How to Plan (and Take) Your Bucket List Road Trip

Most lovers of traveling keep a mental list of dream-come-true destinations and activities, from backpacking around Europe to climbing the Eiffel Tower, sightseeing in Saint Petersburg, teaching English in Beijing, or the ultimate bucket list road trip.

The definition of the “perfect” road trip will vary depending on whomever is dreaming about it. What is true for any road trip is that a little advance preparation goes a long way toward ensuring the trip is everything you dreamed it would be. Here’s how to prep for your bucket list road trip—whatever it may look like.

Use this tips when planning your bucket list road trip.

Chart your route.

The route you take will depend on a number of factors, including your time constraints, ultimate destination, budget, weather preferences, interest in local attractions, the amount of time you’re willing to spend driving each day, whether you want to camp or sleep in hotels, and so on.

Once you’ve identified a possible route, spend some time researching attractions, food options, and accommodations along the way. Familiarizing yourself with your route will help provide some structure for your trip and will ensure you don’t arrive home only to learn that you missed seeing an attraction you really, really wished you’d have seen.

That being said, don’t get too carried away with planning. One of the greatest perks of road tripping is having the flexibility to pursue random whims, check out unexpected attractions, and so on. Familiarize yourself with your route, but don’t require that your plans be set in stone.

Save some dough.

Regardless of whether you’re road tripping on a budget, you can help your dollars stretch further by:

  • Using an app such as GasBuddy to identify the cheapest fuel on your route
  • Packing your own food, snacks, and beverages instead of stopping at restaurants or chains for every meal
  • Bringing along a friend or two to help shoulder the costs
  • Packing light to increase your car’s fuel efficiency
  • Purchasing roadside assistance insurance so you’re covered in the event of car troubles (instead of forking out for an unexpected towing bill)
  • Factoring tolls into your overall budget so you aren’t surprised every time you’re hit with a large toll (Speaking of which: Remember to have plenty of cash in the car so you aren’t caught empty-handed at an unexpected toll booth.)

Be safe.

Road trips are a ton of fun, but spending days on end in a moving vehicle is not without its risks. Prioritize safety on the road with the following strategies:

  • Have your car checked out before you leave. Let your mechanic know your plans and ask them to do a thorough safety inspection of your vehicle to ensure it’s road-worthy.
  • Build an emergency supply kit and plan to keep it in the car at all times. This should include (but is not limited to) an extra cell phone battery and/or charger, a heavy-duty flashlight, water, nonperishable food, a first aid kit, a paper map (in case your GPS ever stops working), a multi-tool, a warm blanket, and a list of emergency contact numbers.
  • If you didn’t already purchase the roadside assistance insurance mentioned above, safety is another compelling reason to do so.
  • Plan to text a friend or family member back home your whereabouts everyday (even if you’re traveling with companions).
  • Research the weather along your route both before you leave and as you’re traveling. Staying up to date on the natural conditions you’ll encounter along your drive can help you plan with safety as your first priority.
  • Bring along a second car key. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important. Having a spare key on hand will help prevent the panic and time delays that come along with locking yourself out of the car.

Pack smart.

When it comes to packing for a road trip, organization is key. Here are a few tips for keeping all your gear in order:

  • Consider the items you’ll need to access on a daily basis (e.g. toothpaste and your phone charger) and make sure they’re easily accessible so you don’t have to unpack the whole car every time you need a frequently used item.
  • Consider the purpose for everything you pack, and let that dictate its place in the car. For example, your flashlight should be stored somewhere it will be easy to grab in the dark.
  • Once you’ve assigned a spot to all your gear, make sure to put things back in their respective places immediately after using them. Consistency is the key to organization.

Make sure everybody’s on the same page.

If you’re traveling with companions, you’re about to embark on spending several days (maybe even weeks) in a very confined space together for hours on end. This means it’s important to establish expectations from the get-go. Have a sit-down conversation with everyone involved to discuss how you’ll divide up the driving time, how you’ll split expenses, whether folks are okay with unplanned stops, and so on. Plan to revisit these conversations once you’re on the road—respectful, honest, and frequent conversation is the best way to ensure resentments don’t fester.

No matter whether your bucket list road trip involves cruising across America, exploring the history of Ireland, or trekking across the country with Fido, these tips will help ensure the experience is everything you hoped it would be.  

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