In this guide, I offer you concrete advice to create a road trip itinerary. If you want to hit the road to a new destination, designing a realistic route is essential to enjoy the trip: having time to visit each place properly, while limiting fatigue between the stopovers of the trip!
But creating a road trip itinerary also means giving yourself the freedom and flexibility to stay longer in a place you like, or to make some deviations from the planned stopovers in order to seize the opportunity of an interesting discovery.
How to optimize the schedule? How can you adapt your travel plans to your personality and your tastes? Here is some advice!
- Is a road trip made for you?
- 1. Define the duration of the trip
- 2. What type of driver are you ?
- 3. Choose the right country and destination
- 4. Choose the right vehicle
- 5. Establish the main stopovers of your road trip itinerary
- 6. Anticipate the practical formalities
- 7. Create a realistic road trip itinerary with Google Maps
- 8. Define the details of the places you want to visit
- 9. Book the accommodations for your trip (or not)
- 10. Learn about the road traffic laws in the destination
Is a road trip made for you?
Originally, the road trip is a trip by car, which consists in exploring several destinations during the same stay, going from one to another as you go. It is therefore a vacation concept in which the journey is as important as the destination!
Over time, the definition has become more flexible, especially in light of current environmental concerns. Starting with the mode of transportation! You can go on a road trip by cargo bike, by van, by bus with other travelers, by motorcycle… You can also consider a road trip close to home – France, in my case! – to discover the local heritage.
A single common point: the pleasure to be on the road, not to stay static during the whole trip!
The road trip can suit you…
- If you like to explore different places without necessarily sleeping in the same place at night;
- If you like to seize opportunities without necessarily planning everything in advance: a meeting, a place you hear about, a place that intrigues you at the time…
- If you consider that the road is as much a part of the trip as what you visit once you get there.
If flexibility remains the key word for this type of trip, a little planning is still necessary! It would be a pity to lose time or to waste a stopover because you did not estimate the travel time correctly or were a little too ambitious on the program! Here are some tips to create a well-thought road trip itinerary, step by step.
1. Define the duration of the trip
You won’t plan the same itinerary if you only have one week of vacation and if you can leave much longer, 2 or 3 weeks for example, to explore the world. Indeed, the road trip is neither a sprint, nor a marathon! It is not a contest of the one who will see the most cities in a short time… and it is not a grueling program that will leave you on your knees at the end of your vacations!
Keep in mind that if you choose a distant country, you will have to deal with the fatigue of the trip and the time difference, so it is better to plan more time on site than if you leave a few hours from home.
On the other hand, the “configuration” of certain destinations naturally requires more time: for example, in the United States or Canada, the distances between two large cities are quickly counted in hundreds of miles. It is therefore necessary to anticipate a longer stay than in Europe, where you can be in Paris on Monday, in London on Tuesday and in Brussels on Wednesday (well, it would be a pity to spend that little time in each city, though!)!
Beyond the duration, keep in mind that the cost of living can vary drastically from one region of the world to another, directly impacting the budget of your road trip: gas, lodging, activities, restaurants..
Everyone has their own vision on the subject: some people prefer to travel at all costs even if it means travelling in more spartan conditions; as for me, I am one of those people who prefer to wait (or to leave for a shorter period of time) but not to deprive myself! It’s up to you to see what suits you best to keep your budget reasonable.
2. What type of driver are you ?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you had a driver’s license for a long time?
- Are you used to driving?
- Are you comfortable in all environments (city, mountain, etc.)?
- Are there any conditions that put you off (driving in the snow, at night, driving on the left/right of the road)?
- Do you have a problem with long distances?
- Will you be the only driver on the trip or not?
Your answers may already point you to some things to watch out for when it comes to planning your road trip itinerary. For example, I just got my driver’s license, I know I wouldn’t be comfortable in a country where people have a reputation for driving like crazy or in complex traffic conditions (small mountain roads at the edge of a ravine, I’m talking about you!).
On the other hand, if you are a seasoned driver, enjoy driving and plan to take turns behind the wheel with your travel companion, you can consider a more ambitious program.
These elements will also be important in deciding whether to take your own vehicle or to rent one. In any case, you will have to think about insuring your vehicle. Many websites offer car insurance comparison tools.
If you are already insured, check the terms of your contract:
- Where in the world do the guarantees apply?
- Do you risk crossing, even occasionally, a country where your car insurance is not valid (in which case you should consider an extension of coverage)?
- Are you covered if a second driver takes the wheel, and under what conditions?
- Do you benefit from a very limited coverage (civil liability only, where you are only compensated if you cause damage to a third party) or more complete (fully comprehensive insurance for example)?
Remember also to look at the amount of the deductible (the amount that, whatever happens, remains at your charge if a problem occurs). These administrative precautions may seem tedious, but they will help you on the spot if the trip brings its share of unexpected/unpleasant events!
3. Choose the right country and destination
It’s time to let your tastes speak for themselves, in light of all the more rational elements I have just given you!
There are actually many travel possibilities and the “classic” USA and Canada are far from being the only countries suitable for a road trip! Think about your passions: discovering a culture in the world, taking beautiful pictures, doing sports activities, etc.
You can design beautiful itineraries in South Africa, Morocco, Australia, India, South Korea, Senegal, etc.
You can plan island or archipelagos tours: Hawaii, DOM-TOM, Sicily, Minorca, Azores, Cape Verde, Iceland, Corsica, Crete, Sri Lanka…
You can go off the beaten track and, thanks to your vehicle, explore countries that still have little tourist infrastructure, such as Albania, Romania, Oman, or countries that remain quite protected from mass tourism at present, such as Poland or Kazakhstan…
You can rely on safe bets: visit France, Spain, Portugal, England…
You can set yourself a theme if you like challenges! For example, create a road trip itinerary in Germany to discover the country’s most beautiful Christmas markets, follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter in England and Scotland, etc.
As you can see, there are no real limits. Of course, the media and the literature promote road trips that are very much focused on adventure (far away destinations, long distances…) but this is far from being the only formula that exists and your curiosity will give you many other ideas!
4. Choose the right vehicle
If you are leaving with your own car, you will simply have to anticipate a revision before departure: check car fluids, check the pressure of the tires, see if you need specific equipment (roof box, etc.), possibly have some tools (and rags) available for urgent repairs if you have some basic mechanical knowledge.
Often, you will opt to rent a vehicle, especially if you are going far from home. In this case, think of adapting the choice according to :
- The type of road you’ll be driving on – Will you have to navigate narrow roads with a vehicle that is easy to handle and park? Will you be traveling long stretches of highway requiring a quiet, powerful car? Or will you be navigating winding roads?
- Loading – Whether it’s for luggage or passengers, you don’t want to cram several people into a Twingo to cover hundreds of kilometers (unless you want to lose a few friends in an epic fight!);
- Vehicle consumption – It is well known that some types of vehicles consume much more gas than others. If you travel long distances, the price of gas can quickly affect the budget of your road trip.
Also think about the equipment you might need: car seat if you are traveling with children, etc. It is sometimes more profitable to buy them for a few weeks (or to take your own on the plane) than to rent them.
5. Establish the main stopovers of your road trip itinerary
At this stage, I advise you to adopt a very broad approach, by defining the main stages of your trip: which cities, or which places of interest do you absolutely want to see?
Then, a very simple method consists in typing on Google : “How long to visit XXX ?”, replacing of course XXX by the city or the place you have identified. You will find many forums with travelers’ opinions on the subject.
They will tell you for example : “You can visit this city in one day but if you want to see this place, it is better to stay 2 days”. Or “If you want to enjoy the beaches, plan 3 days. Otherwise, 2 days are enough to explore the city”.
This feedback is valuable because it will give you a general idea of what is realistic or not. You can then adjust the duration a little according to your own way of traveling: for example, if you like to see “the essentials” without necessarily hanging around, you may have a tighter schedule than someone who likes to go deeper into each city.
6. Anticipate the practical formalities
Will you need a passport? Are your identity documents up to date or do you need to renew them? Some countries require that they be valid for 6 months after your return date.
Also consider whether your destination requires an international driver’s license. Depending on where you’re from, you may need to have your French license translated.
7. Create a realistic road trip itinerary with Google Maps
Creating a road trip itinerary means first of all estimating distances and travel times. Google Maps is a tool accessible to everyone to do this, and I am referring more precisely to the “My Maps” tool.
It allows you to design custom maps and save them on your Google account to access them from anywhere. You can also share them with your friends and co-travelers. The service is free and available online here.
On your personalized map, you can first add layers: each layer is an “information layer” of the map. For example, you could have a layer with a list of all the good restaurants/hotels, a layer with the cities you want to visit, a layer dedicated to the routes, etc.
You can then add markers: you can place on the map markers of your choice to indicate a city, a place of interest, a nice viewpoint, a practical place (gas station, etc.).
In addition, it is possible to complete the map with the routes by simply clicking on the “Draw a line” button under the search field. Then select on the map the starting point and the arrival, as here.
You will then see the route portion appear with your layers, as well as on the map itself.
By clicking on the three dots to the right of the route, then on “detailed instructions”, you will be able to view the distance and travel time.
Of course, it is also possible to calculate your itinerary with the “classic” Google Maps if you want to have an overview of the traffic at a specific time of the day for example. The menu “Leave at” or “Arrive at” allows you to adjust the times.
Depending on your preferences and the duration of the trip, you can either create a road trip itinerary on a single map, or work by city or group of cities.
The Roadtrippers application is also a very popular road trip planner.
How many kilometers to drive per day?
The answer will depend on the destination and the nature of the roads! In the USA, for example, it is difficult to avoid some long stretches of road because of the distances between cities. Often, your stages will not be linear: there may be some long stages of 500 km and shorter stages of less than 200 km.
If your schedule includes some long stages, I advise you to find out about the sights that could be on the route! Google will be a gold mine, you can also ask the question on travelers’ forums: are there interesting things to see near such or such road?
Sometimes, instead of the traditional and a bit boring break in a freeway area similar to a thousand others, you can go and visit a small craftsman’s workshop, stop in a nice village that offers good pastries… A great way to cut a long journey with pleasant moments that will prolong the pleasure of traveling!
8. Define the details of the places you want to visit
You can now list the places you really want to visit in each place you will pass through. It can be monuments, beautiful viewpoints, museums, unusual places, restaurants to try, activities to do…
Don’t try to fill the schedule to the minute! Indeed, one of the great assets of the road trip is your mobility: to be able to seize an opportunity, an idea suggested by someone you meet on the spot, to make a small detour to see an unsuspected curiosity… A successful trip will also be, sometimes, made of some changes of program to take advantage longer of a destination which seduces you and to pass more quickly on another one which proves to be a disappointment.
9. Book the accommodations for your trip (or not)
When it comes to reservations, there are two schools of thought: some people prefer to book all the accommodations in advance to be safe, others don’t in order to keep the total freedom to modify the itinerary.
Simply take into account the characteristics of the destination and the period: is it imperative to book, for example, because it is a place where there are few accommodations and many requests, because it is high season?
If you do not have this type of constraint, you are free to choose what suits you best. Often, in remote destinations, it is relevant to book at least the first night. This allows you to recover physically from the long trip and makes you less vulnerable to scams you are exposed to when being tired.
You can also book at least the “major stages” of the trip: this is a security, because if you have to spend a few improvised nights in uncomfortable conditions, you will appreciate having more pleasant milestones on the program, with a good bed and a clean bathroom.
10. Learn about the road traffic laws in the destination
One last useful precaution before you leave: read a few articles about the rules of the road (official or unofficial) where you are going. A Google search such as “driving to/in + destination” (e.g. “driving in England”) can give you useful information on traffic laws, violations, speed limits, the operation of toll booths or restricted driving zones (low emission zones, etc.).
It is also an opportunity to find out about gas stations, their location and their operation.
All that remains is to prepare your luggage and think about your comfort on the road, by preparing a good playlist for the journey!
Finally, note that there are now many useful applications to enjoy your itinerary: Google Maps allows you to download local maps to be able to access them even when you don’t have network access; the “Gas Now” application helps you locate gas stations at the best price; “Flush” to find public toilets… So you can leave with peace of mind!