How to Plan a Road Trip

By Meg Jernigan; Updated June 08, 2017

Planning the great American road trip

How to Plan a Road Trip

A road trip is a beautiful thing. You and a companion, navigating a long drive through the country, avoiding life’s cares. A little planning – or a lot – can go a long way toward assuring you do, indeed, avoid those cares.

A little Google (maps) goes a long way

Fast, graphically appealing and only occasionally frustrating, Google maps are among the best ways to plan a road trip. Enter point A and point B, choose whether you want highways or back roads, and if you’d like to avoid tolls or take the ferry. Add intermediate stops, choose your mode of transportation, calculate mileage, or drag the route line to include points of interest or avoid construction. If you want to get granular and see if a particular road through the mountains is a two-lane with no shoulders, use Google Earth or Street View for a close-up look. Send the information to your smartphone, and you’re ready to pack your bags. If you’re short on planning time, Google Trips will plan your route and include things to do along the way.

Other tools

Take a few hours with online resources like Roadside America, a guide to offbeat, unusual or out-of-the-way attractions. Use their app to plan a route and export it to your GPS. If the odd isn’t your cup of tea, a multitude of trip-planning websites will guide you in the right direction and help you find food, lodging and gas along the way. HappyCow, for instance, has a database of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in more than 10,000 cities. Localeur uses tips from locals to provide the best places to play in about 25 U.S. cities.

But, I want to unplug

Toss a road atlas into the car for those times when you don’t want to rely on technology, and keep a compass handy. If you plan to camp, consider buying a guide to campgrounds from a trusted source like Good Sam or Coleman, and familiarize yourself with the national parks and forests that allow free camping. Pack an extra SIM card or two for your camera, so you won’t neehaved to worry about downloading photos until you get back. And, if you can’t bear to part with your phone, remember to pack the car charger.

Things to consider

A roadside assistance plan that covers emergencies like flat tires is a must-have on a road trip. If your insurance company doesn’t offer one, tried-and-true AAA is still your best bet. Consider purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass. The pass covers entrance and amenity fees to more than 2,000 recreation areas. Make copies of your driver's license and your credit cards, and keep the copies separate from the originals. Carry a spare car key. Apply for a gas credit card that awards points, and pay it off when you return home. If you’re traveling alone, let someone know where you are each night, just in case.

About the Author

Meg Jernigan