Tips for Planning a Unique Road Trip in the United States

Tips for Planning a Unique Road Trip in the United States

Planning a Unique Road Trip

Whether you have a week or 2 months (jealous!) to cruise down the open roads, we have some quick tips for planning the ultimate road trip. You’ll start with getting out your calendar and move on to looking up weather and seasonal crowds. Next, you have to start mapping out your must-see attractions. Read on for more details!

Road Trip Planning Tips for the United States.

Check Your Calendar

First, you’ll need to look at your calendar and see when the family can get away. Afterward, pin down the maximum number of days that you can escape from work, school, and other at-home commitments.

Consider the Weather and Seasonal Crowds

Do you want to go to Yellowstone National park? If it’s not the peak of summer, be sure to check for road closures due to snow. Got your heart set on the Grand Canyon? Plan to be there in the early morning during holiday weekends like Memorial Day.

Yellowstone covered in snow with high snowbanks in early June 2011,

It’s early June?!

You’ll want to look up the historical weather information for each place that you plan to visit. Even states that you only plan to cross, may have weather concerns. Yes, we once had to hide out in a McDonald’s to escape a tornado. I kid you not. And don’t get me started on the ice storms that we had to outrun or got stuck in when traveling the Eastern Seaboard in the winter.

Back on the road after an ice storm.

Look up seasonal crowd information for the places that you want to tour. What are the busiest and least crowded times of the year, week, or day to visit? Don’t waste your precious family time waiting to get in a national park when you could have drove right in by arriving a bit earlier.

Figure Out Your Mileage

Only you know how many miles in your vehicle per day are doable for your family. Got an antsy toddler? Plan for less miles and more roadside stops. Take your miles per day and times it by your number of vacation days. Then, split it up — half to get to your farthest destination and half to get home! Plan different routes for your outbound and inbound travels.

If you have a young child, take more breaks out of the car on long road trips.

Take a break out of the car!

Know that the journey is equally important to the destination. You’ll make priceless memories on the road if you allow for spontaneity.

Get Out a Map

I like This tool lets you see what’s really feasible for your road trip. Start by adding in your home location and your farthest destination. Then look for places of interest along the way. Add in all your stops of interest.

If you prefer, get our your paper atlas and/or map. Figure out your mileage between destinations by using your favorite online calculator.

Veer Off the Beaten Path

Yes, plan some road miles that are not on the interstate. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Although sometimes, you’ll wonder if you’ve left civilization for good, especially when you’re hungry and haven’t seen a restaurant in a couple of hours. 😉

Go off the beaten path on road trips to find unique towns and attractions

Somewhere in Texas

Refine Your Places of Interest

This is where you have to get tough. There’s a multitude of places to see and things to do along your chosen route. Keeping in mind your mileage concerns and maximum allowable vacation days, this is where you’ll have to do some crossing out.

A unique attraction — the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico

Tip: Mix it up. A combination of natural wonders, museums, all-day attractions, and shorter stops will keep everyone longing for the next activity. A quiet but mind-boggling evening visit to an observatory can precede the next day’s arrival to bustling Las Vegas. If your family veers toward museums, allow for at least one outdoor activity. If you generally visit natural parks, add in a museum. Allow for the quirky too — in one road trip through South Dakota, we drove by the Corn Palace and stopped to stretch our legs at Wall Drug Store.

Stop at Wall Drug Store for roadside fun in Wall, South Dakota.

Having fun out of the car at Wall Drug Store.

Fine-Tuning Your Route

Start on Day one and determine your departure time. Calculate the number of miles to your first stop. Is your first stop an overnight to rest from driving or a “through visit”?  Consider any place that does not involve staying in a hotel overnight as a “through visit”. Note that sometimes you’ll need to arrive a road stop and tour your interested attraction the next morning. For example, we arrived in Flagstaff, AZ in late afternoon and continued to the Grand Canyon early the next morning.

Early morning in the Grand Canyon

If you can drive the miles to your first stop, see your first attraction, and still get some driving miles done to your hotel stop, do it. But don’t go over your maximum miles per day unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you’ll be driving through a lowly populated area, you may need to drive a bit farther to get to your hotel.

Here’s an map of our 5,000 mile road trip this past summer. At first, this map included stops for many other attractions but in the interest of time and sanity, we had to do the tough job of crossing out some interesting places. We allowed more road miles on our first and last days.

This map shows our Southwest road trip of 5,ooo miles.

Southwest Road Trip Map

Finalizing Your Route

If you haven’t done so already, check the hours for each attraction. Some attractions like Space Center Houston will require many hours to tour. Other stops (taking a picture at a Continental Divide sign) will be less involved. Make adjustments to your route and sightseeing plans accordingly.

Take a picture at the Continental Divide sign near Riddle Lake, Wyoming close to the South Entrance to Yellowstone.

Kim at the Continental Divide near Riddle Lake, Wyoming.

Tip: Plan to stay at at least one location for more than a night. You’ll all be thankful for the time out of the car!

Prepare to NOT See Everything

Inevitably, there are roadblocks on any adventure. You run into a massive traffic jam right after you pass the most convenient exit (hate that!). Or someone in the family gets sick and needs an unplanned day of rest. On that Southwest Road trip above, our son got sick and we had to cut out two attractions and one hotel stop. (We’ll discuss in another post how to deal with last minute adjustments.)

We’ll be back with lots more road trip tips, along with in-depth reviews of hotels and attractions. Plus, we can’t wait to share some of our hilarious traveling mistakes and um, mishaps, with our readers.

Unique Road Trips

What are your suggestions for planning a road trip?