10 Tips For Planning For The Best Road Trip
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Going out on a road trip (or even just a trip) requires making the right preparations and planning. And it’s not just reading. It’s building the best itinerary that will keep you satisfied when your trip is over. Then there’s dealing with the logistics, like booking hotels or renting a car. It’s also finding the best restaurants to visit in each destination, and for vegans like me, the food prep needs more attention, like always. And more.
My last road trip to New England has taught me a lot about what planning is needed, what details require my additional attention, and how to have the most enjoyable trip. Here is my list of 10 guidelines and tips that made my road trip to New England the best:
Read and learn
The internet is full of information about any destination you want to go to – either on official sites of the places (cities/parks) or on many travel blogs. Collecting the information didn’t seem like a complex task. As we were targeting a wide area of six states on our road trip, the first reading was very confusing. I gathered so much information and I had no idea how to process it. And if you are a curious person that wants to see everything, like me, there’s also the fear of missing out.
The first step was to divide the information into a few main groups: Parks, Cities, landmarks, and restaurants. The Second was to use Google Maps to pin the main locations that I found interesting.
Plan together (if possible)
We are traveling as a couple, and when there’s more than one person involved, there is more than one opinion. When my partner joined the reading, he also didn’t know how to handle all the information he was dealing with. However, when we started talking between us about what each other liked, it helped us to focus on some areas and places, eliminate others, and plan better.
Find your Anchor Destination
After eliminating some of the pins on my map I felt a little bit more on target. However, I still had many pins and no idea how to connect between them.
The next decision we had to make in our planning for this road trip was to define our Anchor Destination and then to build the trip around it. What is the number one, top-ranked destination that we must not miss? For us, that anchor was Acadia National Park, Maine. It is one of the most visited National Parks in the US, so there’s no chance we were going to miss it. It was also the Northernmost pin on our map so driving all the way up to the park and then coming back down to New York made sense.
We then decided to add a second anchor – Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is a city that we have always wanted to visit but always seemed too expensive for a close and short getaway. That was my opportunity!
Set your road trip guidelines
The next stage in our planning for the road trip was to mark the routes: the way up to Acadia National Park, the way down to Boston, and getting back home. Basically, it was time to connect the dots. This required defining our main guidelines:
- Connecting with nature – the goal of this trip was to see fall colors in New England, so we wanted to be off the highways as much as possible, and to see the trees, lakes, waterfalls, beaches, etc.
- Driving no more than 3-4 hours a day – We can wake up in no rush, make stops on the way, be spontaneous, and still reach our destination before sunset.
- Not driving at night – the roads outside of the cities are dark, and while I do enjoy the driving, it is less fun and less safe.
Be flexible – it is important!
Even though we knew which places we wanted to visit on the way, we left a lot of room for making changes. This allowed us to make unplanned stops, like short coffee breaks or longer for food. We discovered new places that were not in our plans – small towns, state parks, beaches, etc. Some of the best memories of our trip are from these spontaneous stops that we did.
While one was driving, the other person had the map open and looked for interesting places on the way. Our immediate trigger was any State Park, that is close to water.
Plan your Accommodation
After building the plan of what we want to see and where we want to be every day, we needed to take care of accommodation. The only hotel we booked in advance was at Acadia National Park, our anchor destination. For the rest of the nights, we planned which areas we want to be at, but the booking was on the go – each day for the upcoming night.
Not booking hotels in advance, as part of planning for the road trip, has allowed us the flexibility that we wanted. If we finished our plans early, we could drive further and get ourselves closer to our next destination. If we took our time and did more things than initially planned for that day, we found a closer hotel to spend the night in.
Note: The Covid situation was in our favor in this case. Tourism was lower than low seasons, and finding a place for the night wasn’t something to worry about. During other (and better) times, it’s important to check if it’s high season or low season in the area you travel to. Also check how many hotels are in this area, to evaluate your chances of finding a room on the spot.
Book your accommodation
For many years now, I use three main sites for booking hotels: Hotels.com, Booking, and Expedia. The prices on these sites are usually pretty similar, but sometimes one has a better deal or a mobile-only offer with a 10% discount. I also recommend to create an account on each one and start earning points for every night you book. I’d still choose between the three based on price but remember that the more you book on one, the more discounts you are eligible to.
While I use these three sites for finding the best deals, and I also use Trip Advisor to check ranking and readers’ reviews. It has more reviews than other sites, and I trust the crowd wisdom in this case.
Check out which hotels I stayed in during my New England trip here.
Use GPS for better Navigation
Google Maps is my easy go-to app when I need to calculate distances in the city. However, when I am out on the roads, I prefer to use Waze. While both apps are owned by the same company (Google), the data in Waze is based on real-time feedback from other drivers. I find it better than Google Maps for avoiding high traffic and finding the shortest route to my destination.
Still, Google Maps was being utilized in parallel, not for navigation, but for exploration of the areas we were in. Thanks to Google Maps, we identified nearby state parks, and we were able to make sudden stops and discover new places.
I’d plan a road trip with Google maps, use it for getting familiar with the areas that I am in, search for locations in a city, but Waze is my driving route planner in real-time.
Know the basics of Renting a car
Searching for the best deal for a rented car is not an easy task. The rental car companies do not always use the same terminology so comparing might be confusing. Sometimes the price you see includes some services at one company, but at another company, they might not. And then there’s the insurance part, which boosts significantly the price that you saw.
Here are some tips for finding the best rental car deal. Thanks to these tips I was able to save almost $200 on the car and an additional $100 for the insurance.
- Compare prices between several agencies. I picked the agencies that are close to my home address, to make the pick-up and drop off easier.
- Renting a car at airports is usually cheaper. Though, depends on where you live, arriving at the airport takes time, and can be pricey if you take a cab/uber. I still recommend to check the prices at airport locations, but add the additional cab/uber cost to your calculation. For my trip, the bottom line difference was negligible, so it didn’t justify the time to go all the way to the airport.
- Check different car classes. Each company uses different terminology for a class, but there are two important things to notice here. A smaller car can be cheaper but can still be good for your needs. On the other hand, a bigger car might be at the same price, so you can enjoy a more comfortable vehicle. Always check both options.
- On the day of the pickup, check if they have complimentary upgrades. If they do, they usually offer it. However, in case they didn’t offer it until the last stage of the conversation, just ask. Worst case, they will say no.
Buying insurance for your rental car is a must. Even though it can increase the costs significantly, I ALWAYS get full coverage when I rent a car. It is better to pay a little bit more for the insurance, that a lot more if something happens and you are not covered.
These are the three types of insurance that I check and I but them all:
- CDW / LDW – covers any damage to the vehicle. Some credit cards can give you this for free if you use the card when you rent the car. On my trip, I used the United Explorer Card of Chase and it saved me $100. Check your credit card benefits to see if you can also save money this way.
- Liability Insurance – covers any damage to a third party in case of an accident. Important.
- Personal protection – covers any medical expenses for yourself in case of an accident and damage/loss of your belongings. If you don’t have medical insurance or if your medical insurance is limited, Personal protection is an important one to get.
I am not an insurance advisor, and everything I wrote about here is based only on my experience as a traveler.
Pack food and water
A road trip means spending many hours in the car, which is like your second home on the roads. And a good home needs good food. While stopping in restaurants or delis along the way is always an option (though not as easy when you are vegan), sometimes you just want a snack, something to drink, or something to help you deal with the boredom of the drive. Yes, that might happen.
For me, packing for this road trip included also a big bag of things from my kitchen and pantry. We also planned to make a stop in Walmart outside of the city on the first day, and buy more things for the road at lower prices.
I always carry my personal insulating water bottle, to keep me hydrated, and it was also part of my road trip essentials. We also bought a 32-pack of small water bottles to have in the car. Every night we took a few to refrigerate in the hotel, and every morning I filled my insulating bottle, and the rest were in our backpacks.
Bagels with PB&J
Obviously, this can be replaced with other types of breads and spreads, but the point here is to be able to make sandwiches, that are both filling and quick. When hotels didn’t have breakfast (or no vegan options), or when we wanted to eat fast and hit the road – it was very convenient. Also, we prepared bagels with PB&J for the hikes, and they were the perfect energy booster when we reached the top of a mountain. Energy bars can also be great for the purpose, and they take less space. We had both!
Depends on where you travel to, sometimes you are not in a place to get a proper meal at a restaurant. It might be if you are camping for the night, or just traveling in nature for many hours. Instead of filling your stomach with snacks only, canned food can be an easy solution. Corn, baby corn, hearts of palms, white beans, and whatever else you like. On the day of our hike at Acadia National Park, we found it very useful for our rest break in the car (nope, we didn’t carry that in the bags).
If you are a vegetable lover like me, then this is a must. Already at home, I prepared a box with Cucumbers, carrots, and cherry tomatoes that I washed, dried, and cut. When they were over, I bought more on the road. It was a great snack while driving and my hands didn’t get dirty, as usually happens with some snacks.
Yes, after all the “healthier” stuff, snacks are also an important part. They fill your stomach and cheer you up, just don’t exaggerate!
Dealing with so many things before going out on a road trip might sound too much. However, it is guaranteed, that planning well for your road trip will make it better, more enjoyable, and with better memories.
The thought that leads me is that for every place I visit, it is probably the only time I visit there. So, I want to make sure I make the best out of every place, and I know I can do that with good planning.
I hope you will enjoy your next road trips, and travel safely.
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Photo Credit: Woman with a computer – Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com. Pointing on a map – Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com. Exit sign – Craig Adderley on Pexels.com. Woman on bed – Toa Heftiba on Unsplash. Woman looking at a map – Leah Kelley on Pexels.com. Guys on a van – ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com. Feeding animal from the car – Eric Esma on Pexels.com, open road – Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com