A Simple Guide On How To Plan A Road Trip In 2023
Not only are road trips the classic American adventure, but they are also a great vacation option that’s fun, flexible, and friendly on your wallet.
Road trips can be long or short, within your own state or across the country, and they can be done alone or with friends and family. If you’re wondering how to plan a road trip—we’re here for you. Read on to learn what to bring on a road trip, how to road trip for cheap, and how to stay safe while on the road.
How to plan a road trip destination
As any beginner road trip guide will tell you, the first step in planning your road trip is choosing where to go.
Think about what destinations may appeal to you—do you love big cities or do you prefer being in nature? And then think about the practicality of visiting those destinations.
Big cities can offer loads of museums, restaurants, and walking tours, but they also tend to be more expensive than smaller destinations that receive fewer visitors.
Also consider the weather in the destination. If you’re not accustomed to driving on snow and ice, it may not be wise to visit a blizzard-prone area in the winter.
Think about how much you actually want to drive and how frequently you’ll want to stop. Do you want to spend one long 14-hour day driving to a single destination where you’ll spend the entire trip? Or would you rather break up your trip across a few cities?
Breaking up your trip allows you to see more places but by staying in a single destination, you can avoid having to pack and unpack repeatedly and you may be able to score a multi-night discount on hotel stays, Airbnbs, etc. Driving shorter distances also allows for more exciting moments, if you want to make any stops or detours that you hadn’t planned for.
How to do a road trip for cheap
Just about every destination has a peak season, or a time of year when it receives the most visitors and charges the highest prices. To avoid price gouging (and huge crowds), avoid holidays, major festivals, and any period that tends to attract a lot of people.
For instance, skip New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Florida during spring break, and most National Parks during the summer months, when kids are out of school and many families are traveling.
If you have the flexibility to travel during the week, you can also avoid the higher prices that hotels and ticket counters charge on weekends. Camping is a very affordable way to road trip and it’s far more comfortable than living in your car during the trip. Just make sure to confirm this with your campsite in advance, since many sites fill up during warm weather months.
Remember to have a budget for food
If you want a cheap and afforfable road trip, food should be a major consideration since restaurant receipts add up quickly. Opt for hotels that offer free breakfast or that have kitchenettes in the room so you can easily prepare your own food.
Stovetops are a nice perk but as long as you have a mini fridge and a microwave, you can prepare cereal, yogurt parfaits, sandwiches, canned soup, and frozen dinners and burritos.
Stock up on groceries at a nearby supermarket, Wal-Mart, Target, or Costco or even bring food in a cooler from home.
Also, don’t forget to look at restaurant menus on the Internet to get an idea of how much they cost, budget out approximately what you’ll spend on groceries, and always allow some wiggle room in case things cost more than you were expecting.
Think about locations and available parking
Does the hotel or B&B you’re staying at offer free parking? If not, how much does it cost? If on-site parking is cheap or free and you’re staying in a very walkable neighborhood, you can walk everywhere (or take the bus) instead of having to pay for gas and parking.
Alternatively, you may find that the cheapest hotels are a bit outside of town and you could save enough money by staying there that you can afford to drive into the city. Do some research in advance so you know which option will work best for you. Additionally, some hotels offer free shuttles around town, and many small- and mid-size cities also offer free shuttles, though they may only operate during peak travel season.
Know what your budget is before you set out and make sure everyone on the trip understands what the budget is and how you’re going to stick to it. It may not be possible to do everything you want but you can prioritize the activities that are most important to you, budget those in, and plan the rest of your trip around them.
If you book accommodations and confirm attraction ticket prices in advance, you’ll know early on about how much money to budget for the trip.
Don’t forget the gas costs
Gas is also one of the largest expenses on a road trip so by packing light (to keep your car light) and driving the speed limit (which is also safer), you’ll get better fuel efficiency. Also, try to fill up in larger cities, where competition keeps gas prices lower than they’ll be at some lonely gas station on a backcountry road.
What to bring on a road trip
In addition to fun travel tips like packing tasty snacks and bringing great music (either a Spotify playlist or old-school CDs), there are also some really crucial items to bring along.
Your exact road trip packing list will depend on your particular trip,but here are some practical suggestions that are necessary across the board:
A road trip packing list (that’s budget-friendly)
- License and registration
- Copy of car insurance
- Spare tire and jack
- Window washer fluid
- Anti-freeze (if it’s cold)
- Jumper cables
- Cooler and ice packs (if you’re packing food)
- Dishes and silverware (if you plan to cook in your room)
- Change for tolls
- Emergency cash for places that don’t take credit
- Car chargers for your phone and/or portable battery packs
- First aid kit
- Paper towels and garbage bags for cleaning up messes
- Fire extinguisher if your car is old
- Gallon of water
- Reusable water bottles to fill up at gas stations, rest stops, and in the hotel
- Roadside service (AAA) information, if you have it
How to stay safe on the road
Even if your car is in good shape, you’ll still probably want to have it checked out if you’ll be driving a lot of miles. Make sure the oil, fluids, tires, and air filters are in good shape and that lights and blinkers are working properly.
Should you get an oil change before a road trip? If you’re about due for one anyway, then it would be a good idea to get an oil change before your road trip. Otherwise, unless you’re heading out on a very long trip, it can probably wait until you get back. Either way, it’s a good idea to freshen up on some easy DIY car repairs so you’re prepared should anything go wrong.
While it can be nice to travel with others, it can also be fun—and safe—to go on a road trip alone. Whether you’re alone or with others, it’s generally a good idea to drive during daylight hours, make sure your phone is fully charged before heading out, and drive with your car doors locked.
Whether you plan to park on the street or in a hotel parking lot, it’s always a good idea to use some anti-theft car devices. If you do park on streets, make sure they are well-lit and in well-trafficked areas.
And lastly, before leaving your home or hotel (where you will probably have a better signal), pull up the GPS route to your next destination on Google Maps. Also keep an old-school printed map in the car in case you get lost or lose signal. Finally, share your road trip plans, including your route and hotel/campsite info, with a loved one and check in with them periodically to let them know you’re okay.
Even if it’s your first time hitting the open road, you can easily learn how to plan a road trip and have an amazing, affordable time out there. Happy driving.