How To Plan A Road Trip: Ultimate Step By Step Road Trip Planner

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If you’re looking for a step by step guide on how to plan a road trip, you’ve come to the right place! Road trips can be a lot of fun, but they do require some planning. We walk you through the process of planning your perfect road trip. From planning your road trip route to preparing to leave and everything you need to know along the way. This is the ultimate road trip planner!

road driving through forest in autumn

The Ultimate Guide To Planning A Road Trip

Road trips are a great way to see the country and spend time with family or friends. But, before you hit the open road, there are a few things you should do to plan for your trip.

How To Plan A Road Trip: Starting With The Basics

Before you start planning your road trip, there are a few things you need to decide on, including who is travelling with you on the road trip, when, how, where and so on. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to plan the perfect road trip:

Step One: Choose Your Destination

The first step in planning a road trip is to choose your end destination. Often we have our final destination in mind before we start planning a road trip, but sometimes if the goal is to take a road trip, this might come second.

Step Two: Plan When You Are Going

The next step is to choose when you want to travel. This will help determine what kind of vehicle you need, how long the trip will take, and what route you should take.

If you are heading off during the peak holiday season, you need to consider the impact this will have on your trips, such as the possibility of more cars on the road, availability of accommodation or campsites and higher expenses for certain attractions.

The weather also plays a role in this decision.

ROAD TRIP TIP: Depending on where you live and where you are travelling to, you may need to consider the possibility of snow on the roads or weather events that may impact your route.

Step Three: Plan Your Road Trip Budget

woman planning road trip on her bed

After you have decided on your destination and dates, it’s time to start planning your trip budget.

How much money do you have to spend on this trip? How will you be paying for things like accommodation, food, and activities along the way?

One of the benefits of road tripping is that it can be done relatively cheaply if you are willing to camp or stay in less expensive accommodation options, and if you are using your own vehicle compared to hiring.

If you are planning to camp, make sure you have the right gear for camping and that your vehicle can accommodate all of the gear.

If you are not planning on camping, research different accommodation options along your route and compare prices.

One way to save money is to look for accommodation options that offer kitchenettes so you can cook your own meals.

All of this impacts your overall budget so make sure you consider all the different costs before you leave, as well as those once you are on the road!

Step Four: Choose Your Vehicle

The decision on whether you are taking your own vehicle or renting one will also impact your road trip planning.

If you have a smaller car, you may need to consider renting a larger one for the trip if you are travelling with multiple people or plan on camping.

If you are taking your own vehicle, you will need to consider the maintenance of the vehicle and if it is up for a long road trip.

You should also get a sense of how much fuel the trip will require and if you need to take any extra steps, such as getting new tyres and complete vehicle service.

FIND RENTAL CARS FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP:

If you are renting a vehicle, you need to consider the cost of rental, fuel and any insurance that may be required, as well as the type of vehicle – car vs camper vs caravan.

You also need to decide how many people will be travelling with you as this will impact the size of the vehicle you need.

Step Five: Decide On Your Route

The next step in planning your road trip is to choose your route.

There are a few things you need to consider when deciding on your route:

  • How much time do you have for your road trip?
  • What is the distance between your start and endpoint?
  • Will you be doing a return trip or one way/flying back?
  • What are the must-see points of interest along the way?
  • Do you want to take the quickest route or the most scenic route?
  • Do you want to travel through major cities or bypass them?

All of these questions will help you decide on a basic road trip route to get you started with planning in more detail.

How To Plan A Road Trip Route

mapping out a road trip route on a map

There are several ways to plan an epic road trip route. We will explore with you a few different ways so that you can decide on the one that suits you best.

For us, our preferred method tends to incorporate a little of each of these route planning methods, starting first with the most basic starting point and endpoint and our travel time frame, then mapping out the moving parts in the middle.

In most cases, your start and end date will have very little flexibility, which is why it is essential to always start with the non-negotiable portions of your road trip, before working out the finer details.

ROAD TRIP TIP: An important consideration is deciding how long you want to travel each day. If you are taking kids on a road trip, keeping your drive time to only a few hours a day might be essential.

If travelling with teens and adults, you can usually cover longer distances spent in the car.

Planning Road Trip Stops & Attractions

road trip planning printables

The next step is to start planning what you want to see and do along the way.

Again, there are a few different ways you can go about this.

You can either plan your road trip around specific attractions or regions that you want to see, or you can let the destination decide what you do when you get there.

This is why it is always important to know of any must-visit attractions you want to see before you start planning your route.

This will help you to ensure you have the time to see the things you want to see and allow you to plan your stops to suit these highlights.

ROAD TRIP TIP: If there are no or few must-visit attractions along your route, you can instead plan your road trip stops based on how much distance you want to cover each day, allowing you to work out suitable stops based on travel distance instead.

How To Plan A Road Trip With Google Maps

One of the most popular ways to plan a road trip is by using the Google Maps app or website.

Google Maps allows you to input your start and end destination, as well as any stops in between and will make it easy for you to determine distances between stops and estimated travel time for each leg of the journey.

You can also use Google Maps to find interesting places and hotels near your planned stops, which can come in handy when you are trying to plan a road trip to areas you are not familiar with.

This is much more effective than using a paper map since you get accurate calculations for distances and drive times.

planning a road trip on google maps

To use Google Maps to plan your road trip:

  • Open google maps and click on the blue arrow icon for directions
  • Enter your start and end destinations in the search bar
  • Click on the menu icon (three lines) and select “add a stop”
  • Enter any additional stops you want to make along the way
  • Google Maps will now show you the route, distance, and estimated travel time for your journey!

Our preferred way of using Google Maps is to use it to estimate the distances and times between stops, rather than as our overall planning tool.

I usually map out our road trip routes with a notepad and pen or spreadsheet, taking note of distances between different stops until we find the perfect combination of travel times and attraction locations to suit our overall trip time frame.

This usually results in having a few different routes or stops to consider until we decide on the perfect option for us on that particular road trip.

When doing return routes, we use this method to also change the stops on the return trip to give us the opportunity to explore different areas compared to the starting route.

For example, when planning our Western Australia Perth to Kalbarri road trip, we drove Perth to Geraldton to Kalbarri on the way up, then Kalbarri, Jurien Bay to Perth on the way back. This mean half an hour more driving on one day vs another but allowed us to spend a half-day in a different city.

ROAD TRIP TIP: With Google Maps, you can also save your road trip route to use offline later, which can be handy if you are planning a road trip in an area with patchy or no phone reception.

Along with this, Google Maps makes it easy to plan petrol station stops, food, accommodation and attractions by exploring the map of the surrounding area.

Use A Printable Road Trip Planner

printable road trip planner

One handy tool that can help you plan your road trip is a printable road trip planner.

These planners come with a variety of different features to help make planning your road trip as easy as possible.

From mapping out your stops, distances and times to planning your attractions along the way.

A printable road trip planner will also help you to track your budget, important information such as booking confirmations and accommodation addresses and simply to keep everything in one easy place.

While most of us are switching to digital planning tools for a lot of our travel, having an all in one printable road trip planner can be perfect for visual planning!

You can get our mammoth printable road trip planner to save you so much time and potential stress!

Using An App To Plan A Road Trip

Another popular way to plan a road trip is by using a free travel app. The process of using a plan a road trip app is quite similar to Google Maps, yet with extra functionality added in. Some of these apps do cost, either as a once-off fee or as a subscription for unlocking the services.

There are a few different apps on the market that can help you to plan your road trip, but one of the most popular choices is Roadtrippers App.

Roadtrippers App

Roadtrippers is a free app with paid options that allows you to input your start and end destination as well as any stops in between and will give you an estimate of the time it will take to complete your journey.

It also shows attractions, hotels and restaurants along the way as well as petrol stations and the maps are available offline. Plus it shares in-app deals for its travel partners too.

One handy feature of Roadtrippers is that there are loads of road trip itineraries already in the app that you can use to get started!

You can also add in the type of vehicle you will be using for your road trip so that it can factor in things such as width restrictions and height clearances for bridges etc.

Once you have planned out your perfect road trip route, Roadtrippers makes it easy to share with friends or family so that everyone is on the same page!

USE CODE “BTR5QTP” TO SAVE $5 OFF A ROADTRIPPERS APP SUBSCRIPTION

Campermate

Another App we have used for Australia and NZ, particularly when travelling by campervan in New Zealand was Campermate, which is more so for planning campsites and accommodation stops when camping or road tripping by van.

We actually used it on the fly, without a lot of preplanning for our overnight stops and it was great for finding free or low-cost campgrounds.

You may also decide to use a different app for fuel stations

Packing For A Road Trip

family packing car for road trip

Packing for a road trip can be challenging, particularly if you are planning to camp along the way.

You need to make sure that you have everything that you will need for your journey as well as making sure that it all fits into your vehicle!

A great tip is to start by making a list of all of the things that you will need for your trip.

Then, once you have your list, start to group items together by where they will be used.

For example, all of your camping gear can go together, all of your clothes can go together and all of your food can go together.

Once you have everything grouped together, it will be much easier to start packing your car or campervan. This also helps you work out if there is anything extra you need to purchase before your trip as well.

Make sure to leave some extra space for things like souvenirs or any purchases that you make along the way!

If you are planning on camping, another great camping hack is to pack your gear in plastic tubs.

This will keep everything clean and dry and will also make it much easier to set up and pack up your campsite each day.

You can find more tips on packing for a road trip here.

Save time and grab our complete road trip packing list or our printable RV camping packing lists for your next trip.

Road Trip Meals

One of the best things about road tripping is that you can control all of your food options!

You can save money by cooking most of your meals on the road and you can also eat healthier as you have more control over what you are eating, rather than being limited to the places you pass along your road trip stops.

We usually like to stock up on snacks and easy to prepare meals for our road trip.

Some of our favourites include lots of no-cook meals, like cheese platters, wraps and rolls, sandwiches, fruit and vegetables and snacks like nuts and fruit.

Also, make sure to pack plenty of water!

If you are planning on camping along the way, then you will need to make sure that you have a cooler or esky to keep your food fresh.

You can find some great road trip meal ideas here and also grab our FREE PRINTABLE ROAD TRIP MEAL PLANNER.

Road Trips With Kids

kids listening to music during road trip

If you are planning a road trip with kids, then there are a few extra things that you need to take into consideration.

First thing, make sure that you plan plenty of stops along the way so that everyone can stretch their legs and have a break from being in the car.

You will also need to make sure that you pack plenty of snacks and drinks to keep everyone happy.

It is also a good idea to bring along some toys, books and games to keep the kids entertained during the drive.

As much as you might prefer to leave the devices at home, sometimes having a movie downloaded on an iPad or music and headphones is exactly what the kids need to get through a long distance in the car!

You can find more tips on road tripping with kids here and recommendations for the best road trip toys and games to keep them entertained.

Also make sure you check out our mammoth road trip activity book loaded with printable activities, games, puzzles, colouring sheets and journal pages kids will love.

Other Road Trip Tips & Hacks

We’ve covered a lot in this guide on how to organise a road trip, but that’s not to say there aren’t more great tips to help you prep for your fun car adventures!

Here are some more of our favourite road trip hacks and planning tips whether this is your first road trip or one of many:

  • If travelling during peak season, book hotels and campgrounds as early as possible to avoid missing out
  • Make sure you have the required National Parks passes if you plan on passing through or visiting any
  • Check the benefits of your local auto clubs for member discounts on accommodation and attractions
  • If planning day trips at one of your stops, ensure you have enough time if you are still planning to travel that same day
  • Make use of offline maps in case of poor cell phone coverage
  • Have a car charger for your phones and devices
  • If taking your own car, ensure you have comprehensive car insurance and also consider getting travel insurance to cover your possessions and any other incidents along the way
  • Allow for extra time for traffic, road works or traffic incidents that might occur, along with dreaded motion sickness
  • Make sure you check the road trip essentials for all our packing tips
  • And if you’re planning to camp along the way, check out our step by step guide for planning a camping trip too!

Get The Ultimate Road Trip Planner

Need more help planning your next road trip? Grab our mammoth printable planner!!

Ultimate road trip planner

Our Ultimate Road Trip Planner includes all of the features we could think of to make planning your road trip as easy as possible!

It includes mapping out your route, budgeting, packing lists, accommodation and attraction planning and more! With over 40 printable pages of resources and planning sheets.

You can grab your own copy of our Ultimate Road Trip Planner here.

Planning a road trip can be a lot of fun, but it can also be challenging. That’s why we’ve put together this step-by-step guide on how to plan a road trip to help make the process a little bit easier for you. From mapping out your distances to planning your meals and packing your vehicle, there are a lot of different parts to planning road trips!

Where did you travel on your last road trip? Tell us in the comments below!

How To Plan A Road Trip