How to Plan a Road Trip – The Complete Guide

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Your Guide to Planning the Ultimate Road Trip

If you’re new to the awesomeness of road tripping, you’re in the right place! Jump in to our comprehensive guide to planning the ultimate road trip.

Learn how to plan, budget and organise your trip with our detailed road trip planning guide. By using our top tried and tested road trip tips, planning methods and checklists, you’ll be on the road and driving into your road trip in no time!

What Type of Road Tripper Are You?

Road trippers come in all shapes and forms! Some road trippers travel for the joy of the journey and lure of the open road. Others use the route as a way of seeing lots of attractions on one trip, spending a short time in each place.

All road trips have one thing in common – a route which includes several destinations, none of which is more important than the others.

When you’re planning a road trip, there are lots of things to think about and different elements of the trip to bring together. The following sections will take you through every aspect of the process until you have the perfect road trip planned and organised!

Use our free road trip planner, the ultimate guide to help you keep track of your decisions as you work through our step by step planning process.

If you’re planning a trip by car to a single destination, then you can find lots of driving and travel tips and information on our Road Trip Resources page to help you get there safely.

Planning the Route

Some people think that this bit should come last, but if you use the tools we recommend, and follow our four stage process, you can start by building your skeleton route and add to it as you go along.

It helps to do it this way round, as right away you can assess things like driving time, costs and how many overnight stops are required – enabling you to make big changes at the start of the process if you need to.

There is always going to be a pay-off between distance, drive time, places you want to go and budget. Some compromise may be necessary so you’re not spending all day behind the wheel – unless you LOVE driving of course!

When you start planning your route, it’s important to think about how it will all piece together. These are some things to think about before taking step one;

  • How long do you want to drive for each day? Our guide on long distance driving will help you think about what daily drive time you can manage.
  • Are you constrained by dates such as school holidays? This might make booking accommodation and ferries more expensive or just harder, as everyone is trying to get away.
  • Which is more important – the journey or the destination? Are you happy to take motorways and shorten the journey between stops (whilst stumping up for toll roads), or do you prefer the slow road?
  • Are you travelling solo, as a couple of a family with kids? This will impact how long you want to spend in the car each day, and what you might want to do along the route.

Step One – Anchor Dates & Places

Agree your ‘anchor’ dates and places. This may be a particular city you want to visit, a mountain to climb, a boat you need to catch, a special restaurant you want to try or an attraction you have dated tickets for – you get the idea.

You should always have two anchor places and dates – your start and finish points!

At this stage, add your main anchor points to your Google My Map (see instructions below) which will help your route to take shape and give you a really visual way of seeing the journey with your anchor places along the way.

Now you can see the whole route laid out against a large scale backdrop, does the route make sense or are you zig-zagging around, wasting time and fuel?

What does the total driving time and mileage look like? Is this realistic for the time frame you have for your road trip?

Remember to add around 25% onto the stated drive time in Google Maps. This allows for regular breaks and traffic build up during busy times.

If this makes any single day’s drive too long, just add an additional stop or shuffle stops a little to add time on days where there is less driving and lose it on long stretch days.

You can also identify the places that are maybe a bit out of the way and those that can be visited in a day, or as you drive along the route.

Use our road trip planner to help you keep track of everything.

Step Two – Add the Finer Detail

Now that you have an idea of your route, pick up a travel guide book, check out our destinations or use the internet to research where you want to go and what you want to see on your road trip.

Add these new ideas to your Google My Map using the steps above and start to see how it looks in detail. Ideally you want clusters along the route, but you can easily see the outliers using this method, and decide whether the detour is worth making.

Short hops give you time to travel in the morning and enjoy your destination in the afternoon. Remember to factor in time for both. By now, your route is almost complete. 

One thing to remember – leave some fudge factor so that if you fall in love with somewhere you can stay longer.

After all, experiencing new places and things is what it’s all about!

Step Three – Save & Share Your Route

Your Google My Map is automatically saved and will be available on all your synced devices which are logged into your Google account. 

To share your map with someone else, click the share button and Google will share your map by email with a contact or you can copy a link to text.

Plan a Road Trip with Google Maps

You can use the Google Maps app or website to create a map which includes drive times and mileage between each stop, and as a trip total. This map can be used to navigate as you drive. You can only add up to ten stops per map and cannot save the route, although you can save places of interest in a list.

You can use Google My Maps to create and plan a road trip with multiple stops, which you can save and share. This map is not navigable though and does not include mileage or drive time, but you can add as many destinations as you wish, and even categorise them with different icons to help with planning.

We use My Maps to create our road trip routes, but check each leg of the route on Google Maps to ensure we’re not spending too long behind the wheel each day.

Get Google My Maps

You need to have a Google account to use My Maps – you can open one from any Google home page. 

Android

  • Download the Google My Maps app.
  • Tap the large + sign.
  • Follow the instructions below.

Iphone & Ipad

  • You cannot create a new map on iPhone or iPad – you will need a computer to do this via the Goole Maps website.
  • You can view your My Maps using the Google Maps app on your iPhone or iPad clicking the three stacked lines on the top left of the screen, then selecting ‘your places’, and then ‘maps’.

Laptop or Desktop Computer

  • Open Google Maps in a browser and click the three stacked buttons on the top left of the page.
  • Select ‘your places’ and then ‘maps’. 
  • Follow the instructions below.

Create a Map

  1. Click the ‘legend’ tab on the top left of the screen and use the three dots to rename your map. 
  2. Using the search bar, type in your chosen destination or drop a pin (hold your finger or click your mouse on the place in the map and a pin will appear).
  3. A section will appear on the screen with details of the place. 
  4. Click ‘add to map’ – at this stage you can also edit and add information about the place if you wish and change the icon to help you organise your attractions.
  5. Continue to input your anchor places in this way. 
  6. As you input, check with Google Maps that the drive time and mileage between each stop works for you. Note this on your driving route planner.
  7. Once they are all inputted, including your first and last destinations, under the search bar, click the arrow button to add directions.
  8. A new layer will open in the side bar and you can then start typing in the names of the destinations you added to the map. 
  9. Type them in in the order in which you’ll be visiting and My Maps will create the route. 
  10. Your map is automatically saved when you leave the app or site.
  11. Remember that Google My Maps is not a primary navigation devices like a sat nav, so you can’t use your route to navigate as you drive. But you can pick up start and finish points for your days drive and add them to whichever sat nav system or app you use – we like Google Maps, Waze and Maps.me.

Routes & Destinations

European Road Trip Itineraries

If you can’t decide on a road trip route, or you’re looking for road trip ideas and inspiration, then use one of our ready-made road trip itineraries.

Whether you’re a sun worshipper, city visitor or mountain lover you’ll find a Europe road trip planner that’s right for you.

Our Favourite Travel Guides

Lonely Planet Europe

Eyewitness Great Britain

Fodors Scandinavia

National Geographic National Parks of Europe

The Great British Adventure Map

Lonely Planet Best of Europe Top Sights

Budget

This can be a tricky exercise, with lots of circling back, as you don’t know how much you need to spend until you start planning, and until you start planning you may not know how much things cost.

You may have a total figure in mind for the duration of your trip, which is to include everything. We find an easy way to manage this is to deduct your one-off costs from the total amount, and divide what is left between the number of days you will be on the road, to give you a daily budget.

Trip planning apps like TravelSpend are a great way of setting and managing a road trip budget.

One-Off Costs

  • Ferries and flights
  • Car hire
  • Travel insurance
  • Vehicle preparation if taking your own

Daily Spending

  • Fuel
  • Food and drink
  • Accommodation
  • Tickets & entrance fees
  • Tourist attractions

Budget Tips

  • The Via Michelin website is the best road trip planner to work out fuel and toll road costs for your specific vehicle. Plot your intended route into the mapping system and Via Michelin will work out your costs for you.
  • Travel in spring or autumn if you can. Not only is it cheaper, but you’ll find the roads and attractions are quieter. The weather if often better then as well – the summer heat in Europe can be pretty punishing!
  • Use an aggregator company to get the best deals on things like car hire and accommodation. An aggregator company negotiates on behalf of its customers (that’s you) with many different companies to get the best deals.
  • Book accommodation which includes parking. This can add extra cost onto your hotel bill if it’s not included, especially in cities.
  • Or stay outside of the city and get public transport into the centre. This saves your nerves as well – inner city driving in an unfamiliar place can be stressful.
  • Try and avoid one-way drop off if you’re hiring a car as it can add several hundred pounds onto the car rental price. If you plan well, you won’t miss out by doing a circular route.
  • Consider self-catering accommodation, or utilising camping pods in warmer months. This means you can save money on food by buying at the supermarket and preparing meals yourself.
  • Top up on bottled water, road trip snacks and make or buy a packed lunch before you get on the motorway or busy A roads – service stations charge a premium for this stuff.
  • Use an app like Petrol to find the cheapest fuel wherever you are and never fill up on motorways.
  • Don’t skimp on things like travel insurance and breakdown cover. If something goes wrong, you could be left with a huge bill if you’re not insured.

Booking Your Road Trip

Now you’ve got an idea of where you’re going, where you want to stop along the way and what attractions you want to visit, it’s time to start bringing all that to life.

It means hitting the internet, researching and booking. If you want to fly by the seat of your pants out of season, then you may find that booking isn’t always necessary – but, if this is your annual holiday or a special trip, then booking in advance is a definitely a good idea.

Hire a Car or Take Your Own?

Hiring a car means saving drive time and precious holiday days over the length of your road trip. You’ll also have peace of mind of a new car which will have breakdown cover and be prepared and suitable for the country in which you’ll be driving.

But, it’s expensive if you have a car at home and you’ll have to get a flight to wherever you’re going.

Check out the prices and balance out the costs, then weigh up the time saved before you make a decision.

Order of Booking

It may sound obvious, but book the bigger stuff first before committing to things like hotels, tours and attractions.

Flight/Ferry >> Rental Car >> Accommodation >> Tours and attractions >> Insurance

Organising Your Bookings

Use a road trip planner app like TripIt to manage your bookings and itinerary. Otherwise, simply save the confirmation emails you’ll receive when you make an online booking into an email folder. This makes them easily accessible on your phone.

You could also print these out if you like to have a hard copy.

Road Trip Booking Resources We Use

  • Best for hotels, B&B’s and self-catering >> Booking.com

With the largest choice of hotels, self-catering and AirBnB style accommodation, Booking.com lets you book, amend and even cancel without charges (but not all the time, so check if this is important to you.)

With over 9,600 campsites across Europe and UK, Eurocampings has the most comprehensive choice whether you’re in a motorhome, car with a tent or looking for self-catering pod style accommodation. If you’re planning on using campsites, check out ACSI for great out of season discounts.

As one of the largest car hire aggregator companies in the world, Rentalcars.com has massive purchasing power which enables them to secure the best rental prices.

With the most comprehensive routes and timetables across hundreds of ferry companies, if you want to sail somewhere, Direct Ferries are the best option.

Widely recognised in the traveling community as offering first class products and services, World Nomads are the go to choice for many American travellers.

Our favourite insurer, True Traveller will cover you if you’ve already left home and aren’t so worried about where you’ve been living for the past six months. If you’re looking for cover for longer than a few weeks, we can highly recommend.

The Visa Machine specialises in processing the world’s most complicated travel visas and will help you cross borders and get to you chosen destination.

The thrill of the open road in the United States

Getting Ready

The looking forward is sometimes the most exciting bit, but it’s easy to forget all the things you need to do in preparation for a trip.

Get Our Road Trip Printables

Use our free road trip packing list and road trip check list to help you remember what you need to take for your trip and what things you need to sort out before you leave.

Click here to sign up and access all our checklists. If you’re already subscribed you can find these checklists in the Library.

Vehicle Preparation

If you’re heading off for more than a week or so, especially if you’re heading to another country, making sure that your car is prepared for the trip is important, and will save you stress, time and potentially money during your trip.

Have a service or check the following yourself before you set off;

  • Check fluid levels (brake fluid, coolant, engine oil, AdBlue and screen wash) and top up where necessary.
  • Check tyre pressures according to your vehicle manual.
  • Check tyre tread depth, the legal minimum of which is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre, in UK and Europe.
  • Check your windscreen wipers are in good condition.
  • Make sure all your lights work and have been adapted accordingly if you’re driving in Europe in a UK registered car, or vice versa.
  • If your car is registered in the UK and you’re travelling to Europe, make sure you display a UK sticker.
  • Take a spare key – we have ours in a plastic bag tied underneath the car.
  • Fill up with fuel before setting off.

Safety Equipment

Make sure you have the right kit in your car for whichever country you are visiting. The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland have no legal requirements for you to carry any safety equipment, but most other European countries do.

Check here for the requirements of each country, and wherever you go, as a minimum you should have the following;

  • Vehicle first aid kit.
  • A roadside safety kit including a hi-vis vest (for the driver and any passengers) and a reflective triangle.
  • A good quality torch.
  • Set of jump leads.
  • Spare tyre or a tyre inflation kit.
  • In winter, carry a shovel, foil blanket, chocolate bar and water or get an emergency winter car kit.
  • In winter, carry a shovel, foil blanket, chocolate bar and water or get an emergency winter car kit.
  • Consider a dash cam – it can protect you from liability in an accident which isn’t your fault.

Documentation

It’s boring, but the right documentation keeps you legal and saves time if there is an emergency or accident.

  • ID document or passport – some countries require you to have time remaining on your passport so check this when planning your trip.
  • Driving licence or International Driving Permit.
  • Proof of car insurance to a minimum of third party (note that from September 2021 UK drivers no longer need a Green Card to prove cover in Europe).
  • Proof of vehicle registration.
  • Proof of vehicle roadworthiness.
  • Breakdown insurance and roadside assistance information.
  • Travel or medical insurance documents.
  • Pet Passport or Animal Health Certificate if you’re travelling with a pet.

Packing the Car

Depending on your stops and length of trip, you may want to pack a small overnight bag, into which you can decant items from a larger suitcase or bag.

This saves having to lug a large bag into your accommodation every night and creates a sort of wardrobe in your boot!

Use a parcel shelf or blanket to cover up your belongings when you park.

It goes without saying that you should take all your valuables into your accommodation every night – if your car gets stolen or broken into, at least you’ll still have your passport and anything that’s worth lots of money or has sentimental value.

There are some road trip essentials you will want in the car with you. We always have the following up front;

  • Phone and tablet for road trip songs and research on the go.
  • All the necessary documentation listed above.
  • Phone and tablet for road trip songs and research on the go.
  • Car charger.
  • Road trip snacks – granola bars, fruit and the odd packet of sweets are great for keeping energy levels up.
  • Water bottle – ideally with a spout which can be used with one hand for the driver.
  • Guide books.
  • Travel games.
  • Basic mechanics tool kit like this one.
  • Glasses and sunglasses.
  • Your personal day bag, wallet or purse with money and credit cards.
  • Your diary or journal to record your trip + a camera if you don’t use your phone.

Driving in Other Countries

It can be really daunting if you’ve never driven in another country before. There are some rules which are common to most countries, but you should check specific driving rules before you depart.

  • Check which side of the road you should be driving on – it may be different from your home country.
  • Always carry the correct documentation and safety equipment required for the country you are visiting.
  • Always observe the speed limits. Generally, radar detector equipment is illegal.
  • It is illegal to use your phone at the wheel in most countries and in some, you may not even use it as a satellite navigation device.
  • Most EU countries have different alcohol limits set in their drink driving legislation which may be different or lower to your home country. It’s best not to drink any alcohol if you’re planning on driving anywhere afterwards.
  • You may want to consider carrying an electronic toll pass for the duration of your European road trip itinerary. These devices deduct the toll fees from a credit card automatically, meaning you don’t have to stop at a booth or barrier or need to carry a vignette.
  • Many cities across Europe have low emissions zones, which can be easy to stray into accidentally. The Urban Access Regulation in Europe website has information on a country and city by city basis, to help you plan your trip. They also share links for purchasing LEZ stickers online.
  • Most European countries, especially those with mountains, have rules about snow tyres and snow chains. Make sure you check these rules if you’re taking a road trip of Europe in colder weather.
  • Make sure you’re aware of the specific rules for each European country that you intend to visit. You can find more information about country specific rules of the road here.

You now have enough information to actually get going! Check the weather before you leave, make sure you’ve ticked everything off on our packing list and road trip checklist, lock your front door and head for the hills!

Are you looking for more road trip resources? Check out these top posts…

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