By T.J. Colquitt
Road trips are an exciting way to explore the country, get to know yourself or other travelers and gain memorable experiences, all on an appropriate budget. Before you hit the road, though, spend time planning for the trip so you can best prepare for any experience that may pop up.
How Long Is the Trip?
Before you pack up and head out, think about the length of your trip. How many days of paid time off from work do you have available? Which destinations are on your bucket list? How long can you stay at each place? Asking yourself these questions allows you to better plan how much of the country you can explore. This makes it a lot easier to budget time for each stop.
If you’re about to embark on a journey with friends or family, ask your travel buds where they want to go, too. Work together to find places that you all want to visit; determine how close all the stops are and how much time you want to spend at each place. This helps everyone feel included.
How Much Will it Cost?
The next step is setting your budget. List all the purchases you must make during the trip, keeping in mind that it’s best to build a larger budget to prepare for any unexpected occurrences.
First consider essential expenses like where you’ll stay, where you’ll eat and what your vehicle expenses will be. After that, you can plan for non-essentials like the cost of visiting the places on your itinerary. Research online to more accurately estimate how much each item will cost, depending on the travel location and season. Remember to include the following items:
- Road snacks
- Rental car, if you’d rather not put miles on your own vehicle (plus insurance for the rental car)
- Places to stay: Airbnb, hotels, campsites, etc.
- Dine-in and fast-food restaurants (keeping in mind that some restaurants may be difficult to get into because of social-distancing regulations)
- Entry fees to any historical sites, museums or other attractions you want to visit (which may also be subject to social-distancing rules)
- Extra money to replace items you may have forgotten
- Extra cash in case of emergencies
After you build a list of your estimated expenses, figure out how you can cut any of these costs to build a more affordable budget. For example, instead of eating at the drive-through every time you’re hungry, you can pack healthy snacks and meals to munch on during the trip. Even better, bring a cooler to refill with ice from the gas station and pack sandwich ingredients, veggies, fruit, etc. This saves you money and unnecessary calories.
You can also stay at campsites, budget-friendly hotels or with friends whenever possible to help save extra cash. If you’re traveling during a busy season, like the summertime, consider booking hotels a month or two before your trip to secure a room before it hits capacity.
Mapping Your Route
With a budget and schedule planned, it’s time to map your route.
A great method is to go old school by breaking out a physical map and a pencil. Go online and find other attractions along the way; if any look interesting, build a stop into your time budget. Look up the hours of each site you want to visit to give yourself plenty of time to make it to that destination before it closes.
For the ultimate scenic route and to cross some cool historical sites off your bucket list, consider driving on the legendary Route 66 for a portion of your trip. Stretching from Los Angeles to Chicago, it contains some impressive historical landmarks like the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo Texas and more.
You can also travel up north by driving from the west coast near Seattle to New York, then up to Maine. View sites like the Great Lakes, Glacier National Park and Acadia National Park, and explore bustling cities like New York City.
Don’t forget to factor in time for random spots that are advertised on highway signs. These can be places like Walt Disney’s childhood home in Marceline, Missouri, Abraham Lincoln’s house in Springfield, Illinois, and more. Your road trip should be full of adventure and seeing new things, so don’t be afraid to be spontaneous.
What to Bring
Now it’s time to pack.
For a road trip, without the size/weight restrictions of plane travel, overpacking is the best strategy. Prepare for all kinds of weather by packing jackets, shorts, tennis shoes, sandals, etc. You’re better safe than sorry.
If you’re visiting national parks, hiking trails or climbing mountains, pack comfortable clothes you can move in (which will also help during long car rides). In addition to essential items like food, water and batteries, also items to use just in case, like flashlights, sunscreen and phone chargers.
If you end up underpacking and forgetting most of these items, stopping at stores to replace them can add up in terms of both money and your road trip time.
Planning for Emergencies
Though it’s not fun to think about, emergencies can happen. So, it’s best you prepare yourself for any potential problems beforehand.
Right before you leave, brush up on your basic car maintenance in case you must change a flat tire on the road. If you’re driving your own car, take it to a mechanic right before the trip to get its oil changed and make sure it’s ready to travel a long distance.
Look at the weather forecast the day before you leave to mentally and physically prepare yourself for the conditions ahead. You may have to drive during icy, snowy or rainy conditions, so make sure your car can handle anything you may encounter. Ask the mechanic to look at your tires to see if they have enough traction to handle different weather patterns.
Right before you head out, make sure you have a roadside safety kit and spare tire packed in your car. In case anyone injures themselves during the trip, pack a first aid kit. Make sure you have plenty of money on hand in different spending forms like credit cards, debit card, or cash in case any of it gets stolen. You may also want to join AAA or make some other roadside-assistance arrangement.
Cross-country road trips can be an exciting journey way to see the country. By following these guidelines, you can have a safe and memorable trip of a lifetime.