In this guide I’ve condensed the process into seven steps that will teach you how to plan the perfect road trip. The sooner you get the wheels in motion the sooner you can meet new people, find new getaways, and gain new experiences!
This past July my girlfriend and I decided to take a road trip across the United States from Massachusetts to California. We saved up our money for a couple months and decided to hit the road. Neither of us had ever traveled on our own without the help of a school or organization to plan our stops and money management so this entire trip took roughly a month to plan. Here’s my advice to you:
Step one: Save your pennies
This is the hardest step of them all, so if you aren’t the best at rationing your paycheck like we were this step will take the most time. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a month long adventure, you’re going to have to over save… because having no money in the middle of nowhere sucks.
During this trip, we from coast to coast and visited over 30 of the 50 U.S. states in 3 and a half weeks. We left on July 17th and got back on August 9th. By the end of it, we spent roughly $3500 for the entire trip, including:
$1500 on hotels
$150 per week on food
$30 per week on gas (we drove a 2008 Toyota Corolla)
Giving us roughly $220 a week to spend on campsites, park fees, gifts, tolls, etc.
We used Trip Cost Calculator to calculate how much gas we would use over the amount of miles we planned to travel to get a general idea of how much to budget into our gas in total. Managing your finances correctly is the prominent step when learning how to plan the perfect road trip.
Step two: Pick your destination(s)
We knew our end goal was going to be California but we had no idea where we were going to stop along the way. Here are a few links that may help you decide places to visit in the United States:
2. This website helped us calculate exact gas costs, driving time and driving distances. Make an account so you can save your work and access it from any device. Then, add in all your sightseeing locations. Make a list of all the places you want to visit and add them into the website. It will order your stops in the most time efficient way possible, but you have the ability to order them however you like.
Step Three: Find your hotels
After you plugged in your desired locations, you’re going to have to break up your driving time. If I could plan our trip any differently, we would’ve done a lot less driving time. Although it was necessary to have long drives to complete the entire road trip in under a month, it was tricky budgeting our time. Keep in mind you want time to be able to stop and take in what you see, which is hard to do when you have a 15-hour drive ahead of you and you need to make check-in.
We took our desired locations, noted the amount of time each drive would be, and searched for hotels around the destination we would be in during each day. In other words, if we knew we would arrive in Albuquerque, NM around 7 p.m. on day 2, we would book the nearest room for the best price we could find so we could end the day there and check in on time.
Use a Third Party App
Using a third party app is a huge perk on how to plan the perfect road trip. After multiple conversations with front counter hotel employees, we found out third parties are selling some of these same hotel rooms at a third of the cost of what the hotels website will charge you. We used hotels.com to book all our rooms, and we couldn’t have been happier with the service. With this website, when you book and stay ten nights you get one night for free. Another perk of going third party is when you’re faced with a hotel room that wasn’t nearly as good as the reviews said it was and the hotel won’t reimburse you for the bug ridden room you just stayed in, hotels.com will.
Make sure when you book a hotel room you know what the minimum check-in age requirement is. Most of the cheaper motels and hotels are 18-years-old but some of the more expensive hotels tend to be 21, sometimes even 25-years-old. Make sure you do your research and call the hotels that don’t post their minimum age check-in requirement online. The last thing you’re going to want to do after a long drive is find a last minute hotel room because you didn’t check first.
Keep in mind that some hotels charge your credit card upon check-in. Account for those that do and make sure you have at least that amount saved to pay for those rooms.
Step Four: Make an itinerary
This step is one of the most important. After everything is planned out, you’re going to want to make a list you can reference. This list should tell you how long driving times are between each stop and roughly what time you’ll be arriving at each stop. It’s so convenient to just pull up the list on your phone to see if you’re on time, time you have left or what extra time you have.
Step Five: Packing
Pack according to how long you’ll be traveling. Lugging in six suitcases and a cooler into a hotel room every night sucks. Pack light to minimize the space you take up and the amount of things you have to remember each day. It’s important to remember clothes for about half of your estimated journey. Detergent, dryer sheets, and a bag of quarters for laundry is wicked convenient. Don’t forget toiletries, road snacks, towels, and a camera. A perfect packing strategy is key to how to plan the perfect road trip.
Step Six: Hit the road
With your money saved, destinations planned, hotels booked, and belongings packed you have just about completed this survival guide on how to plan the perfect road trip and you’re ready to hit the road! However, you’re going to want to make sure your car is reliable enough to get you there. Get your car an oil change, check your tire pressure and maybe buy new tires, windshield wipers, etc. The last thing you want is to get stuck on the side of the road because you didn’t check your oil.
Step Seven: Take it day by day
Remember, you’re taking this trip for a reason. Whether it’s to have a weekend getaway or a trip of a lifetime, it will be what you make it. Don’t look foreword to the next state or the next day or even the next hour. Take in everything you see, because it’s possible you may never see the same place again.
Share your insight on how to plan the perfect road trip in the comments below!
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