How to Plan a Road Trip (+ biggest mistakes to avoid!)

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Road trips are arguably one of the best ways to really see a place while having the freedom and flexibility that comes with having your own vehicle. This article will walk you through exactly how to plan a road trip, including our favorite tips and hacks as well as what mistakes you should try to avoid!

How to Plan a Road Trip | Two Wandering Soles

Taking a road trip is hands-down our favorite way to travel.

Not only do you have the ultimate freedom of being able to come and go as you please, but you can get off the beaten path and take detours that you never would be able to on public transportation.

Our preferred mode of transportation is in a campervan (read all about why we’re obsessed with vanlife), as this means we don’t have to worry about booking hotels, and we can wake up in some pretty epic locations.

We’ve spent many months on the road, making us experts at how to plan a road trip. And we’re here to help you plan the best road trip you can imagine! 

We’ve rented campervans and cars in countries around the world and have found that planning a road trip has similarities no matter where it is you’re traveling. 

In this road trip guide we’re going to cover how to plan the perfect route, where to stay, what to pack and what road trip mistakes to avoid. Regardless of whether you choose to travel in a campervan or a car, this guide is packed full of resources to help you plan an epic road trip you’ll be talking about for years to come!

Note: This article has some tips specific to the United States, but most of this article will apply no matter where in the world you are planning a road trip.

Psst! Get motivated and inspired for your next adventure with this list of road trip quotes (+ graphics!).

Figure out your destination

Let’s start with the fun part… figuring out where you plan to travel on your next road trip!

If you already know where you want to travel, great! You can skip ahead to the next section

If you’re looking for some road trip ideas and inspiration, check out some of our guides below…

Road trip inspiration

We’ve taken some pretty epic road trips around the world and there is no limit to the possibilities!

Here are guides for some of our favorite road trip destinations around the world:

If you’re planning to do a road trip within the US, we’d recommend you start here:

  • Best USA Road Trips: This MASSIVE list is packed with routes recommended by travel bloggers all around the US sharing tips about their favorite American road trip.

Choose your mode of transportation

Road Trip Planner Campervan

When planning your road trip, there are a few options to consider when it comes to transportation:

  • campervan or RV
  • your own car
  • rental car

Let’s go over the pros and cons of each! (If you already know what you’ll be driving, skip down to the next section where we’ll share the exact system we use for planning our road trip routes!)

​​Road tripping in a campervan

Our personal favorite way to go on road trips is in a campervan. Why, you ask? 

Oh, we have so many reasons, but here are just a few:

  • A campervan gives us the ultimate freedom because we have our bed with us. If we’re feeling tired and want to pull over, we can take a nap or park for the night.
  • Plus, we don’t have to pay for expensive hotels along the way.
  • With a campervan, we can go to sleep and wake up in some epic locations — next to the ocean or in thick forests. It’s much more memorable than most hotels, and much more comfortable than tent camping!
  • Campervans make it easy to find free camping!
  • Additionally, we have a kitchen on wheels, so we are able to save a ton of money on food.

Honestly, if you’ve even been slightly intrigued by vanlife, we’d highly encourage you to give it a try! (And feel free to reach out with any questions you may have!)

Build your own campervan

We’ve built 3 and it’s easier than you might think! We have TONS of resources, including step-by-step tutorials on how we built a campervan for less than $3,000 (van + build) in just one week! (You can too!)

We even created Van Conversion Academy (see below) to help you convert your dream campervan and get on the road faster! This is an especially good idea if you’re going on a long road trip.

DIY campervan conversion guide

Van Conversion Academy | Two Wandering Soles

Simplify your van build & get on the road faster!

Want to save yourself the headaches and hours of research we went through and get straight to the building process? 

We created Van Conversion Academy, a DIY campervan conversion guide, because it’s exactly what we wished we’d had when we were building our campervans.

Save yourself the time and money and get straight to the building process with step-by-step instructions, video tutorials, blueprints you can actually copy and tons of insider tips and recommended products to get you on the road faster! 

Renting a campervan for your road trip

If you’re intrigued but not ready (or interested) in building your own, why not rent a campervan? Depending on the rental company you choose, you could save a lot of money by not having to stay in hotels. 

We’ve traveled in a campervan in a number of different places around the world, so it’s not just limited to travel in the U.S. We have a guide to campervan rentals around the world.

If you don’t see what you’re looking for right away, here is our top campervan rental tip: 

We’d recommend using Motorhome Republic to compare campervan rental options all over the world for your chosen dates. 

However, if you are planning a road trip in the U.S., we rounded up the best campervan rentals in the USA (& even have a few exclusive discount codes!).

And, if you’re renting on a super tight budget, one company we’d recommend looking into is Escape Campervans. They have 12 different locations across North America and come fully loaded with all the gear you need for an epic road trip. Plus, their rates are fair and affordable. 

BONUS: We’ve partnered with Escape to give you a 10% off discount when you use our link!

Road tripping in your own car

Road Trip Planning Resources Campervan

Taking your regular car on a road trip is often the best choice, as you’re already comfortable driving it and you don’t have to pay to rent another vehicle. However, you may want to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Can my car handle the conditions I’ll be encountering? Will you be driving on mountain roads, snow, narrow streets, etc.?
  • Is your car in good enough shape to handle a road trip?
  • Will it be an issue to put miles on my car? If you’re taking a very long road trip or if you are leasing your car, you may want to think twice about the mileage.

How to prepare your vehicle for a road trip

Whether you’re planning a cross country road trip or a quick weekend getaway with only one destination, there are some things you’ll want to do to prepare your vehicle for the road. 

  • Check your tires: Check the tire pressure, wheel alignment and tread before you go. Make sure you have a spare tire on board and know how to change it if necessary. 
  • Top off fluids: Get under the hood and make sure your oil, transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, antifreeze, and power steering fluid are all topped off.
  • Get an oil change (if needed): It is recommended to get this routine service every 10,000 miles. 
  • Check lights and wiper blades: Test these to see if any need to be replaced before you hit the road.

Road tripping with a rental car

Iceland Car Rental

Renting a car can be a good option for a lot of reasons:

  • You don’t want to put extra miles on your car
  • Maybe your car just isn’t in good enough shape to handle a road trip and you don’t want to get stranded
  • You want to test out a fun make and model, like a convertible on the California coast or a 4×4 in Utah
  • Perhaps you’re planning a road trip far from home and will be flying to your starting point. This can also allow you to start and end in different locations, and just drop off your rental car before flying home. For example, fly into San Francisco, and fly home from San Diego.

As we mentioned, we’ve rented cars in several countries around the world. Check out a few of our car rental guides if you’re curious:

What’s the best rental car company? The one that gives you the best deal!

Personally, for road trips in the U.S. and destinations around the world, we’ve had good experiences with DisoveryCars.com and Booking.com (formerly RentalCars.com). We’ve booked through them several times and have found some really great deals. 

For example, we rented a small SUV for a road trip in Washington State and paid less than $30 per day, and in Tucson, Arizona we paid just $17 a day. Heck yes!

Prices vary depending on your location, number of days, season, and type of car. Our advice is to compare rental car platforms with your specifics so you can be sure you’re getting the best deal.

Search & Compare Rental Car Prices

  • Discover Cars: We personally use this aggregate site to compare rental car prices from all the big name companies and get the best price possible. 
  • Booking.comWe’ve had good experiences finding rental cars with this site (formerly RentalCars.com) in the past. 

Planning an international road trip? Be sure to check out our trip planning guide so you don’t forget any of the important steps before hitting the road!

Plan your route with Google Maps

New England Fall Foliage Road Trip Map

So you have big road trip dreams, but how do you even begin to plan your route?! Don’t worry, we’re here to help you lay it all out using Google’s road trip planner in 5 simple steps.

Psst! #2 on this list is one of our favorite travel tips!

1. Make a list of all the places you want to go

If you have an area in mind, but you just don’t know what there is to see along the way, start searching for some inspiration.

Get inspiration from:

  • Travel blogs
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Guidebooks
  • Friends and Family
  • Travel blogs! (Check out our Road Trips Homepage for some road trip inspo for destinations around the world!)

This list of the best road trips in the US. We wrote about our very favorite road trips, and asked other bloggers to share theirs!

Travel Hack: Make it a habit to keep track of places you want to go. I keep a note of cool places people tell me about in my phone. Maybe you write them down in a notebook. Just keep them somewhere, so when it comes time to plan your next trip, you already have a list!

2. Start plotting pins on Google Maps with this genius system

Road Trip Planner Google Maps Blue Pool
Road Trip Planner Google Maps Plotting Points

Now that you have places in mind, it’s time to put them on a map!

There are a ton of road trip planning apps and websites out there that claim to help you plan your route. 

We’ve tried a few of them, but you know what? We end up forgetting our passwords, or we find a different app we like better, or suddenly the app is no longer available, and all of our hard work is gone. Lost forever.

We like sticking to tried-and-true Google Maps. We know it’ll be around forever, because, well, Google runs the world, whether we like it or not. And I like having all my routes and starred places together in one spot. Thank you, Google.

Now here’s where you can take it up a notch if you want…

Our Director of Content, Amanda, shared her genius method of tagging in Google Maps, and we’ve taken her strategy, tweaked it a bit for what we need, and boom: We have a super handy system that we’re about to share…

  • Search for the locations: From the list you made in step 1, search each spot in Google Maps, then you’ll see a little icon that says “save”. Note: This method can work for just about any type of place: restaurant, store, hiking trail, park, city, lake, hotel, museum, landmarks, mural… anything, really! Just type the name in the search bar, and move onto the next step.
  • Pin the locations: Google has made it really easy to pin and organize all of your locations. Once you have a location pulled up, scroll to “Save” and then create a “new list” for the destination of your road trip. There are 3 icons to choose from: “starred places” (star), “want to go” (flag), “favorites” (heart). Here’s how we label place:
    • Star = landmark places of importance (a hotel we’ll be staying in, a park, somewhere we have a meeting, a city)
    • Flag = places we want to go (restaurants, attractions, hikes, shops, etc.)
    • Heart = after we visit a place, we’ll change the flag to a heart only if we really liked it
Road Trip Planner Hack
Road Trip Planner Hack
Road Trip Planner Hack
  • Take notes: If there is a particular reason you are pinning a location, WRITE IT DOWN! There’s a spot to make a note on the flagged places in Google Maps. This is especially great if a friend recommended a particular dish at a restaurant, or you read in a blog that a trailhead is actually a bit further down the road than the Google location indicates. I don’t know about you, but I completely forget these details unless I write them down.
    • This is also an opportunity to write down any of your own notes after you visit a place so you can remember (“best lobster roll of the trip”). It’s almost like a digital travel journal!
Road Trip Planner Hack
Road Trip Planner Hack
Road Trip Planner Hack
  • Repeat this process: Until you have all the hot spots you want to hit marked on your Google Maps.
  • Create a list for your trip: This can be a good way to stay extra organized. These will essentially serve as a digital folder to store all the places you want to visit. You could break it up by city, by state, or by trip. (Pictured on the far right photo above)

3. Perfect the route

Colorado Road Trip

Now it’s time to prune and primp!

Prune: First, take a look at all those pins scattered throughout the map. Are there any that are obvious outliers? If so, figure out how long off course it will take to get to that point, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Sometimes it is. Perhaps that pin is the whole reason for your road trip, and you absolutely want to go. But on the other hand, maybe it’s just a rock formation that would be cool to see if you’re in the area, but it’s not worth the 2-hour drive time to get there.

Start eliminating any pins on your map that don’t make sense with your time frame.

Primp: Now, you should have pinned locations for all the attractions you’d like to see along the way. This is a great basic “framework” for your road trip. But if you want to take it a step further, you can use the search bar in Google Maps to add more.

Road Trip Planner Google Maps Searching Brewery
Road Trip Planner Google Maps Porter Brewery

Search for things you enjoy on road trips, like “brewery” or “coffee” or “hot spring”. You’ll see a button at the top that says “search this area”, so it will display all the breweries along your road trip route.

From here, use the “top-rated” filter to show only the highly-rated ones. You can even look through recent reviews and photos to see if it’s what you’re looking for.

We use this little hack to find restaurants along our road trips that we probably never would find otherwise.

Helpful Tip: One thing to keep in mind is you shouldn’t think of these pins as written in stone. Instead, they should just serve as a suggestion. So if you’re on the road and you’re getting hangry (been there!), you can look at the pins on your map to easily see good eating options. And you’ll know that 1 mile past this McDonalds, is a cafe that’s a local hotspot!

4. Create your perfect road trip itinerary

Road Trip Planner Tips

4. Create your perfect road trip itinerary

Write down the following numbers:

  • How many days do you have for your road trip?
  • Approximately how many miles do you intend to cover?
    • Put the main stops into Google Maps, including returning to your starting point if applicable.
  • What is the most amount of miles you’d be comfortable driving in 1 day?
    • Start by considering how many hours you’d feel comfortable behind the wheel, then convert that to miles.
  • How many days do you want to do zero driving?
    • Consider days spent exploring towns or in National Parks. It’s likely that you won’t want to drive every single day of your trip.

These numbers should give you some clarity on what your itinerary is going to look like.

Now, start plotting days out so you can see them. You can use whatever works best for you. I like to start with a pencil and paper, while Ben is a huge Google Sheets fan. There are also road trip planning apps out there — which we’ll go over in a later section.

Once you have a basic itinerary drafted, run through it and see how it feels. Is it too rushed? Are you trying to cover too many miles? Do you think you could squeeze more stops in?

Is there time to take the scenic route instead of the highway? Do you have time built into your schedule for a rest stop?

Make any tweaks you feel are necessary. Even though this will hopefully be a pretty solid plan, our advice is to always think of it as a guide rather than something that needs to be followed 100%.

Here are a few more questions to ask yourself as you’re making alterations to your itinerary:

  • Does it feel balanced? Do you have all your long drives at the beginning of the trip? Will you feel exhausted when you reach your final destination, or will you be ready to rock?
  • Do you have time in your schedule to be spontaneous?
  • What would happen if you don’t get home on the exact date that you planned? Is this something you can handle, or do you need to build in a “buffer” day? (Hopefully, this won’t happen, but you’ll want to be prepared in case of car troubles or weather delays.)

Tip: If you’re not ready to plan your own route, check out this list of epic east coast road trips to give you some inspiration. 

5. Download Google Maps for offline access

Alright, now you have a map of all the spots you wanna see, but imagine this: You climb over a mountain pass and lose cell service. Now you can’t see any of those pins and you miss the secret hot spring you’ve been itching to see. Bummer!

But there is a way to prevent this.

Google Maps is also pretty amazing because you can download sections of the map so that you have access to it even when you don’t have cell service. If you don’t already do this, it’s gong to be life-changing!

How do you Download Google Maps Offline?

It’s super simple, just follow these steps:

  1. Sign into Google Maps (it’s connected with your Gmail account).
  2. Search for a destination in the search bar. (Example: “San Fransisco” or “Idaho”)
  3. 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.
  4. Make sure you’re on 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 cell signal! You’ll even be able to see your current GPS location as long as you have it authorized. (Settings > Google Maps > Location > select “Always”)

Set a road trip budget

Don’t set off on a road trip without first considering your budget…
Don’t set off on a road trip without first considering your budget…

Unless you’ve got a bottomless bank account (lucky you!), you’ll probably want to set some sort of road trip budget.

Now, this will vary from person to person. For some, it might be more or less a target to aim for, but you’ve got flexibility. And for others, it’s a strict number that you’ll need to be very mindful of the entire trip.

Whichever sounds like you, setting a budget is important. I mean, unpacking is already a pretty miserable job. You don’t want to end your trip and realize that you way overspent. That’ll make laundry look like a treat.

Road tripping on a budget? Do yourself a favor and read our tips for saving money on a road trip (plus, we cover exactly how to create a road trip budget and stick to it!).

Where to stay on your road trip


On any road trip, there are essentially two types of accommodation:

  • Hotel or Airbnb
  • Camping: this can vary from a dedicated campground to urban camping in a van (aka legal overnight parking)

We’ve got some tips for each, so let’s dive right in.

Airbnb stays

We always check Airbnb when looking for accommodation around the world. Whether you’re looking for a really unique rental or accommodation that feels more like a home than a hotel, Airbnb is usually a good option.

Our top tips for booking accommodation with Airbnb:

  • Book Airbnbs with a kitchen so you can cook meals. This will help you save money so you don’t have to eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.
  • Filter to see “unique stays”. I mean, take a look at these listings below (all in Oregon): Tiny Home, Tree House, Earth House, Yurt… And that’s just the beginning. I also found a Farm Stay, a Mud House, a House Boat, and a Barn!
  • Know the parking policy: If you’re on a road trip, you’ll want to make sure you understand where you can park your car. Is there a dedicated space, or is it street parking? If it’s street parking, is it a safe neighborhood for leaving your car on the street (we had bikes stolen off our car while staying in an Airbnb in Denver).
  • Is there laundry? On a road trip, it can be helpful to book an Airbnb with a washer and dryer every once in a while so you can do a load of laundry. Nobody likes to stink up their car!
  • Know the laws: Before booking, do a little research on the city you’re staying in. Some cities have made Airbnb illegal, so be sure to look before booking.

Want more tips for booking an amazing Airbnb? Lucky for you, we have loads of info on how to book Airbnbs, red flags to watch out for when booking, and our favorite Airbnbs tips!

Hotel stays

Kimpton Muse Hotel NYC | Two Wandering Soles

If staying in a hotel is more your speed (perhaps you have a load of points you can make use of, or prefer other amenities such as a pool, onsite restaurant or gym), here are some of our top tips for staying in a hotel while on your road trip:

  • Are there parking fees? If you’re staying in a big city, be sure you factor in the costs for using the parking garage (sometimes they’re crazy expensive & it’s good to know upfront).
  • Is breakfast included? Sometimes this is a nice perk on a road trip because it saves you from having to buy 3 meals each day.
  • Compare prices to find a deal. Personally, we use Booking.com for most of our trips in the United States and abroad as they tend to have the largest database of hotels (and now apartments!) available to book.
  • Using the same platform or hotel chain can give you bonuses. This might be helpful if you’re on a strict budget. That said, we prefer smaller hotels over the chains when possible.

Camping on your road trip

How to plan a road trip - where to stay
This is an example of a free campsite we found using a camping app (more on that below…)

As we’ve already mentioned, we love taking road trips in a campervan. For this reason, we typically stay in campgrounds or in places where overnight parking is allowed.

You can find campgrounds in destinations all over the world. We usually do a quick Google search for “camping in [destination]” and start from there. 

Here are a few camping guides we’ve put together in some of our favorite road trip destinations around the world:

If you’re planning a road trip in the US and wanting to camp along the way, we’ve got a few more tips for you…

Here are the types of campgrounds you’ll find across the USA:

  • National Parks usually have nice campgrounds, but they typically require you to book in advance with the National Park Service, especially during the popular summer months.
  • State Parks, National Forests and Private Campgrounds are other options for camping.
  • If you’re in a self-contained campervan, you have more options: some rest stops, parking areas (be sure to read all the signs) and Walmart parking lots are popular options.
  • If you’re planning to stay in campgrounds but are on a tight budget, BLM (Bureau of Land Management) camping is a great option.

If you’re new to camping, or just want to get some more information, we have heeps of articles and tips on our sister site, Go Wander Wild. Just check out our camping homepage for more info!

Free camping in the USA

I’m going to let you in on a secret… we usually don’t pay for campsites. If you’re wondering how we do this, you’re in luck because we’ve broken it all down for you in our guide to finding free campsites!

Camping apps

Our biggest piece of advice is to get familiar with camping apps! They are great resources for finding campsites nearby and for filtering by the type of campsite you prefer.

The Dyrt App is our #1 recommended camping app because, well, it’s our favorite! (Check out our honest review of the app.) And we’re not the only ones who are in love – The Dyrt was 2020’s #1 camping app.

With more than 1 million user-submitted reviews, The Dyrt has the largest database of campgrounds and more reviews than any other app of its kind.

Plus, it’s available on iOS and Android, is super user-friendly, and has some pretty cool features that you won’t find on any other camping app.

TWS The Dyrt banner (30)

Psst! We’ve got a special link just for our readers which will give you 30 days of the Pro membership totally FREE!

Hipcamp is another app we use to find campsites. This service has the largest availability of privately owned campgrounds. These sites are unique because they are almost all on private land such as ranches and vineyards. You’ll have a one-of-a-kind adventure by booking your stay in total isolation.

The app provides a variety of stays ranging from full service “glamping” adventures that feel more like staying at a resort to tent camping spots for truly roughing it off the grid. Use Hipcamp today to book your next campsite and get away from the noise of regular life.

Harvest Host

Harvest Hosts

Imagine waking up on a vineyard, with row upon row of grapevines just outside your campervan door. Or peeking out your window at the first morning light to see alpacas milling about mere feet from your RV.

Harvest Hosts is a really cool program that allows members to park overnight at a variety of different businesses, like wineries, breweries, museums, and farms, to name a few. 

In return for a unique and (relatively) inexpensive place to camp, you can support these small businesses, making it a win-win for everyone… most of the time.

We’ve been members of Harvest Hosts for 3 years (and counting!) and have found that it can be 110% worthwhile for some people, while for others it can be a waste of money. Check out our completly honest review of Harvest Hosts to find out why, and get access to our exclusive discount code.

Road trip packing list

How to plan a road trip with a partner

When planning for a road trip, we tend to get carried away with packing. Instead of having to fit everything into a suitcase or a backpack, we have unlimited space… or so we tell ourselves. But it’s no fun ending up with a car so packed full of stuff that you can’t find what you need.

If you’re doing a campervan road trip, we’ve got you covered with our campervan essentials packing list that’ll ensure you’ve got everything you need.

But even if you’re traveling by car, there are some not-so-obvious things you should be sure to pack!

  • Dashboard mount: Safety first! You’re not allowed to use your phone while driving in most US states, so attach your Google Maps to your dash.
  • Power inverter: plugs into your 12V socket and can charge your large electronics like a laptop.
  • Water jug: Always nice to have on hot days. Fill up at any state or local park.
  • Collapsible cooler: Handy when you want to go down to the beach or hang out in a park.
  • Water bottle: Must have on a road trip. Our favorite is Hydro Flasks because they keep your water so cold!
  • Travel Mug: Bring your own coffee cup in to cafes and save on waste (and sometimes a few cents!)
  • Flashlight and/or Headlamp: Nice to have if you show up late to a campsite or you lose something under your seat. We’ve had Black Diamond’s for years and love them.
  • Emergency First Aid Kit: Make sure you pack a emergency first aid kit for accidents along the way.
  • Emergency Car Breakdown Kit: Including blankets, candles, flash light, Jumper cables, ponchos, tow straps, and wiper fluid.
  • UV Window Shade: Sun protection for any passengers in the back, especially kiddos.
  • Windshield Cover: I never understood the importance of this until we were on a 3-month road trip in the summer heat. Trust me when I say you’ll want to get one of these (you can pick them up along the way at places like Home Depot, Target, or Walmart for cheap).
  • Phone charging cords: You don’t want to run out of battery in the middle of nowhere when you’re using your phone’s GPS for directions. Trust us. Be sure to pack your cords so you can charge your phone by plugging it into the car while you’re driving. A back-up battery pack is a good idea too.
  • Hotspot Device (or SIM card): Nice if you are traveling with more than just cell phones. You can connect a SkyRoam Solis Wireless Hotspot up to 5 devices and you don’t need a SIM card.
    • If you are traveling internationally, we recommend getting an eSIM using the Airalo app. This is our go-to source for getting data abroad and have been really happy with the service. Plus, it’s super easy and cheap — you basically download the app and pay for the data you need.
  • Travel Insurance: We always travel with insurance and so should you, especially if you’re on the road. But be sure you look closely at your travel insurance because most of the time it won’t cover everything if you get in an accident. Use our handy travel insurance comparison to find out which is the best policy for your needs!

Don’t forget to pack the…

Don’t you hate it when you’re 50 miles from home and you realize you forgot to pack an essential item?! 

This happened to us far too many times, so we made our own road trip checklist that we go through before each road trip. And we’re sharing that list with you (for free!).

Whether you choose a rental convertible, a campervan or your own minivan, this list will be super handy. Plus we’ve added tips and advice to help make your next road trip go as smoothly as possible!

Road Trip packing list mobile banner

Biggest road trip mistakes

Road Trip Planner Tips Campervan

We’ve made a ton of mistakes over the years. We’ve learned our lessons and we want to pass on our tips to you.

Take our advice, it’ll help you avoid the same road trip mistakes we’ve made over the years.

1. Not giving yourself enough time

It can be tempting to pack as much as possible with your given time frame, but we’d strongly encourage you to build your road trip with a bit of “buffer time”.

It’s easy to plot pins on a map of all the things you want to see, but it’s just as important to take into account the driving time needed to get there.

When you’re planning your route from behind your computer screen, 10 hours of driving might not sound that bad. But when you’re on the road, even a few hours can get old. And when you have long driving day planned after long driving day, it gets exhausting. You might even be too tired to really enjoy the actual sightseeing.

Road Trip Planner Campervan

As you’re planning, take into account that things might go wrong. Bad traffic or a flat tire might delay you. Or maybe the weather turns dangerous when you have an epic through hike planned, and you want to stay an extra day.

Have added days in your road trip plan so you can be flexible. We like at least 1-2 “flex days” on our itinerary that have no plans. This will also allow you to stay longer in places you really love instead of having to rush through.

2. Sticking to your route EXACTLY

We found this stunning lavender field with views of Mount Hood by spontaneously following a handwritten sign on the side of the road that said “Lavender Field 5 miles”!
We found this stunning lavender field with views of Mount Hood by spontaneously following a handwritten sign on the side of the road that said “Lavender Field 5 miles”!

We found this stunning lavender field with views of Mount Hood by spontaneously following a handwritten sign on the side of the road that said “Lavender Field 5 miles”!

After planning a road trip route, you might feel the need to follow it exactly. But we’d advise otherwise… Use it as a guideline, but stay flexible.

The best kind of road trips are those that are planned enough so you don’t miss the epic sights along the way, but with enough “wiggle room” to give you the opportunity to get lost and explore some hidden gems along the way.

Oftentimes our favorite memories are the cute towns we stumble upon, or the hikes suggested to us by a local we meet along the way. Be sure to have some time for following the sign that says “Best Clam Chowder: Turn Right” or“Berry Patch: 2 miles”. We’ve followed those signs and are so glad we did.

I mean, check out that photo above and tell me you don’t want to follow a few random signs on your road trip — that’s exactly how we ended up in a lavender field with views of Mount Hood!

3. Going during the wrong season

New England fall foliage road trip

A lot of times we think of summer as the perfect season for planning road trips. And it can be great, but it can also be the hottest and most crowded time of year.

On the opposite hand, planning a road trip through the mountains during spring or fall can sometimes mean you’ll encounter road closures and will need to make a detour. This can be a huge bummer when the mountain road was the thing you really wanted to see.

Think about where it is you’re planning to go: If it’s the desert, summer may not be the best time (unless you want to melt!). And if you plan to visit National Parks along the way, summertime will be the most crowded. If there are mountain passes on along your trip, do a little research to see what time of year the roads are typically open.

4. Not planning ahead during busy season

Sometimes the busy season is the only time you have to travel. We’ve certainly been there.

If you’re traveling during the summertime, a festival or a holiday, be sure to spend a little extra time planning:

  • Book your accommodation further in advance.
  • Research hidden spots to get away from the crowds.
  • Budget a little more money.
  • Plan to start your days earlier than you typically would.

5. Not talking to your road trip buddy BEFORE the trip

How to plan a road trip - 2

If you’re road tripping with a companion, listen up: Being stuck in a confined space with someone can put a big strain on any relationship — yes, even if it’s your BFF or significant other.

Before setting out on the road, be sure to discuss what your expectations are, especially when it comes to budget and how much time you plan to spend on the road. I mean, you don’t want to get stuck out on the open road with a partner who plans on driving 12 hours a day when you just wanna chill.

We’ve even written up a whole list of questions you can ask them so you know you’re both on the same page when it comes to road trip tunes and how many McDonald’s stops are allowed.

6. Not downloading this type of app…

Road Trip Planner | The Dyrt Camping App

If you’re planning a road trip in the U.S. and plan on doing any camping, do yourself a favor and get familiar with the different camping apps out there! Our favorite is The Dyrt because it has the largest network of campsites in the USA, plus it allows you to sort by filter (price, rating, etc.), search reviews and photos, and lots more!

The Dyrt has both a free and a paid version, but you can score a Pro Membership totally FREE for 30 days (no strings attached!) by using our exclusive link.

7. Forgetting you get carsick

Motion Sickness is a pain in the ass, but it can be dealt with if you prepare. If you are prone to getting carsick — I’m raising my hand right there with ya! — pack a little “kit” to help prevent nausea.

  • pressure point bands
  • ginger chews
  • medication
  • sparkling water
  • crackers
  • trash bag (in case of emergency)

Also, it goes without saying, but try to avoid reading or looking closely at your phone screen, especially on winding roads.

If you’re feeling sick, stop the car and get some fresh air. Sometimes that’s the best form of relief. Having some dry, bland crackers can soothe your stomach, as will sparkling water.

Take it slow and be patient. Carsickness happens to the best of us!

8. Forgetting to pack an emergency kit

How to plan a road trip - mistakes to avoid

Listen up, because we’ve got a road trip horror story for you…

We were in Utah in the dead heat of summer (big mistake!), and we decided to catch the sunset at Canyonlands National Park. We were above the canyons with epic golden hour views, and we were just lost in the moment. Smiling and soaking it all in. And then it happened…

We returned to our van parked over a huge puddle with hot liquid was spewing out, making it larger by the minute.

We opened the hood with hot steam fumming out, and we tried our best to diagnose the problem, not knowing what exactly we were looking for.

Luckily, a stranger noticed our distress and pointed out that our radiator hose that was leaking. They told us it was a quick fix and could get the part back in town. We followed their instructions to patch the leak with duct tape, pour all the spare water into the radiator and try to coast back to town. And we did and it worked!

If that stranger wasn’t there at that time with the supplies for a quick fix, we’d probably still be stuck at that viewpoint. We will forever carry an emergency roadside kit with us on any road trip.

Hopefully you won’t need it, but you’ll feel so much better knowing it’s there in case of emergency.

Other handy items that might not come in a kit: flashlight, pen, extra water (for drinking and for cooling the engine).

9. Not having roadside assistance

No matter how complete of an emergency kit you have, you still may need help.

Check to see if your car insurance covers towing and roadside assistance (it might!). If not, we’d highly recommend purchasing a policy through AAA (if traveling in the U.S.) or something similar. This way you will feel confident knowing that if anything happens you can take advantage of roadside assistance in case of an emergency. We’ve definitely had to use this a time or two…

10. Forgetting to download Google Maps offline

Road trips are a great time to go “off the grid”, and you might just have to. Depending on where you’re driving (especially if you’re going through the mountains), cell service might be patchy at best. So you’ll want to download anything you need on your phone before you set off on your road trip.

While you have access to Wifi, download Google Maps of the regions you’re driving (directions above). This goes for all your podcasts, music, and audiobooks too.

Even if there is good cell service, your data might go quickly if you’re constantly streaming music and directions.

11. Not bringing hard copies

Having a paper map might sound archaic, but trust me, you’ll want it when your phone dies and suddenly the charging cord isn’t working. This has happened to us. #truestory

You’ll want to have paper maps for each of the states you’re planning on driving in. You can pick these up at any AAA or gas station. And at many rest stops you can find them for free, but sometimes they’re not the best quality.

12. Tempting hunger

Road Trip Planner Snacks

When I’m hungry, I can turn into a cranky monster. Anyone else?! If you know you get hangry, be sure to pack snacks for your road trip. And I don’t just mean a bag of chips. Because we all know junk food ain’t gonna make you feel good.

Plan ahead, and pack a small cooler. Fill it with fresh veggies, hummus, cheese, fruit, sandwiches, salads —whatever you’d like. Bring wholegrain crackers, beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit, protein bars for quick bites on the go. And bring some guilty pleasures too, like dark chocolate or your famous homemade banana bread.

Try out one of our favorite camping meals that are easy to make and healthy!

Having food on hand will not only prevent the hangry monster from emerging, but it will save you from making poor food choices, like grabbing a Big Mac because you’re about to blow up. It’ll also help save some money too. Win, win!

13. Not having water on hand

Never leave on a road trip without a big jug of water. This should be set aside for emergencies.

This water can be used if your engine overheats (been there!) or if you end up somewhere and don’t have any access to water. There have been viral stories of people who get lost while road tripping in Death Valley without water. Don’t let this happen to you.

14. Running low on gas

If you’re in a somewhat rural area, be sure to know where the next gas station is. Simply search “gas station’“ in Google Maps, and you should get an idea of how many are on your route. Don’t let your empty light tell you when you need to fill up!

This is especially important to remember on mountain roads and near wilderness areas where gas stations are few and far between (and the ones that you will find will be sorely overpriced). Fill up when you have the opportunity.

15. Not wearing sunscreen

Sunscreen Joshua Tree National Park

It’s easy to forget to put on sunscreen during road trips. You’re inside the car, so you don’t need it, right? Wrong!

Sure enough, the sun’s rays can come through the windows of your car and give you a nice burn! The worst part of it is, all of the sudden, you’re going to have one red arm and one pasty one (since you’ll only get burned on the side nearest the window). Slather up and stay even!

Oh, and one more reason to apply: Did you know that one of the fastest places people age is on their hands? (Think brown spots!) Your hands will be very exposed when your hands are on the steering wheel, so protect them, damnit!

Related Reading: Want to minimize your impact on your road trip? We’ve got some eco-friendly road trip tips just for you!

Best apps for your road trip

Road Trip Planning Tips | Camping Apps the Dyrt

Taking a road trip today is much different than it was 10 years ago. On our phones, we each have access to so many different apps that can make your road trip so much more enjoyable and easier.

Here are some of our favorite road trip apps:

Best apps for finding campsites:

Our favorite camping app is The Dyrt, because it has the largest network of campsites (& reviews!) in the USA. It has lots of filters, a trip-planning feature, a community network and all sorts of other goodies. There’s a free and a Pro version of this app, and with our exclusive code, you can try out the “Pro version” totally free for 90 days (that’s 3 months!).

Honorable Mentions:

  • Hipcamp: This site/app is a resource for finding unique camping stays listed by private landowners. We’ve found the app super helpful when traveling in a campervan.
  • Free Roam: Free app that shows campsites on the map and allows you to sort by price, type, and ratings. This app also rates sites by crowdedness, road difficulty, cell signal, shade, and other factors.
  • iOverlander: This app lists GPS coordinates of campsites, and it also has propane fill-ups, water, hotels, restaurants, mechanics, and other points of interest for those on road trips.

Road trip planning apps

  • AllTrails: If you plan to do any hiking during your road trip, this app is essential! It has detailed maps, trail notes, difficulty levels, photos, and users can even leave reviews.
  • Google MapsBest for directions and reviews. Download a city map before you get there, so even if you don’t have data you can find restaurants and landmarks. Be sure to read up on the fun hack we use to plan our road trips using Google Maps.
    • Insider Tip: Be sure to download the offline version of your location if you know you’ll be out of cell signal. This will allow you to track your GPS location and search for directions even when you have zero cell service!
  • Maps.meAs amazing as Google Maps is, there are sometimes gaps in information. And that’s where Maps.me comes in. It’s especially great for seeing lesser-known trails. 
  • RoadtrippersThis road trip planning app was built to house your road trip itinerary and gives you a visual of what it will look like. Plus, you can see suggested stops along the way.
  • Polar Steps: Automatically tracks your travels on your phone. No need to upload data or input locations. Produces a pretty neat map once you’ve traveled a bit. (See photo below)
Road Trip Planner Polar Steps App
Road Trip Planner Polar Steps App
  • Trail Wallet: Budgeting app for travelers to keep track of spending. Also, if you’re on a budget, check out this list of cheap road trip tips!
  • Gas BuddyFind the cheapest gas near to you.
  • WiFi Map: This app shows different WiFi networks (and passwords) near you, which can be super handy!
  • Sit or SquatWe sometimes use this app when searching for public restrooms. It not only tells you the location, but also indicates the cleanliness, with a simple “sit” or “squat” icon! (Note: This app is more helpful in some locations than others.)
  • Waze: If you plan to drive through lots of cities, this app will show you live traffic patterns so you can plan the best route and avoid being stuck in traffic jams.

Fun road trip apps

  • Libby: This app allows you to download audiobooks onto your phone totally free because it connects you with your local library. The only downside? If it’s a popular book, you may have to wait until it’s available.
  • Spotify: We have the premium version of this app so we can stream our playlists even when we’re out of cell service (which happens quite a bit in the PNW!)
  • 1 Second Everyday: Wanna document your road trip in a video?! This app costs $4.99 (one-time payment), but it is so worth it! You’ll take short video clips each day, and the app mashes them together in a super cool video. No editing necessary. It makes a really cool souvenir from your road trip.

Watch our summer road trip video below:

Our favorite road trip podcasts

Those long stretches of road can get boring sometimes… Staying entertained on the road is essential on a long road trip.

Road Trip Planner Podcasts

We love listening to music and audiobooks, but sometimes we need a break and that’s where podcasts come in!

Here are some of our favorite podcasts for road trips:

  • Dirtbag Diaries: Epic outdoor stories told by hardcore adventurers! Some are in interview format while others are read as a short story. Some episodes make you laugh, some make your heart thump, and some make you cry. A few of our favorite episodes are: “Mr. Hodges” (heartwarming), “Flip of a Coin” (adrenaline-pumping!) and “All in the Family” (Inspiring). 
  • Science Vs: Hilarious host dives into the science behind hot topics
  • Criminal: Best crime podcast out there. Funny, spooky, dark, murder-y, and lighthearted all at the same time!
  • Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell MeNPR trivia news show run by comedians with celebrity appearances
  • How I Built This: Interviewed CEOs talk about how they started their businesses (super inspiring!)
  • The Way I Heard ItSuper short episodes (sometimes this is all we have the attention span for!) that are in a riddle format and share interesting things you’ve likely never heard about a famous person. At the end of the episode, you find out who they’re talking about. Hosted by Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs”.
  • Mobituaries: Hosted by Mo Rocca, each episode shares interesting tidbits about famous people who are no longer living. 

More road trip planning resources

How to plan a road trip - resources

As you can probably tell, we are HUGE fans of road tripping, and we have learned a lot along the way. We are stoked for you to plan your very own epic road trip, and so we’ve created some more resources that we think will be helpful for you.

  • Cheap Road Trip TipsTraveling on a budget? These tips will help you save money on your road trip!
  • Eco-Friendly Road Trip Tips: Reduce your footprint while road tripping or living in a campervan with these easy and practical tips!
  • Build your own Campervan (quickly!)We broke down the exact steps we took to build our own DIY campervan on a super tight budget, in less than 1 week. Yes, seriously! Go check it out and let us know if you have any questions.
  • Questions to Ask your Partner Before a Road Trip: Asking your travel companion these questions will help avoid arguments and fights along the trip. Trust us, when you’re cooped up in a tiny space for hours on end, you’ll wish you had asked these questions ahead of time…
  • The Ultimate Road Trip Packing ListWhether you are staying in a hotel, living in a campervan or RV, or you’re trekking in the backcountry, you won’t want to miss the items on this list — including a few you should definitely leave behind.

Are you planning a road trip in the future? Save this article on Pinterest for later!

How to Plan a Road Trip | Two Wandering Soles
How to Plan a Road Trip | Two Wandering Soles

We want to hear from you!

Where are you planning to go on your next epic road trip? After reading this article, do you still have questions about how to plan a road trip? Comment below and we’ll do our best to get back to you!

Comments (55) on “How to Plan a Road Trip (+ biggest mistakes to avoid!)

  1. nisja says:

    Nestled in the heart of Rajasthan, Sariska Wild Ventures offers an unparalleled experience for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers.

  2. Shosho says:

    Idk if you’ll see this but Google Mymaps allows for a more complicated system of organised pins as well as directions, it’s my favourite for planning trips.

  3. neet and angel apk says:

    Loved this post! As a novice planner, these 5 steps really helped me feel more confident in tackling our upcoming road trip. The emphasis on research and flexibility was especially relatable – I’ve been stressing about packing too much stuff. Can’t wait to put these tips into practice and enjoy our adventure!

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