How to plan a road trip

How to plan a road trip

Road trips always conjure up images of complete freedom. Just you and a buddy or two heading out for a few days of fishing and camping. No bosses; no deadlines; no meetings. Yes! At night, after a meal of fresh-caught trout, you kick back with a Keystone Light or two and spin tales around the dying embers of a campfire. This is a time to rekindle friendships and re-connect with the outdoors.

And though you want the trip to be carefree and unfettered, you still need to pack right. For instance, when pitching a tent, you don’t want to be that guy, the one who forgot the rain fly, tent pegs, or the tarp. Here’s how to do it right.

Unlike a trip that involves flying, you’re free to bring along a lot more gear. Still, it pays to choose wisely and organize. To be the ultimate trout bum (or bass or walleye bum), and get in the most fishing, first figure out where you want to fish. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. A long first day to reach a pristine fishing spot is okay, but you don’t want to do more driving than fishing. You also need to know where you can camp (and whether you need a permit or a reservation in advance).

How to plan a road trip

Gearing up for a road trip is all part of the fun. iStock

When it comes to packing gear, it pays to keep it simple. You don’t need every fly or lure you own. Pick a representative sample for the waters you’ll be fishing. Call a local fly or tackle shop near the river (or lake) and ask what the fish are taking. If you don’t have the right fly or lure, stop by the shop and get what you need. Pack an extra rod or two along with an extra reel. Stuff breaks. Don’t forget insect repellent and sun protection. Seasoned fishing bums will always bring along a pair of comfy slip-on mocs or boots to wear after they shuck off the waders. It sets the mood for the evening to come.

After a long day on the water, you’ll want a couple of ice-cold beers to whet the appetite before you sit down to hearty meal. Best way to handle this is to plan out dinner before you leave. For a three-day trip (perfect for a holiday weekend), figure a medley of grilled chicken and Italian sausage the first night, hamburgers and hot dogs on the second night, and a big ribeye steak for the last night. Fried trout (or walleye) can be part of the menu, but you want to bring along food in case the fish won‘t bite. Hey, it happens.

Packing a cooler is an art. Since you’ll be driving, you can afford to bring along a big cooler or two. Fill one with ice and a rack of Keystone Light; the other will hold your food. Here’s a pro camping tip: fill a couple of empty gallon milk jugs with water and place in the freezer. When stowed in the cooler, they will act as block ice for perishable items, such as eggs, butter, and milk. They’ll also supply water as they melt. Here’s the second pro tip: the more you open the cooler lid, the faster everything warms up. So, only open at meal times and know exactly what you want to extract.

To keep your truck and camp organized, buy some plastic storage bins with locking lids. Mark one KITCHEN. Into it goes paper cups and plastic plates, plastic eating utensils, and cooking utensils such as a chef’s knife, spatula and large fork. It can also hold a seasoned cast iron skillet, coffee maker and grinder, paper towels, and the usual condiments: pepper, salt, ketchup, mustard, etc.

Another bin should be marked CAMP. Into this you put your tent, sleeping bag, tarp, and rain fly. Other key items such as an axe, saw, and rope (to hang the tarp), can go in here as well.

The third bin should be labeled DRY FOOD. Into this goes bread, crackers, hard cheese, salty snacks, and canned goods. The fourth bin should be labeled MISC. Into this you’ll put wooden kitchen matches, flashlights (yes, more than one), spare batteries, and portable propane canisters for your camp stove. You may also want to bring along a gas lantern, the hissing of which has been a hallmark of fishing camps for generations. But the more modern approach would be rechargeable camp lights. And because your truck is a portable closet you can also bring along a portable power station that can power those lights and charge your phones and Bluetooth accessories.

Enjoying time around the fire. Julie Rotter/Uplash

You get the general idea. By figuring this all out in advance, you won’t be running around the night before you leave wondering where your sleeping bag is.

If you spend the time before you leave packing the items you’ll need for the trip, you and your buddies will have a lot more fun. And that fun includes sitting by the fire, watching the stars come out at night, enjoying a Keystone Light, and telling all those great stories one more time. Now, that’s living.

Use AAA TripTiks to help plan your next trip. Your TripTik can include points of interest, attractions and events, gas stations, campgrounds, AAA discounts, restaurants, and hotel information along your journey.

How can I get a TripTik?

Use the TripTik interactive online map to plan your route and find points of interest, gas stations, and more. Plus, you can save and access your trips.

Visit a AAA branch to work with a specialist to plan your route and receive your personalized, printed, and bound TripTik.

How to plan a road trip

TripTik is available on the Auto Club App. Use the app to keep your planned trip at your fingertips along the way.

AAA TourBook ® Guides & AAA maps

Digital AAA TourBooks are available online. Conveniently access the same trusted information on mobile and desktop devices.

The AAA Map Gallery has more than 400 online maps of metro areas, national parks, and key destinations to download or print.

Members can visit a AAA branch to pick up free maps for destinations including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and more.

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How do I create a trip online using TripTik Travel Planner?

  1. Once you open TripTik Travel Planner enter your starting location in the search box marked A.
  2. Enter your destination in the search box marked B.
  3. Optional: Use the plus sign to add stops to your route.
  4. Select START TRIP to generate the route.

Once I build my trip in TripTik Travel Planner, how do I save it?

  1. Open TripTik Travel Planner and start by selecting Your Account in the top right corner to log in.
  2. After logging in, select START TRIP to run the route.
  3. In the trip details section below the input fields, select the heart icon to save the trip.
  4. Enter a name for your trip in the Save a Trip pop-up window. Choose a meaningful title so it’s easy to find later.
  5. Select OK to save the route.

How do I find saved trips or places in TripTik Travel Planner?

  1. Open TripTik Travel Planner and start by selecting Your Account in the top right corner to log in.
  2. After logging in, select Your Account (upper left corner) and choose Saved Trips or Saved Places. Your saved trips or places will be alphabetized.

Where do I find TripTik in the mobile app?

Open the app, select the more icon, scroll to the travel section, and choose TripTik Travel Planner.

To download the app, text APP10 to 99000 to receive a link to download the app or visit the Auto Club App page.

How long does it take to get a TripTik in a AAA branch?

Once you and a AAA specialist plan your route, it typically takes 15-20 minutes for a short trip and up to 60-90 minutes for a cross-country trip.

1 Printed TripTiks are only available for AAA members residing in AR, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, ME, MO, MS, NH, NY, OH, PA, VT, and WV. You will need to log in to your account to build your TripTik and submit your order. Please allow 10-14 days for delivery.

How to plan a road trip

Oh, the open road. Such a pleasure. But a great road trip requires a plan.

Travel, in my family while growing up, involved a road trip with a rented trailer in tow. I guess road trips have come naturally to me as an adult. I love them. But it took time to learn how to plan a road trip well.

I think I have the formula down and I’m ready to share.

Without doubt, the key to a successful road trip is the route and this is what I want to help with here. However, there’s more to a road trip than just planning a route, so solo travelers will definitely want to read A Road Trip Alone: Top 10 Tips to Prepare as well.

How to plan a road trip

Table of Contents

Choosing a Destination

There are certain places where I would not road trip solo. I wouldn’t take a route that was too isolated and had sketchy phone access. I wouldn’t road trip in a destination that had a very different driving culture than the one I’m used to. And I wouldn’t drive the most dangerous highways in the world. (Though I did drive the Million Dollar Mile in Colorado. That was one scary drive.)

But, truly, that still leaves lots and lots of road trip possibilities.

We’ve covered many of them on Solo Traveler. Tracey and I have written about our journeys and readers have generously shared their solo road trip experiences as well. Read:

How to Plan a Road Trip Schedule

First, it’s important to know your limits when it comes to driving.

I reached mine on a drive from Sainte-Anne-des-Monts on the Gaspé Peninsula to Toronto in one shot: 1,267 kilometers. I was with my son and we had to get home in time for him to participate in a paddling regatta. We made it, but it wasn’t much fun.

Maybe I should rephrase my opening sentence. It’s important to know what distance you can drive and enjoy in a day. It’s also important to know what time of day is best for you to drive. Perhaps your vision is not as good when driving after dark. Perhaps you tend to get sleepy at the wheel, so mornings are best.

When making a road trip schedule you need to think about both how many hours you want to drive in a day and what time of day is best for you. With this information you can set a schedule. In my experience, I need three days per destination. That gives me half a day on my arrival plus two days in the location. If I have four destinations, I need twelve days for the trip. I might flex on how many days per actual destination but the three days average ensures that I don’t feel that I’m moving too fast.

How to Budget a Road Trip

Budgeting a road trip is similar to budgeting any trip with the exception of no flight costs plus a few add-ons. You need to consider:

  • accommodation
  • food
  • entertainment
  • gas
  • car rental (if renting)
  • roadside assistance
  • car tune-up

Your accommodation costs are affected by your destinations. Some cities are more expensive than others. Your food costs can be kept under control with a car cooler and picnics on the road. As for entertainment, well, the sky’s the limit. If your entertainment is stopping for a swim at an enticing lake, it can be $0. If, however, it’s taking a guided rafting trip or going horseback riding, you costs are a little more.

Look at all the road trips I’ve planned on Google Maps. There are a few in here that I didn’t actually take. They were tests. Either/or decisions being made.

How to Plan a Route with Google Maps

Before Google Maps one had to estimate the time involved when choosing one route over another on a road trip.

I remember on one trip through France deciding to take the coastal route between Nice and Cannes. We knew the coastal route would be longer but had no idea that it would involve over an hour more. It was a beautiful drive but at the height of summer, it was a long one. Google Maps would have told us so.

Here’s how to use Google Maps to plan your road trip route.

  1. Go toGoogle My Maps
  2. Click on “Create a New Map” in the upper left.
  3. Click on “Untitled Map” in the upper left white box. A box will open where you can name your map. Name your map and save it.
  4. Start with your destinations.
    • In the Search bar to the right of the white box, search the name of your starting point.
    • A pin will drop on the map and a box will show above it. In the box, click “Add to Map”. Look on the left and you’ll see that your starting point has been added to an Untitled Layer. Name the layer as Destinations.
    • Use the search bar again to search for what you think will be your next stop. Again, click “Add to Map”. Again, it will be added to your Destinations Layer.
    • Use the same process for all the stops you plan to make. There is a maximum of 10 destinations.
  5. Add a driving route to your map.
    • Click on your first destination pin. This will open a dialog box. On the lower left of this box are a number of icons. One looks like a road fork with one direction having an arrow. Hover over it and it will say “Directions to here”. Click on this.
    • Look on the left and you will see a new layer has been added. Name the layer “Routes”.
    • Your first destination is B and A is empty. Type in your starting point here.
    • Click on “Add a destination” and add your next destination.
    • As you do this for each destination you’ll see your route being drawn on the map.
  6. Modify your route.
    • The route that Google Maps gives you is the most efficient driving route between two places.
    • To modify the route, click on the blue route and drag it to go by any town or attraction you want.
  7. Know your route time commitment.
    • In your Route layer you can click on the three dots to see step-by-step directions. This will also give you total driving distance and time for your trip and for each destination.
    • Surprisingly, while a modified route will show in the step-by-step directions, the driving time does not get updated. This is something that the phone app does easily.
  8. Share your map using the share button beneath the name of your map in the upper left. Click “Enable link sharing,” copy the link, and email to whomever you want.

How to plan a road trip

Road Trip Apps for Routes, Saving On Gas & More

While I like to plan my road trip at home on my computer, there are some great planning apps available for your phone.