We are big fans of taking road trips. Especially when traveling with kids and grandparents around the USA.
We can’t rate road trips highly enough as a memorable travel experience.
Road trips 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, and of course the USA.
And we previously traveled around Australia 18 months, you can see those posts here.
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 when planning a road trip
- What sort of road trip experience are you looking for?
- Who is going on the road trip?
- 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?
Budget planning for a road trip
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?
- 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.
- 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 for your road trip
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).
Preparing Your Car for your road trip
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.
Always good to have in the car for peace of mind:
- A spare tire and tools to change it with
- A torch
- Warm blankets
- A fully charged phone
- Hazard triangle
Pre-Departure Road Trip 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.
- 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.
Packing Tips for your road trip
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.
- 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
- Colouring books / pencils / markers
- Reading books
- iPods / iPads / other elctronics
- DVD player/iPad/iPod/laptop
- Spare batteries
- 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
- 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
- topical antiseptic
- wound cleanser
- a thermometer
- eye drops
- insect repellent
- insect bite treatment
- safety pins
- basic painkillers
- calamine lotion
- antihistamine tablets
- band aids
- cotton swabs
- latex gloves
- Any other personal medications
- rehydration solutions
If you are travelling overseas you may also want to include:
- water purification tablet
- doctor’s letter / certificate for personal medication
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
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
- 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
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!
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:
Where is your favourite road trip destination?