How to plan a road trip you'll love, road trip planning tips

How To Plan a Road Trip You’ll LOVE in 7 Easy Steps

I LOVE road tripping, whether it’s with friends, by myself or, yes, even with my kids! And planning is at least half the fun. Here’s how to plan a road trip you’ll LOVE, using Google Maps trip planner with multiple stops.How to plan a road trip you'll love pin


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How To Plan a Road Trip on GOOGLE MAPS

Here are 7 simple steps to plan a road trip on Google Maps with multiple stops:

  1. In your Google Drive, click on New, then More, and then Google My Maps.
  2. Name your map.
  3. Search, “(departure town) to (destination town)” to find suggested routes. Select the route you want, and it’ll show up in the first layer.
  4. Use layers to separate each day’s itinerary. Drag-and-drop stops to match your planned route. Note: Driving directions and stops must be in separate layers, and you can create a maximum of 11 layers.
  5. Click Share to get the link. Choose your access permissions, and save the link in your trip planning documents for quick access.
  6. To Print, click the three dots (beside Map name) and click Print Map.
  7. Access your Google Maps trip planner from your mobile’s Google Drive app.

Below is an example road trip map using Google Maps, from my massive Toronto to Vancouver Drive Through Canada. I used colors and icons to quickly show activities versus accommodations (each in a separate layer). The main road trip route is in one layer and potential side trips in their own, so it’s easy to turn off a side trip if we decide not to drive it.

Looking for trip planner options with more functionality than Google Maps? Check out Wanderlog. Its free version is similar to Google Maps trip planner, but has handy features like sight recommendations, a budgeting section and ability to plan with a friend. You can see my simple Montreal Canada itinerary below. For a small fee, it syncs with your email. Open it offline in the app. 

Trip map courtesy of Wanderlog, a road trip planner on iOS and Android

How To Plan a Road Trip With FRIENDS

Friends road trip, road trip planning tips
Photo credit: Jorge Saavedra from Unsplash

Road tripping with friends is AWESOME! Here are 5 tips I’ve learned on how to plan a road trip with friends:

  • Agree to a schedule. How quickly do you want to reach your destination, on the way there AND back? How firm or flexible are you?
  • Decide who’ll drive, with which vehicle. If no one wants to use their car, get a rental. Designate a main and backup driver when you pick it up.
  • Discuss how you’ll handle costs. The simplest way is to split shared costs equally and pay the rest individually. Pay your share of any deposits right away.
  • Respect everyone’s #1 thing to see or do. You can’t do everything, but you should each pick something. This might be a fun activity, a great place to eat or a cute place to stay.
  • Get enough sleep, food and water. This trio will work magic at keeping your cool when things don’t go exactly as you’d hoped.

Hoping that friend will turn romantic? Check out ROMANTIC THINGS To Make a Long Drive FUN!

How To Plan a Road Trip BY YOURSELF

I’m a BIG fan of solo road trips. But planning for one takes a few extra steps. Here are my top 5 tips on how to plan a road trip by yourself:

  • Choose your stops wisely. Some stops might not be best when road tripping solo, and others might be perfect!
  • Prep your playlists. Create a folder on your phone with your road trip playlist, podcasts and audiobooks. Make it quick and easy to find them on the go.
  • Set yourself up before you leave. Plug in your phone, set up your GPS, and set out your water bottle and coffee. Organize your snacks into one bag, in containers you can easily open while driving. Set out your CDs so you can easily change them up while driving.
  • Share your itinerary and check in regularly. This is quite possibly the most IMPORTANT tip for planning solo road trips. Share your plans with someone you’ll be checking in with along the way, and have a plan of what they’ll do if they don’t hear from you within a specific timeframe.
  • Embrace spontaneity! See a beautiful waterfall? Stop! See something you’re curious about? Stop! Text any major stops to your contact before you leave your car.

How To Plan a Road Trip with KIDS

Family road trip, how to plan a road trip you'll love, family travel tips
Photo credit: Paul Hanaoka from Unsplash

Now, planning a road trip with kids is also a bit different. Here are my top 5 tips on how to plan a road trip with kids:

  • Slow down the pace. Plan shorter driving days and allow for unplanned stops. Don’t push the drive so far that all those potty breaks leave you frustrated.
  • Plan kid-friendly rest stops. Think: parks and playgrounds where you have to fuel up anyway. Maximize your rest stops where the kiddos can run around and use the potty. Include extra-special stops, like a petting zoo or hot springs to tire them out.
  • Prepare a variety of car activities. Together with your kids, pack a bag for each of them with their favorite toys, books and activities. For ideas, check out the best FREE road trip game printables, kids travel journal and best travel trays for kids.
  • Separate snacks into kid-friendly containers. Prepare containers with your kids’ favorite snacks, so it’s easy to grab and toss during the drive.
  • Stay at kid-friendly places. Book places you won’t cringe at if your kids talk too loudly or run down the hall. Pick places near playgrounds and family restaurants, and with a pool, bunk bed and bedroom suite. (You’ll be SO happy you can close the door!)

Stop “Are we there yet” in its tracks with this FREE road trip banner. Prep your key stops, string them up in your car, and move the car along as you go. Wala!

How To Plan a Road Trip on a BUDGET

Have some fun without spending a bunch of money. Yes, it CAN be done! Here are my top 5 tips on how to plan a road trip on a budget:

  • Pack fun snacks and picnic food. Yes, FUN, so you still feel like you’re on vacation. Think: croissant sandwiches, olives, cheeses, and bubbly drinks.
  • Check gas prices along your route. On Google Maps, click the “gas” button on the top to see gas prices. Fuel up where you find the best rates. (To save more on fuel, use your cruise control and drive the speed limit. I know, I know. Boring. But it helps.)
  • Use your local library. Pick up free audiobooks, music and movies to keep everyone happy on the drive.
  • Stop at free sights along the way. Keep it fun by stretching your legs at beautiful lookouts, parks and buildings you see. Stop for picnics. Take a bunch of selfies.
  • Carefully plan where you’ll sleep. You have lots of options to suit your style. Pack some bedding for car camping, glamping cabins or hostels. Or, choose cute bed and breakfasts or comfortable family hotels. Book ahead for the best rates.

HOW LONG Should You DRIVE Each Day on a Road Trip?

Plan to drive for about 8 hours each day on your road trip. Much more than this and you’ll get exhausted. Much less than this and you’ll feel like you’re wasting time.

That said, if you want to make one longer stop or lots of stops one day, drop this down to about 5 hours so you don’t feel rushed. And if you want to push through, bump this to about 10 hours and still feel safe while driving.

7 STEPS: How To Plan a Road Trip You’ll LOVE!

Now, let’s pull this all together. Below are my 7 steps on how to plan a road trip you’ll LOVE, from start to finish.

Step 1: Start with the EXPERIENCE You Want

Road trip adventures, how to plan a road trip you'll love, road trip planning tips
Photo credit: Agnieszka Boeske from Unsplash

Before getting into the specifics of how to plan a road trip, take a moment to consider what’s most important to you. What do you want your trip to look and feel like? THIS step is the key in making it a road trip you’ll love.

Ask yourself:

  • WHAT will make me say, “Now THAT was an awesome road trip”? How do you want to describe it after it’s done? Write this somewhere, ideally at the top of all your trip planning docs. This should guide all of your decisions.
  • Do I have limited TIME or MONEY? Are certain ACTIVITIES must-do? Note your minimum and maximum travel dates, budget and must-do activities. These are like your boundaries for planning.
  • WHERE am I going? Likely an obvious question, but also make note of any stops you have to make, or really want to make. Do you want to include any side road trips?
  • WHEN am I going? How much time and flexibility do you have? Does the season inspire certain stops or require extra planning? Ideally, include a free day at home before and after to prep and unwind.
  • WHO is coming along? What limitations and inspiration do your travel companions bring to your road trip?

Want to flesh this out a bit more? Check out Planning For Your Perfect Trip EXPERIENCE.

Step 2: Map out the BIG PICTURE

Once you have a sense of the experience you want, the next step in planning a road trip is to map out the entire route. Use Google Maps, Wanderlog or your favorite trip planning map tool to search “(departure) to (destination)” and see what routes come up.

Now, consider your route options beyond what automatically comes up. Which is the fastest route? Which is the most interesting or scenic (if you already know the area)? Do certain routes go through cities, national parks or other sights you’d like to include?

If you already know the route you’re taking, great! If not, consider following the next THREE steps for each option so you can more easily compare.

Here’s a more in-depth guide on Building Your Travel Itinerary.

Step 3: Look for Natural STOPS for the NIGHT

Depending on how quickly you want to move through your road trip, look for interesting places you might stop after 5-10 hours of driving each day. 

If you’re driving long days, look for fun places to stay at. This might be something with a pool, spa or running trails nearby to work out some energy. A great restaurant or bar (or next to one) to unwind and relax. Or a cute inn or bed and breakfast where you can get a taste of the area. If you book a place you’ll enjoy staying at, you won’t feel like ALL you’re doing is driving.

If you have longer stops on your road trip, plan your driving days around them. Depending on where these big activities are along your route, you might drive a few hours and enjoy the stop for the rest of the day. Or, maybe you put in a longer driving day so you have all of the next day to take it in.

Step 4: Look For Interesting REST STOPS

Road trip adventures, how to plan a road trip you'll love, road trip planning tips
Photo credit: Spring Fed Images from Unsplash

You’ll need to stop for fuel anyway, so make these stops count. Ideally, plan your rest stops around interesting activities you can also use to stretch your legs and add some fun memories to your road trip. 

Do a little research to find fun stops along the way. My favorite road trip research tool is simply Google Maps, as you can quickly see ideas along your route and ratings to know if it’s worth stopping at. Then, I’ll read more on Tripadvisor and possibly get a guidebook, too (Lonely Planet guidebooks are my favorite). For tour information, check GetYourGuide.

Try to include stops that are fun for everyone. This can be tricky, but the best road trips have a variety of activities and a highlight that each person will tell a zillion stories about later.

Find some romantic ideas to make long drives fun!

Step 5: Discuss Options With Your TRAVEL COMPANIONS

Before deciding or booking anything, talk to others who are coming on your road trip. Discuss the pros and cons of route options and how much time they’re willing to take at each stop. Does one route and itinerary naturally rise to the top? Does everyone have something in the itinerary they’re excited about? 

One person might pick an activity and the other the accommodation. So long as everyone has something they’re happy about, you should be good to go.

Step 6: BOOK The Critical Pieces

Rent an RV from RVshare

Now you should be good to book the critical pieces of your road trip. If you’re renting a car or RV, definitely book that sooner rather than later. 

Next up are campsites or accommodations, as these can fill up and deals are often found in advance. Do NOT leave this to the last minute, unless you’re super comfortable with sleeping anywhere, including in your car!

Then, book any must-see stops and activities. Keep all of your confirmations in one place. A convenient idea is to save them in your map details (so long as you’re not sharing your map publicly).

Step 7: Check Off the DETAILS

Road trip map, road trip planning tips
Photo credit: Julentto Photography from Unsplash

Make a list of everything you’ll need for your road trip, and start checking them off. Here are some things you may need to figure out:

  • Documentation. This includes passports, vaccinations or international driver’s license (if you’re crossing into another country).
  • Child or pet care. If you’re leaving kids or pets behind, arrange for their care while you’re away. Plus, an emergency contact in case you can’t be reached.
  • Travel gear. Take a quick inventory of road trip essentials, helpful gadgets and gear, and get what you need. This includes suitcases, clothing and toiletries.
  • Prep electronics. Clear out your memory cards, charge your batteries, and put everything together. Start pulling together your road trip playlist, podcasts and audiobooks. Consider getting a GPS if you’re driving without cell coverage, and update your maps.
  • Prep safety stuff. Get your car serviced and cleaned before your road trip. Arrange for someone to check on your house and mail while you’re away. And share your travel plans with someone you’ll check in with, and decide what they’ll do if they can’t reach you.
  • Print travel documents. Even if you have everything on your phone, it’s a good idea to have a paper copy of key road trip details. Print out your route, emergency contacts, and stop details, including address, phone number and confirmation numbers.
  • Final prep. Pay upcoming bills, and notify teachers, your bank and your landlord if necessary. Start packing your bags! 
  • Day before you leave. Top up tire pressure, fuel and fluids. Fully charge electronics. Empty purses of things you won’t need. Tidy the house, water houseplants, and toss food that’ll spoil. Pack everything into the car that you won’t need in the morning.
  • Morning you leave. Pack all your last-minute things, like pillows and electronics. Run the dishwasher and take out the garbage. Secure your house … aaaand you’re outta there!

Get more details in this 3-month vacation countdown checklist.

FREE Trip Planning Template

Plan out your road trip with this FREE trip planning template. This 6-page fillable PDF is easy to use, save and update, and has lots of space for notes. Includes pages for thinking, creating your itinerary, and a 3-month countdown checklist. It’s the perfect companion to Google Maps.

Enter your email below to get this template PLUS our travel bucket list template, too.

Trip planning template samples

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