As of writing this, I’ve driven across the country, or halfway across the country, five times. Yes, five. (Update, May 2018: I’m at nine now!) The first was our Southwest road trip out to Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and back (I’m counting that as twice, each direction.)
Next was out to Utah for my new job. The third trip, fourth and fifth time driving, was from Utah to Florida and back between jobs. Plus, I’ve gone from Bullfrog to Vegas and Bullfrog to Jackson Hole. I’ve spent so much time in the car the last year, it’s ridiculous.
That’s why I’m here to help you plan a road trip with this little series! This is part one: what to do and figure out before you go.
Figure out who’s going
This is really important and should probably be done before anything else, or at least keep it in mind when you’re looking into the rest of this list. I feel like two or four are the ideal numbers, but of course, three would still work. The less people going, the easier it is to make decisions. The more people going, the lower the cost will be per person. Here are my opinions on those numbers.
- It’s easier to make decisions.
- It’s easier to split costs, half is easier to figure out than thirds.
- You can get hotel rooms with one or two beds, it doesn’t matter, unless you don’t want to share a bed.
- You have to drive a lot more.
- It will cost a little more.
- You might get sick of each other depending on how long your trip is.
- Cost will go down.
- You will be able to split up driving time more.
- It can be harder to make decisions on things like food or what to do.
- You will pretty much need a hotel room with two beds, then you have to decide who shares.
- Cost is quite a bit lower since you can split gas and hotels more.
- No one will be stuck alone in the backseat.
- You can split up to do things and still not be alone if you want to do different things.
- You can drive a lot further at once since there are more people to take turns driving.
- You will need two hotel rooms, or one with two beds and you’ll have to share. But, with four people you could rent an apartment or house on Airbnb for a lot less. Again, splitting costs.
- Taking turns with music could get more annoying.
- Making decisions on food, when to leave, where to go, all that, will be a lot more difficult.
- You really might get sick of each other or annoyed if there are a lot of differences in opinion on the previous point.
Now that you’ve read that, think of who you might want to go with, then if they will feasibly be able to save for the kind of trip you want to do, and if they will all be OK to travel with. You can decide that together, or if there is something you reallllly want to do, tell them and see if they’re up for your budget and plan. Also, try and get commitment from your fellow road trippers far enough ahead and if they are going to cancel, give them a day you need to know by so you can make adjustments and prepare a little more, especially if you’ll have to save more.
Find a vehicle
Does someone going have a car you can use? Is it in good enough shape to drive across the country? Will you have to rent a car? What about a JUCY rental if it’s a longer trip? Do you want to rent an RV?
There are a lot of options here. Take your budget and number of people into consideration here. Remember you’ll be in the car for hours at a time and you’ll want something comfortable. My trips from Wisconsin to Utah and to Florida and back (and to Vegas twice, and Jackson) were in my Smart Car. It’s not the most comfortable because the seats don’t recline, but it’s good if you don’t want to bring a lot of stuff and it’s really good on gas.
This is also a good time to discuss how much time you’re all willing to drive at once, or how long you’re willing to be in the car at once.
Maybe this should be before finding a vehicle? I’m not really sure. In the planning stages, it’s important to talk budget with your co-trippers. Is that even a thing? Nothing would be worse than getting on the road and finding out one person wants to splurge on everything and has a $200/day budget while someone else was thinking of doing it on a shoestring and $80/day. No one wants to hear “I can’t afford that”every day for every activity. That’s how you have a bad time and start to like each other a little less.
My suggestion if that’s the case, compromise. Splurge on a hotel one day then find somewhere more affordable to eat. That sort of thing. Don’t let it ruin your trip. Talk about it ahead of time.
Get an idea of where you all want to go
Again, compromise. One of you loves museums, one of you loves shopping, one loves hiking. Take turns doing all three. If there are four of you and two want to shop while two want to go to a museum, split up for a bit. Pick what states you want to visit for sure, what parks, what museums and make time for those, but be flexible. Don’t book and plan everything, but get a list of places you’d all like to go.
When me and my friends plan trips, we all make a list of destinations then compare to see what we have in common and narrow it down that way. Then we do that for specific activities and restaurants and whatnot. It usually works out pretty well.
What kind of accommodation? Will you share beds?
Do you want to stay in hotels? Motels? Holiday Inns? Sorry, I couldn’t not do that. What about Airbnb? Camping? Glamping? There are so many options. Figure this out. Is someone not willing to share a bed? Will you have to get two hotel rooms then if there are three or four of you? Will they have to pay for it on their own? Is everyone OK with sharing beds?
Figure this out! You don’t want to get to a hotel and be arguing about sleeping arrangements at check-in. That’s annoying for everyone in the group and whoever is checking you in. Also, I wouldn’t book tons of accommodation ahead of time. Sometimes you could be able to drive 14 hours instead of six.
This is the most important part! Save as much as you can before you go so you can have the best road trip ever. This will mean you can do all the things, like hot air balloon, skydive, whitewater raft, kayak, hike, eat everything, take a helicopter ride, rent jet skis, take tours, you get the idea. The more you save, the more you can do. If you do budget accommodation and food, you can spend more on awesome activities, which I would highly recommend.
Road trips are awesome and something I think everyone should do at least once. If you are only doing it once, make it the best road trip you could possibly imagine. Now, get planning!
Have you done a Great American Road Trip? How was it? Where did you go? What did you plan ahead of time?