In 2013, Nick and I made an epic road trip from Perth to Darwin in Australia. While the scenery along the coast was incredible and we did some amazing things, we had quite a bit of car trouble which was a bit of a spoiler of the trip!
Besides everything breaking down, from the lights to the entire clutch, we also weren’t sure if the tires (and the rest of the car) were good enough to take us on the rugged part between Broome and Darwin, so we decided to skip it. Unfortunately, this was the part of the trip we had looked forward to most, but our car just wasn’t in the right shape to take us here.
In this road trip planner, I’d love to share some of the tips we gathered after making our own long car journey, so the next time you go on a road trip (wherever in the world you are planning road trips doesn’t really matter) you’re a bit better prepared than we were and hopefully can enjoy the journey a bit more as well!
We will go over the following topics:
- Planning a Road Trip
- How to Prepare Car for Road Trip
- What to Pack for a Road Trip?
- What to do on a Road Trip?
- How to Save Money on a Road Trip?
- Expert Tips on How to Plan your Road Trip anywhere in the world.
Let’s get right into it!
What we'll cover in this article
- Planning a Road Trip: Before You Leave
- How to Prepare Car for Road Trip?
- What to Pack for a Road Trip?
- What to do on a Road Trip?
- How to Save Money on a Road Trip?
- Plan your Road Trip with these Expert Tips:
Planning a Road Trip: Before You Leave
Every great trip starts with a bit of planning. So before you leave on a long car journey, have a think about the following:
1. Pick the Right Travel Company
I like to start this road trip planner with one of the most important things of making sure your journey will be successful: pick your travel company carefully! Driving with friends or people from the hostel can be fun for a couple of hours, but if you are close together for three weeks, do you still feel the same?
Driving alone can have its benefits, but remember that if you get in any (car) trouble, there is nobody there to help you out. If you can find anyone to tag along with you, you’ll be a bit safer and have probably more fun on the long stretches of asphalt as well :)
I have road tripped with my boyfriend as well as my entire family and I can only say that I found it important to have a bit of space (three people on the back seat is just too much for long drives) and to make sure that you don’t get into things that clearly annoy your travel companions. If you follow there simple rules to start with, you’re already well on your way to a great road trip!
When driving together, you can also split up the time each person has to drive… and see even more!
2. Set up a Loose Itinerary
When you start your road trip, you are probably on some sort of a time schedule, but having some room to breathe in your itinerary is really important, we’ve learned from our own trip. We (ok, me mostly) had planned way to much places to stop at and things to see and do, that sometimes we felt a bit rushed along the way.
I can recommend planning roughly the amount of driving you want to do on a day, figuring out where you would like to spend the night and let the rest in between a bit open for spontaneous decisions. When you bring a good guidebook, the person in the passenger seat can do a bit of reading while you are on your way and if anything interesting comes up either from the book, or perhaps a sign you see at the side of the road, take the opportunity to find out more about it.
We really wanted to see the Pinnacle Desert in West-Australia
These days, there are plenty of great GPS Navigationsystems available, both for your car-kit or on your phone. But remember that if the battery dies, you will need some sort of a back-up!
A good travel guide is great for reading more about the interesting towns and stretches of nature you’re passing. I was recently at a launch party of the Guide to the World by Lonely Planet, and it’s a great gift for a travelling friend hitting multiple countries.
4. Plan where to Stay for the Night
During your road trip, you have a couple of options where to spend the night. You can choose to stay in hotels, motels or hostels along the way, where you park the car and sleep in a proper room (sometimes with breakfast included), but if you’re more on a budget perhaps camping or sleeping in the back of the car can be an option.
For our trip, we chose to sleep in the back of the car. First of all, because the tent that was included when we bought the car turned out to be way too small for us (as in feet and head sticking out from both sides) and because we wanted to be able to sleep at basic (cheap) spots close to nature.
I can recommend investing on a good mattress and finding a way to close the windows at night. We got crafty with towels and clotheslines, but it still felt a bit that we were on public display, so perhaps get some stickers or folding shades o darken your windows.
Our Palace… Ok, Cabin… Ok, Sleeping-Container.
How to Prepare Car for Road Trip?
Making sure your car is in good condition before you set out on a road trip is very important. While it’s usually not necessary to know how to fix the entire engine (unless perhaps you’re driving the Mongol- or Dakar Rally), knowing some of the basic features of your car will really help you out on the road, so do some research on that for your road trip planning:
5. Know how to Check Basic Car Features
Besides knowing all the buttons on the dashboard, make sure you know how to check if your indicators, interior lights and headlights work (and how to change the light bulbs in them), also check the horn, your windscreen wipers (add fluids if needed), your brakes, transmission fluid, antifreeze and oil (and know how to top this up).
Check any manuals to know what gas/diesel you need and check how the heater and possibly air-conditioning works. Getting your car ready for road trips also means getting ready to learn a bit about the car yourself!
And then the clutch fell out from under our car… not really something we could fix ourselves :(
6. Make sure your Tires are in Good Shape
Your tires are one (well, four. well actually five, also counting your spare…) of the most important parts of your car. So when planning a road trip, make sure they are in good shape to start with. The tire pressure should match the specs in your owner’s manual. And if your tread is low, it’s time to buy new tires. Too much air in your tires can be just as bad as too little, so have that checked as well.
Another thing that you have to pay attention to in most countries, is the changing between summer- and winter tires. Winter tires offer you more grip to the roads in Winter conditions like snow and ice, but in general during low temperatures. When you hit the brakes on a snowy stretch of road at 50km/h, it will take 30 meters to stop using Winter tires, but over 60 meters with Summer tires! This could be a matter of life and death, really!
In many European countries, the use of Winter tires are obligatory (for example in Germany, you will definitely get fined if you don’t have them), but the rules vary in each country, so don’t take a risk and check it out!
The advice is to change tires around the 7 Degrees (Celsius) mark. So when it’s colder, change to Winter tires and when it’s warmer, change back to Summer Tires. As the weather is currently getting warmer, this is the time to change to Summer tires!
In this video you can watch a mechanic explain to you how to change your tires. Doesn’t actually look to hard, but of course you can have someone do this for you.
7. Pack First Aid Kit, Tool-Box and Emergency Numbers
When packing for a road trip, getting the first aid kit, tool box and emergency numbers ready is one of the most important tasks. The kits don’t have to be super-expensive and complicated, but get a good basic set like this first aid kit, or this Tool Kit.
Also make sure you have roadside recovery included in your car insurance policy. Things will go wrong right when you don’t expect them and in that case it’s better to have them to rely on, even when you rent a car! Get some good travel insurance, so you’re covered for help.
Have a printed list (in case your phone battery dies) of emergency numbers from both the local emergency services as for either your car rental company or the road side assistance.
A Road Trip requires quite a bit of planning, but once you’ve got your basics covered, it’s time to enjoy the ride!
What to Pack for a Road Trip?
Now that you’ve prepped your car, the next thing on your road trip planner is to load it up with anything you might need for your trip. To figure out what to bring on a road trip can be hard and you can be inclined to just fill up every space just because you don’t have to carry it. Just remember though, that the lighter the car, the more efficient you drive, so don’t overpack!
8. Gear & Clothing
To help you with your road trip planning, I’ve created a short packing list with all of the basic items to take with you on a car journey. It’s definitely not complete as everyone has a different travel style, but if I missed any essentials, let me know!
Road Trip Packing List:
▢ Printed Directions
▢ Route map
▢ Travel guide
▢ Car Coin Holder
(for toll road / snack money)
Clothing & Shoes
Health & Safety
▢ Travel Wallet
▢ Passport (in Holder)
▢ Drivers Licence
▢ Medical Passport
▢ Emergency numbers
(in Document Holder)
▢ Visa Details
▢ Flight Info & Tickets
▢ Airport Transfer Info & Tickets
▢ Accommodation / Campsite Info
▢ Insurance Information
▢ Cash & Credit Cards
▢ Any Discount Cards
or National Park Cards
Still wondering how to pack for a road trip? My tip is to get some handy storage boxes to keep all your gear and clothing in, so that you don’t spend hours upside-down in the booth of your car trying to get something from the bottom of your bag.
There are handy Packing Cubes out there to separate your clothing, shoes and other gear.
Good sunglasses can make all the difference!
9. Food & Drinks
Thinking about what food and drinks to bring on your road trip is also very important, because you don’t always have access to a supermarket while on the road. Especially once you hit the smaller towns, you can find that most items will become a lot more expensive as well.
So if you’re asking me what to plan for a road trip, I’d say: make sure to 1) always carry enough water 2) bring enough snacks (because I personally snack a LOT – or I will get grumpy) and 3) think about how you’re going to cook for all your meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
Along the way, see if you can stop at any farmers markets. It’s a great place to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables and it’s a great way to meet the local people, taste typical delicacies and relax from the long drive!
And the best tip of all: Bring a Cooler Box of whatever size you can fit into your car. Because nothing is nicer than to have a cool drink during one of your breaks. For example here on this beach on the West-Coast of Australia:
Lunch on the Beach. Because we could.
What to do on a Road Trip?
Let’s move on to the next phase of your road trip planner: the actual driving! Because isn’t that the best part? If you are thinking you might get bored on the trip, here are some suggestions on how to spend your time:
10. Music, Fun & Games
Music is the one thing everyone probably enjoys on a good road trip. It’s the songs you hear on the local radio or keep on hearing from your music player that will remind you of all the good times when you get back home.
You can either put together a road trip music list before you leave, or be surprised by the music specific to the area you’re in. But radio’s don’t always work everywhere, so make sure to have some backup songs and Sing Along!
Here is my own Road Trip Playlist for you to listen to:
Travelling with kids? Tie a Backseat Organizer against the back of the front seats and fill it with colouring books, crayons, their favourite toys, perhaps a disposable camera for them to document the trip. Hold on to the electronics for as long as you can and focus on things they can see out of the window, songs, audio books, license plate games, car bingo, Kids Activity Book, etc.
Having a break to 1) surf and 2) check out this Emu on the road! Oh the freedom of a road trip!
11. Photo-Spots & Stopovers
Ah, now we get to the good stuff! Of course one of the best ways to take a road trip is to stop often to take pictures, get active or do some serious sightseeing. Before you leave, you can plan some of the interesting places to stop along the way, but keep looking out of the window for roadside signs to help you make some spontaneous stops as well!
You can stop at bigger cities, small towns or even just a viewing area or service station. As long as you take some time to stretch your legs and breathe in some fresh air! If you travel with kids or pets, these stops are essential for keeping the spirit high as well.
With a National Park Pass you can not only enjoy some time in nature, but also use their restrooms (at the visitors center) and go for a picnic, which is a lot better than most of the road-side service stations or greasy fast food joints!
Sometimes you meet a horse wandering around. So of course I had to stop and stroke it! Can I keep him? ahh? ahh?
12. Taking a Break
Another one of the more important road trip tips: Have a break when you need one! There is no use pushing on to that next stop when you’re tired, as you can only endanger yourself (and others!) when you’re not sharp enough to handle quickly.
Professional truck drivers aren’t supposed to drive more than 11 hours in a 14-hour workday, but you should probably take a break at least every 2-3 hours or so. Stay hydrated and have enough foods to keep feeling well. A stop doesn’t have to be long, but at least 15-20 minutes every couple of hours can make all the difference.
Same goes for when it gets to dark to drive, or as we had on our trip: when the weather suddenly turns bad! We almost got stuck on a deserted sandy road that suddenly got washed away by a huge rain storm! We saw it coming, but pushed on while we had better stopped driving when we still had the chance. Lesson learned.
How to Save Money on a Road Trip?
Finally in this road trip planner, some more road trip ideas (that you will love, because they are tips to save money!) If you pay a little bit more attention to the way you drive, you can really save quite a bit:
- Follow the speed limit. There is a reason governments lower speed limits when there is a gas crisis, by driving slower, you can boost your mileage.
- Avoid abrupt stopping and starting. When you accelerate from a standstill, you use extra fuel. Take notice of the timing of the red lights, so that you reach them slowly and can even see them turn green again without coming to a full stop.
- If your car has a cruise control, use it when the conditions allow it.
- Don’t overfill your gas tank and make sure to close the cap well. I read that every year, 147 million gallons of fuel vaporizes from tanks in the U.S. alone!
- When it’s cooler outside, it will increase your car’s power and mileage. So leave early in the morning or late in the evening, especially in summer. As air conditioners are quite efficient these days, you can turn them on and cause less drag on the engine than driving with the windows open as well.
Plan your Road Trip with these Expert Tips:
- Riding with a bike instead of a Car? Harley Davidson has a great packlist and road trip tips for you on their website.
- Planning on a Road Trip in the UK? My friends Peter & Kash went on an epic journey and have some great tips for you!
- If there is anyone that can tell you about road tripping with a family, it’s Caz & Craig from ytravelblog, who set out to explore their home country Australia by car.
- Planning an road trip USA? Make sure to check out Amanda’s blog for all nessesary do’s & don’ts or read Tonya’s blog for the best Road Side Attractions you can see during your road trip America.
- A Great list of Free Road Trip Apps on Mashable.
I hope that all of these tips help you by planning a road trip yourself. When you make sure you cover the basics and think about your health, safetly ánd entertainment, I’m sure you will have a great time on the road!
Have you ever made – or are you planning a road trip?
Where to? We‘d love to hear it!
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This post is also available in: Dutch