10 Tips For Planning A Successful Road Trip

Get ready to hit the open road.

By: Mike Scaturo

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There’s nothing quite like standing at the top of a mountain, thousands of miles away from where you started, thinking back about how you got there. Taking a cross-country trip with some of your best friends is the best way to see this beautiful land and all it has to offer! That being said, it’s vital to plan for the unexpected and hit the road fully prepared. These ten tips will get you started in the right direction to the perfect road trip.

Photo: Moe Lauchert

1. Pick A Time To Leave (And Stick With It)

Committing to a road trip may be the hardest part of the whole planning process. You’ll have friends and relatives that will call you crazy, ask about your “long term goals” and shake their head at the idea of you living out of a car for an extended period of time. So set a date, and stick with it. Once you mark your calendar, everything else with fall into place. You’re committed and nothing is worse than backing out and your coworkers asking, “Hey, why are you still here? Weren’t you supposed to go on that trip this month?

2. Less Is More

Trust me on this one. The less you can start with the better. A perfectly packed car will soon turn into a collection of trash, dirty clothes and lost belongings that only a hoarder could love. The extra space will come in handy when you’re trying to sprawl out across the back seat or find that way-too-big souvenir you just have to have.

3. Buy A National Park Pass

If you’re planning on doing a lot camping and hiking, this is a must have. Not only will this pass get you into any National Park at no cost, but The Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation honor your pass wherever fees are charged! You can pick one up online here.

Photo: Idle Theory Bus

4. Snacks, Snacks, And More Snacks

Snacks are a road trip must, and you should have the accessible at all times. The best move would be to take a trip to Walmart with your road trip buddies and stock up. You could also hit up your local supermarket and pick up the ingredients to make some of these awesome (and healthier) snacks!

5. Make A Budget and Be Frugal

It’s tempting to buy and try everything you pass during your trip, especially during the first few days. You’ll see things you’ve never seen before and with all of this money saved up, you may feel financially invincible. That being said, spending can add up quick. Take some time to write out a budget and give yourself a daily spending goal. Finding ways to cut financial corners is incredibly important and may be the difference between having to cut your trip sort and realizing you can spend a few extra days, or weeks, on the road with all the cash you’ve saved along the way! While many parks cost $20+ per night, BLM, National Forests and National Grasslands are all free to camp in. Also, don’t forget about unexpected costs that could put an early end to your trip!

Photo: Moe Lauchert

6. Do Your Research

Depending on your timeframe and budget, you may be only to spend a night or two in each place you stop. By doing your research ahead of time, you’ll be able to make the most out of your time in each location.

7. Get Your Ride Checked Out

You’ll eventually run into some car trouble along the way. It’s almost inevitable but can be avoided if you get your vehicle checked out before you hit the road. Make sure you have a spare tire, jack, etc. and have your oil changed as needed. It could save you lots of money and more importantly lots of time along the way.

8. Set Some Checkpoints

While it can be tempting to just go, it’s important to at least set a few checkpoints along the way. By doing so, you can have the freedom to explore some unexpected sights, but also keep the end goal in mind. If you don’t, you may find yourself scrambling at the end (and missing out on some more awesome stuff). That being said, it’s also important to be a little spontaneous, so don’t be afraid to deviate from the plan occasionally!

Photo: Casey Berner

9. Pick Up Some Sporting Goods

And we’re not talking tents, sleeping bags, and hiking shoes (although you should already definitely have those). We’re talking footballs, Frisbees, and whiffle ball bats! While life on the road seems exhilarating 24/7, there is definitely a lot of down time. There’s no better time to throw the disc around or have an impromptu game of whiffle ball than when you’re in a random gas station parking lot in Montana or on the side of the road waiting for AAA in Louisiana.

10. Keep An Open Mind

While it’s extremely important to plan ahead for your road trip, keeping in open mind will help you get the most out of this experience of a lifetime. Don’t get too caught up in the plan and be willing to adjust and adapt as you go along. You’re about to drive across the country with some of your best friends! Enjoy it!

Photo: Moe Lauchert

Remember to always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and be sure to brush up on LNT principles for backcountry fires as well.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.