Whether you have gone on a road trip before or are new to road tripping all together, this step-by-step road trip planner will prepare you for the adventure of a lifetime by helping you decide where to go, what to bring, how to prep yourself (and passengers), and how to prep your car for the open road. Our road trip tips can help to make the road ahead smoother. Plan a road trip and explore our beautiful, diverse country along the way!
Step #1: Select an Awesome Road Trip Route
Before you can start planning a road trip, choose the perfect road trip route for your adventure. Remember: perfect to you might not mean the same as your passengers, so if you’re driving with a group, make sure to include everyone in these decisions.
Here are a few questions to help determine where your road trip route:
- How much time do you have?
- How much driving do you actually want to do?
- Will you have to fly to your starting point?
- Do you want to cross country borders?
- Are you travelling with kids? Friends? Driving solo?
- What kind of weather are you wanting to drive and venture through?
- Are you a dirt road seeker or prefer a smooth drive?
- Do you want to see man-made or natural attractions?
- Do you want to hit the beach or lake?
5 Great USA Road Trips to Kick Off Your Planning Fun!
Historic Columbia River Scenic Byway in Oregon
Length: 70 miles, 3-5 hours
Drive through Oregon, through the Columbia River Gorge where this notable North American river is most breathtaking, surrounded by greenery and deep forests. Just beyond the river, this American road trip features large, breathtaking waterfalls. You’ll also drive through the Pacific Crest National Trail, leading you over the Bridge of the Gods and into Cascadian Locks riverside, where you can set up camp and have a refreshing beer and bite to eat at the local pub. Because this route is a shorter distance, it is perfect if you live close enough and want to take a weekend road trip with some awesome scenery. This is also a great add-on if you’re looking to see more of Oregon as you drive through.
Overseas Highway Along the Florida Keys
Length: 113 miles, just under 4 hours from Miami, FL
This road trip is for beach-lovers and sun-seekers. You’ll travel from mainland Florida to the islands of Key West where you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous beaches and teal waters. You’ll also be driving on an engineering marvel, the Overseas Highway which spans out an impressive lengths into along the peninsula. Keep your sunnies, bathing suits, and sunscreen handy for this road trip!
Bourbon Trail in Central Kentucky
Length: 5 Days following the Guide: How to Do the Bourbon Trail
For those who like a bit of history and love their bourbon, this is a must-go road trip. You will be right at the heart of where bourbon was first distilled and learn about the man who started it all, Daniel Boone. Check out some of the best distilleries that make top shelf bourbon and make sure you pre-select the DD for each day. Along the way, you’ll spot lots of thoroughbred horses grazing roadside!
Main Street of American: Route 66 USA Road Trip
Length: 2451 miles (It’s a long one folks)
A legendary road trip that takes you all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles with notable roadside attractions. You’ll have lots to look at along the way as you experience a part of American history. This route follows a part of one of the first transcontinental highways, the National Old Trails Highway.
Length: 270 miles approx.
This road trip will take you through the gorgeous Adirondack Park, featuring endless woodlands with an abundance of meadows, streams, lakes, and trails to be enjoyed. Along the way, you’ll find yourself at the summit of Prospect Mountain, then through the village of Bolton Landing where you can stay the night in the historic Sagamore Hotel. From there you’ll pass through Fort Ticonderoga, Paradox Lake, and Placid Lake. You’ll also be passing through tons of other lakes, so make sure to bring your bathing suit!
These are just a few ideas for you to get your juices flowing. Other resources for the best road trips in the US and Canada.
Check out these sites for more ideas:
- America’s Best Road Trips – National Geographic
- 10 Best Bucket-List Road Trips – USA Today
- Top 10 Best Canadian Road Trips – Reader’s Digest
- Great Road Trip Ideas – Huffington Post
Step #2: Set Dates and Book Sleeping Arrangements
Once you’ve selected where you’re going on your road trip, the next thing to do is figure out when exactly you’ll be going and where you’ll be sleeping along the way. Depending on the road trip, you may want to consider any seasonal weather to be avoided; not all road trips are suggested for summer, so plan your trip when the road conditions are safe and attractions are at their peak.
When you’re setting the dates, book sleeping arrangements like hotels and campsites — especially if you’re going to be driving through national parks – as early as possible. A road trip is fun, but sleeping in your car isn’t.
Travelling through National Parks? Keep This in Mind:
You are not allowed to sleep in your car overnight if you’re not parked in an established camping area in national parks. While this might not be a concern for all road trips, the best thing is to find out whether you’ll be travelling through a national park and plan accordingly. Learn more about sleeping in your car, a.k.a. ‘boondocking’.
If you’re not one to plan every detail out too far ahead and like to go with the flow of the road and where it takes you, then at least check to make sure that potential campsites don’t require a reservation and aren’t at full capacity and hotels are already fully booked before you leave. You may also need to be flexible on your overnight accommodations; as first-choice hotels and campsites may not be available.
Step #3: Start a Checklist of Supplies and Gear
Where you’re going will determine what supplies you’ll need for your trip. By starting your checklist ASAP, you’ll be less lucky to come up short or forget important things. Here’s checklist with 25 essentials needed for an awesome road trip:Road Trip Planner Checklist
These 25 items are just a starting point; each road trip will require different supplies. Use this checklist as a guide to get you thinking of what other items you will need to be comfortable, safe, and have fun!
Step # 4: Get Your Good Tunes Ready for the Long Drive
Now, on your road trip checklist, music should be at the top and organize before you head out. While most of our phones are getting more reception in very rural areas, there’s always a possibility that you won’t be able to stream your favorite Spotify playlist. It is a good idea to save and download your favorite playlist while you’re connected to Wi-Fi (saves tons of data, too).
If you’re a playlist creator though, start dropping your favorite cruising songs into a Road Trip Playlist and save it for offline use; you don’t want all that hard playlist curation to go to waste! Also make sure to give it an awesome name! Who knows maybe it will become a trending Spotify playlist.
For those who need inspiration or who want to have pre-made playlists, here are some of the best road trip playlists I found for you:
Hand-Picked Spotify Playlists for Your Next Road Trip:
- Most Wanted Hits by Digster Playlists (64 songs, 3 hr 44 min)
- 90’s Hip Hop by Topsity USA (94 songs, 6 hours 43 min)
- Family Road Trip by Spotify (64 songs, 6 hours 58 min)
- Jeremy Clarkson’s Driving Playlist by Sunday Times (10 songs, 46 min)
- Beach Vibes by Poty Camargo (110 songs, 6 hours 52 min, Suggested by clouds atlas on Reddit)
- Big Country by Cody Reer (845 songs, 51 hrs 8 min)
- 80s Smash HIts by Filtr US (151, songs 10 hr 7 min)
If you have other suggestions for great road trips playlists, feel free to comment at the end of this post! Let others know so they can enjoy great music while on the road.
Step #5: Prep Your Car
If you’re car isn’t in good shape, you may want to consider renting a car. Yes, this may cost a bit more, but having a safe road trip is just as important as having a fun road trip. The best road trip cars are the ones that will actually get you there!
If you’re planning to drive your own car, make sure it’s in good shape. There are two main things that you should do prior to your departure date:
Get the Green Light to Go
The first step in prepping your car for a road trip is to make sure it is running properly. If you have just gone for a tune-up and oil change and your mechanic said there was no major work to be done in the near future, you’re all set. Certain older cars do go through more oil though, so double check that before leaving.
If you haven’t gone for a tune-up recently, do so before you go. The last thing you want is to have car problems in the middle of nowhere. Not only will it cost a fortune to have it fixed quickly, but it will cut into your trip and you might have to miss a couple of stops. Road trip planning and having your car checked before could save you money and time.
It Is All in the Details
Having a clean car means more room for all your road trip supplies. You could get it cleaned by a professional, but that can be costly. If you’re like me though and would rather take things into your own hands, try these Car Cleaning Pro Tips.
Let’s face it, messes may happen on the road, but at least starting fresh with a clean car means you won’t be adding to the dirt.
You can also use these 5 Car Detailing Products that You’ll Likely Find in Your Bathroom.
If you own seat covers, this would be a good time to give them a good spot clean and vacuum. If they are really dirty, check the cleaning instructions. If you don’t own any or have been considering them, this is the perfect time to look into buying seat covers.
Note: Most seat covers are custom made, so you will want to order them in advance so you have time to install them.
Step #6: Prep your Phone
Your car isn’t the only thing to prep before you hit the wide open road. With smartphones increasing number of apps and features, they are becoming an extension of our lives. Therefore, having them prepped for a road trip is just as important as packing your suitcase.
Here are a few suggestions for you to download before you go:
5 Smart Road Trip Apps
A community-based app that will give you real-time traffic info and navigation. It is considered one of the largest crowd-sourced navigation app out there so you can expect accurate data for your selected road trip route.
For those who like a little spontaneity while travelling, this app is right up your alley. You can select routes not only based on mileage and total time, but you can also choose fun, interesting, and scenic routes. The routes you’ll find on this app have actually been suggested by locals, which is pretty cool; you’ll see what they see!
This road trip app embodies all things quirky and unusual, offering unique attraction suggestions to travelers. For those who love checking out oddities like the World’s Largest Jack-in-the-Box or the Jimmy Carter Peanut Statue, then this app is exactly what you need to add a bit of fun (and crazy) to your summer road trip.
Keep track of your trip and mileage automatically with this handy app. Trip Log detects your movement and begins tracking your road trip. This one does require a power source, bluetooth, or you can set it on a timeframe for tracking.
This app uses your location and lets you know where the closest gas station is. This is a must-have app because, let’s face it, you do not want to be stuck on the highway waiting for a tow truck or some nice passerby to stop and offer help.
If you’re in need of a quick bathroom pit stop, this app will locate the nearest one. Beyond that you will get details about the pit stop and ratings from previous bathroom-goers. I don’t know about you, but I may choose to go an extra few miles to avoid restrooms that have received a questionable rating and review.
Don’t Forget The Kids and Prep Their Phones Too
This step also applies for any mobile or portable devices your kids will be using while you’re driving. Jam packing them with movies, games, and anything else that will keep them entertained will make for a more enjoyable trip for everyone. Just make sure the movies and games don’t need Wi-Fi to watch or play. You don’t want them racking up your bill and there’s always that chance you won’t always have Internet access at all.
Geeks With Juniors has created a super helpful list of road trip apps for kids. They not only tell you which ones you should download, but also what ages each app is most suitable for; worth checking out if you’re a parent travelling with littles ones.
Step 7# Pack Your Car
Pack your car the day before you plan to leave and make sure that you’re ready to go first thing in the morning. This is supposed to be vacation, right? One that is hopefully stress-free. Start your road trip right by packing your car and bag with lots of time to organize and make sure nothing is forgotten. There’s always going to be last minute things you need to grab, but at least this way that’s all you have to worry about.
Need a bit of help organizing all your stuff? These will help!
Keep Your Essentials Close By
Make sure the essentials are easily accessible. Basic necessities like water, snacks, and napkins should all be within arm’s reach. Electronic devices and their chargers should also be handy — or better yet, plug the chargers in prior to leaving, so they are ready for you when needed.
Travelling with kids? It is going to be a long drive and having toys, diapers, baby food all easily accessed (not buried by camping gear), will keep your kids happy and you sane.
If you’re flying to a closer location and then road tripping from there, make sure you pack your suitcase the night before too.
BONUS STEP: When You Get Back
When you get back from your road trip, you’re likely to have a bit of a mess in the car from your travels. While you may not want to give your car a deep clean right when you get home, don’t leave it too long. You may find that dirt and stains are harder to get out. And maybe even a few gross hidden treasures left behind from your passengers will make the job a whole ordeal when left too long. Better to just get it over with and you won’t have to think about it and just remember the great summer road trip you just had!
Safe travels, everyone! Have fun out there and don’t forget to take lots of pictures!