How To Plan Your Next (Or First) Roadtrip!

You want to take a road trip, but don't know where to start? Here are three things to get you started.

Budget:

First thing is figuring out how much money you have to spend. You can take a road trip for as little as $100 or pay more than $1000. Certainly, the more money you have, the more possibilities available, but that isn’t to say you cannot go to some excellent places for cheaper. Check out my article about traveling from Arkansas to California for under $500! My friend, Cameron, and I managed to hope on a plane and rent a car for an entire week for about $300 total, which brings me to my next point.

Figure out who can go or if you want to make a solo trip. I have done both, but I have a little more fun when I’m with other people. There’s nothing wrong with going solo, but I know my personality and myself. Getting a group together is more fun for me, personally. If you have never made a road trip before or have people in your group that haven’t, a weeklong cross-country trip might not be the best to start. Be realistic with the people you’re bringing and yourself. If you’re renting a car, splitting gas, or maybe even a hotel, the more people you have with you, the cheaper it will be. If you fly, the ticket price will be what it is, but everything else on the trip can be divided relatively easily, and it will make the journey a little more comfortable on your wallet.

I prefer to camp under the stars, but for some people, hotels may be a little more realistic. However, if you’re going to camp, make sure you account for the gear you don't have yet. Equipment needed might be a tent, sleeping bag, pack, etc. If this is your first road trip, consider borrowing some stuff from your friends or renting. Gear can add up quickly if you’re starting from nothing. You don't need the best things on the market, but when looking at equipment, I firmly believe “you get what you pay for.” I’m a little more willing to spend money up front because, in my experience, it will last much longer than most knock off things you can get on Amazon. Finding quality knockoffs is possible, but it is wise to invest in something that will keep you comfortable.

Okay, so now you have an idea of how much you can spend, how many people are going, and what extra things you might have to get to factor your budget.


Time Frame:

The time frame may seem like an easy one, but if you have a long weekend, maybe a short drive to a local destination is more suitable. However, if you can find some flights that fit your budget, then perhaps a more exotic place is attainable. If you’re going to be traveling with a group, make sure that everyone can get the same days off and be sure to account for when everyone needs to be back to the real world.

You need to keep in mind that if you’re driving, it will likely take longer than Google says to get to a location because you’ll want to stop along the way. If you are heading somewhere new, seek out local spots and enjoy the culture. Also, if you’re bringing a camera, make sure you allocate plenty of time for pictures.

With your budget and time frame figured out, you should be able to figure out a pretty cool destination, but be realistic. I’ve been on trips that required driving through the night to get to everywhere we had planned. On an ideal trip, you won't be stuck in a car for large parts of the day. It’s best to get out and stretch your legs while stopping at awesome destinations.

Destination:

By now, you probably have an idea of where you want to go. If you’re like me, maybe you want to knock off every National Park in the U.S. Maybe you’ve seen something on Facebook or Instagram that you need to look at in person. If this is the case, figure out how you can get there and make sure everyone in your group is on board. Take some time to get together and get everyone’s ideas on the table.

Once you have a place, then you can start figuring out if there is anywhere along the way that you also want to see. If you’re going somewhere that requires a night or two, why not use those nights to camp at a cool spot along the way? A little research up front will go a long way and make for a much more enjoyable trip if you have people that need to know where you are staying. There is also something gratifying about hopping in the car with a final destination or even no destination in mind and seeing where life takes you.

If you’re one of the former that needs to have a plan (it’s okay, I get it), I like to use online forums for opinions on where to camp near National Parks. Sometimes the campgrounds within the parks are a little crowded, so look for alternative options like the Bureau of Land Management! I am a huge fan of the dispersed camping options on BLM land. You can camp almost anywhere on BLM land, but if there are established camping spot already, please use those! BLM land is also free to camp on, while a National Park may cost you some money.

The Outbound, Instagram, and Roadtrippers.com are my three primary sources for inspiration and planning.

Most importantly, be creative, have fun, and try to go somewhere new! You don't need to travel the globe to find picturesque places. In fact, with a little research, you can probably find something in your backyard! Let me know if this helped you and where you went!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Tyler McKay

Living for adventure. Full time Law Student, part-time explorer. Always planning the next adventure. Currently in Fayetteville, AR.