People always ask me “What’s your favorite way to travel?” And my answer remains the same: road trip! Why? By doing a road trip, you have so many more opportunities. You are on your own schedule. You can stop and start again whenever you want. See something that catches your eye? Awesome, pull off the highway and go check it out! Plus, you have your car so there’s no need to worry about transportation schedules or ride-share services. Struggling to fit everything in a carry-on? No problem here – fill your car with whatever you need! Want to bring your four-legged-friend? Do it. With several cross-country road trips under my belt, I’m here to help show you how to plan the best road trip ever.
Originally published on June 21, 2017. Most recently updated February 9, 2020.
Sketch Out Your Route
Before leaving on any road trip, you’ve got to have some sort of idea in mind of where you’re going. Then, once you’ve sketched out your route, you’re ready to start planning out stops along the way. Luckily, there are several apps and websites that make this easy for you!
Once I have my starting and end locations set – even if they are the same – I head to Roadtrippers to find things to do along the way. On the app, you can set a distance that you’re willing to go off route in order to check out various attractions. Then, you can choose categories for what interests you – breweries, restaurants, offbeat attractions, national parks, and more. Want to visit one of the suggestions? Just add it to your itinerary and the app will automatically adjust your route to include it.
One of the coolest features is that once you’ve picked all the stops along your road trip, the app will estimate your total distance, driving time, and even how much gas will cost. How cool is that? For even more advanced features, like unlimited stops and collaborating with friends, check out Roadtrippers Plus. Save an extra 20% on the yearly subscription with code FPRT235XTX.
Another favorite trip planning tool of mine is Google Maps – particularly for sharing my trips and favorite locations with you! Check out my maps for places I’ve been!
Road Trip Packing List
So you’ve got your route mapped out, and you know several places you want to stop. Only thing left to do is pack the car. But with what? You want to be careful not to overpack, but you also need to be prepared for anything. Here’s a list to help you get the car packed for your road trip.
Snacks & Drinks
The last thing you need is to get hungry or thirsty on the road. So plan ahead and fill up your stainless steel bottles with your drink of choice. Fill a tote with snacks for the drive. This will not only save you money, but also time from avoiding unnecessary stops to get food.
I recommend car-friendly snacks: bananas, crackers, granola bars, etc. And if you’re the type of person who needs a little ‘pick-me-up’ on long driving stretches, pack yourself some energy drinks or iced coffee.
Speaking of food, make sure that you have a cooler in your car. This will not only help to keep your drinks and snacks cold, but will also preserve any temperature-sensitive things you may buy along your route, like chocolate or candles. It’s also helpful to keep freshly filled growlers cold!
Playlists & Podcasts
There’s no argument that you need good music to listen to on a road trip! Podcasts are another good choice. Set up a playlist on your smartphone and download podcast episodes before your trip – you never know when you’ll be in the middle of the mountains or a forest with no cell service. And you won’t want the podcast to get cut-off!
If your car doesn’t have Bluetooth to sync, make sure you have an auxiliary cord that will let you connect your device to the speakers. And if you can’t agree on a music style with the other riders, make sure to bring some headphones to listen to your choice. Just remember, driver gets choice!
Another thing to remember? Extra chargers – for your phone, your camera… whatever tech you bring with you. Yes, you have your standard phone charger for the hotel room, but did you remember your car charger and your portable charger? Those can be lifesavers! You know you’ll want to be documenting and sharing your trip with all of your friends back home and your battery will take a beating. Be prepared with back-ups.
Both for the hotels along the way and the car ride, bring your own pillow and blanket. If you’re going on a long trip, chances are you’ll want to take a break for a nap at some point – you’ll be thankful for your pillow. The blanket? Besides just to make you cozier, it’ll be good to have when you and your carmates can’t agree on a temperature. The pillow and blanket will also be comforting to have and use at any hotels you stop at along the way.
Also, if you’re going to be in the car for an extended amount of time, why not be comfortable? Sweatpants and a t-shirt with a hoodie is my road trip outfit of choice – with flip-flops for the car ride and sneakers to easily change into for stops.
Coins for tolls
If you have an EZ Pass (or your state’s equivalent) for paid highways and tolls, that’s great. But occasionally you may come across a spot that doesn’t accept the passes. Be prepared just in case and have a fair amount of change and some dollar bills with you for those situations. (Or you can be like my mom and spend your last cash on ice cream for the kids and have no cash left to pay the toll on the way home… But hey, ice cream is always worth it!)
So many addresses – make sure you have addresses for the places (parks, hotels, museums, etc.) you want to go and screenshot the directions on your phone. Again, just in case you can’t get service when you need it! Also, have the home addresses for your friends and family to whom you’ll send postcards. Everybody loves postcards! Especially when you’re traveling a long distance.
An emergency kit
This goes without saying. Make sure you have a car emergency kit in case of any unexpected problems and a first aid kit for you and your traveling buddies! You will be super grateful that you packed that ibuprofen or antacid later on in your trip.
A go-with-the-flow attitude
Traffic happens. Sometimes directions are wrong. That place you really wanted to visit is closed. That’s okay! In fact, changes in plans sometimes make for the most memorable parts of your trip. You might find a new place that you hadn’t known about, or see something really interesting along a detour. Whatever you do, DON’T let it stress you out. You’re on a vacation and ready for an adventure. Enjoy whatever happens!
Learn the Driving Laws of Other States
You may be used to the laws in your own state, but did you know that they are different in other states? The last thing you need from your road trip is an unexpected parking ticket or moving violation. That’s the worst! So before you head out on your road trip, check the laws in other states. Here are a few tips worth researching:
Many states have laws against using your cell phone while driving. Be smart – don’t risk it!
Do you have an EZ-Pass (or your state’s equivalent)? If so, check to see if it’s compatible with the toll roads you’ll be using. Not all passes work on all toll roads! In those cases, you’ll either get a invoice in the mail after your trip, or you can pay at a toll booth. That’s when having cash comes in handy!
You can’t always turn right on red.
Some highways use traffic cameras to check your speed. No, that’s not to scare you – they really do. I’ve learned the hard way… A few times. Just use cruise control and don’t go too fast!
Now go gather your friends and get on the road! And remember, if you get tired, switch drivers or pull over into a rest area and take a nap.