10 Tips for a Successful Road Trip

Are you planning a long road trip to your favorite destination? We have a few tips we have learned on how to make traveling more fun.

1. Planning for the Road Trip

Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Mountains

If you have read other posts on this blog, you know that we advocate for traveling slow through the countryside.

The challenge with traveling this way is we don’t always know where we will end our day. On these days, we must search the area we are in to find a campground that hopefully has a spot for us.

During the busy season finding a campground on the run can be a challenge. This approach may mean we must boondock and sleep in a rest stop or truck stop somewhere. Gail and I are okay with rolling the dice this way but some people may want a daily plan. Planning each night or having a daily schedule is not bad, it’s just not our style generally.

Staying in a National Park or State Park means you should book a campground early!

The exception to our “make it up as we go” routine is anytime we want to stay in a National Park or State Park. Camping sites go fast in these parks and we highly recommend securing them in advance. Most of the campsites in or near these parks must be scheduled 3-6 months in advance.

A Typical Schedule For Us

As an example, if we are planning a 12 day trip, our itinerary will look something like this.

  • 1st & 2nd – Drive and have fun stops along the way. No Reservations.
  • 3rd & 4th – Stay at reserved campsite
  • 5th & 6th – Move to another location at a reserved site.
  • 7th thru day 12 – Drive towards home but have fun stops along the way. No Reservations.

On a recent road trip, we traveled 12 days in total but we only had 4 days reserved. We booked the 4 nights at the National Park we were visiting but made the rest up as we traveled.

We rarely stay at any single location more than 2 nights. Most often, we only stay at a location 1 night and move on.

Sprinter Camper Van

2. Research Park Conditions Before Leaving Home

It is important to gather as much current information on a National or State Park as possible before leaving home. This is particularly important in the spring or late fall seasons.

Some of these parks are in remote and sometimes harsh areas, it is helpful to know if your campground is open, if the roads into and around the parks are open or if the hiking trail you want to explore is open. Knowing this information before leaving home reduces the number of surprises you will encounter and also allows you to change plans if needed.

We recommend that you go to the National Park Service website to source this information. With their web page you can look up your park by State and location to read about alerts, weather conditions or area news. Many state parks will have similar information on their sites. However, accessing the information will vary from state-to-state.

Final Check

Starting about a week from your start date, it’s a good idea to monitor the weather in the area you are traveling to. Monitoring the temperature ranges you will encounter and various weather predictions will help you pack more effectively. We have been known to totally reroute a planned trip and go a different direction if the weather conditions are not ideal for travel or our desired activities.

Don’t be afraid to change your route and your plans when you get new information. Traveling to a place that has a 5-day rain forecast is probably not the adventure you have in mind for your road trip.

3. Planning Your Activities

Travel Guides

For Gail and I, planning the activities we want to do is much like making reservations at a campsite. For example, if we want to go white-water rafting or kayaking on a trip, we will research outfitters and secure a tour or adventure before we leave home.

We do not book these types of activities often, but when we do, we will typically sign up and pay for them as early as possible. We want to know we have a reservation for the activity before we get there. Some of these types of activities are very popular and do fill up quickly.

Since Gail and I are hiking enthusiasts, we will do some early research on hiking trails in State and National Parks. However, we don’t totally decide on a specific trail until we arrive at the park. Once there, we will gather the local (usually free) maps, talk to the park Rangers or other hikers before deciding on what trails we will actually take.

Depending on our mood, we will decide on a trail based on the difficulty of the hike, the length of the trail and the natural features that are highlighted along the way. Most of the time, we hike the less populated areas because we like to hike alone when possible. However, if we do decide on a busier trail, we like to start early in the morning and get started before the crowd of people arrives at the trailhead.

Pre-book the activities you must and decide on the rest later is the rule we live by.

4. Vehicle and Coach Preparation

The easy answer to ensuring a safe and fun road trip is to keep your vehicle well maintained year-round. If you are traveling in an outfitted van or recreational vehicle, maintaining the coach areas of the vehicle is equally important. We’d rather spend money a few times per year on preventative maintenance than shell out a large some of money on a large repair because we waited too long.

Although nothing is guaranteed, the last thing we want to is lose a day or two at a service provider while on the road.

All that said, the more detailed answer to vehicle and coach preparation is to test and check everything before leaving town on a trip.

Prior to your trip:

  • Check your maintenance records on the vehicle. Do you need an oil change? Check your tire and make sure your tire wear is safe and air pressure is ideal. Fix any other issues including brakes, AC or heater, transmission and air filter.
  • If you are traveling in a van or RV test the essential resources in the coach.
  • Are your batteries changed and in good shape?
  • Fill Propane tank and test the generator, refrigerator, and heaters.
  • Fill the water chamber and make sure the water pump and faucets are working properly. Test the toilet if you have one.
  • Make sure the air conditioner is working properly.

Generally, your mission here is to test everything you can think of and to look for problems before you leave town. If done properly and early in the process, you can get an issue fixed and have confidence that the road trip will likely be free of mechanical issues.

5. Packing Gear

In our sprinter van all storage areas are a premium. There are three tiers of items we take.

Tier 1 – Items we use daily or often. These items are the most important to us and take up the bulk of our storage areas in the van. They include, cookware, clothes and bedding, maps, backpacks, flashlights and lamps, personal hygiene items, water hoses, batteries charger for our devises, tools for fire building.

Tier 2 – Items we will use once or twice on a trip. These are items we want to have with us and are considered a necessity because we know we need them but are only used when required.  These items could include, tools for minor repairs, rain wear, hats and mittens for cold weather.

Tier 3 – Items that are not required for safety or survival but enhance the traveling experience. These items include a computer and camera, binoculars, outdoor cook stove, folding chairs, a coffee pot, hair dryer and mood setting items. like tiki torches, string lights and candles.

When packing, think about the tier 1 items you must have and pack them first. Pack the tier 2 items next which will fill up most of your premium storage areas, then pack tier 3 items and shove them into whatever spaces you have left!

6. Meal Planning & Food Preparation

With the excitement of preparing for a road trip the question always includes, “What in the world are we going to eat?”   This is really not a difficult question to answer. 

We do however plan differently for meals at home then when we are on the road.  When thinking about a road trip, Gail starts with what protein or meat we will eat for dinner and what is easy to prepare on Alice. Once she makes those decisions, she will plan the supplementary food accordingly.

The goal for the food we eat on a road trip is to eat healthy and have meals that are easy to prepare. Doing most of the prep work before leaving home is a great way to make meals quickly and delicious while on the road.

road trip food

Our lunches usually consists of sandwiches, fruit and vegetables.  We are always on the go during the middle of the day so it is food that is easy to pack and carry with us. 

If Gail has her way (and she usually does) we will eat spinach a couple times per day!

7. Navigating When on the Road

Most of us have become reliant on gadgets to get from point-to-point. GPS technology has spoiled us by making our driving routes easy to follow; as long as we have cellular service.

We highly recommend taking tradition paper maps on your trips too.

Many of the areas you will visit have spotty service or no service at all. Keep a map of the area you are visiting handy. We will sometimes acquire an area map prior to leaving town but we will always get a local map once we arrive to our destination. Honestly, we use the paper maps much more then we use our phone’s GPS because maps are often easier and quicker to use.

Have an Atlas map in your vehicle too. GPS generally works well when you are on a major highway but if you want to travel 2-lane highways like we do, the Atlas is a much easier way to find an alternate route.

An Atlas also shows an area’s points of interest. When we study a map for alternate routes we will often plot out a route based on out of the way and sometimes odd places to visit.

8. Meet and Talk to the Locals

One of the best ways to find great places to visit is to talk to the locals.

If you are at the gas station or grocery store talk to the people who live there. Where do they like to go? Where do they eat?

Some of our best leads have come by being friendly and interested. Rarely do people who live in an area we visit disappoint us. They are proud of their town, county or state and are usually more than happy to give us a recommendation.

9. Journal Your Road Trip

Gail has maintained a journal for years and it has become a blessing to us in many ways.

If you’re a blogger the journal is critical. Her notes help to remind us of names of places, people and what we did on our visit. If you are on a road trip for several days or weeks, places and events can start to blur together. By taking notes along the way our posts are more accurate and detailed than they may have been if we only relied on our memories.

The more important aspect of writing a travel journal is the pleasure of reading it months and years later. No matter how good you think your memory is, reading older journal entries will always remind you of something and most often bring a smile to your face.

If you get in the habit of documenting your journey as you go it will become a source of fun for you later. Guaranteed.

10. Evaluate Your Road Trip

During your final leg of driving when all you want to do is get home, talk about what you liked and what you want to do differently on your next road trip.

This is a good way to reflect on your past trip and a way to perfect the next excursion you take.

No matter how well you plan, you may have a regret or two about the road trip you just completed. Most of our regrets come from places we wanted to visit but could not fit into our timetable or we just wanted more time to completely soak everything in.

We look forward to the time in our lives when we can be away from home for months at a time. For now, we will venture out on as many road trips as we can fit in and work to make each of our ventures meaningful and special.

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