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The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Road Trip

Michael Kelly

Road trips have become a staple part of American culture. In 2016, road trips accounted for 69 percent of all family vacations. With gas prices dropping, they’re an affordable way to enjoy sights and scenes that are a few states over (or across the country, if you’re up for it). Here’s the ultimate guide to planning a road trip.

SEE ALSO: How to Plan the Best Road Trip Ever

Plan Your Route

Sometimes, you just want to jump in your car and head to wherever the road takes you—but a road trip probably isn’t one of those times. There are three great apps and websites you can use to plan your road trip.

Waze: Like other smartphone apps, this one functions as a GPS. But, it’s different in that it collects data from its users to track traffic conditions in real-time and plans your route according to those traffic conditions. It can even alter your route as the traffic pattern changes. That means that if an accident happens 20 miles down the road that you’re on, Waze can reroute you to avoid the jam. This app is great for finding interesting and unique locations on your road trip. Users can enjoy learning about “off the beaten path” places they can visit as they plan, book hotel rooms, and navigate using this app. This website helps travelers find scenic locations that they can visit during their road trip. If you don’t mind adding a little extra time to your journey, you can enjoy a gorgeous, relaxing drive.

Save Gas

On average, 100 pounds of cargo can reduce your fuel economy by 1 percent and a rooftop cargo container can reduce your fuel economy by 25 percent. To save on gas, limit the amount of cargo that you carry and store items in the trunk of your car instead of on the roof.

Your driving habits can also impact your fuel efficiency. In fact, aggressive driving can reduce your fuel efficiency by as much as 40 percent. It’s estimated that for every 5 mph you drive over 50 mph, you spend 17 cents more per gallon of gas. By using cruise control and keeping your speed at or below 65 mph, you can increase fuel economy.

Pack Food

If your road trip is only a few hours long, it is a good idea to pack food. For trips that will last for more than four hours, bring a cooler with ice packs, food, water, and other drinks. Think about bringing foods that will fit the meals you’ll be eating. Bananas, muffins, and yogurt are great breakfast foods for road trips. Sandwiches are ideal for lunch and dinner.

When it’s time to eat, pull over. Eating behind the wheel is one of the leading causes of distracted driving and can increase your chances of getting into an accident, so takes steps to avoid it.

Find Local Eateries

If you’ll be driving for more than a few hours, it might not be practical—or safe—to bring food in a cooler. You’ll probably need to stop for food along the way. Luckily, one of the best parts of a road trip is being able to experience regional chow as you pass through different states. Don’t waste a stop by eating at a chain restaurant that you could visit in your hometown. Opt for one-of-a-kind eateries that feature local flavors.

To find unique restaurants that are absolute must-tries, check out and functions like You input your starting location and your final destination, as well as how far from your route you’re willing to travel to find food. The app then highlights great local eateries along your route. You can even exclude sections from the beginning or the end of the trip. This is helpful if you want to focus on finding great food in the areas you are just passing through.

Stay Relaxed

Don’t let careless drivers or traffic jams ruin your road trip. Sure, losing your cool in front of your passengers can make for an awkward ride, but more important than that, road rage can lead to dangerous driving behaviors. One simple way to keep calm is to use aromatherapy while driving. The scent of peppermint helps decrease anxiety, fatigue, and frustration while driving. It can also help increase alertness. Try hanging a peppermint air freshener over your A/C vent to help you stay focused and relaxed.

You can also employ simple mindfulness exercises to ease stress while driving. One such exercise is body awareness. If you feel your anger getting the best of you while on the road, begin to pay attention to your breathing. Are you taking short, fast breaths with your chest or deep, slow breaths with your stomach? If it’s the former, make a shift towards the latter. Paying attention your breath as it travels through your mouth, into your lungs, and then back out can help you regain control over your emotions.

Is It About Economics or Experience?

Before you set out on your road trip, think about whether driving is really the best option. Are you driving to save money or to have the experience? Often, people assume that a road trip is the more affordable way to travel, but that isn’t always true. Traveling by airplane can be far more economical. For example, flying from St. Louis to New York costs about $455 (includes cab fares and parking fees), whereas driving costs about $970. Plus, the trip takes almost 3 times longer by car.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that flying is always more economical than driving. Typically, traveling to a neighboring state by car is more affordable than by plane. And if you’re traveling with a group, a road trip may be more affordable overall. If you’re looking to save money on your travels, crunch the numbers before you make a decision.

Road trips evoke a sense of adventure and spontaneity and offer a far different experience than airport hopping. At the risk of sounding cliche, it’s important that you enjoy your journey. The best way to do that is with a little planning. By following these tips, you can enjoy regional culture—and maybe even save a little money—as you discover a new destination.

READ MORE: Should You Rent a Car for Your Road Trip?