How To Plan A Road Trip


All of our American trips were planned and booked ourselves. Described below are the steps we followed to organise and plan our America 2004 trip. This was our second trip to America and we did a great job of planning it.

The basic steps are…

  • 1. Decide Where
  • 2. Plan A Route
  • 4. Flights and Car Hire
  • 3. Hotels, Hostels, B&Bs
  • 5. Excursions
  • 6. Check The Bookings

These plans are not made overnight, they can take weeks of planning and research. If you put the effort in now, it will make sure you have a great holiday.

Decide Where

The hardest part of planning a road trip is deciding where to go and what to see.! The world is such a big place and has so much to offer. Since we have family in Los Angeles we decided that it would be a great idea to stay with them for a few days first before heading out into the unknown.

In our 2002 trip we headed north to San Francisco, so this time we planned on heading to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Looking at a map of the area, we saw that the distance between Los Angeles and Las Vegas was only about 260 miles, 4 and a half hours driving, and the Grand Canyon was just a small day trip out from there.

  • Los Angeles
  • Las Vegas
  • Grand Canyon
Static Google Map Image

Looking around on the internet for things to do and see along the I-15, we saw that Death Valley was a great place to see. So we added that to our itinerary. We also added Tucson and San Diego to make it a round trip so we didn’t cover the same ground when heading back to Los Angeles.

  • Los Angeles
  • Death Valley
  • Las Vegas
  • Grand Canyon
  • Tucson
  • San Diego
Static Google Map Image

As you can see, this was starting to look like a good plan…

Plan A Route

Using the points marked above, we then started to create an actual route plan. The default Google Map driving directions is a good start, but it needs some work…

The next step is to check the route for road closures during the travel dates – you may need to look at alternatives. During the planning phase of our America 2002 trip, we found out that part of our original route was closed during the winter months, so we had to change our plans which meant choosing a different hotel. For North America, you could use the National Traffic and Road Closure Information site. This will give links to specific State information.

Flights And Car Hire

Booking Flights

Before you can book any hotels, you need to make sure you can actually get to your destination first, on the dates that you require. Find your nearest or largest airport and make sure you can fly from there to your destination. Once you have found a few airlines that will take you there, you can start the booking process. Most airlines are all about the same price for the basic flight, but do check the cost of add-ons and other ‘hidden extras’ that some of the cheaper budget airlines seem to have.

Price comparison sites may help you find the cheapest flight, but check with each individual airlines website first, to make sure. Prices vary quite a lot between the different classes of seats too. If you are flying for a long time (10+ hours), consider upgrading to Business class. If you can afford it, the extra room and ability to sleep in comfort are well worth the extra cost.

If you book early enough, you may have the option of choosing your specific seat. If you are travelling with others, you may want to be seated together, or you might just want the best seat available. We used the site Seat Guru for our 2004 trip. It advised us which seats to book so that we could sit together in good window seats.

Booking Car Hire

You are going to need a car for your road trip.
The main points to remember for booking car hire are these…

    • Check that the ‘excess waiver’ is included in your car hire.
      Standard policies include high excesses. It is well worth the extra cost to add it to your policy.
    • Hire snow chains.
      If you are likely to be driving through areas where snow is possible then it is worth renting some snow chains with the car.
    • Fuel Supplement
      It is not worth paying extra to be able to bring the car back empty of fuel as it is usually quick and easy to fill the car up yourself before you return it as there are often service stations near the car hire locations.

Multi City Routes
(Different Inbound / Outbound Airports)

Not all road trips need to start and end in the same location. You may decide to travel from one side of a country to the other. In these cases, make sure you book the flights and car hire correctly. There may be an extra cost involved in booking two one-way tickets, although most airlines now allow a multi-city flight. Car hire prices will also be different. Hire companies have a ‘drop-off fee’ where you pay an extra amount for picking the car up in one city, but drop it off in another. Different cities will have different amounts, but you will be told of this when booking.

Hotels, Hostels, B&Bs

Number Of Nights

Once you have your route almost done you can then start looking at where you want to sleep. You have a few options here, depending on what you like doing…

  • 1. As few stops as possible, saving money on hotels.
  • 2. Spread the driving in to about 4 or 5 hour blocks, giving you time to stop frequently to take pictures
  • 3. A mixture of the above

Using the research you did above, you should also know where the interesting parts of the journey are, or where it’s just barren landscape (unless you like that sort of thing). A 4 or 5 hour driving block refers to the time it would take for a direct route from one hotel to the next. Doing it this way gives you time to get up late, stop for lunch, or just visit some interesting place or feature on the way. It’s all about relaxing.

The next choice is how many nights do you want to stay in one place.? 2 nights here, 3 nights there. Make sure you think you will have enough to do for the number of nights you are staying, but don’t skimp on them either – we have often stayed just one night somewhere and wished it was more.

How To Book

We use Trip Advisor to find the exact hotel we want to stay in, checking out the reviews and comments left by other guests. Once we find the perfect place, we look at the specific hotels website. Always get a price direct from the hotel. This will guarantee that you are getting a like-for-like quote for your room. Comparison sites also may not offer you the full range of rooms or rates that the specific hotel may offer – this is also a good way of finding early booking rates.

Book the hotels as early as possible, you should get a good room rate, and even (if you wish) a high floor with good views. We find that by adding requests like high floors and good views to the ‘additional comments’ box, most hotels will help you out where they can.

Once you have found all the hotels you need, and updated your location map, you can then get start to get an accurate picture of your holiday literary.


So, you’ve booked the flights and the hotels. Now what.?
Well, while you’re there, there may be extra activities that you want to look into doing. For example, during our 2004 trip, we booked a plane flight over the Grand Canyon. Something like this needs to be booked early to make sure that you get a seat. Other time-sensitive excursions may also be available for your trip, make sure to book early.

Researching your destination(s) will help with finding places of interest and will give you a good insight into how to fill your days.

Check Your Bookings

Depending on how long ago you planned and booked your holiday experience, with a week or two to go before you set off, double check all the flight and hotel bookings. Just make sure everything is as it should be.

We hope you have a great road trip wherever you go. Just enjoy yourselves. :)


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