The Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Road Trip

Before starting this blog, I would have been the last person I’d trust when it came to preparing for a road trip. In short, I was a complete disaster. But in many ways, this has made me an unlikely expert in the field, as I have managed to screw up so many times through the years that I have covered almost every scenario I can think of. Not only have I learnt from my mistakes, but I also learnt from many years of experience, taking on at least 3 to 4 road trips a year in different parts of the globe.

First off, sourcing the right vehicle is possibly the most important task, and the process is simple these days with car hire comparison companies like Discover Cars who are transparent in their pricing where the price you see is the price you pay. They are also pioneering one-way car hire for different pick-up and drop-off locations which is very important for any road trip, as it completely opens the route in any direction without the need to circle back to the same starting location.’

Know the Basics of Car Maintenance

Anyway, an example, on my first ever road trip, I forgot to fill the car with petrol and ended up breaking down on the outskirts of Dublin before I even boarded the boat to Europe. This was less than 2-hours into the road trip. Unfortunately the same car never made it back from this journey after the engine exploded en route to Andorra leaving us stranded in the remote French Pyrenees. Apparently I forgot to top up the engine oil. Anyway, I have literally failed at the most basic of car maintenance tasks, but no doubt I have learnt from it.

Prepare for Your Terrain

This was my first learning experience with many more to come. Driving in the mountains of northern Thailand, for example, I rented a large car with a tiny 1.1 engine which was unable to drive up steep hills and failed to reach a number of planned destinations. Then driving in snow in the Alps, I filled the car’s water systems with normal water, in freezing -7’c, and the obvious happened… the water systems froze. Did you know, for traction, you should drive in low gears when on snow/ice? I didn’t. Otherwise I wouldn’t have ended up with snow chains wrapped around my axels. I still have no idea how to connect snow chains.

Keep the Vehicle Ready

The first step is to prepare your vehicle, and make sure it is serviced and in good condition to travel long distances, to avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. The next step is to make sure you have the necessary equipment to get you unstuck from the middle of nowhere. For example, always carry a spare tyre along with all the essential tools (jack etc.) in the boot, as well as maybe a portable tyre inflator, extra petrol (I’ve learnt from this), and a road safety kit. 

Phones and Google Maps are always a bit iffy in the wilderness, with patchy data connections, and the reliance on a battery charge, and more so when crossing borders. It’s therefore important to install a good GPS that works offline, set to show the shortest routes and to navigate to the next destination even if there is no network on the way. To be extra safe, a print-out of the basic route from Google maps can come in very handy.

Also be sure to have updated documents, insurance, registration, and easy to find contact numbers for any breakdown coverage and necessary services, for the worst-case scenarios.

Plan an Itinerary

One of the great things about road trips is the spontaneity, the adventure, the freedom of the open road. At the same time, it is important/sensible to have planned some sort of loose itinerary. For example, decide on a final destination and travel route in advance, and check the driving distances you would be comfortable with taking on. How many days do you plan on travelling? And also take note of potential driving conditions and weather forecasts to help plan and pack accordingly.

It is also recommended to book accommodation in advance, as you don’t want to be running from door-to-door trying to find a bed for the night. Or, in the worst-case scenario, sleeping in the car. It’s not fun. Anyway, it is best to book in advance, en route even using phone and data connection, and ensure the accommodation is of good fit with suitable amenities i.e. accessibility, parking spaces.

The Road Trip Packing List

It is essential that you travel light and pack only the things you are going to need during your road journey and after you reach your destination. So, before you pack your newly bought camping equipment in excitement, ask yourself, are there any camping grounds en route? As a lot of what you bring may just be taking up valuable space. Instead, I find it best to prepare a list of the items that you may actually require for a comfortable stress-free road trip.

  • Additional Batteries, Umbrella, Torch, Sd cards, power banks, chargers for all your gadgets.
  • Clothes that can be worn again with less wash depending on the weather.
  • Healthy and ready-to-eat snacks like fruits, sandwiches, etc., and a water bucket. 
  • First-aid kit and the list of medical facilities near the travel destination and on the route.
  • Sunglasses and sun protection cream.

It is also important to restock along the way when needed.

Plan Your Budget 

It is highly recommended to plan travel expenses in advance, simply to avoid overspending and worrying once the trip is over. Furthermore, no matter how well prepared you are, there is always the possibility of unforeseen events happening, and so it’s best to have a bit of money to spare.

Booking hotels in advance, with free cancellation, always helps with this, as the bulk of the road trip budget can be paid for before even setting off to begin with. Free cancellation also means your money is refunded if you have a change of plans along the way. I also recommend a mix of mostly budget occommodation, then splashing out on something fancy along the way, staying in a castle maybe or just some unique and exciting experience.

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