Road Trips – The Ultimate Planning Guide

The Ultimate Guide to planning your next road trip

We are big fans of taking road trips.

As a travelling family we can’t rate them highly enough as a memorable travel experience. They are just so practical and cost effective.

We have taken many road trips over the years in locations such as Europe, South Africa, Northern Thailand, California, east coast USA and up and down the Australian coastline.

We are now travelling around Australia for the next 12-18 months. You can see our posts here and follow our journey. We love the freedom of hitting the open road, being able to SLOW travel and have the flexibility to do what we want, when we want.

You can set your own travel hours and destinations, you don’t have to carry around your luggage by hand, and instead of flying from point A to point B and missing everything in between, the journey becomes just as memorable as the destination.

Ready to get planning that road trip of yours?

Planning Road Trips – Questions to Ask

Here are the initial questions to ask yourself:

  • What sort of experience are you looking for?
  • Who is going?
  • What type of car are you driving?
  • Are you wanting a warm climate or a wintry destination for a change?
  • When are you available to go and for how long?

Road Trips - The Ultimate Planning GuideAre you after a beach break? Seal Rocks, NSW, Australia

Budget Planning

Figuring out how much money you have to spend on your road trip is vital in determining where you are going to go and for how long.

Think about what your total budget might be, and then break it down into the major segments of the trip. How much are you willing and able to spend on these necessities?

  • Accommodation
  • Fuel
  • Food
  • Activities
  • Shopping / Entertainment
  • Travel Insurance

Once you know what you are comfortable spending on a daily basis, divide that dollar amount into your total budget available and that will give you a rough idea of the amount of days you can travel for.

Research the costs for the following:

  • Fuel – You will need to work out mileage getting there and back and also factor in driving when at your travel destination. Road Map Australia estimates fuel costs for various distances.
  • Food – Will you be cooking in an apartment or campsite? Will you be eating out? You will need to factor in costs for every meal including snacks. If you are cooking at home think in terms of your usual shopping budget, if eating out factor in $10-$20 per person per meal. $5-$10 for kids.
  • Activities – Decide what you want to do and what the cost will be for each activity at your chosen destination. Try to fit in as many free things as you can. Cater to all interests.
  • Equipment – Consider any extra costs you may have in providing equipment for your trip. You may have to buy camping equipment, clothes etc. Factor in the cost of a vehicle service and possible maintenance.

Now you have your rough costs you are in a better position on deciding where to go and for how long.

You can then answer these questions:

  • How much money will you need for your desired destination?
  • How much do you have in savings now?
  • How much do you need to put away each week?
  • Where is that money going to come from?

Choosing the Right Destination

Depending on your budget and the type of experiences you want to have, consider this:

  • Make a list of places you want to go and why?
  • What type of holiday will it provide?
  • What activities can you do?
  • Types of accommodation options?

Go through the list with whoever you are road tripping with, discuss pros and cons of each destination and vote.

Number them in preference. (Don’t completely cancel a destination out because you may have to change when you consider factors such as budget and availability).

Road Trips - The Ultimate Planning GuideHow about a trip to the mountains? Dorrigo National Park, Australia

Preparing Your Car

Safety, like insurance, is probably one of the most boring travel topics. But, it is truly the most important.

Unless our car is brand new, we always make sure we have put it in for a service before we go on a road trip. It’s a hassle and may cost money, but it is better to pay for the prevention rather than the cure.

Here are some pre-road trip safety tips if you want to perform them yourself:

  • Check brake pads, break lights, headlights and blinkers.
  • Check car tires (check the tread and pressure to be safe and improve gas mileage).
  • Check your windscreen wiper blades.
  • Top up the water level.
  • Check your engine coolant level and top up.
  • Fill the windscreen washer fluid.
  • Check your oil level and change if needed.
  • Get some sort of roadside assistance (in Australia we have NRMA). I cannot tell you how many times we have used them in the past. It’s good peace of mind.
  • Check that your insurance and registration is up to date, as well as your drivers license.

Emergency Kit

Always good to have in the car for peace of mind:

  • A spare tire and tools to change it with
  • A torch
  • Warm blankets
  • Water
  • A fully charged phone
  • Hazard triangle

Bucket List Destination: Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia        creidt:

Pre-Departure Tips

It’s a good idea to have your basic route planned on maps / navigation system. It’s fun for everyone to follow along and have a general understanding of the places you’ll be visiting.

Helpful tips:

  • Plan for your stops along the way and organize any accommodation
  • Book your accommodation.
  • Have your vehicle serviced and check for safety.
  • Buy all needed equipment
  • Create road trip rules to ensure everyone gets along
  • Have your toll road e-tickets / coins ready
  • Have a last minute checklist of things that need to be done the day before or day of departure (this has saved me many times from forgetting important things)
  • Double check your maps or navigation system is ready to go.

Preparing Your Home

There are obvious and not so obvious things to take care of before leaving your home.

  • Schedule payment of all your bills
  • Stop your mail or have a trusted source collect it for you.
  • Clean out your fridge and cupboard of anything that may go off.
  • Arrange for the care of any pets.
  • Put your phone on soft ring so it can’t be heard ringing out.
  • Leave a set of keys with someone trusted. You just never know what might happen while you are gone and who might need to access your house to help you.
  • Let your bank know that you will be on a road trip and for how long. This may help prevent them from shutting down your credit card if they see charges coming through from different places.

Road Trips - The Ultimate Planning GuideRedwood National Park, California. credit: fineartAmerica

Packing Tips

Try not to stress too much in regards to packing. Remember, you can almost certainly buy anything later on the road.

Once packed go through it again and cut it down by a third. Keep doing that until you really do have just the essentials. Take less and wash more.

Other Tips:

  • Know the weather of the destination you are visiting as this will help reduce over-packing. Planning your travel through one season or climate always works best.
  • Know the activities you will be doing so you can pack appropriately. You don’t want to turn up to your abseiling adventure without your sneakers.
  • Know the types of accommodation you will be staying at. If you are camping you are going to need to pack a lot more equipment. If you are staying in hotels you won’t need to take things like towels, hair dryers or linen.
  • Pack so that the items you may need are easily accessible while on the road.

Pack Children’s Entertainment

  • Favourite toys
  • Favourite teddy for sleeping
  • Games
  • Colouring books / pencils / markers
  • Reading books
  • iPods / iPads / other elctronics

Parental Entertainment

  • Movies
  • Music
  • DVD player/iPad/iPod/laptop
  • Headphones
  • Spare batteries
  • Camera
  • Chargers for all electronics

Food and Drink Supplies

  • Have separate containers for cold food, dry food
  • Water bottles
  • Non-gooey, non-sticky snacks
  • Trail mix, fruit, crackers, sandwiches in zip lock bags
  • Spare containers / zip lock bags for leftover food

Smart Clothing Choices

  • Slip on / off shoes
  • Spare change of clothes handy for the car especially for kiddies
  • Comfortable, loose-fitting clothes to wear
  • swim wear
  • Rain gear

Baby Supplies at the Ready

  • Nappy bag full of nappies (diapers), formula, prepared bottles, food.
  • Baby wipes
  • Blankets
  • Toys
  • Plenty of dummies (pacifier) close at hand (they’ll throw them).


  • Paper towels
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Garbage bags
  • Vomit bag
  • Spare toilet paper

First Aid Kit

A list of items to consider:

  • adhesive dressings
  • sterile gauze bandages
  • tape
  • topical antiseptic
  • wound cleanser
  • a thermometer
  • eye drops
  • insect repellent
  • insect bite treatment
  • scissors
  • tweezers
  • safety pins
  • basic painkillers
  • sunscreen
  • antibiotics
  • disinfectant
  • calamine lotion
  • antihistamine tablets
  • band aids
  • cotton swabs
  • latex gloves
  • Any other personal medications
  • rehydration solutions
  • sunscreen

If you are travelling overseas you may also want to include:

  • syringes
  • water purification tablet
  • doctor’s letter / certificate for personal medication

Road Trips - The Ultimate Planning GuideRemember – Pack light.

How to Cut Costs on the Road

Improve the Efficiency of Your Car

An easy way to save costs of fuel on your road trip is to ensure your car is fully serviced and is optimised for efficiency.

  • Check the pressure of your car tires
  • Drive slower
  • Use the right oil to increase mile usage
  • Watch your luggage – the heavier the car the more fuel you’ll use
  • Pack inside your car not on top
  • Use Google maps / in-car GPS to stay out of traffic jams

Use Coupons

Do your research to find travel discounts and coupons for the areas you are visiting. Visit the local tourist information offices for free maps and ideas.

Use the following to help:

  • Tourist booklets and brochures.
  • Back of supermarket receipts.
  • Websites (local tourist boards and businesses and coupon sites).
  • Member sites such as NRMA or RACV in Australia and AAA in the States.

Spend More Time in Fewer Places

Don’t try to go too crazy and see everything. That’s a sure recipe for burnout and budget blowout.

Choose to spend more time in fewer places so you can save on fuel and snatch more accommodation bargains, like stay 5 nights get one free.

Look for Accommodation Deals

Accommodation is one of your biggest holiday expenses. Be wise about where you choose to stay – essentially it is only a bed to sleep in as you will be so busy exploring.

  • Consider apartments, home rentals and hostel stays.
  • Camping will always be your cheapest option.
  • Staying longer in one place usually means cheaper price.
  • Search for accommodation deals that offer perks like free nights, free breakfast, free wireless or even tours.

Supply and Cook Your Own Food

Constantly eating out can kill your budget and leave less for you to spend on the real memory making activities.

The best way to do this is:

  • Take a packed / picnic lunch out with you for the day
  • Have pre-filled bottles of water from the tap
  • Buy all your snacks at the supermarket.
  • Camp and cook over the campfire (Try these campfire cooking recipes)
  • Rent apartments and suites with kitchenettes.

Do the FREE Stuff – Make Nature Your Friend

Do as many activities as you can outdoors, most of which will be free or cheap and will give you happy, carefree memories.

  • Pack your own equipment to use like tennis rackets, snorkels, surf boards, beach games, bikes
  • Enjoy coastal path walks
  • Go bushwalking and hiking in national parks
  • Spend the day at beaches
  • Do self-guided city walks and tours
  • Relax around your campsite
  • Get a national parks pass
  • Attend museums or tourist sites on free days or when they are discounted.
  • Walk as much as you can. Stay in accommodation that allows for this to save on driving.
  • DIY hikes
  • Explore local markets
  • Walking around town taking photos
  • Bike riding
  • Climb a local mountain with views of a city or coastline

Road Trips - The Ultimate Planning GuideVisit a National Park

Hitting the Road

Now that all the planning is out of the way, all that is left for you to do is pack the car and drive away.

Put your hands in the air and give a celebratory cheer. The hard yards are over and you can relax and enjoy your road trip.

Some last minute tips:

  • Get a good night’s sleep the evening before departure.
  • Fill the car up with gas and your purse with cash. You don’t want to get caught in the middle of nowhere with neither.
  • All electronics are charged and spare batteries packed
  • Share the driving with some one
  • Take frequent breaks. Get out and stretch the legs, grab some lunch, and have a coffee every two hours. Remember this slogan…Stop – Revive – Survive.
  • Stick to the road rules and don’t drink and drive ever.
  • If it is wet or low light put your headlights on.
  • If you are driving in rural areas be very careful of wildlifre. Drive slowly if you see any around, honk your horn and flash your lights.
  • Don’t let your fuel level get down into the red zone, always keep it topped up.
  • Let the navigator (your co-pilot) take control of directions, DJ’ing and any phone stuff!

Road Trips - The Ultimate Planning GuideTake frequent breaks – Port Macquarie, Australia

The Ultimate Checklist

Has all this information overwhelmed you?

Here is a road trip packing list that will make sure you include everything you need:

Road Trip Packing Checklist

Click here to print

Don’t Forget

Good conversation
Adventurous spirit

For more in-depth tips and strategies on how to plan and save for travel AND get free and cheap deals on the road click here.

Where is your favourite road trip destination?

Craig Makepeace is the founder of yTravel Blog and has been traveling the world since 2002, first with his wife Caz, and now with his two daughters. Get his free email series on the 4 best ways to reduce travel costs. Follow him on Google+

17 Comments on “Road Trips – The Ultimate Planning Guide”

  1. [...] Road Trips – The Ultimate Planning Guide @ Y Travel Blog – When Caz and Craig Makepeace say they’ve compiled the ultimate guide to planning road trips, they mean it. The couple have a young family, so they know how to save money on the road. The packing and pre-departure checklists are also invaluable. Make sure you download our top 10 free road trip apps before you depart! [...]

    • Fantastic post. I have done a few road trips and usually tend to hire out a campervans. I have never really budgeted though as it had been such a short period of time so haven’t really needed too. Have you done many road trips in a campervAn? Do you think there are cheaper options? I’m in the process of planning a New Zealand road trip with my hubby, baby and toddler. Thanks

  2. What a comprehensive guide. You really have thought of everything! We loved this article so much, we featured it on our most recent Web Wrap:

  3. Great post! I wasn’t nearly as organized for packing for our Australia road trip, but we did take advantage of all the natural parks and free activities that your country offers and had a great time
    Alissa recently posted..Our Australian Campervan Road Trip
    Alissa recently posted..Our Australian Campervan Road Trip

  4. What an incredibly thorough guide! We don’t take a lot of extended road trips because we usually have two weeks or less for traveling. What we often do is fly to a destination and then do some driving from there. My favourite road trip has always been driving the Atlantic coast of Canada.
    Lisa Goodmurphy recently posted..Photo Memories from the Grand Canyon
    Lisa Goodmurphy recently posted..Photo Memories from the Grand Canyon

    • Thanks Lisa. Yeah, I’m a fan of fly/drive vacations too. Have done them in New Zealand, USA and South Africa. Hope you get on the road again soon :-)

  5. Impressive – and I am sure very useful – list. But don’t let that scare you: being spontaneous and getting some of that wrong is totally OK too. If you like planning try our free road trip planner – Furkot ( – you can figure out the timing and book hotels on the website you mention in your post.
    Damian recently posted..plan
    Damian recently posted..plan

    • Yes, totally, one can over-plan. But for those that LOVE to plan every detail, we hope this helps!

  6. James Bunger

    These are basic simple things to think about. Your camping equipment needs will vary depending on where you will be camping. Camping on the beach has different needs then camping in the mountains. You should always start your foray into camping small. Take a day trip somewhere close to your home. Check out the surroundings and the camp sites. Get an understanding of what the equipment needs will be.-

    Most current brief article on our personal blog page

  7. Thanks for this handy checklist – I will definitely use it on my next road trip

  8. Hello Makepeaces! I’ve been following your blog for some time now and I’ve never taken the opportunity to thank you both for the incredible amount of inspiration you’ve given me. I have recently graduated college and decided to take the plunge and embark on a road trip across the US and back again. Up until now, I’ve always wanted to do it, but always find a reason not to. Now with your inspiration I feel confident enough to take a leap and let the universe work out the rest. As I’m entering my preliminary planning phase I came across this post which is the perfect stepping stone to get me started! I am also planning to do the trip slow-travel style which is another thing I’m excited for. Would you say that slow travel means more expensive travel or not necessarily? Either way, thank you both again for all the time you spend sharing your travels and may you and your family continue to have a blessed trip around Australia!

    • That’s so awesome Adrianna!! Good for you. I tend to think slow travel works out cheaper. When you rush time you tend to pay more for it. Slowing down means less in transport costs and you can get better deals for accommodation. It also gives you time to explore on your own, rather than do expensive tours AND gives you a better insight into local culture, which means you’ll find better local deals. It’s a great strategy to stretch your money further

  9. This is a really useful and detailed post! I’d love to take a road trip, but I’m kind of scared to get behind the wheel as I haven’t driven since the day I passed my test 8 years ago!!
    Arianwen recently posted..Roadside Rest Areas in the Northern Territory
    Arianwen recently posted..Roadside Rest Areas in the Northern Territory

  10. elaine porter

    Love the info. Plan on retiring in the next two years, so budget will definitely be a consideration, but I will finally have time to travel. Thank you.

  11. […] like to include a link for my fellow road-trip lovers out there that ya’ll might enjoy. click here to […]

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