How to Plan a Road Trip

  • Maintaining Your Vehicle
Planning a Road Trip Image

Do you ever find yourself longing for a change of scenery? How about craving some spontaneity? Yearning for adventure? It sounds like you're due for a road trip! A road trip is a fantastic way to break from routine. Traveling by car lets you see the sights you might miss if you chose air travel, and you'll have the opportunity to experience regional cultures like a local.

If you're planning to hit the open road for your next vacation, preparation is vital — especially for your car! Check out some of our best tips on how to prep and pack your car, how to plan stops on the perfect road trip and more.

ARE YOUR TIRES READY FOR A ROAD TRIP?

Road trips never go exactly as planned (and hey, that's part of the fun!), but you can be proactive to help minimize mishaps along the way. One of the most important steps? Consider switching to run-flat tires, like Bridgestone DriveGuard tires. No matter what the road brings, DriveGuard tires can help keep you and your family safely moving forward on your next cross-country road trip. They're engineered to keep going for up to 50 miles at up to 50 miles per hour after a puncture.* 

Image needs alt description

WINTER DRIVING TIPS | EVALUATE CHANGING TEMPERATURES

Even with the best snow tires on the market, changing temperatures affect their ability to grip the road's surface. Listen to the pros, and know what to expect when the thermometer drops.

FIND YOUR DRIVEGUARD TIRES

HOW TO PLAN A ROAD TRIP: PREPPING YOUR CAR

Incredible memories? Yes, please. Car trouble? No thanks! Whether you're planning a regional drive with family or gathering a group of friends for a cross-country road trip across the United States, it's vital to make sure your car is up to the task. After all, nothing derails the excitement of the open road like getting stuck on the side of the road. 

If your vehicle has been showing signs of a problem, be sure to leave plenty of time before your departure date for adequate repairs. Even if you haven't noticed any issues, it's a good idea to inspect several components of your vehicle to ensure a successful — and safe — road trip for yourself and your passengers. 

Here's a road trip prep checklist to help you cross every 'T' and dot every 'I' before departing.

YOUR ROAD-TRIP-READY CHECKLIST

1. CHECK YOUR TIRES.

When was the last time you checked the tread levels on your tires? If you're planning a road trip, you need to be sure your tires will have the appropriate tread levels to effectively grip the road throughout your journey. Grab a penny, and check out this easy tutorial for determining whether or not your tires have enough tread. If your tires don't pass the penny test, replace your tires before hitting the road. Even if your tires have plenty of tread left, look for signs of uneven wear, which could indicate that your vehicle needs an alignment and tire rotation service before you hit the road. Don't forget to check the spare tire, too!

2. TOP OFF FLUIDS

Pop the hood and check your vehicle's fluids and top them off as needed. At a minimum, check and top off the following: oil, transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, antifreeze, and power steering fluid. Pack small bottles of vital car fluids — especially motor oil — in your trunk in case of an emergency.

3. GET AN OIL CHANGE, IF NEEDED.

If it's been a while since you had your oil changed, or you don't remember when your last oil change happened, err on the side of caution and head to a nearby service center for an oil change service. Neglecting this routine service right before a road trip could cause irreversible damage to your engine — especially when you consider how many miles you're about to put on it.

4. HAVE YOUR CAR PROFESSIONALLY INSPECTED AND REPAIRED.

Bring your car to a professional and tell them you're planning a road trip. Request that they check the air filter, spark plugs, timing belts, and serpentine belts. If one or more of your dashboard lights is illuminated, you'll want the pros to determine the root cause of that, too. Replace anything that's worn and take note of any potential problems your mechanic might identify to minimize unpleasant surprises on the road.

5. CHECK YOUR LIGHTS.

Park your vehicle in front of a building where you'll be able to see the reflection of your headlights in the windows when it's dark outside. Check that both your low and high beams are functioning correctly, then enlist the help of another person to ensure your rear lights and turn signals are A-OK, too.

6. REPLACE YOUR WIPER BLADES.

Though it's easy to forget about them until you need them, having new wiper blades can make a big difference in your safety and visibility on the road. Test them out and replace them if required. At the very least, it's a good idea to carry a new set with you for your trip, just in case you encounter rainy conditions and need to change them.

7. CHECK YOUR BRAKES.

You can't go anywhere without your engine in working order, but you can't go anywhere SAFELY without your brakes in tip-top shape. Have your brakes checked to ensure they have at least 50% functionality (preferably more) and have your brake pads professionally serviced or replaced if needed.

HOW TO PLAN STOPS ON A ROAD TRIP: MAXIMIZE YOUR ROUTE

You've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, but your family would rather head for Lake Tahoe. You'd rather have five or six overnight stays in hotels, but maybe your significant other wants to limit it to three. Whatever the case may be, planning your road trip route ahead of time—or at least having a general idea of it—can save you headaches, heartaches, and wasted gas.

Not sure how to plan stops on a road trip effectively? We've got you covered. Follow these steps.

1. MAKE A BIG-PICTURE ROAD TRIP PLAN.

Spend some time with all your travel companions looking at a map (even a paper map!) and determining where your ultimate road trip destination will be. Once you've chosen a place to land, you can plan your route and stops. Use online mapping tools to calculate how far you can drive in one day, or make a plan to switch off driving and sleeping with others so you can keep moving through the night.

2. CHOOSE YOUR OVERNIGHT STOPS.

Unless you plan to stay on the road around the clock (which could be exhausting), choose stops ahead of time where you can camp or stay in a hotel. The last thing you need is to hit a deserted stretch of highway just when you're getting sleepy and need to get off the road. Before you head out on your road trip, choose overnight stops to be your anchor points. These stops can act as benchmarks that will provide plenty of amenities, like lodging options, gas stations, restaurants, and even shopping, if that interests you.

3. ADD QUICK, EASY STOPS ALONG YOUR ROUTE TO MAXIMIZE FUN IN MINIMAL TIME.

When else will you have the chance to pose for a photo with that giant chicken statue off the highway or stop by the world-famous coffee shop that's half a mile from the interstate? For quick stops, factor in an hour or two of off-the-road time to ensure you can see what you want to.

4. PLAN FOR FUEL STOPS AND VEHICLE CHECKS.

It seems like common sense to keep gas in the tank, but running out of gas is a common road trip problem. Before you leave home, make a note of areas along your route that do (and more importantly, DON'T) have ample gas stations around. Being aware of gas stations along your way is especially important if you drive a diesel vehicle, as not all gas stations offer diesel fuel. If you know you're coming up on a stretch without any service stations, plan to fill up on gas before you reach it — even if your tank is nearly full.

5. BE REALISTIC ABOUT TIME CONSTRAINTS.

While it's tempting to want to cram in as much sightseeing as humanly possible on your next road trip, it's essential to leave some time margin in your road trip itinerary. Mishaps are nearly inevitable on a road trip, and you'll want to leave some wiggle room to take care of any incidents without stress or time pressure. Plus, if you end up with extra time, you can always add something to your trip. Spontaneity needs margin, so you might need to take a second look at your planned stops and see if something needs to go.

6. CREATE A ROAD TRIP BUDGET.

The open road may be limitless, but your budget isn't! Plan out your estimated expenses for your road trip, and be sure to account for things like lodging, food, roadway tolls, and gas. To save on gas expenses, consider upgrading your vehicle with a new set of Bridgestone Ecopia™ tires. Ecopia tires are a sustainable choice that can help maximize your vehicle's fuel consumption, both for road trips and everyday driving.

WHAT TO PACK FOR A ROAD TRIP

Now that you know how to plan a cross-country road trip, it's time to pack up the car! Give your vehicle a good cleaning before you start adding things into the car. After all, you don't want to spend hours on end sitting on a pile of old snack wrappers, do you? If you tend to keep items in your trunk or cargo area, spend some time going through any items you store there, and remove any unnecessary things to maximize space for your road trip.

Besides your luggage — and your good ol' fashioned road trip spirit! — here are a few things to pack for a road trip.

ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS

  • Vehicle and driver documentation (driver's licenses, registration, insurance, etc.)
  • Paper towels for messes
  • Car chargers for mobile devices
  • Trash bags to keep the car tidy
  • Spare bottles of vital car fluids (especially motor oil)
  • An extra set of wiper blades
  • Jumper cables
  • Spare tire (check it for appropriate tread depth and air pressure!)
  • A flashlight
  • Bottled water and snacks
  • Maps (download offline maps or bring paper maps as backups)
  • Cash
  • Spare key
  • A tool kit that includes: a wrench, pliers, WD-40, a funnel and rag for changing oil, screwdriver, knife, wire, a hammer
  • Roadside emergency kit
  • First aid kit
  • Weather-related items (see below)

You can use your phone's GPS most of the time, but what if you get caught with spotty service? Carry an atlas or detailed regional road maps as backups. Stash some cash in your wallet before you head out on your road trip. You never know when you'll want to buy a tchotchke from a roadside vendor or if you might encounter a toll booth that can't process credit cards (yes, it does happen!). Keep loose change and various paper bill sizes on hand.

And last but certainly not least, pack a spare car key and some backup items! Think through items that will be essential for your trip — things that could cause a serious emergency if you lose them (such as medications). Mount a hide-a-key container in a hidden place on your vehicle for a spare key, and tuck away extras of any item that is a travel must-have for you.

HOW TO PLAN A ROAD TRIP IN ANY SEASON

In addition to packing the above items for your road trip, you'll want to bring along some season-specific things. Here are a few examples (this is not an exhaustive list of essentials, so do your research and use your best judgment!).

WHAT TO PACK FOR A WINTER ROAD TRIP:

  • Extra blankets
  • Hand warming packets
  • Ice scraper
  • Deicer for your windshield
  • Small shovel (in the event you get stuck in a snowstorm)
  • Tire chains (if applicable)

WHAT TO PACK FOR A SUMMER ROAD TRIP:

  • Battery-powered fans
  • Air conditioner refrigerant (it's also a good idea to have your AC system charged by a pro before you hit the road)
  • A cooler with a few ice packs

HOW TO PLAN A CROSS-COUNTRY ROAD TRIP... AND ENJOY IT!

Now that you know how to plan a road trip and what to pack for a long road trip, here are a few tips to keep in mind when you're actually ON your trip!

GIVE YOURSELF SPACE FROM OTHER PASSANGERS AS NEEDED.

As much as you love your travel companions, all that time spent together could begin to wear on you. Don't be afraid to book a separate hotel room for a night or take a solo walk to stretch your legs and clear your mind.

GET ADVICE FROM LOCALS.

While today's travelers have the luxury of planning out routes online and reading reviews from Internet travel forums, nothing can top the insider knowledge you can pick up from talking to the locals when you travel. Whether you ask your server about her favorite state parks in the area over breakfast or get the gas station attendant's advice on must-see attractions, take the time to meet people as you go.

HAVE A HOME-BASED CONTACT.

It might sound romantic to go entirely off the grid while you travel. But in the name of safety, it's best to check in with someone back home regularly. Designate someone to call every evening for an update, and be sure to tell them exactly where you're staying for the night — address included — and where you'll be headed the following day.

LIVE IN THE MOMENT!

You've researched how to plan a road trip, read all the travel tips, and you've put in the work and time. You know just how to plan a cross-country road trip you and your passengers will never forget. Now, all that's left to do is HAVE FUN! Take in the scenery, laugh without worries, and enjoy the open road!

*Up to 50 miles at up to 50 mph. Repairable in limited circumstances.