Or as C & I call it, ‘Mastering the science of road tripping’. It’s no secret, we love road trips! There are many good ways to plan a road trip. Borrowing someone’s itinerary and then half-heartedly following it is not one of them. We often see people missing nearby things or stretching themselves thin doing too many things, especially when they have time constraints. You should not be anxious or tense when traveling. Your plan should allow for changes on the whim and extra ‘I want to see this right now’ stops without messing your entire plan. A road trip should be relaxing and fun.
If you are the spontaneous traveler who doesn’t rely on planning, that’s awesome. If you are happy with how you currently plan your road trips, that’s great too. Keep doing more of the same and drop us some tips in comments. We are always looking for ways to make our trip planning more efficient. If you are a traveler without time constraints and don’t need to plan your trip down to brass tacks then we envy you. Keep traveling and making us jealous. If you are the more common type of time and budget conscious traveler and are looking for advice on planning the perfect road trip then this article is just for you.
C & I are the usual weekend and vacation travelers with regular 9-5 job constraints. Our biggest limitations when planning road trips are time and money. We enjoy planning the most efficient trips from the comfort of our home with the tools that internet offers us all. We love Excel and use it extensively in our planning process. We have perfected our trip planning method over the years and have reduced it to a compact workflow. We are happy to share it here with you. (This is going to get long and technical, there you have been warned.)
I assume you have narrowed down the country, state or general area, and at least one star attraction for the trip. I also assume you have researched the approximate cost feasibility of the trip and it fits your travel budget. I follow this website for budget estimates. You also need to know approximate trip duration in days (+/-1). I prefer to make all bookings after the planning, but you can workaround some pre-made bookings too.
Step 1 – Research and create a list of places to visit
How: I usually Google search ‘Top 10 places to see’, read Trip Advisor’s ‘Top things to do’ and skim through Lonely Planet guidebooks for my research. Then I put together a list and assign priorities from ‘Must visit / Nice to visit / Can skip’. The priority and things to do are mere estimates, gathered as you read. The list is complete when you have about 5-10 frequently mentioned destinations in your target region. You should not spend a lot of time in researching this list.
Step 2 – Map your list and create an optimized route
How: I use Google maps and put all my destinations on the map. Destinations that are too far flung with priority of ‘Nice to visit / Can skip’ are off the map and the list. Play around with destination order to create the most optimized route that minimizes your total travel time and proceeds in one direction.
Step 3 – Research and incorporate scenic drives, if any, in the map if feasible
How: I Google scenic drives or historic roads in the region and try to include them in the route from Step 2. The new route should not add significantly to your driving time and should be worth the effort. Scenic drives that showcase splendid fall foliage are often bare at start of spring and can be skipped if traveling off-season. You might need to physically move the route on Google Maps to follow alternate roads.
Step 4 – Research individual destinations/stops to estimate time spent and understand any travel constraints and add to the list
How: I then research each destination in depth to estimate the time required to visit at relaxed pace. I also note down constraints like opening and closing hours, days of closure, route diversions, parking, food and lodging constraints, cash/card based economy, best time to photograph destination etc. I add these things to the list.
Step 5 – Divide the route in segments and create a list
How: Take the route you get in Step 3 and divide it in segments. Each segment should be driven non-stop and a destination or stop counts as end of current segment. Make a list of the segments and add the distance and driving time shown by Google Maps. Add sight-seeing time and constraints from Step 4. Check if you are comfortable with the driving distance in each segment. Add stops or rest time and sub-divide segments to reduce driving time in one stretch.
Step 6 – Create an itinerary based on the list in Step 5
How: I then create a professional looking itinerary that reads like-
Day 1: In the morning leave A for B (100 miles, 2 hrs). On reaching B have brunch, see sights (Half day). Check-in to the hotel. Visit beach in the evening, have dinner, back to hotel.
Day 2: Leave B for C (200 miles, 4 hrs)
Step 7 –Add approximate times to itinerary from Step 6
How: My example will look like-
Day 1: Leave A for B at 8 am (100 miles, 2 hrs). On reaching B have brunch around 11 am, see sights (Half day). Check-in to the hotel around 4 pm. Be at the beach for sunset (~6 pm), have dinner and get back to hotel by 9 pm.
Day 2: Leave B for C at 9 am. (200 miles, 4 hrs)
If you are exhausted just reading it, play around with the itinerary till it feels manageable. You might have to skip activities / destinations or may decide to drive in the night to save time or make some other adjustments. But at least you know what you are getting yourself into.
Step 8 – Sleep over it
How: Crash on the bed. Pretty self-explanatory.
Step 9 – Modify itinerary from Step 7 till it is foolproof
How: Keep modifying till all constraints from Step 4 are resolved and you are satisfied with the plan. C & I usually come to a point where we simply know that this is the most perfect route. It’s totally our Eureka moment. We are comfortable with everything that we have planned and know the itinerary like the back of our hand.
Step 10 – Celebrate and book your trip
How: Crack open a bottle of wine and book cars, flights, hotels or whatever else you need. Pack and get ready to enjoy your most perfectly planned trip yet. Don’t forget to carry your precious itinerary in print or on your devices.
How do you plan your trips? Drop us some tips!