How to Plan the Perfect American Road Trip – Step by Step Guide

Do you have a vacation coming up and you are sick and tired of doing the same old thing for it? Maybe Disneyland or Europe doesn’t cut it for you anymore.

Well, how about going on an epic adventure by taking an old-fashioned American road trip to some sightseeing spots that you have always wanted to visit, but never had a chance to? It’s the ultimate way to see this beautiful country that you live in, which has so many gorgeous parks and attractions. 

Getting overwhelmed at the thought of planning the ultimate road trip? Keep reading for our step-by-step guide below that will get you road-tripping sooner. 

Decide on a Road Trip Budget

There are many items that you will need to consider to build your road trip budget. If you’ve never done a road trip before, then it’s a good idea to add some buffer to your road trip budget, just in case you missed something. As you do more of these road trips, you will become better at gauging exactly how much your road trip will cost.

Vehicle Prep Costs

The first item to add to your budget would be the cost of prepping your vehicle for the trip to come. This will include things like oil changes, and we will go into detail about this later in the article. 

Shopping for the Road Trip

The second thing to remember when it comes to your budget is that a lot of your shopping for the road trip (clothing, shoes, bedding, and other items that you will want to bring on the trip) will be done before you leave for the trip.

That is, you will want to purchase these items and have them ready to go before you start your journey. Yes, you can purchase some items on the trip as you go along, but you will want to buy most of them before you log your first kilometer. 

Food Costs

The third item to add to your list would be the cost of purchasing food on the road. Part of this would be any restaurants that you would frequent, and the other part would include any groceries that you would purchase to cook your own meals. 

You will want to budget for 3 times the length of your trip and also account for snacks. 

Accommodation Costs

The fourth item to think about is all the accommodation costs. You might be camping on this road trip of yours or using motels, hotels, cabins, or maybe a mix of them all. 

Fuel Costs

Another item to add to your road trip budget would be fuel costs. This is going to be a big chunk of your expenses, especially if you are using a bigger RV to do your road trip. 

Activities Costs

Finally, you are not just going to drive from place to place, but you will probably want to do some activities in each place you visit. Make sure you account for entrance fees to attractions and parks as well as road toll fees. 

Figure Out Where You Want to Go On Your Road Trip

Depending on how much money you have to spend, and how long your vacation is, you can decide where you wish to travel on your road trip. There are hundreds of possible routes and destinations you could visit on your epic adventure, so which one will you choose?

Maybe you want to check out all the national parks in Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. Or maybe you are interested in visiting some of the restaurants featured on the show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” hosted by Guy Fieri.

It all depends on why you decided to do the road trip in the first place. If it’s because you want to spend some time as a family, then you will plan your trip according to that. Or if it’s because you want to quell the foodie inside of you, then your route will look completely different.  

Plan Out a Route

Even though planning a route seems rather fastidious and non-spontaneous, it will ensure that you aren’t just roaming about the highways without a clue of where you will go next. When you plan a route, it gives you an idea of how long your journey will take, what you will see on the way, what your road trip cost will be, and more.

With Google Maps, it’s easy to plan out a route online. Also, planning a route doesn’t mean that you can’t take some side trips and go off the beaten path once in a while. So don’t worry about that. 

Pick Some Funky Destinations as Well

Make sure that you ask all your family members or all the people going on the road trip with you for feedback on what they wish to see. Don’t make the road trip all about one person’s desires and wishes.

Also, pick some funky destinations as well, like visiting Winchester’s Biggest Apple or the Original Starbucks in Seattle at Pike Place Market. 

Which Vehicle Will You Use for Your Epic Adventure? 

Another thing to think about when planning your road trip is which vehicle you will use when going on this epic adventure. There are many options available to you. 

Most folks will use their family vehicle when taking a road trip, especially if they have an SUV which can fit the entire family and their luggage comfortably. But that doesn’t have to be your only option.

If you are thinking about doing a lot of camping, then you could consider renting or hiring an RV. There are also lots of companies that will do van conversions for you, so you can use your old family van as an RV while roaming about America.

This way your van will be upgraded with all the latest gear, suspension, tires, accessories, and electronics, that you might possibly need to go on the best American road trip.

You could also consider renting just a trailer to rig onto your family vehicle, which could hold all your items or even have space for you to sleep in. 

It depends entirely upon how you wish your road trip to proceed. If you are going to be sleeping in motels and hotels every night, then renting an RV doesn’t make sense. If you are going to spend every night in a national park, then it does.  

Packing for a Road Trip

The next thing on the agenda for road-tripping is packing your vehicle with everything you might need for the next few days or even weeks. It’s not going to be easy, because the inclination is to bring everything possible since you have a car with you.

But then you will be stuck with items you never use and paying extra for gas because your vehicle is way too heavy. Both are situations you want to avoid.

Therefore, it’s important to pack accordingly, once you know exactly what you will be doing on your road trip and where you will go. For example, if you are going to be cooking quite a bit on your trip then you will want to pack cooking utensils, a stove, and stuff like that.

On the other hand, if you are planning to go to a lot of shows and fancy restaurants on your trip, then you will want to pack some formalwear and shoes for that. 

As you can see, everyone’s road trip will be entirely different depending on their wishes and interests. So don’t compare your road trip and packing style to someone else.

If you love to paint and can’t do without your paints for 2 weeks, then bring them. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

The best thing to do before you even start packing though is to make a packing checklist. This way you will have everything you need and won’t have to make too many untoward purchases from Walmart on the road. 

This checklist will be even more important if you have several different folks joining you on the road trip since you don’t want to bring duplicates of something. You can create a Google Excel sheet for this packing list and share it across the group, so everyone is up to date on exactly what is being packed. 

Things to Do in the Car While on a Road Trip

Another aspect of planning your road trip would be planning out things you will do while you are on those long boring stretches of highway with nothing to do except stare out the window. 

If you have young kids with you, then it becomes even more imperative to have a plan for all those long stretches of unfilled time. Otherwise, they are going to get cranky pretty quickly and that will put a damper on your otherwise awesome road trip. 

Some suggestions are:

  • Doing a vlog of your road trip to share on social media or with family and friends
  • Playing games that allow you to get to know each other better
  • Bird spotting
  • Listen to an audiobook or comedy podcast together
  • Keep an eye out for interesting weird attractions
  • Each one shares a road trip playlist that they created especially for the trip
  • Write a story together or create poetry 
  • Play Who am I or Eye Spy (especially if you have younger children with you)

As you become a pro at road-tripping, you will find new and creative ways to pass the time while traveling from one attraction to another. 

Some Cross-Country Travel Prep Trips

There are also some other things to keep in mind when it comes to prepping your car for the road trip to come. Of course, you will want to get an oil change and check your tires, engine, and air conditioning. 

This way you won’t have to deal with a car emergency in the middle of nowhere (fingers crossed). 

Also, make sure you have all the right documents for your car ready, in case you get pulled over by a police officer. These include your driver’s license, your car’s registration information, and your car insurance information.

Don’t forget to include a first aid kit in your packing list, so that you can deal with small wounds or scratches without having to visit a pharmacy. And carry a manual for your car and a spare tire, just in case.

You could also consider bringing an emergency car repair kit with you, which can keep you safe in case your car does break down on the side of the road.  You can purchase this from any garage or Amazon.

Finally, don’t forget to have a paper version of a map as well as the digital version, in case your phone dies or there’s no cell coverage. It’s just a good way to protect yourself in case technology fails you. 

Also, have someone back at home that knows where you are at all times, as you update them whenever you move from place to place. This way there’s at least someone who can keep tabs on you. 

Ready for Your Great American Road Trip?

Phew, that was a lot of information we covered in this guide to planning an American road trip. But that’s how it is when you are planning an epic adventure like this. 

If you follow the steps laid out above, you will be well on your way to road-tripping heaven. And the more you do it, the better you will get at it.

Found this article useful? Don’t forget to check out related articles on our website for more knowledge bombs. 

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