How to Plan the Perfect Road Trip This Summer

Summer is the perfect time to take a family road trip and explore the majestic landscapes of the U.S. From canyons and glaciers, to beaches and national forests, road trips are a fun way to experience nature and countryside in all its glory. No matter where in the U.S. you live, there is always a scenic highway, back road or trail waiting to be discovered.

You may think planning a road trip involves less work and money, but that depends on many factors. A well-planned road trip involves a little research beforehand.  Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1.  Deciding on the route. A road trip is usually not about reaching the destination, but about enjoying the journey and the many sights you will get to see along the way. Often times, when we are driving we tend to take the fastest highways, thereby missing lesser-known spectacles. You may want to look for scenic roads along your route by visiting the website of the National Scenic Byways Program.

2.  Choosing your transport. Depending on the size of your group, you may want to rent a RV, car or minivan. If you plan to add a lot of miles, it may be cheaper to rent versus drive your own car. Having a fuel-efficient vehicle will save you a lot of money too. Make sure to check your insurance policy and roadside assistance coverage before leaving home. Keep an extra set of keys, tires, basic repair tools and safety kit. Take your own GPS to avoid an unnecessary rental fee.

3.  Where to sleep. Now is the time to call up your friends in small towns whom you could not visit for these years. Homestays, travel exchange programs and campgrounds are fun and affordable ways to spend the night during your road trip. If you prefer more private dwellings, look for vacation rentals by owners, bed and breakfasts or motels. Since you will not be spending a lot of time in your hotel room, your main criteria when choosing your accommodation should be comfortable clean bedding and a hot shower.

4.  Feeding your belly.  While passing by hundred of signs for fast food and highway restaurants, you may get tempted to eat more burgers and fries on this trip. Keep in mind that eating healthily while on the road is even more important especially if you are prone to carsickness. Some people eat more purely out of boredom of being stuck in the car. It’s best to visit a grocery store and pick up fresh food, sandwiches and snacks. Instead of the usual road trip munchies, stock up on granola bars, carrot sticks, grapes nuts, and water.

It is always fun to stop at roadside farm stands and farmers’ markets for lunch or snacks. You may want to sample what the vendors are selling as they are part of your road trip experience. Often times, you may come across apple orchards, strawberry fields and peanut farms that let you pick your own for a minimal price. If you have time, try it out as a group activity that will allow you to get moving, enjoy the outdoors, and gather farm to table snacks for the road.

Of course, you still want to visit restaurants and diners frequented by the locals so you can get a real taste of the town. Avoid going to branded and chain establishments and seek out locally owned businesses so you can support them along the way.

5.  Technology on the road.  It’s best to carry a cell phone with a car charger in case of emergencies and to call for reservations. You can carry a separate GPS or download Maps (free) or TomTom ($30) applications on your phone. Carry a fully charged Bluetooth device if you plan to talk on the phone while driving. If you have an iPod, create a music playlists for your road trip beforehand.

These days there are hundreds of smartphone applications created specifically for road trippers. From finding the cheapest gas station, nearest national park, highest rated hotel or restaurant to interactive maps, you can end up spending more time looking at your device than through your window. Just be careful not to text while driving.

If you are looking for ideas for your next road trip, here are the top 10 drives in the U.S.:

1. Pacific Coast of California stopping at Big Sur and Carmel
2. Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park
3. Seward Highway in Alaska
4. Napa and Sonoma wine country in Northern California
5. Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana
6. Road to Hana on the Maui island of Hawaii
7. Red Rock Scenic Byway in Sedona, Arizona
8. Mount Rushmore, Badlands and the Black Hills
9. Route 66 from Arizona to Chicago through the Grand Canyon
10. North Carolina’s Outer Banks Highway

Lastly, you may encounter traffic delays, untimely stops or severe weather. There may be friction among the group sometimes. Allow yourself to be flexible and stay calm, reminding yourself that you are on vacation. Be spontaneous, have fun and enjoy the uniqueness at each stop of the way.

Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

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Sucheta is an award-winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 70+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give and the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures. To learn more, visit suchetarawal.com.