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Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.
Carly Manning | 06.07.2019

Thinking of taking to the open road for your next vacation? Great decision! We’re big fans of road trips round here! Not only will you see and experience so much more than simply taking a flight, but you can really enjoy the freedom to be spontaneous. Not to mention, it’s usually a little easier on the wallet too.

Arriving at your destination is always a wonderful feeling, but it’s usually the adventures along the way that make a great road trip truly unforgettable. And while you can never totally prepare for what obstacles you may encounter, a little planning before you hit the road goes a long way. It helps you avoid common mistakes that could cost you time or money and ensures you have a really positive and memorable experience.

 


With a little investment of time and energy, a gorgeous campsite can be found even in busy urban areas. Shane Eubank.

Deciding on a Destination

For many of us, choosing a destination can be the hardest part of planning a road trip. How do you decide between all the many sights and locations on your never-ending bucket list? But you may not have somewhere in mind yet, and that’s okay too. Destination inspiration is a great place to start. We suggest trying some of these:

  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Travel blogs
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Recommendations from friends or family

As well as right here on Outdoor Project, of course! We have tons of excellent adventure itineraries already mapped out for you, like:

Once you’ve decided on your endpoint, sit down with Google Maps, Road Trippers, or an old-school physical map and plot out your journey, mapping out all of the must-see sights and mini-adventures along the way.

Do Your Research

You’ve decided where you’re headed, so the next step is choosing when to go. Our number one tip - do your research! The last thing you want to do is drive hours and hours to find a mountain, hot spring or waterfall only to discover on arrival that access is impossible due to snow, fires, landslides or some other kind of restriction. Always look into what time of year is best to visit, as well as current conditions leading up to and right before you leave.

Here are a few important questions to consider when researching:

  • Who would you like to bring with you?
  • What’s your budget, and what vehicle do you already own?
  • Do you need to rent a vehicle?
  • Will you take time off of work to travel or freelance along the way?
  • What kinds of roads do you expect to encounter?
  • When do you expect to go, and how busy (and crowded) do you expect it to be?

 


With a little effort, you can create a home away from home that's suitable even when a hotel or a tent are not. Laura Hughes.

The Sleeping Situation

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to keeping you safe on the road. So always make sure you have a rough plan of rest stops along the way, as well as where you’ll be sleeping each night. This really comes down to you and how you like to travel, but a couple of different options are:

  • Motels: If you’re going to be traveling over a holiday weekend or during a busy period, you probably want to make some reservations ahead of time to make sure you don’t arrive to a dreaded ‘no vacancy’ sign.
  • Camping: Outdoor Project makes finding campgrounds easy. Plus, these days there are plenty of apps and sites like The Dyrt, FreeCampsites.net, and Allstays that make searching for a campground on the road relatively easy. If you’re looking to save some cash, research what free or dispersed camping may be available in the area. Remember that federal land, including Forest Service and BLM land, are freely available to campers, and campsites are sometimes as comfortable as developed campgrounds. The adventure of finding the perfect dispersed campsite is often as fun as any other, but be sure to remember your Leave No Trace principles—these sites are rarely maintained.
  • Car/van camping: As well as the above ways to search for campsites, religious buildings, small business, and Wal-Mart often allows you to sleep in their parking lot overnight. Just remember to check into whether it’s okay first.
  • Turn your car into a home! While on the road and camping in your car, it becomes a fishbowl if you don’t cover the windows to build a sense of privacy. Utilize bedsheets, screens, or curtains to cover the windows. String lights inside to build ambiance while making the space functional.

Pack the Essentials

Always try to travel light and minimal! Make a checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything. Besides clothing and toiletries, some other key items to remember to take include:

  • Tent and camping gear (if needed)
  • A cooler and camp stove
  • Food and car snacks
  • Maps: physical or downloaded to your phone so you can access without cell service
  • Chargers
  • First Aid Kit
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Reusable water bottles, coffee mugs and/or thermos
  • Driver’s License and insurance papers

 


Car camping opens up the most spectacular and far-reaching campsites in the country, like Ocean Shores in Washington. Morgan Tashea.

Life on the Road

Days can be long with large stretches of driving in between adventures, so keeping your mind busy helps to avoid getting sleepy. Having a buddy or two to chat with always helps and makes the drive more fun. Download playlists, podcasts, and audiobooks to your phone so you can listen even when you don’t have any cell signal. Document your travels in photos, writing, or art. Bring along a deck of cards for when you’re stuck because of delays or just want something to do in the downtime. Or why not try a good old fashioned car game just like when you were a kid.

Whether you decide to work or play, finding wireless internet is a critical must to maintain a connection with colleagues, friends, family, and anything or anyone else you use the internet to connect with. These days, internet is pretty easy to find. If you’re in a bind, here’s a short list of places you’re likely to find free, fast, and reliable Wi-Fi:

  • Coffee shops, diners, and some fast food restaurants
  • Some hotels and hostels allow free, public access to the internet
  • Libraries
  • Visitor information centers
  • Book stores

Other Tips and Tricks

  • Leave time and energy for the unexpected. Build a plan that allows you the flexibility to pursue an adventure that you didn’t dig up during your research.
  • Make sure your vehicle is reliable and roadworthy before setting out. Bringing along jumper leads or an empty gas tank just in case can be a good idea. Check out our 2019 car camping gear guide for more recommendations.
  • Stock up on food and other supplies in larger towns and cities. There’s usually a lot more choice on offer, especially if you have a specific diet you need to adhere to. Smaller towns may surprise you with their offerings; organic and natural markets are popping up in places you wouldn’t expect, but they may be more expensive than you’re used to.
  • It’s always good to carry some cash on you in smaller bills. You may need to use this for campsites, firewood, or even supplies in small towns.
  • If you’re camping or car/van camping, keep your hygiene in check by researching where you can take a shower along the way. If you’re a member of a gym with multiple locations, use that opportunity to stop in for a rinse off. Also, even small towns have community centers, pools, or aquatic centers. They often accept guests for as little as $3 per visit, which is very reasonable for a workout and a shower.
  • Share your itinerary with friends or family. No matter what, make sure someone always knows where you’re going!

Outdoor Project contributor Loreah Winlow contributed to this article.

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