Planing or not planing is kind of THE question before leaving on a road trip!
But actually I don’t think there is one perfect answer to this question, the choice is yours and only your travel style matters.
If you don’t know what you want, if it’s your first road trip, you might want first to chose an easy destination (please think twice before heading to Kenya and think you are going to be safe driving across the country! I’ll explain one day…) and plan this first trip quite extensively. Once you have this first experience, you will probably feel more adventurous next time… Take it a step at a time and learn about yourself!
Personally, on a scale 1 to 10, I consider myself to be a 5 or 6 planner. My friends would laugh at that statement, thinking of the numerous times we didn’t know where we were gonna go a few days before leaving!
But really, even if last minutes we do plan things and this is how it goes:
Once the destination is chosen, I do a fair amount of research to have a good idea of what we should do and see and what the constrains are. Constrains can be opening time of the place you want to go to, limited access, permission to obtain, accommodation which might be lacking or which need to be booked months in advance or the restaurant you absolutely wanted to go to which is closed on Sunday….
One example of failure to plan was when we were in Tenerife and had not understood that a permit was required to be able to climb to the very top of the Teide. Not the biggest disappointment of all but a bit more investigation would have solved that.
From my researches, I roughly plan the best itinerary. The goal is to find a realistic and interesting way to travel from and to the various selected places. Being on the road can be exhausting, so we usually avoid driving for more than 3 to 4 hours per day. If there is something on the way to visit, it’s usually even better! I certainly try to find some small reasons to stop along the way as often as I can. After all road trips are not just about driving, at least not for us.
Of course Google maps are great, but I normally use a good old fashion map to do the preliminary itinerary. The reason is that I need to see it often, change things around, have a good idea if the roads are practical or if another way would be better. It also gives a sense of an adventure coming, but that´s just me!
At this point, we usually haven´t booked anything yet and are first going to discuss the pros and cons of the itinerary and check together if it’s going to work out.
When last in the US, we did a round trip from SF, but originally I wanted to drive from Denver to Los Angeles like above (more details here). Unfortunately I had a hard time fitting what we really wanted to see with such route. I quickly looked up for flights, and also had difficulties finding anything reasonably priced. We therefore decided to start and end in San Francisco and it made everything easier considering our criteria.
When in Turkey, we did this which is something I had thought about but not what was planned at all! We were originally going to fly to Istanbul and I was hoping to drive down to Ismir and Pammukale and than fly to Cappadocia. But at the time of our departure, strikes had started in Istanbul and it looked more reasonable to avoid.
Planning is important but flexibility seems to be even more important, at least for us. You just never know what can happen!
Once we agree on the general idea of the itinerary, that’s when I start looking for flights and I normally also book the hotel for the first nights in city of our destination. Andrew handles the car booking of course… and that’s it! The rest is decided along the way…
There are 2 main reasons why this works for us: the first reason is that we tend to travel in off-peak seasons. Booking a hotel near a major attraction is usually easy. The second reason is that it’s just the 2 of us. You probably want to do more planning if traveling with family or friends, just to be sure the whole experience remains an enjoyable one for everybody.
So the question to ask yourself before planning or not planning your road trip can be as follow:
- How adventurous are you?
- How much stress will it create for you if the plans don´t go well?
- Or if you have no plan and you end up just driving and not seeing any of the things you had hoped to see, how will you react?
- Do you have specific goals? places you want to absolutely see?
- How flexible are you about sleeping in not so great hotels or even in your car?
- Are all the travelers on the same page in terms of what the planning or non planning choice means?
- Are you on a tight budget?
- When are you planning your road trip?
And of course planning your road trip includes also packing the right suitcase, having the right information accessible, an enjoyable playlist and the right car!… But that’s for another post…