How to plan an epic road trip

Learn from my years of roadtripping the ins and outs of planning a great road trip. I’ll even toss in some valuable advise on handling the more unpredictable things can happen on you road journey.


6/14/20235 min read

I enjoy planning our road trips just as mush as not planning a single thing and making it along the way. Now, “winging it” road trips are typically much shorter, random weekend mini trips. For us, anyways and it’s fun to just get in the car with no real plan and go for it. But road trip non the less. Road trips take on many forms. From cross country job interviews or garage band tours, to long anticipated family vacations and seemingly everything in between. Road trips can be some of the memory making events in your life. Not all road trips need much planning, but some of the more adventurous ones will. I’ve got some simple tips on the planning side. Because well planned road trip has more advantages in my opinion, then one careless lapsed together. However, expect even more well organized and planned road trip, to just be an outline guide, and don;t be discouraged if you don’t or can’t follow it precisely.

Step one in any good planing, figure out where you going, the time frame you are available to go and how many days you can allow yourself for this trip. If you live LA and are planning a cross country trip to Niagara Falls and only have 4 days off work. You should consider a different destination, or nix the road trip and opt to fly. The same goes for a trip to a North Carolina beach in January for some surfing. Know your destination and research the best times of years to visit for the activity you are seeking.

Step two, the nitty gritty stage. You got the where, when and how long you have to travel for. Now you need to set your budget and start mapping. Don’t over extend your drive time, even if you are planning to have multiple drivers tag teaming the drive time. More then likely, your driving buddy wont be napping while your driving, so you are both going to run out of steam. Our rule is under 12 hours but I prefer 9hrs on the road at once. We’ve pushed 14 and 16 in the past but its best to not push so hard.

Plan a dedicated route and a alternative route, if you find out bad construction delay are possible. Pick some interesting key areas to stop along the way. If you are traveling for 10 days and you know it will take at least stopping 1 or 2 nights along the way, to keep your driving time down to 9 or so hours a day. That’s 4 days, at least on the road. You could spend the rest of your 6 days at the destination you planned, or you could plan a midway destination along the way and stay there for 2 or 3 nights and 4 days at them main attraction and a 2 night stop on the way home. When I space my trips out like this, we typically plan a night camping trip in a National/state parks. It’s nice to unwind immersed nature after battle the road for a long couple or days. Our Outback is the perfect vehicle for this, because we can easily set up our double instal inflated mattress in the back with the seats down an bi-pass a tent, if we are too tired to set one up. Although our exped tent, is super easy to pop up and strike, it isn’t always what we opt to do. When we arrive to our destination city to town, we usually end staying in loaded bed and breakfast or airbnb rental, where we can clean up well. This technique is also great if our destination of Is a National Park or state park. As you can drive for a day, hit a cheap motel, drive another day, cheap motel, hit the National park and camp for 3-5 nights. Then on the way home stay at a push hotel or bnb and clean up after all that camping and hiking around. As you are searching for accommodation, you can budget that stays that suite your wallet. That may even mean, no hotel stays at all. You got that lovely aunt or grandparent that may be an hour off route, but you haven’t seen in years. You get a good visit in and probably some home cooking. Or, trucker style and sleep in a rest stop. Maybe even better for a mid day nap, if you see yourself passing through a major city during rush hour. You could stop at the boarder of two states, take a 2 hour nap and by-pass that awkward angry traffic you’r anticipating. The nitty gritty stage will take the longest. I like to spend 2 or 3 days sorting out the details. If my trip is coming up soon, like a few weeks out, I will check the areas we are traveling to and through, to see if there are major road construction, and re- route where we could avoid things. If our trip is far out, like next summer, I plan an alternate route in certain legs, just encase we need a quick change. You can’t always relay on navigation working in the sticks and such.

Step three, pre booking. Keep things flexible and don’t over book. I like to make reservations at the final destination well in advance. If we are going to camp along the way, I pre book in advance for better spots. If We are staying in a major city or small town during a known touristy time of year, pre-book. Otherwise, I just let the stops in between unfold naturely. I don’t want to be bummed out we can’t randomly take a side attraction pit stop, If we need to drive 5 more hours to our cheap motel 350 miles away. Maybe we stop to check out the massive nut and drive another 150 miles and just stay at what’s available in small town USA.


1. Make sure you have the time to dedicate to your road trip destination. The more time the better.

2. Set your budget and start mapping the route. Make sure to find some points of interest on the way. The more you can comfortably toss in, the more fun you’ll have. Make sure to keep your trip flexible too. It can be a tricky dance to do both.

3. Pre-pay for the most important things. Don’t book everything you think you will do or stay in advance. The longer the road trip, the more uncertainties will unfold. Stay positive, stay flexible and stay safe!

Bonus, what do you do when the morning you hit the road, all the National and stater parks close?

It’s not some kind of trick what if curve ball… This happened to us one year. We had an hardcore 3 week trip planned where we were going to camp around the country, bouncing from National Parks to State Parks and decking into some lovely Bnb’s along the way. However, the morning we leave, the Obama administration had a bit of a shut down. This lasted about two weeks. So, Zion camping was off limits, the Redwood national forest got cut out, Yosemite, the Petrified Forest… What a bummer right?

Well, yes and no. It’s not like any government can actually “close” the Grand Canyon. DO you know how freaking big it is? So, no we didn’t get to pitch a tent for two nights on Lava Point in Zion National Park, and spend a couple of days hiking and exploring the area. We haven’t had any time to actually go back to any of these places. But, we didn’t miss them either. We just stayed in camp grounds near by, or hit a hotel when we were going to be camping. If you are close enough to national forests, you can find your way in for a brief look around. Most the Rangers that encountered us and others doin the same, were very friendly and encouraged us not to get too cozy, aka, try to set up camp.

We discovered new gems, places I’ve never read about or hear of. Overall, the bust was;t so bad.

Keep your mind open and ready for anything. Don’t cancel your plans if this happens to you. It’s like when the weather changes, we don’t cancel our plans, we just change clothes.

Walking around in Rotterdam. Photo by Chelsea Hoberer 2022