Everybody loves the freedom of a good road trip. You’re not dependent on public transport and timetables. More importantly: You can choose the destinations and places to visit yourself. But a road trip requires accurate planning to make it EPIC and not an epic failure. So far we did several road trips: For example through Scotland, France & Italy, California, Australia, New Zealand South and New Zealand North and next: South Africa.
Here are our most important tips to help you planning an unforgettable road trip:
How much time do you have?
This is maybe the first question when thinking about a road trip. The shortest road trip we’ve ever done was 10 days. Personally we wouldn’t recommend considering a road trip in less than that because you need to deduct travel time, jet lag, getting the car, giving it back and so on. If you want to experience the freedom of a road trip you should make sure to have enough time to appreciate it and to settle into this travel style fully.
What is the focus of your road trip?
Right at the beginning of your planning you should think about the focus of your road trip. Will it be a round-trip or a one-way trip? Do you want to see as many places or different landscapes (i.e. coast and mountains and cities) as possible to get a good overview of the country or region or would you rather spend more time in less places? Is your focus on activities rather than on sights – i.e. are you planning longer hikes, or to spend some time at a surf camp or to dive into the culinary delights of a region? Then be sure to limit your milage and driving time.
Which are the most important points of interest for you?
Whatever the focus of your road trip is: You should define your must-visit-places. This is important because you don’t want to get sidetracked along the way. There is a lot to see in a foreign country and lots you can’t find in the travel guide books. It is important to leave room for spontaneous detours but you need a rough plan or itinerary and to stick to it. Normally we use an Excel sheet to write down all the places we don’t want to miss in an geographical order to set a frame for the trip. Also it helps us to keep an overview about driving times and distance to make sure we will make it back to the airport in time.
How much distance do you have to cover?
A vital point! Once you have defined the most important points of interest you can calculate the distances in between them with Google maps. Driving times in Google Maps are sometimes very optimistic estimates. Try to find out more about the conditions and style of roads (highways, windy mountain roads, gravel roads ect), traffic and speed limits. By doing so you’ll get a pretty good idea about the time you will spend in the car and on the road. Ask yourself: Is the estimated driving time still matching the focus of my trip? Don’t forget breaks, foto-stops, traffic jams, roadblocks ect.
If you focus on activities in various places, make sure to spend as little time as possible in the car. Less is often more!
In our experience, we never plan to drive more than 150 km or three hours per day. Of course, if you have your bed with you, you’re more flexible and could cover a longer distance after dinner to be in a different location the next day (freedom camping permitted of course).
Are there any driving-restrictions or special circumstances at your destination?
Before starting the trip it is important to inform yourself well about the driving conditions in the destination country. Sometimes they drive „on the wrong side of the road“ – Would that be a problem for you? What is the season like: Do you have to expect snow or floodings? Can you cope with that? Is driving at certain times of the day more dangerous (i.e. windy, narrow, dark mountain roads or highways through the savanna because of wild animals)? How does this effect your plans? Is your age and driving licence meeting the requirements?
Lots of questions indeed. But it is better to pose them before you go than after.
Which is the fitting vehicle for your road trip?
Obviously the amount of people traveling with you decern the size of the vehicle. Reserve enough space for people and luggage. Find out the size of the stowage area (cupbords or the trunk) and compare it to the total luggage. For us it is important that the suitcases/bags are stowed away and don’t make an easy target for thieves.
Mainly there are three categories of road trips: First, the road trip with a regular car. Along the way you sleep in guesthouses. Second, the road trip with a regular car but combined with camping, and third, the road trip with a camper van.
Not every style is suitable for all destinations. Season and weather are main factors, too. Personally we think that a road trip in a camper van is the most easy going. If you add a country where freedom camping is allowed (like Australia and most of New Zealand) you can’t be more relaxed and happy. For us it is the greatest feeling to drive and stop when we’re about to get tired at a nice beach… watching the sunset and waking up with dolphins playing in front of our door.
When you’re on a budget you might consider the road trip with tent. This wild-romantic travel style is great but bare in mind that you might need a slightly bigger car to fit everything in. Furthermore night temperatures, storms and rain and the time you’ll need to set it all up in the evenings and to pack it all up again in the mornings need to be considered.
At last we got the road trip with a normal car and accommodation in a guesthouse. This is great if you want to explore the area really well. You will be faster with a normal car than with a camper van. Some road might only be accessible by 4WD vehicle. If freedom camping is not allowed or there are not many campsites available – this will be the travel style of your choice.
Look beyond the obvious – the rental cost of the car. To plan your budget accuratley, bear in mind the following additional costs:
- Campsites or hotel parking
- Road toll, tunnel or bridge fee
- Costs for insurance waivers
- Consumption and price level of gas at destination
- Cleaning fees of camper
- One way fee if your drop-off is different from your pick-up
- Additional costs for GPS, WiFi, Camping gear ect
- Costs for Ferries
- Fee for additional driver
Of course you can influcence the overall costs of your trip if you cook yourself instead of eating at restaurants. The best thing about travelling in a camper van is to enjoy your homemade breakfast at an awesome location!
Who are you taking with you?
Imagine you are travelling with friends in a rental car. When planning the trip you set the focus on outdoor activities like hiking, exploring a city, kayaking or similar. What will happen if due to unfortunate weather conditions all plans go down the drains? Do you have an alternative plan? Are you still „on the same page“ or do your friends want to hang out in cafes but you prefer the museum? Advice: Discuss not only the best case, but also the worst case scenario and make sure that you still got the same idea about the focus of the trip.
Another thought: Travelling with friends is sharing adventures and good memories but still everybody needs some privacy from time to time. We once did a campervan-roadtrip with another couple and can tell from experience that it’s always better to get two small campervans than one big one!
Make sure to pack other „companions“ like: a good Spotify playlist, some healthy snacks & drinks or maybe some downloaded podcasts or movies! These will make your traveltime more entertaining, no matter if you are travelling alone or with your friends!
What’s left to say?
A road trip is great fun! If you haven’t done it yet you should try it. This travel style gives you the freedom to explore a country or region in your own pace and explore it in depth. With your own four wheels you are flexible and it is possible to get to remote places off the beaten track. So go for it!
What are some great road-trip-memories of yours?