Road trips give us the opportunity to go off the beaten track, explore the local geography culture more freely, and combine visiting big cities with the adventure of the open roads and the wild nature. Besides, everyone loves that image of the open road, warm breeze, playing ‘Born To Be Wild’, in their head. For many, a road trip represents the ultimate freedom. In fact Tiffany & I have our very own pen-drive with road trip songs on it that we use only whenever we’re going on a road-trip.
I’m a numbers guy and I love these little surveys. According to statiscticbrain.com, 45% of Americans take a summer vacation between Memorial and Labor Day, 91% of which in their personal vehicles. In the EU, in 65% of all trips cars were the main means of transport, 75% when considering only domestic trips. This definitely confirms that road-trips are actually more popular than one might think.
Based on our personal experience and many other sources in the all-mighty internet, in this article, we’ll try to summarize the most important things to consider while planning a road trip and minimizing the risk of unexpected, unwanted surprises along the way.
First things first – if you’re going on a road trip, that would be choosing your destination. If you’re living in the US or Australia, you surely can find tons of destinations in your home country. Go from the East coast to the West coast, drive along the famous Route 66 or through New England during its amazing autumn, or along the Australian East coast along the Great Barrier Reef. If you have your own car, this shouldn’t be too hard.
If you live in Europe, you can choose between exploring your home state, let’s say Germany or France, or expand to neighbouring countries. With the open European borders and the Euro, that’s also pretty easy and the options to choose from are literally endless. You can cross through 15 different countries in a month if you really want to.
So how should you choose your destination? Think of what you would like the most to experience – mountains, desert roads, beaches or maybe discovering new foods is what motivates you
Consider the cost of living in your destination – fuel, food, and accommodation can fluctuate significantly between different countries, regions, and cities. Germany, for example, is unbelievably beautiful, but also scarily expensive. You should also consider how crowded your destination is expected to be during your visit. Do you prefer doing your vacation during summer? Well, guess what, you’re not the only one. Usually, summer is the tourists’ high season, and this can affect not only the prices of accommodation, but also their vacancy, and your experience in the more popular sites. You might not enjoy the most beautiful beach in southern Italy with thousands of tourists covering every square inch of it, no matter how clear the water is. Keep in mind that most people are vacationing at this time so you might consider other times of the year too. From experience we found out that road-trips in off seasons are usually more fun!
This leads us to point two. The planned duration of your road trip will naturally affect your destination, budget and almost all other aspects. If you only got one week, it would force you to stay relatively close to home, but be sure that you don’t have to fly through half the globe to find amazing views, foods, and experience. Sometimes, these would all be waiting for you where you least expect it, not too far away. The duration would also affect the style of the trip, the longer you have, and given that you have some must-sees for which you chose your destination, the more you would be able to allow yourself to go off the beaten road and take things more calmly.
The season on which you’ll be going is a huge thing to consider. Will it rain much? Will it be really hot? Are the parks you plan to visit even open during that time of the year? Or maybe everything is open but the little picturesque town you’ve been planning to visit doesn’t look so pretty during November? Will you have to make early bookings due to high prices and demand, which would limit your flexibility or can you rely on a same day Airbnb?
So here are a couple of tips:
- From our own experience, a one-week road trip would feel like it finished before it even started. Try making time for at least two weeks. If you can’t and only have this one week, I’d rather go on a different type of holiday. How about booking in a resort? or go to a city and tour it? A one week road trip is unfortunately not for us!
- If you travel during the high season and plan to visit main tourist attractions, book in advance, at least one month in advance. If you want to cut down on costs, consider staying at a bed and breakfast out of town. If they’re also full or too expensive, why not use Airbnb? We will discuss Airbnb further below!
- Weather wise, even if you go somewhere which is supposed to be nice and warm, sometimes you might get stuck in cold or rainy weather. Make sure you have a sweater, a hat, and a scarf just in case. If it’s too hot it’s much easier, just take off some layers! My dear wife Tiffany always prepares what we call “The Cold Kit” which consists of a scarf, a beanie and gloves. Thank God for that because we end up using them quite a lot!
Who’s your company? Is it your best friends? Is it your girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse? Are you already married with children and you decided to take the kids on an adventure? This would affect your entire plans in terms of the dates, budget, must-see attractions, accommodations etc.
This is clearly a must. You need to know your audience so that you can plan accordingly. Through life experience I learned that travelling with someone is an entirely different animal than going out for a pint with them. Travelling with someone can enhance and/or ruin the relationship with that person so please, for the love of your relationships, chose wisely and do your homework before. Not everyone is travel compatible since most people tend to have different expectations. Thankfully I learned that the person I love traveling with the most is my partner in crime, Tiffany 🙂
4. Budget everything!
While everyone got their preferred style of travel, some like the shoestring vibe and other like nice restaurants, you have to estimate how much the whole trip is going to cost you. Otherwise, you might be surprised later. Here are a few things to include in your daily calculations:
- Fuel money – use Google Maps to plan your estimated route, and write down the overall distance. Divide the distance by your car’s average fuel consumption and multiply it by the gas price and you’ll get a rough estimate of your fuel expenses. This might save you some serious money!
- In case you plan to rent a car – make sure to calculate the rent costs.
- Accommodation – estimate the average cost per night on your destinations and on your dates that match your travel style, and multiply by the number of nights you’ll be out on your trip. A quick search through the main hotel websites and Airbnb will give you that estimate.
- Food – again, depending on your lifestyle, try to estimate the costs at least for two meals a day and some snacks for the way. Again, multiply by the number of days you’ll be traveling.
- Attractions – this includes park admissions, special attractions, museums etc. Estimate a daily average and multiply.
- Extras – a local sim card if needed, special gear or equipment, travel insurance, nightlife etc. – try to make a rough estimate. Keep in mind that if you’re from the EU nowadays you can travel all across Europe with your own sim card without paying exorbitant roaming fees due to the change in the law earlier this year.
- Overhead – add 10% on top of all costs combined, to be on the safe side. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
- Tolls & parking fees
- Insurances – Make sure to check with your car insurance provider before you cross state lines as you might not be covered and would need to pay extra to cover you outside of your state.
5. Plan your route
The resources here are so many, that it might actually make it harder to find the information you’re looking for. Google your destination and its Wikipedia value would be showing up first in the results. Search for the places you know on Instagram, Youtube or Tripadvisor to get a first taste of what you should be expecting. Travel websites like Lonely Planet could also give you some tips, but for more detailed information nowadays I’d rather search a travel blog on the destination I’m visiting. Us travel bloggers are a fountain of information and everywhere we plan on going, someone else visited it before us! So travel blogs might be a very informative place to find your knowledge.
Our advice is that you act as follows:
- Start with your must-sees – they are after all the reason you chose to go on this road trip. Mark them on the map and simply connect the dots, and voila, you got your first draft.
- Check if there’s anything interesting on the way, maybe something not many people know but is worth the visit. Trip advisor could be a great source to find those little places – just enter a search ‘best attractions/beaches/parks near Manchester..”
- Now it’s time to check whether it all works out together – is the daily driving time ok or maybe a bit too much? Is the road interesting or maybe there’s a better road? Are there any available accommodations for a reasonable price? Does it make sense to get into a packed city with your big car with and spend hours in looking for parking?
- Revise your plan until everything falls into place.
- Make whatever arrangements needed – car rental, accommodation, travel insurance, etc.
- Print your plan from Google Maps and print all relevant papers in case you get stuck without an internet connection! This is something that I don’t do often however I really must start doing.
6. Your means of transport
Your car is the most important thing you’re taking with you. Take good care of it before, during, and after your ride. Don’t leave on a 1,000 miles journey if you’re not sure everything’s working. Make sure you have a spare wheel and the necessary tools in case you need them, and if you plan a trip in remote areas, take another tank of fuel and enough water so that you don’t get stuck without.
You should also consider cleaning the inside of the car before you start your trip, as you’re going to spend a lot of time in it. It’s time to get rid of those old water bottles, mud/sand from last year, those napkins you took from McDonald’s or Maxims (yes my Maltese mates know what this is) if you ever needed them. And most importantly, get your music ready, on CDs, MP3s, or your phone. The radio may not always match your taste, and sometimes you won’t even have reception. As we said above, Tiffany and I have our very own Road Trip pen-drive. It might be a good idea to prepare this for future travels.
One more thing on this issue – as passers-by, you might not be aware that some places aren’t as safe as they look. Do your research and try to find out if the place you’re visiting is safe enough to park your car on the curb. If not, make sure to park it in a parking lot, in that case you need to budget for this too.
7. Where are you going to sleep?
This part depends very much on the previous ones, but primarily on what experience you’re looking for, and your budget. If you plan to book bed and breakfast or a hotel in the high season, make sure to make it early enough to get a fair price. Airbnb’s relevancy depends very much on your destination, but it will broaden your options and be useful if you want to save a little on hotels. Airbnb is something that we use a lot, it allows you to rent out an apartment, house, room or anything that you like from the owner directly. Through Airbnb you might end up saving loads of money because instead of paying an exorbitant hotel fee, you’ll be paying the owner of the property directly. If you’d like to give airbnb a go we can offer you a small discount! Click here and register through this link and you will €21 FREE travel bonus. Neat ey!?
8. Important things to take with you
Important things to take, not necessarily in this order:
- Warm clothes
- Cold Kit (check point 2)
- Extra water
- Snacks/Nibbles! This is very important as you might end up for a few hours on the road without anywhere to stop
- Spare tire and tools
- Good shoes
- Hand wash… something which I can’t live without!
- Toilet paper – For the love of God, don’t risk it.
- Basic first aid kit – Ibuprofen, pills for stomach-related issues, band-aids etc.
- VIP – Mobile charging kit, don’t forget that your phone is your gateway to the world when you’re in the outdoors.
- Empty garbage bag – So you never pile up garbage in your car and keep it as clean as possible on the road
- All license and insurance papers as well as your passports/government ID and any visas you may need if you’re crossing country lines. Keep these handy as you won’t have time to get out of the car and look for them at the border.
I hope you enjoyed the guide above and if you have any other important pointers to share, please feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear your ideas!