How to Plan the Perfect Road Trip

Friends, families, and other like-minded vacationers will hit the road this summer for campgrounds, national parks, attractions, family reunions, and other adventures. Memorial Day was just the beginning.

In the spirit of simplifying planning, here are helpful tips to make any road trip stress-free.

1. Designate a point person
This person may or may not be the same person who initiated the trip. Usually, one person in the group enjoys coordinating plans and doing research on where to stay. When there are multiple type A personalities in the group, making one point person clear to all becomes critical to avoid confusion and duplication. However, delegating is wise when planning any trip. You can funnel all major and minor questions to the point person. (Of course, it helps to have someone willing to be point person… so preferably this person will volunteer.)

2. Decide who’s driving
Determine how many vehicles and when those vehicles are leaving and returning. If Dick and Jane are each taking their cars, you’ll need to know how many people can they fit in their cars comfortably (don’t forget room for bags, equipment, etc.), and get a commitment from drivers on day and time of departure so the other passengers can plan their schedules accordingly.

3. Decide who brings what
Create a checklist of “must-haves” such as water, cooler, Oreos, first-aid kit, car maintenance kit, pillows, certain CDs or an iPod full of music, and other accoutrements. Camping trips require bringing your accommodations and food along for the ride, so getting a list of what people have to bring/contribute is helpful. Someone can then consolidate the list to determine what’s missing. Food, tents, firewood, tarps, folding chairs, age-appropriate games for the group, binoculars, coolers, and lighters/matches all come to mind. For any other road trip, think about car games (including kid games for families), cooler full of ice + water + snacks, maps, travel books on nearby points of interest, etc. All shared costs can be divided among the group.

4. Split the cost of gas fairly and tactfully
How? Discuss this well in advance of the trip so expectations (and budgets) are clear for all road trippers. The record gas price spikes are challenging for everyone and splitting the cost of gas is perfectly acceptable. If you’re traveling with a group of friends, factor gas costs into overall budgets. For instance, big ticket items such as hotel room(s), activity entrance fees, and food are typically split in groups. Drivers especially should speak up to remind people that sharing the cost of gas should also be considered in the overall cost of the road trip. Agree with your group how the cost will be divided and when. Nothing’s worse than getting stuck with a bigger bill than necessary due to lack of communication. TripHub’s money owed tool makes it easy for the main trip organizer to include gas as a shared cost factor. Three ways to share gas costs:

Barter and tradeIf one person buys food for the group, another buys gas, and yet another gets one night’s hotel room. This can be hard to track when groups get larger (5 or more), but I’ve found it works well in smaller groups, especially if shared costs are tracked and tallied daily or with a close-knit group of friends with built-in trust are on the road trip.

Determine cost for gas ahead of time per vehicle (calculate miles per gallon by approximate tanks of gas by mileage — mathematicians in your group can create the best calculus algorithms). Geeks in your group will derive much pleasure out of figuring gas costs using this method (and everyone will love them for accurate and reliable results to the penny!).

Drivers gather all gas receipts during the trip, total up the amount at the end, and collect money or let the group organizer collect money from the group for gas along with other shared expenses. TripHub’s money owed tool can help organize who owes money before, during, and after the trip.

5. Make your road trip fuel-efficient
A little prep will go a long way, especially on longer road trips. Gas prices will affect every road trip, but if you do a little homework and find the cheapest gas station near you (thanks to Gas Buddy), plus share the cost of gas with friends or family on road trips, you’re less likely to break your piggybank while winding through stunning scenery on an unforgettable vacation.

6. Decide on the best route (and alternative route)
Plan ahead with research on various routes to your favorite destination(s) in case of emergency road closures or summertime construction. Check U.S. Department of Transportation’s traffic and road closure status for any state before you go.

7. Agree on flexibility before leaving
Rain may spoil a camping road trip, so doing a little pre-trip research to find nearby B&B’s or hotels may save you headache along the journey. Make sure everyone is in agreement to be flexible. Trip organizers can do a little research before the trip to give recommendations and alternatives to original plans (local festivals, for instance). If your group is set on hiking a certain Rocky Mountain trail along the road trip, the group may discover another trail off-the-beaten path or bag the hiking idea in favor of relaxing with a picnic and majestic Rocky Mountain skyline.

8. Get and give personal space
Cramming yourselves in a car is fun for a weekend getaway or longer trip, but everyone eventually will crave some solo time. I recommend agreeing on one or two stops along the drive where people are free to explore a town or area, iPod in hand.

Good road companions can also make or break a road trip, and you’ll only know who rocks once you hit the road. Isn’t it the journey that’s the reward in life anyway? Still, my best piece of advice for any road trip: bring ample amounts of good music. When bad road trippers start trippin’ you out, just crank up the tunes and drown them out.


Jocelyn Milici has worked in online travel, including managing content at Expedia, for over eight years and currently blogs for www.triphub.com, which has a number of resources for organizing road trips.