Let’s face it, one of the best ways to travel is to hop in the car and take a road trip. Sure it might take you a little longer to get from point A to point B. But the journey is all a part of the fun.
Nothing beats hitting the open road and exploring all that is unique, interesting, terrifying, exciting, and more in the comfort of your own car. When you are taking a road trip you just never know what you might see. From those crazy roadside attractions. To the largest ________(fill in the blank here).
Right now is the best time to take a road trip. While things may or may not be looking up with the Covid-19 pandemic. People are still worried about flying. That’s why hopping in your own car is the way to go. You only have to be in close contact with your own family and not hundreds of other people.
Now, let’s get started on how to plan a road trip. Sure you can just jump in the car and go with no planning at all but in today’s time you never know what obstacles you will hit. Places being closed, places closing early, limited tickets available, no vacancy, all kinds of obstacles stand in your way in Covid times. Having a plan for your road trip helps make it that much more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Plan your route
The first thing you should consider when planning a road trip is where you will be starting from and where you will finish at. Are you planning on just traveling around your state? Driving cross country? How about driving north to south on I-95?
You need to have an idea of the route you will take on your road trip. Once you have your Point A and Point B you can start thinking about how long it might take you. Places you want to visit. Maybe you have friends who live along the way you can stop and visit.
One of the best ways I feel to plan your route is to use Google Maps. Just put in your starting locations and ending locations and google will give you the fastest route. Of course, you can take the fastest route but you will probably want to look around the map and find the most scenic or interesting route to take. It is a road trip after all.
Plan your stops
Once you have an idea of how long it will take and where you will be ending your journey comes the fun part. Go on Google Maps and starting plotting pins. It is pretty simple. For example I am getting ready to take a road trip from Front Royal, VA to Roanoke, VA along the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway.
I put in the starting (Front Royal) and end point (Roanoke), and drag the route along both the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. If I take the “fast” way along I-81 it would take me around 2 and half hours. But I want to take the scenic route. The scenic route would take about 6 hours without stops. Of course we are going to make stops along the way so I already know it will take me longer than 6 hours.
When you zoom into google maps you will see points of interest pop up. You can click on them and get more information like pictures, reviews, and even websites. From there you can save the location if it is somewhere you might like to stop.
Where to stay
One of the biggest questions when it comes to taking and planning a road trip is where are you going to stay. Do you book all your hotels or campsites ahead of time? Or do you wing it and hope you can get something?
I say you do a little bit of both. Have some things planned out ahead of time and wing it at others. When it comes to campsites it is best to book them ahead of time. Last year when I took my Pandemic Road Trip, I wanted to do a little camping. Well everything was filled up at the National Parks I was looking to camp at. If I booked it a couple weeks earlier I would have had a site to stay at. However, I waited last minute and had to get a hotel instead. Sure I could have gone to a KOA and got a site but I am not the biggest fan of them and find them to be overpriced.
I would advise against booking a place for every night of your trip ahead of time. If you have to be at a certain town you might skip out on something really amazing because you don’t have the time. Book some of your overnight stays. Just not all of them.
You can find plenty of campgrounds around. Everything from National Parks, State Parks, and even privately owned campgrounds. Just note that National Parks campgrounds usually fill up fast in the summer months and need to be booked in advance.
State Parks also fill up fast but usually don’t need to be booked as far in advance. State and National Parks you can usually stay at for a day. Private campgrounds usually require a minimum of two days in the summer. Some even require a week’s stay.
One of the downsides with camping while doing a road trip is you are packing a lot more. During my Pandemic Road Trip I had my tote with my camping supplies, tent, cooler, and more. It took up a lot of room in the back of the car and we never ended up using it. Another thing to note is some campgrounds don’t have showers or running water for the toilets.
Just remember to do a little bit of research to see which campgrounds would suit your needs.
With hotels you get what you pay for. Cheap ones usually are not the greatest. They can be in bad locations, offer nothing more than a bed, or just not very clean. More expensive ones can really hurt the budget. However, they are usually cleaner, in great locations close to everything, and have plenty of amenities.
Even in the summer you can find hotels that have rooms available. That’s a good thing if you don’t know where you will be stopping each night. I like to have at least one or two rooms booked before I leave but it isn’t something that is a must for me.
Be mindful that some hotels charge a resort fee and parking fee. This is usually in major cities but you can sometimes find this in smaller towns too. Like with anything, doing your research beforehand can really help you out.
|PROS||Indoor pools (some places), Free Breakfast (some places), AC/Heat, can be booked last minute, Hotel Rewards, Showers, WiFi,||Cheap, social distanced, out in nature,|
|CONS||Price, parking fees (some places), Resort fees (some places)||Booked up fast in busy season, No running water (Some places), little to no cell service (some places)|
Make an Itinerary
When planning a road trip, having a rough idea of how many miles you will cover in one day, where you plan on stopping, what you plan on seeing, how long the trip will be, really helps give you an idea of what your road trip will look like. I like to do everything on paper. This way I have a copy with me at all times. It doesn’t matter if my phone is dead or getting no service. I can have a hard copy with me.
Your itinerary should include the total number of days you plan on being on your road trip. Is a week long enough to travel from New York to California? Yes, yes it is! However, you won’t be making many stops and of course that wouldn’t include the return trip.
A week is enough time for a Maine to Florida road trip with plenty of stops along the way and even returning home. Knowing how long you plan on taking really helps out when you write it down in your itinerary. Writing it down even lets you see when you might be overdoing yourself. Could you see the Mighty 5 (Zion, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Capitol Reef) of Utah in one day? You could but you couldn’t stop. If you put that down in your Itinerary you would see that you are trying to complete the impossible.
Once you have the total number of days you plan on spending. Now is the time to plan on how many miles you plan to cover each day. Three hours from Philly to DC feels a lot quicker than three hours on I-95 through South Carolina. Open spaces with not much going on can be pretty boring and make the drive that much harder.
You really do need to keep that in mind when you are planning how far you can travel in a day. For me, I usually drive to Florida once a year. It’s around 17 hours from Philadelphia to Orlando and that includes stops for food and gas. However, usually on my way down I stop in South Carolina to visit a buddy of mine from the Marine Corps. It breaks up the drive and helps me get through the drive in South Carolina. I really hate driving through that state. It is so boring with nothing to look at.
Another good thing to keep in mind is on the major interstate roads you can usually safely cover 70 miles in an hour. Driving the smaller state roads you can cover 50 miles per hour. Knowing that information can help you understand how far you could possibly go each day.
Once you have an idea of how far you can travel each day you need to plan your stops. Will there be days of just none stop driving? Days where you will spend the whole day exploring a National Park? How about days when you plan on visiting a couple of nearby attractions’?
You could make something up like the table below.
|Miles planned||Starting Location||Ending Location||Points of Interest||Plan?|
|Monday||500 miles||Philly||Greensboro, NC||All day driving|
|Tuesday||Greensboro||Gatlinburg, TN||Hanging Rock State Park, Great Smoky Mountains|
|Wednesday||Gatlinburg||Gatlinburg||Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood, Riply’s||Stay in Gatlinburg|
|Friday||Chattanooga||Nashville||Time change to CST|
|Saturday||Nashville||Cave City||Mammoth cave NP|
|Sunday||Cave City||Phila||Time Change to EST|
As you can see it just gives a basic idea of where I plan to go. What points of interest I am planning on visiting. I also have time zone changes. Don’t forget about the time zones.
Road Trip Mistakes
Let’s face it we all make mistakes. On your next road trip try avoiding them by knowning some of the most common mistakes you can make on a road trip.
Not giving yourself enough time
It’s going to happen. You are going to either give yourself too much time or not enough time. Most places you will visit you can find an expected time at this location information. Make sure you use it. It takes the average amount of time most people spend at a given location.
Also don’t expect to get to your given location on time. For example you are checking out of your hotel at 7am and have tickets for noon at a place that is 4 and half hours away. Sure you should be able to get there in time but did you factor in breakfast? How about stopping at getting gas? What about traffic or bathroom breaks?
All of those things could take a lot longer than a half hour and the next thing you know is you missed your window to get in with your tickets. Always give yourself some wiggle room.
Not veering off course
Just because you have an Epic Itinerary doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. Some of the coolest places I have visited I didn’t know about until I was right on top of them. Don’t be scared to make that extra stop or cut something off your original itinerary.
You didn’t mark it in stone did you?
You can have an Itinerary but still managed to have planned your road trip poorly. Did you really expect to drive 12 hours in one day? I know I can drive up to 17 hours in one shot. Of course, as I am getting older it is becoming a little bit harder.
Don’t think you can drive for long periods of time if you are not used to doing it. Only you know what you are comfortable with. Would you take a three hour day trip (six hours round trip)?
Going at the wrong time
Going at the wrong time can mean two things. You wouldn’t go to Vermont in the summer to see the beautiful colors of the fall foliage? Or go see a waterfall when it hasn’t rained for a month, would you?
This kind of goes with the point above. You need to make sure you do a little research. You can even just google “when is the best time to visit…..”.
On my trip last summer I took a detour on my way to Gatlinburg to Clingmans Dome. I figured it wouldn’t be too busy with the Pandemic and all. Well I was wrong. Apparently, early August is a popular time to visit Clingmans Dome and the Great Smoky Mountains. We couldn’t find parking in the parking lot and had to park along the road down the side of the mountain. We definitely picked the wrong time to visit.
Not downloading Google Maps
I know we all expect to have service on our phone everywhere we go. However, some of the coolest places have little to no cell coverage. Make sure you download the offline version so you have your route saved and any points of interest.
Not sure how to download Google Maps? Just follow these steps:
· Open the Google Maps app
· Search the area you are going to (Washington, DC or North Carolina)
· Towards the bottom of the screen you should see a “download” icon pop up. You may need to swipe right to find it
· Click the icon to download the offline version
Not having roadside assistance
Roadside assistance is one of those things you hate paying for because you don’t use it but you don’t want to be left on the side of the road without it. It is not a good idea to skip some sort of roadside assistance.
No emergency kit
Taking a road trip without an emergency kit is a horrible idea. You never know what might happen while on the road so it is a good idea to be a little prepared. Have an extra gallon or two of water (for drinking or for coolant). You should have a spare tire, jack, lug wrench, duct tape, oil, flashlight, spare blanket, and anything else you could think of.
Forgetting snacks and water
Nothing worse than sitting in traffic and having the hunger bug strike you and you have nothing to snack on. Always make sure you have some snacks and drinks ready. I like to pack a little cooler to keep my drinks cold. Plus you can throw your snacks in there too.
I think you are better off buy snacks at the grocery store before your road trip begins but it’s your money. You spend it how you wish.
As for snacks, bring whatever you want. You can go the healthy route and bring nuts, dried fruit, or cheese sticks. Or go “nutz” and get chips, cookies, or even candy bars. I like to have a mix of the two when I am traveling on the road. Sometimes I want a tastycake or a bag of Herrs potato chips. Other times I want a handful of almonds.
Whatever you decide just don’t forget to bring them with you. Forgetting snacks and drinks on a road trip is one mistake I never want to make.
Not having an old fashion map
Some of you may not even know how to read a real map. If that is you….. You should probably learn how to. Like we stated before, many of the epic locations you will be visiting have poor cell service and if you didn’t download your maps beforehand or your phone dies you will be up the creek without a paddle.
Having a good old fashion map of the state and area you are visiting will be helpful. You can pick them up at gas stations, AAA (free if you are a member), and even at Welcome centers.
Skipping on Gas
When I am traveling on a road trip I make it a point to fill up on gas when I have about 100 miles left to the tank. Some people fill up when they hit half a tank. Others wait until the light comes on (I wouldn’t suggest that).
In some areas of the country it could be 20 to 50 miles between gas stations. I remember years ago I was traveling from Rachel, NV to Las Vegas and didn’t want to pay $4 a gallon when I could get it closer to Vegas for $3.50. So I drove by the gas station and continued towards Vegas. Needless to say, I almost ran out of gas. Don’t be a dummy. Stop and get gas when you are close to 100 miles to the tank.
Planning a road trip should be just as fun as taking it. Looking at all the interesting and unique places that you want to visit just helps build the excitement. Did you find this guide helpful? Let us know in the comments below.
Are you planning a road trip this summer? Is this going to be your first road trip or your hundredth? Be sure to let us know in the comments below. We love reading your thoughts and ideas.
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