Road trips are the great American summer vacation: wind in your hair, rocking tunes on the radio, kids/friends smiling in the back seat. But the magic doesn’t happen, well, magically. All road trips roll a lot smoother if they’re planned well: No one wants to be driving endlessly at 3 a.m. still looking for somewhere to eat or sleep. And no one wants to be bored in the back seat.
With some easy pre-trip thinking, you can ensure that everyone in your car stays happy and even has a meaningful, memorable trip. This summer Wendy’s sharing her hard-earned road-trip wisdom, culled from countless drives across America, in a series of articles on TripAdvisor. First up: How to plan the ultimate itinerary. I’ve summarized a few of the tips, but click here to read the full article on TripAdvisor, and we’ll see you on the road!
Get everyone on the same page before you ever step foot in the car.
What are your fellow road-trippers expecting from this vacation? Ask everyone to share their trip goals—and likes and dislikes—early in the planning stages. If one person is expecting mountains and outdoor activities but another was planning on stuffing their pie hole with a different pie in every state, you could end up with some road-trip rage. If you can all agree on a few things ahead of time, you’re going to be a lot happier when you’re on Hour 15 of Day 6.
Throw a map-planning party.
Grab an old-school map and plot out where you want to go and how you want to get there. Be sure to think about how far you really want to drive each day, and how long you want to stay in various stops. College towns can be fun and affordable overnight stops, with plenty going on whether you arrive early or late.
Give everyone a day to own.
If every person in the car gets to choose one part of the trip to be in charge of, then everyone’s wish list is more likely to get met. You can set this up so that each road tripper picks something to do, see, or eat each day—or you can give over a whole day to each passenger.
Consider whether you want to go back the same way you came.
A round-trip route could be boring at the end: The home stretch could feel like your vacation has already ended. Or it could give you the opportunity to see things you couldn’t fit in on the first leg. If you’re flying to a destination and renting a car, you might want to opt for a loop route so that you can save money by flying into and out of the same airport..
If your route is one-way, decide which direction is best.
At first glance, driving from here to there might seem the same as driving from there to here—but direction can affect a lot on a road trip. One way might mean amazing sunsets every night, or better weather, or views that don’t require you gazing across a lane of oncoming traffic in order to see the ocean. Bonus tip from science: Studies show that it’s the end of the trip that leaves the most lasting impression, so pick a route that ends with a memorable grand finale.
Seek out the small stuff—and leave time for kismet.
Small towns are packed with fun events during the summer: state fairs are full of quirky competitions and food on sticks; parades and festivals pop up all season; and off-the-beaten-path spots sometimes have surprising or quirky attractions. When you do stop, be sure to ask the locals for recommendations—they may help you discover a gem that’s not on your map.
See Wendy’s Guide to Planning the Ultimate Road Trip on TripAdvisor, where she’s TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate, and follow her on Instagram for postcards from the California road trip she’s on right now.