Road trips provide some of the best vacation memories: seeing new sites, exploring open roads, having car ride sing-alongs and experiencing quality family time. So if you’re moving to a new state, why not turn the trip into a fun adventure? Not only will you break up the long drive with interesting stops, but you’ll also be able to relax and unwind before the unpacking begins.
If you’re looking to plan an unforgettable road trip, use this guide to find:
- Planning tips and a road trip checklist
- A list of things to bring
- Expenses to budget for
- Helpful apps to download
- Ways to stay entertained
- Safety tips for long distance driving
Let’s get started — adventure awaits!
How to Plan a Road Trip
Whether you’re hitting the open road for just a few days or spending several weeks taking the family to your new hometown, there are several ways to make it an exciting experience. Start by planning out the best route and finding activities everyone will enjoy and then get ready!
Mapping the Route
The route you take will largely depend on your objective. Do you want to take a pretty direct path or are you willing to venture out and see a lot of sights along the way? If the goal is to quickly get from point A to point B, a smartphone with GPS capabilities is likely all you’ll need. But if the trip is part of the adventure, it will take a little more planning.
One of the easiest ways to map out a scenic route is to start with the GPS-suggested trip and then look for interesting sights along that route. For example, if you’re driving from Colorado to Ohio via I-70 East, you could stop in St. Louis, Missouri, to see the Gateway Arch and the St. Louis Cardinals’ stadium. Or you could visit the Indianapolis Zoo when you drive through Indiana. Check out sites like TripAdvisor® or Yelp® to look for fun attractions, or use one of these cross-country road trip routes for some pre-planned ideas.
Getting the Car Ready
Have a mechanic look over the car you’re taking before you leave (or run through a car maintenance checklist). This will ensure critical components like tires, air filters and belts are in good working condition. The last thing you want is a breakdown!
If you own multiple vehicles and plan on keeping the whole family in one car, choose the one that’s most dependable, but also consider fuel efficiency and space. A newer car may be a great option, but if it isn’t big enough to hold everything comfortably (or is so large you’ll pay hundreds of dollars extra in fuel), another vehicle may be better.
It’s also a good idea to think through the route and time of year when making a choice. Will you need 4-wheel drive or a more powerful engine? Making sure the car has the appropriate features will make the drive easier.
While spontaneity is a fun part of a road trip, some things may require advance booking. If there’s a certain attraction you want to see, a special hotel you want to stay at, or an event in a town that will make rooms or restaurants difficult to get into, make reservations ahead of time. You’ll need to stick to a schedule to meet those plans, but it can pay off in the long run.
Things to Bring on a Long Car Ride
Several things make long car rides more enjoyable: pillows, blankets, coolers, and snacks to name a few. Just be sure to pack these essential items first, so you know how much room you have left:
- Emergency kit
- Jumper cables
- GPS and/or map
- Bottled water
- Device chargers
- Trash bag
Then, add other items each person wants to bring along.
Pro Tip: Depending on the size of the vehicle, you may want to limit each passenger to one medium-sized bag. This will save space for souvenirs and make riding more comfortable.
Road Trip Expenses
Worried about how much the road trip will cost? Make a daily budget by figuring out how much you want to spend overall and dividing that by the number of travel days. Focusing on a daily amount can help prevent overspending. Don’t forget to account for these costs:
Looking to reduce expenses? Try camping in some areas instead of staying in hotels — just bring a tent and sleeping bags. You can also buy food at grocery stores to limit fast food stops and gas station snacks.
Pro tip: Remember to alert credit card companies of travel plans. This will help prevent accounts from getting frozen because of abnormal activity.
Phone Apps for Long Drives
Consider downloading these apps. They might come in handy during the drive:
- Google Maps. See maps with real-time traffic updates to help navigate new cities.
- Audible. Download and play audiobooks.
- AccuWeather. Get up-to-the-minute weather forecasts.
- Waze. See info about community-based traffic and navigation to avoid potential road issues.
- SitorSquat. Find public restrooms.
- Along the Way. Find food, parks and other destinations along the route.
How to Stay Entertained
There are several ways to make driving long distances entertaining. Seeing the sites and having quality conversations with everyone in the car are fun places to start, but sometimes you need a little help curing boredom. Use this list of 26 road trip games for technology-free entertainment ideas, and bring along items like a music device with fun playlists, books (get audiobooks so everyone can listen along), a deck of cards, or travel board games.
Safety Tips for Long Road Trips
Staying safe on the road will ensure the trip is a good experience for everyone involved. Get to know the laws for each state you’re passing through, and follow some best practices to avoid driving while tired.
Before setting out, look up the laws for each state you’ll pass through. While you'll be following the rules of the road when it comes to speed limits and other traffic rules, each state has laws for things like wearing seatbelts and texting or talking while driving. It’s also wise to look up car seat and booster laws if you’re traveling with kids. Make sure those seats are installed correctly (visit the local police or fire station for assistance if needed) and that you have the proper one for each child.
While not a law, it’s recommended to avoid driving more than two or three hours at a time without taking a break and limit driving to 500-600 miles per day. This helps keep everyone alert and happy! Stop more frequently if conditions are unfavorable or if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Frequent yawning or having trouble keeping your eyes open
- Zoning out and being unable to remember the last few miles
- Repeatedly driving onto the rumble strips or out of your lane
Driving in the winter? Follow these safe driving tips for snowy and icy conditions.
Planning a Road Trip?
We would love to hear about your upcoming adventure — leave a comment below!
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