Next month, we’ll be going on another road trip and since I’m in the process of planning it, I thought I should share with you such process. Mr A and I have been exploring the World, one road trip at a time, for quite a while now and since I’m the organiser of such trips, I have gained significant experience in how to best plan a road trip.
If you’re thinking of hitting the road, read on to learn how to plan the best road trip.
First thing first! Do your research! An epic road trip starts on the web! 😉
1- Choose your destination
The possibilities are endless so choosing a destinations is entirely up to you! Having said that, not all destinations are created equal for road trips.
Chose wisely, consider your experience, your style and the things you want to be doing. Taking into consideration the season you will be travelling might also be a good idea. Who you will be travelling with could be important as well… And if you’re going to road trip across several countries, be mindful of the visa and stay requirements.
Staying safe while making the most of your time should be your priorities!
2- Choose the places you want to see
The next thing to do is to research the places you want to see and check opening dates & times, availabilities, restrictions and so forth. Write them down or keep them in mind as they will be important for your planning. You don’t want to arrive at a place at 5PM and learn on site that the last tour was at 4:30PM.
Also keep in mind how long those things you want to do might take. A hike to Trolltunga is 10 hours so the best way to plan it is to arrive the day before and leave the next day. The visit of a cathedral or a castle can be as short as 30mn but the queue might be 3 hours. Do your research well!
And take notes of any dress code recommendations that might apply right away. You will need those to pack your suitcase!
3 – Draw a preliminary Itinerary
Once you’ve selected the places you want to see, use Google Maps to draw a first draft of your itinerary. It’s kind of like playing the game where you connect dots with lines and a drawing appears. Here, the dots are the places you want to see and the lines, the roads you will take. Google Maps is your pencil and will allow you to visualise your itinerary instead of a squirrel or an elephant!
Don’t think solely on distance. You will not drive as fast on a winding mountain road as you would on a highway so when looking at the map, pay attention to the estimated time required to drive from A to B, not just the distance. And add a bit of margin for road work, traffic jam… all the things that might delay you.
You may not want to rely solely on Google Maps. If you can purchase road maps in advance, I totally recommend it. It might sound like old school in this era of GPS, but the truth is that they don’t work everywhere. Murphy law will apply and your GPS is bound to not work when you need it most! Having a good & detailed road map in advance will make your planning easier.
You can also use travel forums to check road conditions and get other recommendations. Just don’t over do it. There will always be people who found this or that great and others who found it terrible, no matter what you are looking for. And remember that people who found it terribly bad, usually scream louder than the others.
4- Dig dipper and refine your itinerary
Once you have a preliminary itinerary, dig a little bit dipper into it and check the feasibility and timing and be realistic about how your days will look like.
It’s tricky to give advise on this part because it depends of your style, how early you want to hit the road in the morning, how much you want to drive, how many places you have selected…
So let me give you an example:
Mr A and I tend to get up early but we take our time in the morning, so we usually don’t hit the road before 9AM. We drive until 11AM or so, and have a first break. Our first stop of the day can be a 2 hours long hike in a National park followed by a picnic, the visit of a castle, a church, a museum or a city tour followed by a late lunch, in the best vegan restaurant in town of course 😉 … We usually hit the road again around 3PM and drive for another 2 hours or so. So around 5PM, we reach our final destination of the day. We usually check in our hotel (check plan B section to understand why this is important!) and then go on to visit the second destination of the day. Again, this can be anything but the key here is that the hotel is close by and there is no more real driving involved.
So in a day, we drive around 4-5 hours maximum and our driving brakes are not done by the highway side but rather use to see the things we want to see!
Note that we tend to avoid driving at night in places we don’t know. It can be hard enough to understand road signs & find your way during day time and the night makes things that much more difficult. We’re not even going to talk about drunk drivers passed a certain hours…
Yes this is a roundabout in a tunnel! Had to show you!!
Of course, sometimes we stay more than a day in one place. Sometimes we start the day much earlier or much later and sometimes we change our plans!
This example is just to give you an idea of how to organise your days on the road. Because if the only things you get to see during your road trip are the highway toilets, you’ll probably be a bit frustrated. 😉
With this example in mind, think of how you want to plan your days during your trip, go back to your Google Maps itinerary and see how it all works out. Make the necessary adjustments based on all the above points and conditions.
5 – Find your accommodations
The next step in planning your road trip is to find your accommodations along your itinerary. I’m not saying you should book every single nights of your trip, in fact you probably shouldn’t, because that restrains your flexibility. What I’m saying is that you should at the very least, have a good idea of what type of accommodation is available where you’re planning to stop. There might not be anything! So this is a very important step to not miss! If there are no accommodation around the place you wanted to stop, what will you do? Sleep in your tent or change your itinerary? It’s up to you, but this is exactly why you should check in advance.
Don’t underestimate the stress associated with not having an accommodation! If you haven’t experienced, just believe me!
The other reason to check out accommodations, in advance, is to try to make the places you’ll be sleeping in as much a part of the trip as the place you are visiting. Think of haunted castles in Scotland, glamping facilities in one of Kenya’s reserves, sleeping in a church in France or an igloo in Norway. It’s worth spending time researching what is available so you don’t miss out on a great experience.
And of course, although it’s not always necessary to book accommodations in advance, in some areas and depending on the season, you might need to, that is if you don’t want to sleep in your car. Be smart about it.
6 – Finalise your itinerary
So now that you have a list of all the places you’re going to see, a good idea on how to get from one place to the other and how long it takes and you even know where you’ll be sleeping at night, check one more time your itinerary.
Is it realistic? Is it safe? Is it flexible? Is it fun? Make any necessary adjustment.
Congratulation, you have finalized your road trip itinerary! Save, print, and share with your friends & family so they know where you will be.
Now you can start making the necessary bookings. The tour of this fantastic castle which needs to be reserved, the hotel next to the incredible hot springs… If you feel like booking all your accommodations, go ahead. But again, know that this will restrain your flexibility so if you don’t have to, only book what is necessary.
Just one final thing….
7 – Have a plan B!
Yeah, you have a great itinerary for your next road trip. Now, do work on your plan B! 😉
And I hear you thinking: Wait, what? You want me to do it all over again?!
Well, no, of course not!! Or not completely at least! But do think of alternatives, just in case.
Shit happens and sometimes you can’t visit the places you wanted to. A few examples we had to deal with? A National Park closed because of fires, a bomb alert in a museum, a wedding in the cathedral we had planned to visit, a mile long queue we weren’t ready to cope with, a visiting permit obtained and cancelled at the last minute, National strikes, flooded caves, all sorts of bad weather of course and a few places closed for unknown reasons.
Shit also happens with accommodations. Think of your safety first and try to have a list of alternative accommodations at hand in case the one you had selected isn’t safe, or simply isn’t up to your standards. Remember I told you above that, Mr A and I usually arrive at destination around 5PM everyday, to check in our hotel? Well this is not just to enjoy the pool or the spa… It is in fact mainly to have time to put plan B in motion if needed! If you arrive at 10PM, you will most likely be stuck where you are. If you arrive early enough, you have time to turn around and find something else.
This applies even if you have booked your hotel. One of the last time we travelled through Belgium, the room in the hotel we had booked had mold in the bedroom. Yerk! We argued a bit with them but since they didn’t have any other room available they cancelled our booking and reimbursed us and we went somewhere else.
Think of your plan B as a stress reducer because that is exactly what it is!
Congratulation! Not just because you made it up to here but because you are now ready to plan the best road trip possible for yourself!
So next I’ll tell you how to not make rookie mistakes on the road…
Meanwhile you might be interested to read this article describing the things to plan before hitting the road.
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