Road trips are hands down one of my favorite ways to travel. You can see landscapes change as you drive through a state or multiple states and discover places off the beaten path that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. You can road trip vanlife style in a camper van or in your car. Camp along the way, watch the sunrise in some pretty rad spots and pretty much be free with the open road.
I know originally, driving long distances was a bit daunting. When I first started going on road trips, even 5 hours of driving seemed endless. Now after doing it so much, time flies when you’re blasting good music, listening to podcasts, or chatting with friends along the way. These long drives also help get me out of any funk I might be at home. When it’s endless stretches of road and the starry sky above, it really gives you clarity and time to think things through.
I’ve driven basically in circles around the Western side of the US. So if you’re afraid of hitting the open road, don’t be. It’s worth every mile. In my case all 25,000 miles per year!
In this blog, I’m going to go over how to plan a road trip and where to stay on a road trip.
Planning Your Road Trip
Now there are two ways you can handle planning a road trip. You can either, pick a general destination like Colorado, and just drive. Figure out where you want to stay and what you want to see day by day, and just roll with the punches. This is the more spontaneous way of road tripping. Or, if you like to have things more organized, then you can plan out your road trip ahead of time.
My personal road trip style is usually a combination of the two. I research ahead and plan on the places I want to see and explore, but I also take it day by day, deciding the night before what I’m doing the next day. If I have permits to something like a backpacking trip, then I plan accordingly for that day, but if it’s not something I have to plan ahead, I typically just roll with it.
Now that we’ve covered the two main road trip styles and the gray area in between, let’s hop into how to plan your road trip.
The first step is picking where you want to go, what to see there, and any rad stops along the way. Use travel blogs, Instagram, Facebook Groups, Pinterest (especially), and friends to get ideas from.
Do you want to explore a specific state? Or perhaps a general mountain region? All the national parks on one side of the country? All of the national parks? Road trip across Iceland, France, or another country?
Get clear on where you want to go and then research the heck out of that destination.
Pro Tip: I save destinations I find in either a Google Map or in an Instagram folder so when I’m planning trips, I don’t need to start from scratch every time.
Plot The Locations
Once you’ve done the research (or while doing research), add all of the locations to a Google Map. I use Google because I can easily access it with my gmail account from either my laptop or my phone. And if something happens, I can access it from any device as long as I can login!
I create different folders based on different trips and locations.
You want to plot the locations on a map because it will help you visualize the trip. I always say that everything makes more sense once you look at a map. That’s because I’m very visual and I like to see the distance from one thing to another which helps you figure out what order to see things. I also use maps to find other rad spots I might have not seen in my research.
Plan Your Route
Now that you’ve figured out where you want to explore, now you need to plan your route!
Here you can choose to be more spontaneous and pick where to go the night before. That’s usually a lot of fun and gives you a ton of flexibility to explore. But if you’re someone who like more of a routine and a plan, then there’s no shame in planning out your trip ahead of time.
Use the map to figure out what’s next to each other and plan accordingly.
If you’re leaving from home, are there any stops along the way to the destination you’re heading to? If you’re flying, are there any stops along the way from the airport?
For example, if I’m planning a road trip from Southern California to Colorado, first I’m going to stop in the Valley of Fire in Nevada. It should only take a couple of hours to explore this state park and it’s along the route! From there, I’m going to stop in Zion and Bryce National Parks, and possibly explore some of the areas there, and so forth.
In your research, you should have identified how long you’ll want to spend in each location.
Is it somewhere like Zion National Park where you’ll want at least a couple days, or is it somewhere like Valley of Fire where you only need a couple of hours?
What hikes do you want to do in the area? What do you want to see? Any cities you want to visit? Any specific coffee shops and restaurants to try? Also don’t forget to talk to locals once you’re there! They have the best tips for food and places to explore!
Then as you’re doing this, create a route for yourself! It helps me to put these things on a calendar so again, I can visually see my plan in front of me. This is supposed to be fun! If this is stressing you out, revisit how you do this.
Download Google Maps For Offline Use
I don’t know about you, but I love traveling to places where I lose cell reception. National parks, mountain passes, and so forth. Nothing sucks more than planning the perfect road trip and not being able to find anything when you’re at the top of a mountain pass.
I recommend downloading your Google Maps for offline use to avoid this happening.
To download Google Maps Offline:
- Sign into Google Maps (it’s connected with your Gmail account).
- Search for a destination in the search bar. (Example: “Woodstock” or “Montana”)
- You’ll see a white bar that pops up at the bottom of the screen. You may need to swipe right to find the “download” icon.
- Make sure you’re in Wifi, and click the “download” icon.
The map data from this region will now be on your phone, and can be accessed even when you have no reception. You’ll can even see your current GPS location as long as you have it authorized. Go to “Settings,” then “Google Maps,” then “Location,” and select “Always.”
Where To Stay On Your Road Trip
You can either camp, car camp, or stay in hotels. It’s really up to you.
I do a mixture of all three on road trips! Sometimes if I need wifi to get work done and to charge all of my electronics. Since blogging is my full time job, I travel with a portable office. My laptop, camera, lenses, backup drive, etc. This is the glamorous side of being a travel blogger that no one tells you about. So on trips, I need to carve out work days to answer emails, write blogs, and more! I also need to charge my electronics because they only last so long. So I have “hotel days” where I will basically hang out in a hotel for a day or two and crank out work. Depending on the trip, I might reserve the evenings for working and stay in hotels then.
I also rarely book hotels in advanced. If it’s a holiday weekend and you’re heading somewhere like Vail, Colorado or Whitefish, Montana, then I would suggest booking ahead. But if you want the flexibility, I suggest booking hotels as you go. I’ve never had an issue where I can’t find a hotel or a motel. I recommend using Expedia for hotel searches.
If I don’t need to work (or shower), I usually prefer to camp or car camp on road trips. If you’re not sure how to car camp, here is my full blog post on it.