cost of gas varies significantly from country to country. You should use a website to look at current global fuel prices to give you a rough idea of how much you need to budget for each day in your destination. You can also use a resource like GasBuddy to predict the cost of fuel throughout your planned route.
Food and drink: Will you be eating in restaurants or grabbing a sandwich from a gas station for lunch? You need to create a budget for your food and drink and try and stick to it.
Accommodation: People who travel in an RV or motorhome have their accommodation covered. But if you’re traveling in a car, you need to think about where you will sleep and how much it is likely to cost each night. Wild camping is possible in some parts of the world and is free, but you need to plan in advance if you are to find places where you can sleep for free.
Tolls and parking: Some countries have expensive toll roads that you will need to use. Google Maps tells you if your trip includes tolls, so you can make provision for this. You need to also think about parking charges when staying in cities or visiting attractions along the way.
Entertainment and entry fees: The chances are that the reason for your road trip is to see some awesome things along the way, not just to sit in the car. Check out the points of interest along your route and see if they require a fee. You need to pay to enter most natural parks and nature reserves and may even have to pay extra to take a vehicle in.
Repairs and maintenance: Hopefully, you won’t have to spend a great deal of money on vehicle repairs or maintenance along the way, but you should have some money set aside just in case. After all, anything can happen on the road.
Insurance: As well as personal travel insurance, you may wish to consider taking out excess insurance if you’re renting a car. This often costs just a few dollars each day and can save you from paying huge excesses if you have an accident.
When you’ve calculated your prices and rough budget, you will know what your daily costs will be. It’s a good idea to add 10% onto these projected costs, as there are always some extra costs that creep into your budget along the way!
Now we’ve introduced the many costs associated with your road trip, let’s look at ways in which you can save money while you’re on the road to make your trip last as long as possible.
Saving Money on a Road Trip
While you’re on the road, you will encounter lots of costs that, at first glance, will seem unavoidable. For instance, you might think that you can’t do anything about gas prices, but ensuring your vehicle is road-ready and in good condition will improve its efficiency and will ultimately save money.
Here are some tried and tested ways in which you can save money while on a road trip, so you can see and do more during your stopovers.
Make sure your vehicle is in good shape
If your vehicle is in poor mechanical shape, you will end up spending more on fuel. Make sure your tire pressures are accurate, and you only carry the cargo that you need. Carrying excess stuff weighs you down and costs you more in fuel.
Before you hire a vehicle, make use of an MPG calculator so you can see if your choice has a good fuel economy. When driving, stick to an appropriate speed, too. Research tells us that for every 5 mph you travel over 50 mph, you spend up to an extra 17 cents more per gallon of gas.
Making sure your vehicle is in good shape and driving at an appropriate speed helps you to save money on gas. Also, you’ll save money on potential speeding tickets if you drive conservatively!
Plan your meals
While on vacation, many people enjoy eating out at nice places, which is totally understandable. As such, if you wish to eat out while on your road trip, consider doing so for just one meal each day (perhaps your evening meal when you stop driving). This means you can get dressed up and head out for a nice evening after a long day’s drive.
Breakfast and lunch are also really easy meals to plan ‘on-the-go.’ You can pop into a supermarket and pick up delicious fruits and salads for an affordable price, and maybe even put together a picnic that you can enjoy while sitting outside looking across a stunning mountain range.
Just because you’re preparing your own food, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be delicious! When planning your route, mark out stopovers where you can shop for food and drink.
Don't be too fussy with accommodation
When you’re on the road, you will have lots of choices when it comes to accommodation. While you can find opulent luxury in any city that you visit, you can also discover budget and mid-range options that offer much better value for money.
By using a site like booking.com, you can find affordable accommodation options along your route and book in advance to save disappointment when you arrive.
If you really want to save money while traveling, you could pack a tent and sleeping bag and camp out under the stars. In many countries, you can go wild camping, which means you don’t have to pay to put up your tent on private campgrounds.
Fill up in town, not on the highway
If you fill up your vehicle in town instead of on the highway, you will find that fuel is up to 20% cheaper in some countries. While this takes some careful planning, it’s an easy way to save yourself money on your road trip.
Only fill up on the highway in an emergency or if you don’t seem to have any other options. Over the course of a trip, you will end up saving yourself lots of money.
Think about roadside assistance
Before you rent your vehicle, do some research into roadside assistance that’s available in the country where you plan to drive. You might even find that your credit card covers you with roadside assistance in certain countries.
Although it’s another upfront expense when starting your trip, if you do encounter a problem on the road and need to call out a mechanic, you could end up spending a fortune on repair bills. It’s much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to roadside assistance, particularly if you’re traveling in a country that you’re not familiar with.
Make the most of the free attractions along the way
One of the best things about a road trip is getting out of the city and enjoying nature. Although you will have to pay to enter certain national parks and nature reserves, you will find many spots of natural beauty along the way that you can enjoy without paying an entry fee.
After all, nature belongs to us all, and if you plan your trip well, you can enjoy the countryside without having to pay anything. Pack a lovely picnic lunch and enjoy the tranquillity of nature with your loved ones.
Although your road trip will undoubtedly cost you a decent amount of money, these tips will help you save money to spend on other excursions you can enjoy during your vacation.
Now that we’ve explored how much your trip is likely to cost, we’ll now think about essential items that you will want to have on hand for your road trip.
Packing List for Road Trip
Apart from the obvious vacation essentials (like clothes, passport, phones, etc.), there are many items that you will need to ensure you have with you to help you plan the perfect road trip.
The good news is that lots of these items don’t necessarily cost lots of money; you just need to be organized and ensure they’re in your car or on your person before you set off.
Below are some of the things that you shouldn’t go without before hitting the road:
Driving documents: As a minimum requirement, you need to ensure you have the necessary paperwork to drive in a particular place. You will need the following documents:
- Driver’s license (in some countries, you will need an international driving permit, so make sure you research the requirements before you set off.
- Relevant insurance documents.
- Car hire agreement.
A roadside repair/assistance kit: In some countries, it’s a legal requirement to carry some items in the trunk of your car in case you break down. Even if it isn’t required, it’s a good idea to have them. Consider packing the following:
- Jumper cables.
- Cell phone charger.
- Relevant vehicle tools (such as a jack and spanner, etc.).
- A warning triangle and high visibility jacket.
- Local numbers for roadside assistance and emergency services.
- Blankets and drinking water.
- A hard copy of a map in case your phone battery dies.
- Flashlight and batteries.
Navigation tools: Make sure your phone is programmed with apps that will help you navigate your journey (we will introduce the best road trip planner apps in the next section). It’s also helpful to have a hard copy of a map with you in case your phone runs out of battery or you lose signal.
Printed travel itinerary: In case you’re stopped by the police on your route (it is a common occurrence in some developing countries), you should have a printed travel itinerary detailing where you’re going and what you’re doing. It will also help if you’re looking for directions or advice along the route, as locals will be able to point you in the right direction.
A travel guide of the country you’re visiting: Consider investing in a comprehensive Lonely Planet or Bradt guide book of the country that you’re visiting. These books are filled with handy tips that will guide you when you’re in an unfamiliar place and give you a handy guide to accommodation if you don’t book it in advance.
When you’re packing for your road trip, you don’t need to plan for every eventuality. Remember, the more weight your vehicle has, the more it will cost you in fuel, so try and only pack what is helpful and essential.
Also, if you’re traveling between busy towns or cities, you can pick up most items with relative ease, so it’s not necessary to pack your car full of ‘just-in-case items.
Best Road Trip Planner Apps
Google Maps: The go-to app for your directions and an essential on any traveler’s phone. You can make use of the multi-stop option and get real-time information about your destination.
Waze: Many people prefer Waze over Google Maps, thanks to the accurate travel updates and any accidents or incidents along your planned route. Like Google, you can plan your journey on Waze in advance.
Blink: Blink is a roadside assistance app that ensures you’re covered if your car breaks down or if you have an accident. It’s important to have Blink or another roadside assistance app on your phone before you set off on a road trip.
AroundMe: A super handy app that uses your location to find services and points of interest in your surrounding area. This is helpful if you’re looking for a gas station or somewhere to sleep along the way.
ParkMobile: Arriving in a new city and looking for a parking spot can be a nightmare. ParkMobile makes it easy to find and pay for parking spaces without having to scan the streets and search your pockets for loose change.
BlaBlaCar: If you want to meet some interesting people along your way, you could always offer a ride to local people or fellow travelers from place-to-place. It’s also a good way to receive a contribution towards expensive fuel costs.
These six apps will undoubtedly help you somewhere along your road trip journey, so make sure you have them downloaded and ready to go on your phone before setting off.
You should ensure that your phone is unlocked and, if possible, buy a local sim with access to data, as this is normally a much cheaper option than enabling data roaming on your device.
Preparing Delicious Road Trip Food
When you’re on the road, you will need to plan your food and drink options well, so you don’t end up spending lots of money on junk food that doesn’t really do anything for you.
As has already been mentioned, while everyone enjoys eating out while on vacation, you should look to combine this with shop-bought snacks and pre-prepared light meals.
Here are some delicious road trip food ideas and tips that won’t break the bank and will help you stay healthy:
Have the right equipment to store food: Take a cooler box with you to store fruit and salads that make for the perfect lunch option. Supermarkets have extensive deli counters where you can pick up scrumptious food for lunch; you just need to store it well in the vehicle so it doesn’t go bad.
Look for healthy and filling snacks: Hummus and dips are a perfect sharing option while on the road and can be picked up at supermarkets and food courts.
Don’t overdo the coffee and energy drinks: It’s vital that you stay hydrated while on the road with lots of water, but don’t be tempted to go over the top with caffeine. If you’re tired, pull over and take a rest.
Avoid too much alcohol at night: When you park up for the night after a long day in the car, it can be tempting to jump in a cab and head to a local bar to enjoy some drinks. However, if you have another long day ahead the following day, don’t drink too much alcohol. It takes longer than you think for alcohol to exit your system, and you don’t want to feel sick when driving on unfamiliar roads.
Picnics are a top choice for road trip meals: Preparing a picnic is the perfect way to arrange an enjoyable lunch while you’re on the road. There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting in a park or in the countryside while eating freshly prepared food that hasn’t cost you a fortune. If you’re planning to prepare picnics, make sure you take the appropriate equipment (blanket, cutlery, etc.) so you don’t end up having to buy disposables.
While everyone relies on junk food once in a while, it’s best to try and plan your meals in advance, so you can stay healthy and nourished while on the road.
It’s equally as important to get a good night’s sleep before driving long distances, so you don’t feel the need to take on too much caffeine or snacks that are high in sugar.
Road Trip Pre-Jouney Checklist
When you’ve planned your route, packed your bags, and are ready to hit the road, you should spend a little bit of time ensuring your vehicle is ready for the road. This will help you avoid any accidents or unnecessary stops when you head out.
Before hitting the road, you need to complete a pre-journey checklist, which should include the following things:
- Check your lights, wipers, and indicators are fully operational.
- Check under the bonnet of the vehicle (you can always ask a mechanic to do this for you if you’re not confident to do it yourself). Look at:
- Windscreen wiper fluid
- Engine coolant
- Brake fluid
- Check the tread of your tires and ensure they’re at the correct pressure (details of tire pressure can be found in the car handbook).
- Check the fuel level of the vehicle – this is important when hiring, as you usually have to return it at the same level.
- Check your vehicle is taxed and insured.
- Make sure you have your emergency kit (as detailed above).
- Place your important documents in the glove compartment.
- Check the overall condition of the vehicle and make a note of any scratches or bumps. This is vital when renting a car, as the company can charge you for these if not reported.
If you’re hiring a car and notice any issues with the points listed above, make sure you point them out to the hire car company before leaving. If the car isn’t in the condition that you would expect, ask them to switch it for another vehicle, or at the very least fix the problems before you hire the car from them.
How to prepare for road trip emergencies
While you hope you won’t need to make use of an emergency kit while on the road, it’s worthwhile planning for the worst-case scenario, as you just never know what can happen. Here are some things that might come in handy in the case of an emergency during your road trip:
First aid kit: You don’t need anything major here, just a small box with access to bandages, plasters, and other simple essentials that can fix up any minor scrapes!
Basic tool kit: You never know when you might need a hammer or screwdriver. While there’s no need for a drill-set, packing the basic tools could help you in a tricky situation.
Jumper cables: Sometimes, your battery will refuse to start. Instead of spending half a day looking for someone with cables, you should take a set with you.
Spare tire: Lots of modern cars don’t come with a spare. If you’re traveling off the road, it’s a good idea to pack a spare and the necessary tools. Flat tires can really set you back, and if you can’t replace them, you could spend a long time waiting for help when you’re in the middle of nowhere!
Additional insurance: It’s important to reiterate this here – if you’re hiring a car, it’s a good idea to opt for excess insurance. This will save you a fortune if you do have an accident and end up damaging the car, regardless of whether or not it’s your fault.
Although nobody likes thinking about accidents, it’s best to be prepared, just in case the worst does happen while you’re on the road.
Getting the Best Deals When Making Bookings
When booking your road trip, you will have lots to think about. We will introduce you to some resources that will help you get the best deals when booking your road trip:
Flights: Unless you’re heading out from home with your own car, you will most likely need to fly somewhere first. Check out Travopo Booking to find the cheapest rates for flights and stays. Skyscanner is a good place to start or a resource like SecretFlying to look for error flights that can save you hundreds of dollars.
Hire cars: There are so many sites you can use to find cheap hire cars, and something like Kayak is a good place to begin. Alternatively, you could use a site like HiyaCar, where you can hire cars from local people, often at a fraction of the cost of hire car companies.
Accommodation: For free accommodation while on the road, look no further than Couchsurfing. However, if you want your own private space while on the road, booking.com represents great value for money on budget, mid-range, and luxury hotels.
Parking: Often a hidden cost of road trips, finding affordable parking in cities can be challenging. You can use third-party apps like Parkopedia, JustPark, and Park Me Parking to help you plan parking in advance.
Tours and activities: When you’re traveling independently, you should look for apps and websites that help you access tours and activities without spending a fortune. Withlocals, GoogleTravel, and GetYourGuide all offer affordable trips in destinations along your route that you can book in advance to save money on fees when you arrive.
Utilizing these websites will undoubtedly save you money, and they will also ensure you can enjoy as many activities as possible throughout your road trip.
Tips for Planning your Road Trip
To get the most out of your road trip, you need to make sure it’s well planned and carefully thought through. If you try and plan too much in a short space of time, you will end up feeling rushed and won’t be able to enjoy yourself.
Here are five tips you need to consider when planning your road trip:
Don't forget rest stops
When you’re planning your journey, make sure you factor in rest stops. It’s a good idea to plan stops every 2-3 hours for 30 minutes or so to make sure you’re rested and able to fully concentrate.
Book your accommodation in advance
It’s much better to plan where you’re going to stay every night before you reach the destination. There’s nothing worse than arriving in a new city, totally exhausted, having to find somewhere to stay that matches your budget.
Keep driving hours to a minimum
Although you’re heading on a road trip, you don’t want to be driving for twelve hours every day. To ensure you enjoy your journey, plan to drive for a maximum of four hours every day and give yourself enough time to enjoy your stops along the way.
Try not to drive at night
Even if you’re familiar with the roads you’re traveling on, it’s best to avoid driving at night where you can avoid it. It’s much more enjoyable (and safer) to travel during the day.
Plan for different types of roads
In some parts of the world, some of your journeys will be on mud or murram roads. If this is the case, remember that it’s likely to take you twice as long to travel these distances as you would expect, so consider this when planning your route!
Tips for On The Road
Have a road trip soundtrack
Download some excellent music onto your device and hook it up to your vehicle speakers. Music really makes a road trip and helps you to stay awake while driving. It’s a good idea to mix things up, so you have different genres for different stages of your journey.
Keep the kids entertained
Road tripping with the kids? No problem, but you need to keep them entertained! Check out some of these awesome games that are fun for kids and adults alike. If you really want to keep your kids busy while on the road, think about loading your device with content for them to watch throughout the journey.
Do all that you can to stay alert while driving
This sounds easier said than done, but you can follow some simple techniques that help you stay alert while driving, including:
- Get a full night’s sleep before driving (7-9 hours).
- Don’t go overboard on caffeine and stay hydrated.
- Take regular breaks.
- Open the windows to let air flow through the vehicle.
Research driving regulations in the place you're visiting
Do you know which side of the road you’re meant to drive on in the place you’re visiting? Search for information from a reputable source about driving in a particular country, so you don’t violate any traffic laws and regulations when you arrive.
Keep some healthy snacks at hand
Having some healthy snacks on hand while you’re driving helps you keep your awareness levels up and are a helpful pick-me-up if you find yourself feeling sleepy. Instead of bingeing on chocolate and getting a sugar rush, it’s much better to enjoy healthy snacks throughout the day to keep you well-nourished.
In conclusion, Planning a road trip is one of the most exciting traveling experiences you can prepare for. As you can see from this comprehensive guide, there are so many things that you need to consider when preparing for your road trip.
We hope this guide has provided you with all the necessary information (and inspiration) to turn your road trip dream into a reality.
Wherever you go in the world, we hope you enjoy your experience safely. But above all else, make sure you have fun and see some of the most stunning landscapes the world has to offer.