How Road Trips Work

Road Trip Planning

Some of the best road trips are unplanned. You simply grab a few items and some friends, hop in a car and set off in whatever direction seems appealing. Of course, this approach entails some risk, too: You might end up in the middle of nowhere, in a bad part of town or lost. That's why the first rule of road trip planning is to bring along whatever you might need to have fun, no matter where you end up. Some food, a guitar, a cooler full of drinks and a few chairs can go a long way (yes, you need emergency supplies, too, and we'll get to them in a little bit).

That said, planning a road trip can be almost as fun as the trip itself. Flipping through travel guides can really stoke your enthusiasm and, for the logistically minded, the management of speed, fuel, lodging and timing details can present a rewarding challenge.

When planning your route, consider what kinds of roads you want to take. As John Steinbeck and Charles Kuralt both observed, highways make it possible to drive across an entire country without seeing anything or meeting anyone. The more you skip freeways and interstates in favor of scenic highways and historic byways, the more you're likely to get out of your trip.

Once you've figured out your plan in broad strokes, fill in the details, and bear in mind that maps and satellite navigation systems are not always up to date. Research as much as you can (or can stand) and cross-reference your sources. Remember, the more you prepare now, the better equipped you'll be if you decide to alter your trip later or have to deal with an unforeseen problem. Speaking of which, make a list of phone numbers and radio stations to consult for traffic and construction updates. You should be able to find this information on the Internet.

Booking lodging and having backup plans can make or break a trip, especially if you want to visit some remote byways with limited lodging opportunities. Also, be sure to investigate fuel availability where you're headed: In some areas, especially the American West, gas stations can be scattered a hundred miles apart. Along similar lines, find out if your cell carrier offers coverage in the travel area and whether parts of your route are considered roaming. It's good to know an emergency phone is available if you need it.

By now, you're probably itching to set out on the open road, so let's check out some of the choicest routes for taking a jaunt in your jalopy.