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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Plan your Budget and stick to it
Further Steps of Planning a Road Trip
Rent a Car
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
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.
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.
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 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
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
Things to Consider
Plan not to Plan – Be Spontaneous
Always calculate random stops into your driving time. You might see something great and want to stop or need a rest.
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