How to Plan the Perfect Road Trip

Everyone loves a Road Trip. There is something special about having the wind in your hair, radio on, singing along, leaving all your troubles behind. But if a trip is not well planned it could fall flat. So here are a few Rules simple principles to help you have a great trip.

Near Monument ValleyRule 1 – Pick a good travel companion.

Whatever happens on the road – good or bad – it’s great to have someone to share it with. Ideally someone who doesn’t annoy the crap out of you. You also need someone that has your back if everything goes wrong, be that food poisoning, getting horribly lost, or much worse. Choose wisely.

Rule 2 – Pick a country

Some countries lend themselves to road trips more than others.Things like cheap petrol and stunning scenery might be a plus. But this will also be a personal thing – where have you always wanted to go? I have done road trips in New Zealand, France and the USA (Arizona/Utah and Florida) and loved all of them! You will also need to consider the seasons in the country you have your eye on. It may be an awesome road trip destination, but if it’s monsoon season, you may be better off re-thinking!

Overseas Highway, Florida KeysRule 3 – Decide if you’re a Planner or a Free Spirit

Hello, my name is BigFatTourist and I’m a Planner. Boring that may sound, but planning can pay off. I work hard in the months leading up to a big trip, to research the sights, hotels, car hire, etc. It’s not really “work” to me, as I love doing it, and revelling in the sweet anticipation of the next trip. So before I leave, I know roughly which towns we will see each day, and we often book some or even all of our hotels ahead.

There are definite advantages to booking all your hotels ahead. My boyfriend’s parents warned us that they had been to Florida and tried to turn up at hotels… they found there was very little availability, and the hotels that were available were either really expensive, or just plain nasty (bed bugs etc). We booked ahead and it was plain sailing all the way. We didn’t need to rush to get to our next destination as we knew we had a hotel reserved there, so we were free to stay out as late as we liked, ahhing over sunsets and dining out. I know that if we hadn’t have had a hotel reserved, I’d have been itching to get to our destination earlier to find my next bed for the night.

On the other hand, it is certainly appealing to have nothing at all booked, and know that you can do anything you like, with the horizon stretching before you. When I was a child, my family used to do this across France in the summer holidays and it was definitely exciting!  And in New Zealand we waltzed around the county with no hotels booked (and Japan, although that was by train!). It worked perfectly most of the time, but this can come back to bite you (literally, in the case of beg bugs!). We once we spent 9 hours straight looking for a hotel until 1am, which is obv a massive waste of time, not to mention worrying if you’re facing the prospect of sleeping on the streets. This will be different in different places and depending on whether it’s high or low season, so I would recommend looking into it, even if you decide you’re fine not to book ahead.

So, are you a planner or a free spirit? Despite being a bona fide planner, I normally try to go for the middle ground approach – researching places and booking hotels, but planning “free days”, so that we can literally spot something on the map and drive towards it. So freedom within a framework of rules…  as Monica said in Friends, “Rules help control the fun!” 😉

Dirt Road to Grand CanyonRule 4 – Don’t forget what the word “Budget” means

It’s easy for money to run away with itself on a Road Trip. There is no set pricetag, and there are often hidden extras, like one-way fees on hire cars, extra driver charges, insurance waivers, and petrol. Estimating the cost of petrol on a road trip can be like trying to guess how much Posh Spice’s outfit cost. You have no idea, but you know it’s expensive. There are now websites that can cleverly calculate the cost of petrol on any given route. I’m not sure how scientific this is, but it will at least give you an indication (and I will make a mental note to test this and report back!). .

Rule 5 – Allow more time for Driving

If Google says 6 hours, I would allow a day. That will encompass food breaks, toilet breaks, and, if you’re anything like us, stopping every 2 metres to take a photo. If you don’t allow enough time, you will end up frantically driving to the destination and not having enough time for the delights of the road and the crazy detours off the main road to see something “cool”- which is the reason for the trip anyway!

Red rock sculpturesRule 6 – Don’t forget your camera!

Assuming you’re not on a scenic tour of the industrial plants of Hull and Scunthorpe, you should have something worth photographing. I know some people prefer to enjoy the moment rather than worrying about the camers, and I am guilty of that. But I love taking photos and looking at photos. After a hard day at the office, gazing at my photos is what keeps me going, and one day I want to show my kids and say “Mummy woz ere!” (I’m not very cool so they’d never believe it unless I have proof).

Rule 7 – Tell someone where you’re going

The boring safety rule, cherished by Mothers worldwide, but one I have found to be useful. I admit being a tad paranoid after watching too much CSI and Dexter, on top of the emotional scars caused by watching Scream as a teenager (why does no-one else find that scary?!). But, it doesn’t hurt to give your family some indication of where you are and when you’re back. We stayed in a hotel which we now refer to as “The Norman Bates Motel”. The owner was somewhat eccentric, we never saw a single other guest, and it was just a bit creepy. And his (live) Dad lived in the building. Course, as it turned out, he was just a sweet guy quietly getting on with his life, but I wouldn’t have been wholly surprised if we were murdered in our beds.

New ZealandRule 8 – Turn your phone off!

Somewhat contrary to rule 7, but I think this is essential to have a proper break from the norm. Personally I’m not one for being available 24/7, although I know I’m in the minority these days. If you’re checking email, facebook and texts every 5 minutes, it won’t really feel like you’ve been away – in my humble opinion. I like to avoid checking email or texts at all when I’m on holiday. And with the cost of calling abroad, you might be persuaded to join me in that philosophy!

Rule 9 – Take a Map!

Maps seem uncool after the birth of the sat nav and GPS on mobile phones. But electronic devices can lose signal, lose battery life, or just be inexplicably, frustratingly wrong. Maps aren’t going to tell you to do a U-turn when you just KNOW you’re going the right way! In some countries (eg. France) it is even illegal to possess a Sat Nav that tells you when a speed camera is coming up. Granted, technology can be handy for telling you your current location, but even if you love your Sat Nav, it’s always good to take a map as a back-up. And it is absolutely fine to turn them upside down to read them!!! 😉

Road sign, New ZealandRule 10 – Don’t Breakdown

You have been told. Don’t breakdown. I don’t know why you would do this when you’ve just been told. 😉 But in some countries petrol stations are few and far between. In France they even sign that if you don’t get petrol here, it’ll be 100 miles til you can next stop. It’s worth considering petrol stations, especially if you are planning to go to the back of beyond. When hiring a car, it’s also worth checking what to do if you break down. I have never remembered to do this, and while it has been fine so far (touch wood!), it makes my heart stop to think of what would have happened if we broke down on some isolated road in the middle of the desert. I would still not have a clue who to call. I think it’s worth checking this BEFORE driving into the unknown. (Note to self!!).

Rule 11 – Don’t Forget The Snacks

It’s not just toddlers that get grouchy if they don’t eat. Well, I’ll speak for myself. But if you’re like me, it is essential to have snacks and drinks in-vehicle. It is good sense really, as if you were stuck in a traffic jam for hours, or stuck in a snow drift, you might need them for survival. Plus if you buy stuff you can’t get at home like “trail mix” in the USA then it’s “cultural”. Not that we buy trail mix obv. –  it’s far too healthy.

So hopefully that will give you some food for thought. A road trip can be as easy as hopping in a car and driving. But if you’re investing time and money into doing a road trip abroad, hiring a car, and fulfilling a lifetime dream, you might be tempted to put a bit more thought into it to ensure that it goes smoothly and you have an amazing trip.

Have you got any other suggestions for a great road trip? I’d love to hear them!

Next blog: LA to Bering Straights

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