6 tips for planning the perfect road trip

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6 tips for planning the perfect road trip

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We love road trips. More than any other kind of travels they allow us to know the true essence of a destination. We plan our road trips with care, choosing the stages and the length of each stop or stay, but always keeping the right level of flexibility to make sure we have enough time to discover the beauty and the culture of the places where we are. But an on-the-road trip, by its nature, requires a few cautions. For this reason, it requires careful preparation and attention. Here are some useful tips for planning the perfect road trip!

We love road trips and for some time now we have been trying to do at least one every year. We choose our destinations carefully, selecting places that fit in well with this type of travel and whose true essence can easily be discovered “from the road”.
Essentially there are two ways for travellers to experience a road trip. The first way is for those who follow the philosophy of living for the day, choosing day by day where to go, where to sleep and what to do. The second one is for those who carefully plan their trip in advance, choosing the stages, preparing a timetable and booking the hotels for the night in advance. We’ll tell you straight away: we belong to the second category. Our on-the-road trips are always carefully planned. This is because we love to experience the journey and our goal is to entirely dedicate our time “on the road” to discover the destination, without wasting time worrying, for example, about where we are going to sleep at night. Obviously, we are flexible enough to ensure that we can dedicate extra time to what we really like, to reschedule in case something goes wrong or simply to include last-minute experiences and places in our plans. So, if you share our travel philosophy and if you are just planning your first road trip, here are some useful tips!

Choosing the destination

It may sound obvious to you, but choosing the right destination for your road trip is the basis of successful planning. So, don’t believe those who tell you that all destinations will be good! Obviously, all places worth to be discovered, that’s clearly true. But certainly not all of them lend themselves to being discovered on the road! Do a lot of research on the internet and take inspiration from our travel stories. Our advice, however, is to choose countries with a good road network (not necessarily highways, but just safe, well-maintained roads), with a wide range of breathtaking natural landscapes or with a series of towns and villages to explore along the way. Iceland is certainly a popular destination for an on-the-road trip (we visited it in 2019, here’s our travel story). But what we probably remember most clearly is the road trip to Southern England, from London to Cornwall and back, passing by the Cliffs of Dover and the Isle of Wight. Norway, with its huge variety of landscapes and magnificent fjords, is also a perfect destination for a road trip. Finally, if you do your research properly you will discover that there are many other less-known options, even in really close countries. For example, have you ever heard of the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) in Germany, of the Grand Tour of Switzerland or of the Amalfi Coast in Italy?

Rent a car

Once you have chosen your destination, you will need to decide whether to leave with your own car or whether to reach your destination by another type of transport and hire a car on the spot. The question is not easy at all, because renting a car for more than a week can have a huge impact on your holiday budget. On the other hand, taking your own car with you will certainly save you money, but reaching your destination by road will surely take away valuable time from your exploration. Our advice, if you will choose to take your car with you, is to build your itinerary including the route to your destination as a part of your holiday. This way, you will get rid of the unpleasant feeling that you have stolen valuable time from your holiday. In addition, you will probably be able to visit places you would otherwise have ignored. However, if you decide to rent a car on the spot, we recommend to choose serious and reliable rental companies that can guarantee high quality standards, cost transparency and an efficient roadside assistance system. In some locations this can really make the difference! When choosing the car model, remember to take into account the geographical characteristics and the peculiarities of the road network at your destination. A compact car may be fine for a paved road trip or a city tour, but if you’re planning to include dirt roads (in Iceland, for example, the main internal roads are unpaved and crossed by rivers!) or sandy, unstable terrain in your itinerary, it’s best to opt for a 4×4. Finally, don’t forget to carefully evaluate all the insurance coverage offered by your rental company, including penalties, maximum limits and exclusions. In Iceland, for example, many insurance companies do not cover damage to the vehicle resulting from driving on gravel roads or crossing rivers. In some cases, therefore, it may make sense to extend your basic insurance cover to avoid unpleasant surprises on your bill. Here* you will find a great comparator of car rental offers.

Building the itinerary and choosing the stages

And here we are at the planning stage of the itinerary. Together with the choice of destination, this is certainly the most time-consuming phase of all. For good planning, the advice is to start with the total duration of your holiday and to quantify in advance the time needed for the journey to your destination and for the journey to come back home. In addition, we suggest to use Google Maps to pin down on a map all the attractions, places and points of interest that you intend to visit during your trip. When you have done this, try to group them together by proximity. This will help you to have a clear overview and to build a preliminary plan. If you have worked well, the building of the single stages will come by itself. Looking at the points of interest grouped by proximity will also help you to identify cities in which to stay overnight.
Now you are ready to put your itinerary down on paper! But first a few tips:

– Use an Excel sheet, as it will allow you to work easily and prepare tables and diagrams if necessary, which will help you to keep track of your travel schedule and budget;

– For each day, try to write a plan that includes the time needed for the transfers. You can use the ‘’directions” function of Google Maps;

– Try to limit the daily travel time to a maximum of three hours, both for safety reasons and to keep a margin of flexibility in the overall planning. Alternatively, try to include a stop-off point in the middle of your journey.

Dedicate the morning hours to travelling to the next destination so that you can relax in the afternoon. This will also help you to optimize your overall time, as hotels usually require you to check out by 11 a.m. and do not allow check-in before 2 p.m.
Now that you have your travel plans, don’t forget to print out a copy to take with you during your trip!

Plan yes, plan no: flexibility is the key!

As already explained, there are essentially two ways of experiencing an on the road trip: the way of those who plan their trip carefully and the way of those who prefer to live day by day. If you’ve been reading up to now, you’ve already understood which of the two groups of travellers we belong to: we like to plan our trips so that we don’t steal precious time from the journey itself. Those who live for the day believe that planning a trip is taking away the authenticity and spirit of adventure of the trip. On the other hand, we believe that during a trip you should only be thinking about enjoying the trip, not worrying about looking for a place where to sleep or wondering if you’ll be able to eat something for dinner. Of course, we agree on one thing: you don’t have to plan everything in detail, but having a bed for the night will certainly make your trip more enjoyable. So, take care to book your overnight stays in advance and make sure you can get to your hotel on time, but remain flexible in the rest of your daily planning.

Food and snacks

Lunches and dinners have often the biggest impact on a trip’s budget. During a road trip, you’ll be often on the road and probably you will not be able to have access to the wide range of reasonably priced food we’re used to on a normal trip. Over the years, we have learnt that the best way to save your money on a road trip is to get good shopping at the supermarket to cover your lunch needs and take it with you on your trip. This is even more true in countries where the cost of living would really make it prohibitive to eat at a restaurant more than once a day.
Once you arrive at your destination, choose a supermarket and buy everything you think you will need to survive the next few days. Obviously, you should give preference to packed, non-perishable food that you can easily keep in your vehicle’s luggage compartment without worrying that it will go bad due to the weather. In this way you will have the freedom to have lunch anywhere, even during your journeys between one stage and another, perhaps taking the opportunity for a short break from driving.
If you decide to take your car with you, you can of course do your shopping before you leave. This could help you save even more money (if your country’s costs of living are lower then at your destination) and allow you to choose products you already know. However, be sure to check the customs regulations of your destination country in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises at customs when you arrive.

Things to take with you on an on-the-road trip

So, you are almost ready for your first on-the-road trip! On a road trip, you may have a lot of needs, some of which are completely unimaginable before leaving, as we are used to the many comforts of modern life. Are you sure you already have everything you really need? Here is a short checklist of what you absolutely must not forget:

Driver license and travel documents: maybe you already know it or maybe you don’t, but we’ll tell you anyway! For a trip on the road you need… a valid driving license! Check that your driving license has not expired and that it is considered valid in the country of destination. Some countries require a special international document in English. If in doubt, you can also check with the rental company you choose. If you decide to rent a car, you obviously don’t have to worry too much about the travel documents, apart from checking that they are on board when you pick up the car. If you are bringing your own car, be sure to find out in advance about the necessary documents, traffic regulations and any tolls, for which you may have to pay in advance.

Mobile phone and car charger: on a road trip, your mobile phone will be an essential travel partner. It will allow you to check the route and the traffic conditions, to look for information on restaurants and places to visit, to communicate with family members at home and, if necessary, to contact the emergency services. It is therefore essential that it is always running and has a fully charged battery. In most cases, all you need is just a charging cable. Many cars are already equipped with USB power ports. But the car rental fleet is not always so modern and the equipment of the vehicles may not always be so obvious. The advice is to get a portable USB charger that you can plug into the cigarette lighter of the car. You can find many of them for a good price on Amazon*.

Camera and windscreen holder for mobile phone: When travelling on the road there will be plenty of opportunities to take lots of photos and videos. So, take a good camera with you, if possible, with a spare battery to replace if necessary.
But the best thing about travelling on the road is the car journey itself! For this reason, we usually use our mobile phones to take short videos of us driving, commenting on what we see outside the car or what happens to us during the trip. If you want to try to do the same safely, we recommend buying a windscreen holder for a mobile phone. They are cheap and will also be useful just for consulting the navigation system and road maps while driving. You can also find these on Amazon*.

Hygienic wipes: On a road trip you often don’t have the chance to wash your hands as often as you would in everyday life. Hand hygiene is essential, particularly in times of pandemic. For this reason, especially if you plan to eat your lunches in the car while on the move, we suggest you buy and carry with you hygienic wet wipes. There are many types on the market and, as they are usually quite light, they will certainly not weigh down your luggage.

Music playlist: no trip is really a trip without a soundtrack! This is even truer on a road trip. Listening to good music is a great way to make the road flow lightly, even on the most tiring or monotonous parts of the route. If you really want to immerse yourself in the reality and culture of the country of destination, then simply turn on the radio and choose one of the many channels available. On the contrary, if you prefer to listen to your favorite music and sing it out loud while travelling, then don’t forget to prepare your playlist and make it available offline on your favorite music streaming service.

Now you know all about planning a road trip and you have everything you need. So, what’s your next destination? If you like it, let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or, alternatively, tell us about your road trip by writing an article to be published on our blog!
In the meantime, have a good trip!

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