Road trip, Tips

How to plan your first road trip

Road trips hold a special place in my heart. For our honeymoon, my husband and I embarked on a week long adventure traveling to different US states. We figured, if we truly want to see the beauty of each state, the best way to do it is to go on a road trip. Aside from the routine trips to San Francisco, neither of us has experienced an all-American road trip. We didn’t exactly know what we’re getting ourselves into. Thankfully, my husband married quite the planner. After hours of research, I finally came up with a solid itinerary for our trip. So how did we exactly prepare for our first road trip? I’ll give you the scoop.

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1.  Pick your destination.

  • When we planned our honeymoon trip we had trouble deciding where to go. We really wanted to see everything! It was our first time traveling outside of California and Nevada so we got a bit carried away with our itinerary. We drove to Salt Lake City and stayed for a night, then Yellowstone the next day. Afterwards, we set our sights on South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. We barely got our bearings when we found ourselves heading straight to the lively city of Denver. Picking the destination was exciting for us because it was a collaborative effort. It wasn’t just what I wanted to see but I made sure that my husband would also be thrilled when we reach our destination and vice versa. No matter where you decide to go, make sure you include your traveling companions in the  brainstorming process. It’s more fun that way!

 

Road Map 1

2. Decide how many days you will be out on the road. 

  • This is important because it will determine how far you can travel outside of your home/state. If you only have the weekend, it’s best to pick a destination close to you. But if you’re lucky, like us, and have a whole week to explore, then by all means.. go crazy! Have you been daydreaming to go see the canyons in Utah? Or you just can’t stop talking about how you’ve been wanting to sink your teeth into the delicious beignets in New Orleans? The possibilities are endless!

3. Prepare a realistic budget.

  • The budget for your road trip can be broken down into these categories: gas, lodging, food, admission/activities and misc. It’s good to prepare ahead of time but remember to be realistic when you calculate your costs because there will always be unforeseen changes. Also, there are some things that are worth splurging during your vacation. If budget is tight, make sure you prioritize. Pick one that you would really enjoy doing. If you love trying out new dishes, then splurge on food. If there are some activities that you’ve been wanting to do, then splurge on that. The key is to have a good balance on your budget.
    • GasThe only non-negotiable factor during your road trip. Tips: 1.) Use gas apps to help you find the cheapest gas during your trip. We use Gas Buddy and it works perfectly! 2.) Find a gas station away from the city. The closer you are to the city, the higher the gas prices are. 3.) Plan your routes wisely! Don’t end up getting lost and wasting any of your precious fuel.
    • Lodging I admit, I’ve never really gone camping (I’d love to try it someday). I like the comforts of a bed and a clean bathroom after a long and exhausting drive. But until then, I do try to find a cheap accommodation during our trips. There’s a variety of travel search engines you can use like Kayak, Expedia, Hotels.com and Priceline. We like using Orbitz when we book hotels because of a neat feature that they have called Orbucks. The way it works is you sign up for free and you get credit each time you book through Orbitz that can later on be redeemed for future bookings. It’s simple, fast and get’s the job done. But If you’re more of a camping type, then kudos to you because you’ll get to save hundreds of dollars.
    • Food- The best way to save money on food is to bring your own. Before our trip, we usually stock up on snacks and ready-to-eat meals from Costco. Sometimes, I also cook one of my husband’s favorite Filipino dish, Adobo, that I pack with rice (super easy to cook and yummy). Eating fast food is obviously unavoidable but at least by bringing your own food, you can keep it to a minimum. Tips: 1.) Invest in a well insulated cooler to store your food until you get to your destination. We got our collapsible cooler at Costco for $24.99. 2.) Book lodging that has kitchenettes. If your lodging doesn’t provide free meals, this can help you stay in budget by cooking your own food. There’s always going to be a supermarket nearby where you can purchase your grocery items.
    • Admissions/Activities- If you have a thing for national parks like I do, then you should definitely get the Annual Pass. For only $80, you get full access to all national parks for a whole year. How awesome is that? As for the other recreational activities you plan on doing during your trip, choose which one’s you would enjoy the most. Don’t forget there’s several outdoor activities you can do that you don’t need to spend a dime on.
    • Misc- Renting a car? Then you should get insurance. I know some people think that it’s the car rental company’s way to get more money out of you; and trust me I’ve thought of that too. But it really just makes your trip stress free. Trust me, it’s worth it!

 

Roadtrip drive 1

4. Make sure your car is ready.

  • Before hitting the road, make sure you do pre road trip car check and don’t forget to assemble an emergency kit just in case your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. A little preparation will come in handy when you find yourself stranded, thousands of miles away from home, with no cell service and can’t call for road side assistance. Avoid the unnecessary headache by doing a simple maintenance check (you or your technician) before you leave. Here’s a list of what you need to check before you leave:
    • Engine oil and other fluid levels
    • Tire pressure
    • Car battery
    • Headlights, Tail lights and Blinkers
    • Windshield wipers
    • Brakes
    • Air filter

5. Research, research, research.

  • This is the tedious part of the planning. If done right, however, you get to save hundreds of dollars and avoid future headaches. I like reading reviews about the places we go to just to get an idea. But I also make sure that I don’t depend on other people’s experience but rather form my own opinion.

Quick tips:

  • Get a good night’s rest so you’re energized in the morning.
  • Charge your electronics! Cameras, GoPros, Cellphones, GPS, iPads.
  • Make sure your house is secured and everything is turned off (electronics, gas range, faucets).
  • Make sure you have cash. You never know when you might need it.
  • Don’t do all the navigating by yourself. Let your co-pilot help you with the directions.
  • Don’t forget to take breaks when needed and if you’re feeling sleepy/sluggish, it’s best to switch drivers than to fall asleep behind the wheel.
  • Don’t forget your road trip entertainment must haves!

 

Roadtrip 2

Most important travel tip:

  • Things happen. Always keep an open mind and just go with the flow.
    • I used to get really upset when things don’t go the way we planned it but after experiencing a few mishaps, I’ve learned to let things go and just enjoy the trip.

Enjoy. The great thing about being in America is that as long as you have a car, you can literally go anywhere your heart desires. Take advantage of that blessing!

Are you ready for your first road trip? 🙂

27 Comments

  1. Carmelisse

    September 5, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    You are so much more organized than me, I wish I could be that way haha. I’ve never tried gas buddy…sounds convenient definitely giving that a try! Omg getting car rental insurance is so crucial for long road trips. My friends went on a road trip once from LA to Seattle via a non-insured rental car, and after 30-60 minutes of driving, they hit a deer smh. Lesson learned. Anyways, loved it, keep it up girl! 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      September 6, 2015 at 1:47 am

      I’m such an over planner! lol. Yea GasBuddy is amazing. Even around Las Vegas, we still use that. We almost had the same experience. We were driving in the middle of the night in Yellowstone and it was pitch black. All of a sudden we saw two deers. One was standing in the middle of the road and the other jumped across. So scary! I’d rather have insurance than pay thousands of dollars to repair that car. I’m glad we didn’t get into an accident. Thank you Carmelisse! I appreciate the kind words. 🙂

  2. samiya selim

    November 29, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Road trips are ur favourite and most frequent way to travel! We did loads around Europe, our last one was this epic 7 country road trip over 3 weeks, was great! Soon after we moved to New Zealand and have been doing a few roadtrips around here too. Great tips for road trip planning! I love the last one the most – “Things happen. Always keep an open mind and just go with the flow” 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      November 30, 2015 at 12:17 am

      Thanks Samiya! I wish I can do an epic road trip like what you guys did in Europe someday! New Zealand has been a dream of mine as well. Hopefully you guys can make it out here too in the US. There’s so much places to see!

      And oh I’m glad you agree and loved that tip as well. 🙂 Cheers!

  3. Lesley

    December 4, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Good tips at the bottom, especially to bring cash. It’s surprising how many times I go away with just my visa and realize I should have grabbed cash when it was more convenient.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      December 6, 2015 at 8:23 pm

      Hey Lesley! Thank you, I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂

  4. Sadie

    December 4, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    What a great Honeymoon! You guys picked some awesome places to go. My family would always take a road trip vacation every summer, and they were the best! There is nothing better than being on the road looking at beautiful scenery and listening to some good music!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      December 6, 2015 at 9:29 pm

      Hey Sadie! Yes it really was. I completely agree with you! 🙂

  5. mark

    December 4, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    We love a good road trip. In Australia nearly everything is a road trip being that the country is so vast. We have been on a few 12 hour in a day road trips from Melbourne to Sydney. Great tips and practical advice in your article
    cheers
    Mark

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      December 6, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      Nice! I’m hoping someday I can come and visit Australia too and do some road trippin’ there. 🙂

  6. Ami

    December 5, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    These are extremely useful tips for a peaceful road trip. I love going on them for it is extremely insightful and there is a sense of adventure as you travel along the unknown roads…adding further thrill to your destination. Cheers

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      December 6, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks Ami! I’m glad you you found it useful.

      Yes I absolutely agree with you! 🙂

  7. Karilyn

    December 6, 2015 at 10:56 am

    We love road trips as well! We have done a road trip across India, Spain, Ireland, many in CA and Arizona and Utah. These are great tips. For the research portion I love to find off the beaten path places to check out as well as make a list of restaurant options. Nothing worse than pulling into a town starving and no clue what will be good to eat or not! Can’t wait for our next road trip- driving the garden route in South Africa!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      December 6, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      Hey Karilyn! Nice, you like road trips as much as I do. I agree with you. That actually happened to us in SLC, UT. We arrived late Sunday night and we couldn’t find any place to eat. We ended up just getting room service.

      How awesome! Hope you have a blast. 😉

    2. Alyssa | Adjust Your Focus™

      December 7, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      I did the garden route in SA 2 years ago! So awesome! Message me if you have any questions.

      1. Janna C.

        Janna C.

        December 8, 2015 at 2:35 pm

        What’s the garden route? Sorry not too familiar with it.

  8. Alyssa | Adjust Your Focus™

    December 7, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Great list of tips and things to think about for a peaceful road trip. I love going on them. It definitely helps to plan but also remember to keep an open mind and realize things come up. Keep on traveling!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      December 8, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      Hey Alyssa, thank you! Yes, road trips are so unpredictable. The only thing we can do is keep an open mind and go with the flow. 😉

  9. Chantell Collins

    June 20, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    Great guide for planning a road trip! I love the itinerary that you and your husband planned for your honeymoon itinerary. I haven’t been on Denver or Mount Rushmore yet but I would love to go! Great tips for saving money too. My boyfriend and I have done a few budget road trips (there may have been some blow outs!) but we have yet to invest in a collapsible cooler. This is a great idea :).

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 21, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks Chantell! Yea, it was quite the trip. It was amazing being out on the road. Mt Rushmore is so nice! I know a lot of people think its overrated but I found it very informative and a great place to learn about US History. It’s really tough to stay on budget while on the road but so far, so good! Yes, check out Costco! They have cheap and durable coolers there perfect for road trips! 🙂

  10. Megan Indoe

    June 21, 2016 at 12:15 am

    I love this post Janna! It’s so informative and we are actually thinking about planning our first long-term roadtrip across the US! All of these tips are super helpful and important to keep in consideration when planning. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 21, 2016 at 3:38 pm

      Thank you Megan for liking the post. I’m glad you found it informative. Hope it helps you guys on your first long term road trip across the US! 🙂

  11. Svetoslav Dimitrov

    June 21, 2016 at 12:33 am

    Thanks for these great tips, Janna!
    For most people, they may seem obvious, but most of the time one (or more) of these are underestimated and lead to “not-so-happy” consequences.

    Planning is great, but sometimes they change, so being flexible always helps. Besides, it is more fun like that 🙂 At least for adventurers like us, travel bloggers! 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 21, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Not a problem at all Svet! Yep, that’s true. I’ve learned to be more flexible, thanks to 3 yrs of traveling hehe 😀

  12. Hung Thai

    June 21, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Great tips but I find that we have TOO much information at our fingertips now. I don’t think you should research THAT much because you take all the excitement of a “adventure” away. Plus, if you plan it to such a degree, anything that goes wrong might ruin the trip. Though I generally agree with your points, I think you’re advocating too much research.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 21, 2016 at 11:23 pm

      Hi Hung, I agree somewhat with what you’re saying. But basically, I’m sharing these tips because personally, they have worked well for me during my road trips here in the US. I’m not trying to be an advocate of too much research, I’m merely sharing tips on how these things have helped me during my travels. If the readers want to try it and found out that these tips are “too much” then they can choose not to do it anymore. But if it does, then good for them! Just because someone does research, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the excitement/sense of adventure is gone. For me, I found that doing research in advance, helps me to avoid nuisances while I’m out on the road. Obviously, it’s not always going to be smooth sailing but for the most part, I just like to be prepared. If things don’t go the way I planned it, that’s okay. I learned how to adapt and be flexible.

  13. mark wyld

    June 22, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    I must say nearly everywhere you travel in Australia is a road trip lol. There is such huge distances between places in our country. Great tip for newbies embarking on road trips.

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