If there’s one question I get most often when speaking with people about our extended road trips it has to be “How do you plan your long road trips ?”. Ok, I have to be honest here, the MOST frequent questions are “How do you spend that much time in your car?” and “Did you win the lottery?!?!!”, but road trip planning questions do make the top five list. :-) I have to admit it can be daunting, but over the years we’ve come up with a bit of a system. Here are our tips on how to plan a road trip route and keep it fun and adventurous!
How Much Time Do You Have?
For many people, a road trip is a means to a destination while on vacation. They plan on driving hours on end, as fast as possible, to get to their destination without planning on doing anything along the way. We make all of our trip routes part of the vacation so that every day is fun and exciting.
We normally schedule our days in about 10 hour driving increments. We all have our own individual tolerances for how long we can be in a car, so this one varies greatly from person to person. Don’t forget to factor in time for rest stops and food. When I say we drive for 10 hours, I mean 8 hours of actual driving with two hours of slacking off. We normally stop several times to walk and water the dogs, in addition to picnics, and random u-turns to take pictures of weird roadside sites. So if your destination is 12 hours away, it could be a lot more fun to break that into two 6-hour driving days with lots of stops in between.
Balance Driving vs Sightseeing
Lauren and I love to sight-see from the car and make a lot of random stops along the way, but sometimes there are days we just don’t want to get back in the car. Even hardcore road trippers like us needs time off from the road. :-) We normally drive for 2-3 days and then stop in a city or national park for a day or two of fun before getting back on the road. Planning for it, allows us to make sure the non-driving day is chock full of fun. On our last trip from Florida to Alaska, we did this extensively and it made for a wonderful adventure.
Don’t Draw a Straight Line
There are times we’ve been tempted to just plug an address into Google maps and just follow along. While that’s fine if your planning a trip across town to buy that vintage snoopy snow cone maker you always wanted, it won’t do you much good for an extended road trip. Unless of course you actually like staring at miles and miles of cornfields along the interstate and want to become an expert in all things “rest area”. What I’ll do is use maps to rough out a route and then divide it up from there. If the map tells me our destination is 24 hours away, I’ll take that and break it into 3 driving days. Then we’ll see what cities or sights are about 8 hours away and head in that direction. It can make the trip slightly longer, but you experience so much more! The best example of this I can give you is something I ran across the other day. Let’s say I was planning a trip from Atlanta to Yellowstone. While I could drive in a straight line North West and get there faster, I could also take a slight detour north and hit Chicago for a day. Then once we’ve had our fill of hot dogs and Oprah, head due West and have our fun at Yellowstone. This also perfectly dovetails into my next point.
Never Go the Same Way Twice
This is one of my cardinal rules in life. This holds true for me if I am going to the grocery store or across the country! Planning a circular route is the best way to make sure you will have just as much fun on the way home as you did on the way to your destination. It also gives you twice the chances of getting lost and finding some really cool or offbeat, roadside attraction. If you’re not on the backroads you miss a lot of cool stuff. If you’re having trouble making a circle, try taking two different highways that run near each other. For example, I might take the interstate to a city, and then take a rural highway back.
Mix it Up!
If you really want to make your trip feel extra spontaneous, pull out a map and have your family each place a pin somewhere they want to see that is in the general direction your headed. Then connect the dots in a loose circle and you’ve got yourself the beginning of a route! When we were planning our drive from Miami to Seattle we did something similar. We made points on the map along our way to Seattle and back that had friends and family or a cool city, then based our route along that. Doing so made sure we had lots of stopping points, and also made sure we were having a great time.
Plan on Changing Your Plans
As much as you can effectively plan your trip, there will be a point when it will go sideways for one reason or another. Expect it. The more you travel, you actually learn to revel in it. Spontaneity is one of the things that makes life great, and it can make your travel absolutely wonderful. On our last trip a hotel booking problem in Portland led us on a 2 day adventure that changed our route and resulted in an amazing drive through a secluded redwood grove.
Hopefully following these tips will help you plan your next cross-country ramble successfully! If you always make sure your road trip route is part of the fun, your guaranteed to have a great journey and enjoy the destination.
If you have any of your own planning ideas, tips, or questions, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.
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