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How to Plan the Perfect Road Trip

By Jessie Beck and Udi Onyile

Oct 5, 2021

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Planning a road trip doesn’t need to be a chore.

Photo by Casey Horner

Planning a road trip doesn’t need to be a chore.

Figuring out road trip logistics can get overwhelming—unless you have the right plan in place.

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Road trips can be a wonderful way to travel. Offering the freedom to stop whenever, wherever, they allow you to explore lesser-known corners of the globe, take unexpected detours, and adventure at your own pace. But for many, planning a road trip is less thrilling and more overwhelming—especially if you’re thinking of driving in an international destination with extra logistics to consider.

Fortunately, we’ve done the hard work for you. From choosing the perfect route to making sure you have enough snacks and songs downloaded for the drive ahead, use these tips and resources from the team at AFAR to figure out how to plan your next road trip.

Pick a route: road trip ideas for your itinerary

The Blue Ridge Parkway is an iconic road trip route in the United States.

The first (and, dare we say, most fun) step in planning a road trip is to choose your route and itinerary—be it in the United States or somewhere further afield. Whether you have three days or three weeks, below are some of our favorite road trip ideas around the world.

United States

The United States and road tripping are a classic combination. But with hundreds of thousands of miles of highway throughout the country, there are a seemingly infinite number of routes to choose from. Narrow down your options with these road trip ideas:

  • Pacific Coast Highway: On this classic, coastal California road trip (one of seven must-drive Golden State itineraries), road-trippers will meander from Los Angeles to San Francisco, stopping to take in awe-inspiring views of the Pacific and sample seafood along the way.
  • Oregon Coast: Further north, the Oregon portion of the Pacific Coast highway, with its rocky coastlines and evergreen forests, makes for an ideal road trip for outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Colorado Hwy 50: Prefer mountains over beaches? Then set your sights on this Colorado road trip—best done in the fall—that will take you through small mountain towns, national parks, and historic sites.
  • A classic Arizona itinerary: This route starts in Phoenix and takes travelers through Sedona, Scottsdale, and (of course) the Grand Canyon on a road trip of some of Arizona’s most iconic attractions.
  • Southwest national park route: Explore five of the United State’s most iconic national parks in this 10-day national park-focused itinerary across Utah and Arizona.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway: One of our favorite East Coast road trips, the Blue Ridge Parkway will delight with music, food, and scenery—especially as that fall foliage starts to peak. 
  • Route 66 for whiskey lovers: Put a new spin on the classic Route 66 road trip with this whiskey-filled itinerary, including pit stops to some of the best distilleries and bars along this iconic highway. 
  • Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Highway: Midwesterners, we haven’t forgotten about you. A road trip along the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Highway offers a chance to see endangered landscapes, historic sites, and a German-style brewery that survived Prohibition. (See our full list of Midwest road trips.)

>> Read more: The 17 Best Road Trips to Take in the United States

Europe and other international destinations

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Before buying that Eurail Pass, consider exploring Europe’s scenery by car. Driving in Europe may mean learning a few additional rules of the road (and, depending on the country, getting an international driver’s license) but it’s worth it for those who want to explore harder-to-reach areas. Here are some European destinations best seen by car:

  • Spain’s Catalonia Coast: Skip the beaches of Barcelona and instead head to the nearby Catalonian Coast, where you’ll see Romanesque style churches and the fortified medieval village of Escaló, and enjoy chocolate in Agramunt where the oldest chocolate factory in Europe still operates. 
  • Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way: Drive 1,500 miles of shoreline of Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way, one of the longest coastal touring routes in the world. Visit the pubs, historic sights, and memorable coastal scenery along the way. 
  • Scotland’s North Coast 500: Take a scenic drive through rugged seashores and hilly mountainsides on northern Scotland’s 516-mile-long North Coast 500 route. 
  • Iceland’s Diamond Circle: Turn a visit to Iceland’s landmarks into a road trip by traveling along the Diamond Circle. Experience the geothermal baths, whales, and beautiful views of the horseshoe-shaped Ásbyrgi canyon. 

Need more ideas? Consider driving through Mongolia’s deserts and green valleys; explore beaches, wildlife, and wine country on South Africa’s Garden Route; turn this one-day drive along Australia’s southern coast into a weekend visiting national parks, beaches, and Beauchamp Falls; or head out on one of the most epic road trips through South America on a Patagonian drive through small Andean villages and dreamy lakes. 

>> Read more: 8 Incredible European Road Trips to Take

Choose a vehicle for the journey: car, van, or RV?

Sure you could drive your own car, but if you want more room and a flexible place to sleep, an RV or van is a great alternative.

Whether you’re taking your own car cross-country or renting one abroad for the weekend, the most essential part of any road trip is choosing the right vehicle.

While a standard rental car works for most road trips, renting an RV or camper van might be a better choice for those who want flexibility in where they stop for the night, to sleep outdoors in comfort, or even take their work setup on the go. 

Alternatively, consider driving an electric car to minimize your eco-footprint. Roadways are becoming increasingly more accessible to these types of vehicles (Colorado is one great example of a state with EV-friendly routes), making the choice of going electric more feasible and road trips more sustainable. 

>> Read more: The Best Places to Take Your Van on a Vanlife Adventure

Start booking: select the stops along your route

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Once you know where you’re going and how, it’s time to nail down the details by mapping your route, picking the stops along the way, and booking hotels, restaurants, or activities.

It can be a lot to keep track of, so consider using a road trip planning app like Roadtrippers to help with the route and pit-stop planning. If you prefer to play your overnight accommodations by ear, download Hotels Tonight to book last-minute hotels as you go (if you aren’t already driving your bed around with a van or RV rental).

If you want to take the stress out of planning entirely, though, there are also several companies that will plan your entire road trip for you, such as All Roads North and CrushGlobal, for a fee.

>> Read more: The Best Tools and Apps for Planning a Road Trip

Get ready to go: packing, entertainment, and snacks

Pack plenty of healthy snacks, like whole wheat crackers, to keep you fueled during long stretches of driving.

You have your itinerary picked out. Dates set, hotels booked. Your car (or RV, van, or stylish Airstream) is reserved and ready. Now all that’s left is packing your bags and prepping for the drive.

Pack your bags and your car

As for any trip, you’ll need to pack your standard travel items (clothing, toiletries, chargers, and the like). However, you’ll also want your car to be prepared in case of an emergency—no matter what adventure your plans may include.

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Our essential road trip packing list details all the items you’ll need, but some additional, important items to bring on your drive include a car charger, like the Otterbox USB-C and USB-A Fast Charge Dual Port Car Charger ($30, otterbox.com), to keep devices charged on the go. Also pack a car safety kit. Hopefully, you won’t have to use it, but a kit like the AAA Traveler Road Kit ($41, amazon.com), will have you prepared in case of a dead battery, minor car issues, as well as some basic first-aid scenarios. 

Prepare a few road trip snacks

Whether you plan to make something at home before you hit the road, or pick something up on the go, no road trip packing list is complete without a snack (or three). If you’re not sure what to bring, some of our favorite, healthy road trip snacks include:

  • Nut butter, like Justin’s nut butter ($10 for 10, amazon.com).
  • Sliced vegetables, like carrots and celery.
  • Coconut chips, like Dang Toasted Coconut Chips ($20 for 4, amazon.com).
  • Popcorn, especially lightly buttered and salted brands, such as Skinny Pop.
  • Whole grain crackers, like Triscuit originals, which are easy to find on the road.
  • Beef jerky, but not the highly processed stuff. Look for brands such as the New Primal, which are lower in sodium and sugar.

Be sure to bring along a cooler to keep everything fresh, and pack reusable cutlery for impromptu picnics along the way.

Download ways to stay entertained

To stay entertained on the road, load up your phone with podcasts, music, and audiobooks before you go. Old favorites are always good to have on hand (especially those songs you can’t help but sing along to), but if you’re looking for some new inspiration, here are some of our top picks:

  1. Podcasts: Download podcasts by Black creators and some of our favorites for road trips and long drives (including AFAR’s very own Travel Tales and family-friendly picks).
  2. Music: Listen to the best road trip songs of all time.
  3. Audiobooks: Get lost in a story with one of our 15 favorite audiobooks.
  4. Games: Try one like like Psych! Outwit Your Friends, (apps.apple.com; play.google.com) for a little extra on-the-go entertainment.

>> Next: 16 Fall Road Trip Ideas Throughout the U.S.

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