Ultimate Guide to Planning an Amazing Road Trip

Roadtrips are amazing, but planning a roadtrip can be a struggle. This guide will help you make the most of your trip!

Planning a road trip can be a lot of fun and make 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 planning guide will tell you help you avoid issues and to make the most out of your trip.

By now I have done several roadtrips of varying lengths, with different modes of transportations and in different country. 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 guide will help you plan an incredible road trip as well as make you laugh at my explanations why certain things are important. Lets just say that there is a backstory for most of these points even if I did not include all of them in this guide.

Summary

My first Road Trip Planning Experience

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 then 19 h in 7 days, but it seemed manageable. 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, any prices or places to stay ahead of time.

We had to skip things on our list left and right. And we often found ourselves desperately looking for a place to stay long after it had gotten dark and roos has taken over the streets. In the end, the roadtrip was still amazing, but it could have been a lot less stressful!

Looking back the road trip planning process was a total mess and I would never do it that way again, but it was a very educating experience.

Everything on this list is based on my own experience. I learned a lot since my first road trip and later road trips were much more relaxing as I did the things on this list.

How to plan a road trip

Initial Road Trip Planning Phase

This is the starting point of your plans and where you should answer all the main questions. You 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 with your own car, you should also answer the ‘how’.

Find a Road Trip Buddy

Maybe its just me, but there are several roadtrips I would love to do in the coming years. However I have no idea who will join me. And while I might be a solo 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 save before you start your trip, but if you use common sense and trust your gut feeling, everything will be great.

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. Oftentimes the majority of stops will overlap, but if more of you research your route, it will even out your itinerary and find things for everyone.

My favorite resource for finding stops along the way are travel blogs, Instagram and Pinterest. Just browse through location specific blog categories, hashtags or boards. The link above leads to my own boards and includes all resources I have used to plan past and future trips.

Look up the Best Route for your Road Trip

The best route for your road trip might not be the one you expect it to be. So be sure to move around all you stops in Google Maps or whatever navigation software you are using. That way you can save fuel and limit the cars 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.

road trip planning

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 go full speed on certain terrain or 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. You will be able to see more and feel less exhausted.

This will help 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 roadtrip and some days we ended up driving way longer than we planned. Therefore it took away from the time 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. Some route might require a 4WD. So look for a car that work that is suitable for your route.

Planning a Road Trip - Choosing the right mode of transportation

Determine the Length of your Road Trip

Figuring out how long your planned trip will be consists of three parts. 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. And if you end up not needing your buffer days, you can always add them again during your roadtrip.

Plan how long you will be at each of your Stops

And always plan more time for each stop than you would on first glance. You never know how many others will be there. It is possible that you will have to wait a while to take a picture at that perfect spot or you might be slowed down by others ahead of you. Therefore I’d recommend adding about 30 min more to each stop.

Especially in national parks it is best to spend at least two days as they tend to offer a large range of activities.

Write down how long you want to be at each stop and then allocate it 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.

Plan Buffer Days

Chances are that your plans will be derailed at one point. This might be due to bad weather, unplanned events such as blown tires or even oversleeping. Flexible buffer days ensure that you don’t have to skip things just because you are running out of time.

I recommend one buffer day per 10 days on the road. If you end up not needing them, you can always stay longer at a destination you really enjoy. Just plan accordingly when you book an activity or accommodation.

Planning a Road Trip - Relaxation Days are crucial

Plan your Budget and stick to it

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. This might lead to you spending more an spontaneous things than you planned to wanted to. If you set up a budget (with a buffer), you are more likely to stick to it.

Knowing how much money you are working with helps you decide where you should spend the night. If you are renting a car, campervan or RV your budget can influence your decision. Furthermore it help you decide which activities you can add.

I honestly have no idea how much I ended up spending during my first roadtrip, but I definitely exceeded my initial budget.

Glamping during a Roadtrip - Explore new regions

Further Steps of Planning a Road Trip

Rent a Car

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.

When planning my first road trip this was actually one of the first things I did and I ended up regretting it. Some of the things I really wanted to see required required an 4WD and therefore our campervan was not suitable.

Read up on the rental agencies and their policies as some of them have additional fees. This could be due to the number of drivers, the drivers age, a oneway fee or maybe even an additional cover if you enter areas that can be considered off-road.

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.

Research where you might Stay the Night

Finding the right place to stay can take a while, so it is best to do so before you hit the road. You do not want to spend hours during your trip researching hostels, hotels or camping spots.

And researching places to stay can help you create an accommodation budget. It also ensures that you do not end up stranded at an unfamiliar location without knowing where you can sleep.

Keep in mind that some places have to be booked in advance. Book them before the roadtrip starts or a few days before you arrive there.

Planning a road trip - Camping Sports

It is not necessary to decide on a specific place to stay if you do not plan to stay in hostels or hotels. Just write down a list of possible places in the area of where you plan to spend the night.

As already mentioned in the beginning of this guide, 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.

Road Trip Planning Guide - Camping

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 drivers license. Also keep in mind that some countries require that you obtain a national license once you have spend a certain amount of time there.

In other countries like Sri Lanka you have to get a national drivers permit. Most of the time rental agencies can arrange at 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 places so be sure to look them up before your 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. One 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 they 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 save to say that we never made it the two islands we wanted to visit.

Road Trip Planning

There are always activities that are extremely popular or that have to be booked in advance. So be sure to check which ones you should not book on the go. This can include anything from dives, boat tours, museum visits or day trips.

Under this point I could 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 trips there. And as our luck with island visits would have it, all of the day trips were fully book for several days in advance.

Last Minute Preparations

Download Apps

While I cannot list every app you should download ahead of your trip as there are many region or country specific apps, I can highly recommend the following apps.

Google Maps or MapsMe

Weather Apps

Regional Alert Apps

Spotify

Planning a Road Trip - Necessary Apps
The Best Camping Spot – discovered this gem by using WikiCamps

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.

If you drive larger distances it might be better to create smaller offline maps. This will allow 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 monsoon season or without warm clothes when it gets cold at night.

Also check the weather forecast and look up if anything like bushfires or flooding might alter your route due to roadblocks.

Create a Road Trip Playlist

Planning a Roadtrip - open road in Australia

As the name says, you will spend a lot of time on the road, so start creating a road trip playlist. Add your favorite songs about hitting the open highway and do not forget to click download to save your mobile data.

My personal must for a good road trip playlist: ‘Life is a Highway’ by Rascal Flatts

Things to Consider

Plan not to Plan – Be Spontaneous

Planning ahead is good if you don’t want to miss things, but planning too much can lead to the same result. Sometimes the best things are those you do not plan in advance.

If you see a road sign for a scenic detour or a lookout sign, you should be spontaneous.

The view you will see might end up being one of your favorite memories of the road trip.

girl standing in front of wide landscape during roadtrip
Planning a road trip
Road Trip Detour: Korora Lookout (NSW)

Always calculate random stops into your driving time. You might see something great and want to stop or need a rest.

Australian sunset during a road trip
Unexpected Road Trip Stop: Nilgen Lookout (Western Australia) during Sunset

Plan when you will go Grocery Shopping

Grocery prices might vary at different locations. Additionally you might be unable to buy food at certain locations. And 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. Doing so can save you a lot of money and ensures that you do not run out of food.

I personally 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.

I hope that these tips will help you plan an amazing road trip!

And despite all these points: Relax! You will have an amazing 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 an amazing road trip! I really hope this list was able to help you.

Let me know how your trip goes.!

Get a printable Freebie: Planning a Road Trip Checklist & Planner!

This list includes everything I do when I plan a road trip and covers all points in this guide. Therefore it will guide your planning process and turn it into a fun activity.

Check out these Road Trip Itineraries

If you have never planned a road trip before, it might be easier to adjust a road trip itinerary according to your own interests. So take a look at these 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

My favorite Country for amazing Road Trips: Australia

Planning a Road Trip? Pin it for later!

Roadtrip Planning with an open road and sunsets
How to plan a road trip
Ultimate Road Trip Planning Guide. Planning a Road Trip

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