When it comes to planning a road trip, there are a lot of details to take care of.
It can seem overwhelming.
But don’t worry. We’re going to walk you through the entire process of how to plan a road trip here.
Yes, the same one I once used to plan a 12-day road trip in 2 days. 🤪 It can be done!
But, I wouldn’t say I’d recommend it. 😉
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Brainstorm Your Perfect Road Trip
What is your endpoint?
Even though we’re calling it your endpoint, it’s really your starting point for planning.
Where is your main destination for this trip – the one you even started planning for? Is it Yellowstone? Legoland? The Oregon Coast?
What are the different routes you can take on your road trip?
Once you’ve decided on your end destination, take a peek at maps and look at the different routes you could take to get there and back.
You can almost always take a different route there and back if your goal is to see more along the way. If time is of the essence, you can skip this part and just pick the straightest shot.
But, to see as much as possible, explore your routes and what you could see along each…are there any destinations that stand out?
For instance, when we planned our California road trip with Legoland as our final destination, we knew we wanted to make sure we stopped in Monterrey for the aquarium. Still, we also didn’t want to miss Yosemite. So, we traveled down the Pacific Coast Highway and back up via National Parks.
When we headed to Yellowstone, we realized that Grand Teton was simply too close to miss out on.
Are there any things you’ve been dying to visit that are along the way?
As you start choosing your routes, start taking note of the places on your “must stop” list. We’ll come back to those later.
In the meantime, download a copy of your personal Road Trip Planner to help you work through everything and stay organized.
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Start Planning Your Road Trip
How long do you have for your road trip?
Now that you have an idea of where you want to go on and the routes you want to take to get there, your next step is to start planning your road trip with a tentative schedule.
Start by calculating the total miles you’ll need to travel and approximately how long the drive time will be.
How long do you want to spend at your Top 3?
Next up, it’s time to start thinking about those places you’ve been dying to visit. Prioritize them together into a ranked list.
When we planned our California and Legoland road trip, we had probably 10-15 different places on our “wish list.” San Francisco, Sequoia, Monterrey, Napa, Yosemite, and many more.
Clearly, we couldn’t hit all of those places in one 12-day trip, but we wanted to do our best to see as much as we could. Having our most important stops planned out made it easier to decide which ones to drop off the list when it came down to it.
What is your budget?
Another critical piece of planning a road trip is your budget. I’m the first one to admit, we’re kind of terrible at budgeting ahead of time and mapping out the entire cost of the trip.
I typically do an overview of the lodging, gas, and estimated activity costs in my head, but beyond that, I usually don’t.
I know. I’m awful. 😬
Truth be told, I know it’s something I need to work on, but believe it or not, I’m usually pretty close, which is why I rarely actually write it down.
But, I know not everyone is like that?! John would be the first one to tell you that. 🤪
Just in case you’re a little more like John than me, we put together a Road Trip Budget Planner & Tracker within The Ultimate Road Trip Planner for you. Hopefully, it will help you make a plan and stay on track.
Who knows?! Maybe I’ll actually use it myself. 😉
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And, if you’re looking for deals, one of our favorite ways to save is with our AAA membership. We regularly get discounts on hotels, car rentals, and more just by being a member. Plus, they often have trip planning assistance and deals only for members as well!
Where will you stay?
Now that you’ve planned a basic overview and budget, it’s time to decide where you’re going to stay. Are you going to stay in hotels or camp? Do you need to rent a campervan or RV?
Here are some of our favorite booking sites:
- Harvest Hosts
- Airbnb – Sign up with this link for $40 off your home booking and $15 off an experience of $50 or more.
Will you book ahead or on the go?
When we planned our trip to Legoland, we had booked our nights at the Legoland hotel ahead of time, but we decided to wing it a little bit on the remainder of our bookings. We planned to mix a little camping in with hotel stays and wanted to be able to adjust slightly based on how everyone was feeling each day in the car.
Long story made short, we ended up spending every night in hotels due to fires, but we really enjoyed the flexibility this time.
The cons can definitely be that you aren’t guaranteed a hotel room if you need one. We did have a couple of times where our first choice was booked, but we were always able to find something on hotels.com.
If you’re planning on camping, you can find unique campsites like these along your route.
Sometimes, they are even free, like this rest stop we “camped at” on our Yellowstone trip.
When it comes to rebooked reservations, I tend to prefer to have our confirmation number somewhere other than my email. We’ve been caught before with little to no signal, trying to pull up booking info. It’s just not worth the stress.
Whether you copy your confirmation into your Notes app, print your confirmation email, or jot it down in your Details & Accommodations page in our planner, it will make it so much easier when you get ready to check-in.
Plan a Tentative Schedule
Now it’s time to plan a tentative schedule for your road trip. Take into account drive time, how long you want to spend at each destination, and make a rough overview.
We find that when we make our schedule too tight, that’s a surefire way to end up with a flat tire, a kid with an accident, or who knows what else. So, we always try to build in a little extra time for unexpected occurrences or spontaneity.
Road Trip Planning App
Last but not least, one of our favorite things to do is use an app to plan our road trips.
Our favorite is Roadtrippers because it will automatically find the most efficient route for us, has roadside attraction suggestions, and we can create trips with up to 150 stops and download the maps for offline use with the Plus plan. See how we use the Roadtrippers app to plan our adventures.
You can find out more here and use code: STOKEFAM and code for $5 off your upgrade. But, even if you don’t upgrade, most of the features are still available to you and amazing!
Here’s a sample itinerary so you can see how it works!Pacific City Trip on Roadtrippers
Packing and Prepping for a Road Trip
Packing for a road trip can be much different than packing for a short car ride or airplane travel. When you’re going to be spending hours or days on end in the car, your entertainment and snack game needs to be on point.
Organizing Maximizing Space in the Car on a Road Trip
We do our best to keep organized when we are on a road trip. Nothing is worse than having to pull over to get out a quick snack, drink, or book to keep the kids organized.
Typically, we have each kid pack their own backpack full of entertainment. Then, I also will pack a bag or bin with books, audiobooks from the library, movies for the DVD player, and a few small surprises.
The dollar store, Target, or Amazon are my go-to spots for finding inexpensive items that will keep everyone busy.
We also like to keep a bag of snacks just behind the front seats so they are easy to grab and stave off a full stop until it’s convenient.
Road Trip Snacks and Food
Always, always, ALWAYS travel with snacks.
It’s sometimes the only thing that keeps us sane on a road trip with kids.
We always pack fresh fruit like apples or oranges, allergy-friendly snacks, crackers. We also typically will pack a small cooler with small, healthy items like baby carrots, hummus, and cheese sticks.
Our goal is always to keep the fast-food stops to a minimum and to always have a safe option for our kiddo with food allergies if we don’t have a safe restaurant to stop and eat at.
Road Trip Entertainment Tips and Suggestions
When it comes to entertainment on a long road trip, you can never have enough when you’re traveling with kids.
Our kids typically do really well on road trips. Still, sometimes an activity I think will entertain them for an hour, they abandon after 15 minutes. 🤷♀️
This is why you will find us with a wide variety of activities when we travel. Some of our favorites to pack are:
- Paper and markers or crayons for drawing
- Podcasts & Audiobooks
- Activity books
- Paper Crafts like these folding robots or origami paper
- Video Games
I know this isn’t the fun part of getting ready, but it can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.
We typically try to make sure we’ve had a recent oil change, filled the washer fluid, and rotated the tires before heading out on a road trip.
If we’re leaving early in the morning, we will try to top off our gas tank the night before to make getting out of town a little easier.
This is also a great time to have any maintenance lights you’ve been ignoring checked. 😅
On the Road
Once you’re on the road, there are a lot of ways to make sure you have the best road trip possible. Here are some of our favorites.
Look ahead for your stops.
When we are on a road trip, I will often start looking for our next stop shortly after getting back in the car.
I know roughly how long we will need between bathroom breaks and food stops, so I can start to scout out possible stopping points. This keeps us from blowing past the last exit for 100 miles right as someone starts begging to stop.
We also try to plan in ways to break up exceptionally long road trips with playground stops or short hikes. A walk at a rest area will do in a pinch, but if we can sneak in something better, we’d always prefer it!
On our trip to Yellowstone, we ended up at an awesome park where the kids were able to run out their pent up energy before our next push. It was perfect.
If you’re going to toss all your screen time rules out the door during the trip, then no worries. You do you!
But, if you’re hoping to still maintain some of your normal routines, we’ve had luck with these strategies.
- 30 Minutes of reading or creative activity before every 30 minutes of electronics.
- Setting a screen time limit and letting the kids know how long we will be in the car for the day. Then, we let them choose how they want to use it. Say we’re going to be driving for 6 hours, but their max is 2 hours. We let them decide how to break it up. Obviously, this one works best for older kids who can self-regulate a little.
- Exhausting every non-electronic option before allowing the opportunity. We’ve knocked out entire 5-6+ hour drives by having a lot of creative activities before we had to resort to screens.
Ultimately, I think this is the most important part of learning how to plan a road trip.
Whether it’s that your ideal hotel is booked, that you run into a traffic jam, or that your kids are starving EVERY FIVE MINUTES, there are going to be some things that require flexibility. If you go into it with that expectation, it will be much easier to deal with the changes.
But, sometimes being flexible just means allowing for spontaneity and making memories that last.
Maybe you come across a roadside attraction you just can’t miss.
Or, you find the perfect spot to stop and watch the sunset.
Allow yourself to the flexibility to adjust your plans for your perfect road trip, and you’ll be sure to remember your experience for a lifetime.
Related Road Trip Posts
- How We Use the Roadtrippers App to Make Family Adventures Easier
- How to Plan Your Perfect Road Trip
- How to Afford More Travel and Adventure
- 10 Tips for the Best Road Trip with Your Family
- The Best Day Trips from Portland to Start Planning Now