Here’s how to become the ultimate road trip planner.
Airfares continue to climb. The TSA recently announced yet another mandatory check (travelers are now required to turn on mobile devices in the security line). Southwest (typically regarded as the friendliest airline) just kicked a passenger off a plane for tweeting a customer service complaint. As such, you may be thinking – time for a road trip. And while you may just want to hop in your car and get going, a little forethought goes a long way.
Tips for the Road Trip Planner
1. Get Your Car Checked
My friend’s car broke down on a recent weekend getaway road trip, which was costly in both money and time: Their itinerary was completely disrupted and they also had to factor in the unplanned expenses of towing the car to the mechanic and all the needed repairs. So while it may sound obvious to some, a quick trip to get your car serviced—including a tune up, oil change, and tire check—is paramount to peace of mind before hitting the road.
If you’re not confident that your car can go the distance (and don’t have the budget for precautionary repairs), consider renting a car. You can often find great deals through an opaque travel site such as Hotwire or Priceline. And if you’re traveling with friends, you can split the cost of the rental among the group to make it even more wallet-friendly.
2. Find the Best Fuel Along the Way
I’ve raved about it before: AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator helps you find the most affordable fueling stations around the country, and also enables you to calculate in advance what you should expect to spend on gas over the course of your trip, broken down by your route and the make/model of your car. Play around with it to see if you can save money by route, check average gas prices for the region you’re planning to visit, or compare how your car model compares to others (fuel-efficiency-wise). You’ll find it’s one of the best road trip planner tools around.
3. Have Old-Fashioned Maps at the Ready, Just in Case
Nowadays, it’s easy to rely on smartphones for GPS directions and overall route-planning – but it’s always a good idea to have paper maps and atlases with you in case of technical failure. Case in point: On a road trip to Montreal last year (and in the spirit of disconnecting for a few days), my husband and I hadn’t arranged for international data plans on our smartphones during our getaway. When we crossed the border from Vermont into Canada, our data instantly went away – and with it the GPS service we were using via Google Maps. We got to downtown Montreal without incident, but then hopelessly circled the winding streets of Old Montreal, unable to find our hotel. After half an hour of no luck, we pulled into a gas station and bought a paper city map and were at our hotel five minutes later. (And that traditional map? We ended up consulting it the rest of the weekend – and I still have it, tucked away for our next Montreal trip.)
Alternatively, if you’re not the unplugging type – just make sure your phones and/or GPSes are fully charged before hitting the road. If you’re traveling to Canada or Central or South America, be sure to purchase an international data plan through your phone service provider, so you won’t have a gap in coverage.
4. Determine Whether You Want to Book Hotels in Advance
When you’re a road trip planner, you can determine whether you want to be spontaneous on the road and find hotels wherever the day takes you, or if you want to ensure your accommodations are booked in advance. There are perks to both options: Being spontaneous means you’re not necessarily locked into an itinerary, and you can find local accommodations recommendations that may not have come up in any web search or guidebook. Planning in advance, on the other hand, means you have a clear destination to work toward on a given day of your road trip, and you already know what you’ll be spending for your accommodations (meaning no budgetary surprises). Personality plays a big factor here – if you’re adventurous, go spontaneous; if you’re a planner, book before you go.
5. Divvy Up Driving Duties
Regardless of who you’re traveling with, divvy up driving duties in a way that makes sense for you and your companions. Look to allocate driving time as equally as possible, but also play to the group’s strengths and preferences: Night owls, take the wheel at night. City dwellers, volunteer to drive in urban areas. And, of course, remember the cardinal rule of road trips: Whoever is driving controls the radio.
Are you planning an upcoming road trip? Share your best road trip planner tips by leaving a comment below!
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Photo courtesy Kay Gaensler via Flickr Creative Commons