Planning a road trip can be a lot of fun and makes you look forward to your upcoming trip even more. However, there are several things you should do to ensure that you will have an amazing time once you hit the road. This road trip planner will tell you how you avoid issues and help you make the most out of your trip.
By now I have done several road trips of varying lengths, with different modes of transportations, and in different countries including Australia and Sri Lanka. And if there is one thing I can say about road trips, it is that they are the most amazing way to explore a country. It gives you the largest amount of freedom and with the right group of people, it will be a blast.
Hopefully reading this road trip planner will help you plan an incredible road trip. And that reading this will make you laugh at my explanations of why certain things are important. Let’s just say that there is a backstory for most of these points even if I did not include all of them in this guide.
Plan my Road Trip – First Planning Experiences
When I planned my first road trip back in 2017, the only thing I prepared in advance was a list of places I would like to see. I knew that we would pick up our campervan in Cairns and would return it eight days later in Sydney. I did not know how tight this timeframe would make our schedule. The driving time itself was more than 19 hours, but it seemed doable in 7 days. We were determined to see everything so we did not really consider the fact that it would be best to adjust our plans.
As can be expected, things did not work out the way we planned it. Looking back, I should have expected as much. We did not even check out the ferry schedules to two islands we wanted to explore, or any prices or places to stay ahead of time.
Road Trip Planner – Initial Planning Phase
This is the starting point of your road trip plans and where you should answer all the main questions. It is the crucial step of how to plan a road trip. You have to work out a framework and a general overview that says when with whom and where you will be going. And if you decide not to drive in your own car, you should also answer the ‘how’.
Find a Road Trip Buddy
Maybe it’s just me, but there are several road trips I would love to do in the coming years. However, I have no idea who will join me on those trips. And while I might be a solo female traveler, a road trip is so much better with others.
On one hand, it is a lot more fun to share the experience with someone else, and on the other hand, it adds another layer of security. Depending on where you will be driving and your activities, having someone else around might be crucial. Especially if you end up driving very long distances between individual stops. Having someone to talk to while you drive and being able to switch drivers makes the entire venture better.
If you do not have a friend that wants to join you, I recommend checking out Facebook groups about the destination. Traveling a long distance with a stranger might seem dangerous or weird at first glance, but it can lead to amazing friendships. Obviously, you should meet up with the person in a public location to be safe before you start your trip. But if you use common sense and trust your gut feeling, everything will be okay.
I more or less did this twice and it was the best decision I could have made. Planning a road trip with people I just met allowed me to get to know incredible people and form profound friendships. Back in 2018 I hit the road in Australia with nine other women I only knew via Facebook and I still remember the adventure fondly. During this trip, the rental was through a shared rental agency, so it added another layer of protection.
Make a List of Places you want to See
I recommend that you and your road trip buddies should each create a list of places you want to see. Everyone has a different dream road trip itinerary, and it is important to merge the different preferences. Oftentimes the majority of stops will overlap, but if more of you research your route, you might just find some hidden gems to include in your itinerary and it will be a great trip for everyone.
Create a Road Trip Map: Find the Best Route for your Road Trip
The best route for your road trip might not be the one you expect. So be sure to move around all your stops in Google Maps or in whatever navigation software you use. If the road trip map looks messy once you have entered all stops, you should definitely reorder them. That way, you can save fuel and limit the car’s exhaust.
Sometimes the direct route between two locations is not the best route overall or the most scenic one, so click on marked spots along the way.
Check the individual Distances on Google Maps & look up the Driving Time
And do not forget to adjust the driving time based on your vehicle. Some cars cannot drive full speed on certain terrain. Alternatively, you might have a different speed limit if you are driving with a trailer.
It might be better to plan an additional stop if the distance is too long. There are bound to be hidden gems along the way, so just split everything above 500 km into a two-day drive. This way, you will be able to see more and feel less exhausted.
Doing this helps you schedule your trip and make it a lot easier to know how much time you have for exploration.
I failed to do this for my first road trip and some days we ended up driving way longer than we had planned. Therefore we had a lot less time than we wanted to spend at the individual location and everything felt too rushed.
Check your Route can be driven with your (Rental) Car
If it is a rental car, there might be restrictions if you do not book a specific package. Meanwhile, other road trip routes might require a 4WD. So be sure to look for a car, RV, or camper van that is suitable for your route.
Determine the Length of your Road Trip
Figuring out how long your planned trip will be consists of three steps. If you have a more open time frame, you can simply follow the steps below.
When you work with a limited timeframe, which is the most likely scenario, it is best to make a list of your priorities. You might have to skip some things while planning your intended road trip itinerary. If you end up not needing your buffer days, you can always add them again during your road trip.
Plan how long you will be at each of your Stops
Always plan more time for each stop than you would at first glance. After all, you never know how crowded the place will be. It is possible that you will have to wait a while to take a picture at that perfect spot. You might also be slowed down by others ahead of you. Therefore I recommend adding about 30 minutes more to each of your stops.
This is especially important when visiting national parks. Here it is best to spend at least two days within the park as they tend to offer a large range of activities.
Write down how long you want to be at each stop and then allocate the timed stops to individual days.
Schedule a Relaxation Day
Plan at least one day where you don’t plan anything or schedule a two-night stay at one location per week. Otherwise, the constant driving might stress and exhaust you. Taking a rest will allow you to enjoy the things you do so much more!
Schedule these days after a long drive on the previous day and do easy things to relax after sitting so long the previous day.
Add Buffer Days to your Road Trip Itinerary
Chances are that your plans will be derailed at one point. This could be due to bad weather, unplanned events such as blown tires, or even oversleeping. Flexible buffer days ensure that you do not have to skip things just because you are running out of time. I did not do this when I planned my first road trip and ended up missing out on activities that remain on my bucket list to this day.
I recommend one buffer day per 10 days you spend on the road. If you end up not needing them, you can always stay longer at a location you really enjoy. Just plan accordingly when you book an activity or your accommodation.
Plan your Road Trip Budget and Stick to it
Next Steps of Planning a Road Trip
Rent a Car, campervan or RV
Now that you know where you will be going and how long you will be traveling, it is time to rent your car, campervan, or RV. If you have set your budget you can look around until you find something that works for you.
Alternatively, you should get your own car checked as you will most likely be driving a long distance. A blown tire or other issues is the last thing you want.
This is especially important if you rent a vehicle in Australia as some of the rental agencies consider all parts of the Outback off-road. I can only advise you to take the time to read the policies and not to rush this step. If you are renting a motorhome in New Zealand you should ensure that it is self-contained, as many free camping spots are only for self-contained vehicles.
If you are planning a road trip that is longer than a month or several road trips, it might be a good idea to consider building a caravan or camper van.
Research where you might Spend the Night
As already mentioned at the beginning of this road trip planner, this is one of the steps of planning a road trip that I failed to do the first time around. I can still vividly recall driving around in the area of Airlie Beach for over an hour and looking for a campground that was still open and that had open camping spots.
Decide when you feel comfortable Driving
Decide if you want to or can drive after dark. In some locations driving after sunset can be dangerous. Or maybe you will have to set up a tent or cook before the last sunlight has faded. So check the time of the sunset if this is the case and adjust your schedule accordingly.
Check if your Drivers License is sufficient
Some countries and territories require an international driver’s license. Also, keep in mind that some countries require that you obtain a national license once you have to spend a certain amount of time there.
In other countries, like Sri Lanka, you have to get a national driver’s permit. Most of the time rental agencies can arrange it for you for a small fee or you have to visit a local office before you pick up your rental.
Research Regional Traffic Laws and Speed Limits
Speed limits and the like can vary by region, so it is always best to look them up. After all, it is a lot more fun to spend money on activities than on a speeding ticket.
Look up the Opening Times of Places you wish to see & other Schedules
Many places have opening times, so be sure to look them up before your road trip starts. You do not want to stand in front of closed doors.
Believe it or not, but this is one of my biggest mistakes. On the way from Cairns to Sydney, we wanted to take ferries to two islands, but somehow it never crossed our mind to look up the ferry schedule or where exactly the ferries depart.
One time we looked up the time just before we arrived in the town of departure and ended up at the wrong ferry port. It is safe to say that we never made it to the two islands we wanted to visit.
Book Trips and Activities that are Popular in Advance
There are always activities that are extremely popular or that have to be booked in advance. So be sure to check which ones you cannot book on the go. This can include anything from dives, boat tours, museum visits, or day trips.
At this point, I can continue my tale of missed ferries and unfit campervans when you need a 4WD. After we missed the ferry and realized that our car did not allow us to visit the second island, we tried to book a day trip there. And as our luck with island visits would have it, all of the day trips were fully booked for several days in advance. So it is safe to say that this is one of the more important steps in this road trip planner. You definitely do not want to miss the great things because you forgot to arrange them ahead of time!
Last-Minute Road Trip Planner Steps
WikiCamps (available for Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, and the USA): this app lists all camping spots and while it costs a small fee, I would call it a must. It lists some amazing camping spots and tells you which kind of camper can stay there or what vehicle you need to get there. There are similar apps, but so far I have not found one that can compete with WikiCamps.
Download Offline Maps
It is always a good idea to download a roadmap of the regions you are driving through. You can do so by creating an offline map in Google Maps or use MapsMe. This way you will be able to navigate even if you have no cellphone reception.
My Tip: If you drive larger distances it might be better to create smaller offline maps. Doing so allows you to download more information and takes up less storage space.
Check the Weather a Week before your Trip starts
Additionally, it never hurts to check out the average weather for the time of the year. This allows you to pack accordingly. You do not want to end up without a rain jacket during the monsoon season or without warm clothes when it gets cold at night.
Also, check the weather forecast and check if anything like bushfires, flooding, or roadblocks might alter your route. Obviously, the first two points I just listed in this road trip planner are more important in countries like Australia and Sri Lanka than in others.
Create a Road Trip Playlist
How to Plan a Road Trip Considerations
Ignore Your Road Trip Planner: Plan not to Plan – Be Spontaneous
Always calculate random stops into your driving time. You might see something great and want to stop there or maybe you just need a short break at a great location.
Plan when you will go Grocery Shopping
There are several reasons to do this: Grocery prices might vary at different locations. Additionally, you might be unable to buy food at certain locations like national parks. Furthermore, things that have to be cooled can only be stored for a certain amount of time. So check out the best places to stock up on food while planning your road trip. Doing so can save you a lot of money and ensures that you do not run out of food.
Road Trip Planner Tip: I recommend buying fresh fruit and things you store in the esky every three days. In warmer climates most fuel stations sell ice, so you can easily buy more whenever you need it.
Get the Best Road Trip Planner Freebie
This road trip planner checklist includes everything I do when I plan a road trip and covers all points in this guide. Therefore, it will guide your planning process while turning it into a fun activity.
Great Road Trip Itineraries
If you have never planned a road trip before, it might be easier to adjust a tested road trip itinerary according to your own interests.
Take a look at these itineraries and then go ahead and make them yours!
- Australian West Coast: Perth to Broome Itinerary – 3 Weeks
- Australian East Coast: Cairns to Sydney Itinerary – 2 – 3 Weeks
- Sri Lanka Loop Tuk Tuk Road Trip
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Planning a trip soon? Check out these useful websites and resources that I use to plan my own adventures
When will you plan your ultimate road trip?
It took several road trips to compile all the steps of this road trip planner, and I sincerely hope that these tips will help you plan an amazing road trip!
And despite all these points: Relax! You will have a great time on the road and the planning process should be part of the fun. You are only reading this list to make your trip even more amazing. Have a fantastic road trip!
Is there anything else you do when you plan a road trip?
Let me know in the comments down below!
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