Open road, music blasting, wind in your hair, and sun on your skin. In the seat next to you is your favourite person in the world. As you explore new places, snap sunset photos of breathtaking vistas, and meet the locals over a pint in a grungy bar by the side of the road, you can’t stop smiling – you’re having the time of your life.
Roadtrips come in all shapes and sizes but everyone has that special journey that they’ve always dreamed of taking. For me it’s always been a roadtrip across the United States, and later this month this dream will come true at last. As I’m putting together the last bits of my trip, I thought I’d share my planning process and hopefully inspire someone else to finally go on their dream roadtrip.
Step 1: Pick Your Destination
If you’re anything like me, you probably already know where you want to go. However, it’s still important to remember that some places are more roadtrip-friendly than others. For example, I’d think long and hard about attempting to drive across Russia, knowing that roads there are terrible and distances are enormous. Europe on the other hand? Sign me up!
When choosing a destination for your epic roadtrip, ask yourself the following:
→ Is it safe?
Do a bit of research about the internal situation in your country of choice with regards to politics, conflict, natural disasters, etc. The more you know, the better!
→ Can you afford it?
This seems like an obvious one but it’s actually super important. Doing a quick initial search for flights, accommodation, and car rental prices – the three largest expenses during a roadtrip – can help you narrow down the ideal destination and keep your purse happy.
▲ Pro-Tip: Some countries have seasonal spikes in prices, so make sure you factor this is if you’re going to a destination that’s hot with tourists during certain months.
→ Does it feel right?
Today many people consider the ethical dimension when choosing which countries to visit. Would you really want your hard-earned cash supporting discriminatory policies of the country you’re touring? Personally I could – and probably will – write a whole separate post on the pros and cons of ethical considerations in choosing travel destinations. All I will say for now is that for many people this could be an important thing to consider when picking their roadtrip destination. Remember, at the end of the day it’s your decision!
Step 2: Schedule Your Roadtrip
Remember when you were a student and had entire summers to yourself? Damn, those were the days… If you’re still in that period of your life or are lucky enough to benefit from some ridiculously flexible working arrangement: take advantage of it!
If you’re not, the following questions are for you:
→ When do you want to travel?
In addition to seasonal spikes in prices you should consider weather, your personal availability, and important dates like your grandma’s 90th birthday party that you absolutely cannot miss.
→ What do you want to see?
A coast to coast roadtrip in the US can take a week, or it can take two months. It all depends on which points of interest are must-see for you, how much time you want to spend in different places along the way, and how much leeway you want to give yourself to adapt your route on the go.
→ How much time off can you take?
Consider both your holiday allowance at work and how much money you think you can spend on travel. You don’t want the most memorable point of your grand three-month South America tour to be running out of cash only five weeks in somewhere in the Andes, do you?
▲ Pro-Tip: Book your time off as early as possible! That way the time for your roadtrip is set in stone, and your boss will have a much harder time dropping that dull, futile project no one else would take in your lap.
Step 3: Plan Your Route
This is hands down the most exciting part of planning an epic roadtrip! The decisions you make at this stage will affect your entire experience so choose wisely.
If big open spaces and breathtaking views make your heart flutter, then you might want to avoid big congested cities. And if too much green makes you bored out of your mind or anxious about all the creatures out there in the long grass just waiting for an opportune moment to bite or sting you, then maybe you should stay away from national parks. See where I’m going here?
Here are a few more things to consider when planning your route:
Make a list of all things you want to see and map them against the time you have for your roadtrip. Remember that major things like hiking through the best nature reserve in the region or exploring ancient ruins in a remote corner of the island will naturally take longer that a drive through a series of desolate towns deep inside the fly-over states territory.
▲ Pro-Tip: Chances are you won’t fit every single thing into your schedule no matter how long your roadtrip is. The world is just too incredible and diverse to see it all! Narrow down places and things that are the most important for you but don’t forget to leave some time for all those in-between, unplanned-for, serendipitous moments that make roadtrips so special. Let go and see where the road takes you!
One-way or round-trip? This is actually a much more important question than I realised when I began planning my US roadtrip. Both choices are equally great but if you’re doing a one-way trip with a rental car, be aware of the extra charges your rental company might have in store for you. More on this below.
Most people our age don’t have an unlimited budget. Be ready to say no to some of the cool things along your route. Sure, I’d love to see the night sky through a badass McDonald Observatory telescope but do I want to pay over $60 per person to do it? Probably not…
Step 4: Budget For Your Roadtrip
I get it, budgeting is boring. Budgeting makes people anxious, and stressed, and uncomfortable. But I promise you, having a solid budget – and starting it early on – will really make your life easier in the long run.
Here’s what you can expect to include in a roadtrip budget:
→ Flights and related expenses
If you’re flying to your dream destination, book those flights as early as possible! To get the best deal, make sure you use all the money-saving tricks available to you. Knowing these tricks helped me score TWO roundtrip flights to the US and an internal flight for a total of £1000. Tell me that’s not a bargain!
▲ Pro-Tip: If you’re a holder of one of the weaker passports of the world, welcome to the club! Chances are you will also need a visa to get into your dream destination – yep, that’s another line in your budget. And to spare yourself from any unwanted surprises, make sure your visa is issued before you book your flights!
→ Car rental and related expenses
Just as with flights, there are dozens of rental car companies out there. Personally I found it easiest to search through Rentalcars.com – as a bonus, you get excellent customer service with them, which you will end up using if you’re as awkward as I am and have never rented a car before.
▲ Pro-Tip: There are many quirks with renting a car, especially from abroad. Take time to carefully read the fine print and understand all the terms and conditions of your rental. I was in for a nasty surprise when I realised, after the booking went through, that my one-way fee – the penalty you pay if you’re picking up a car in one location and dropping it off in another – was supposed to be $1000. Cue a panicked call to the customer service… There are much better deals out there, and you can always save yourself the pain by planning your roadtrip to be a roundtrip!
→ Food, petrol, essential expenses
Having enough spending money for your trip goes without saying. Travel planning apps like Roadtrippers have a function that estimates your petrol charges based on your route and your car model. Do your research on cost of living in your destination country, and plan to have about twice as much as you’d normally need if you were living there for the length of your stay.
→ The fun stuff
National park entry fees, museums, tours, nights out, the fuck it, let’s do this! moment you have after a few drinks at a Vegas casino… These thing make roadtrips epic and later turn into stories that you will tell at cocktail parties for years to come. Make sure you have a pot of cash in your budget reserved for all the fun, scary, planned, unplanned, brilliant and stupid things you’ll get up to on your journey!
Step 5: Pack Your Bags
This is it. The epic roadtrip you’ve always dreamed about is actually happening. All that’s left to do is pack your bags, grab your passport and your camera, and set out on the journey that could very well change your life.
Thanks for reading rouge & coffee ♡