Road Trip Planning, Tips, and Ideas

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UPDATED: 30.11.2021

However romantic it seems to just hit the road and see where it takes you, we’ve always found that planning a road trip makes things run a lot smoother.

And so, with several years of experience behind us now, we thought we’d share our tips and ideas about road trip planning.

Nobody likes everything planned to a tee – unless you’re a sergeant major in the military – so our road trip tips and ideas below allow for some spontaneity!

Indeed, it is those twists of fate and chance encounters that often make road trips memorable.

Here are our top ten road trip tips and ideas to help ensure your travels go to plan – without limiting the sense of adventure…

Our Top Ten Tips for an Epic Road Trip

1. Plan your road trip route before you go

This may sound obvious but you need to have a general idea about where you’re heading to. Unless you’re quite content to wander around in circles and see what happens, each road trip will have some eventual destination.

So, get the road atlas out and plan the best route!

At this point we have to confess that we don’t always follow our own advice!

On a trip to Wales Gav had written the road numbers down on a scrap of paper and what should have taken us about six hours from Suffolk turned into ten! We ended up going through town centres, encountering diversions because of road works, and getting caught up in jams a couple of miles long.

Because we hadn’t clearly marked the route, we’d turned off the A14 too soon and ended up heading south on the M1 when it should have been north!

Since then we’ve always jotted down the proper route and kept a written journal of all the amazing places we’ve seen…

2. Know your road map symbols!

The other thing about using maps or a road atlas is you’ve got to know how to read them properly.

Hobo Trudi’s a pretty good navigator and has gotten to know the map’s symbols well…

For instance, on the A470 approach into Dolgellau in Wales, she spotted this sign >> on the map. It means steep hill!

Little did we know – until too late – that it was a 20% incline. There was no way to turn around and we struggled over the summit in second gear with a queue of traffic behind us.

We’ve learnt to avoid anything this steep after struggling on more than one occasion. Indeed, in Derbyshire we had to reverse all the way back down a hill when our old VW Cree ran out of puff.

So, know your map symbols!

3. Don’t rely on a satnav

Of course, using a satnav might save you all this hassle. We say ‘might’ because even these can lead you astray if you’re not careful…

We don’t use a satnav ourselves but when a road closure in Wales diverted us miles out of our way we ended up relying on Google Maps. But this led us to a bridge that was only 6 feet 6 inches wide! That’s no good when you’re van is 7 and a half feet across!

Perhaps a proper satnav, where you can programme in the dimensions of your van would have helped? Indeed, this is something we’d definitely look into if we were heading into Europe but even then it needs to be programmed correctly.

Gav recalls trying to cross the Pyrenees aided by a satnav but it was programmed to take him by the shortest route. He ended up on goat tracks and had to turn around when things got too perilous.

You don’t want to be doing this in a 20 foot motorhome with a 1000 foot drop on one side – with no safety barriers!

cyclist riding on old goat track across the Spanish Pyrenees
Picture Source:

4. Take regular breaks

This seems obvious but is overlooked in our haste to arrive. Road trips really are more about the journey than the destination. So, it’s not about rushing to get to someplace, but more about enjoying the ride.

Remember Sunday afternoons as a kid when you’d just go out for a ride with mum and dad in the car? “With no particular place to go,” as Chuck Berry sang, this was pleasurable enough in itself.

And this is the sort of attitude that can make even the longest road trip enjoyable.

We’ll usually drive for 90 to 120 mins then have a tea break. Driving and navigating can be tough on concentration levels, especially if you’re in unfamiliar territory where you’re looking at the atlas or satnav and road signs all at the same time. Oh, and avoiding potholes!

Taking regular breaks will also help with the next tip…

5. See the road trip as a team game – everyone is in it together

If things go wrong and you end up miles from where you should be, don’t slip into blaming the navigator. It’s all too easy to start criticising and playing the blame-game but it gets you nowhere and only adds to the stress levels.

We like to think that when we get lost, the van has done it for some reason.

Perhaps there’s something here that we need to see, learn, or experience? Perhaps there’s a chance encounter with a stranger who will give you some valuable advice? Maybe some life-changing wisdom? Who knows?

Thus, even if things seem to have gone ‘wrong’ see each ‘mistake’ as an opportunity and work as a team to put it right.

It really helps if you ‘check in’ with your fellow travellers every so often. Get out of your own driving trance and reach out to others. We think this is especially important for any youngsters who will inevitably have been entranced by screens during the journey.

So take a break, connect with others, walk, stretch, have a bite to eat etc.

Be supportive of each other, learn from any stressful situations, then get back on track again.

This leads nicely onto tip 6…

smiling kids in VW campervan

6. Keep the kids involved

Yes, no matter their age, if you’re travelling with youngsters get them involved in the road trip.

Your excitement and enthusiasm for the journey ahead will rub off on them (eventually!) They need to feel as if they are part of the team and the kids should be involved right from the planning stage.

Whilst on the trip itself you might have to use your imagination and invent some road trip games or make up some stories together.

Of course, kids will need their toys and gadgets to help stave off any boredom if it’s a particularly long road trip, but the main thing is to keep them interested and involved. Perhaps suggest they use their phones to take pictures and videos of the trip that can later be edited and uploaded to YouTube?

Take a look at one of our favourite road trip videos…

7. Take all your gadgets and chargers

Along with all the road trip essentials you should take, don’t forget your gadgets and chargers. We use this power bank that charges things on the go.

It’s the 21st century and there’s no escaping the fact that the younger generation are reliant on technology and screens. Even on the most scenic road trip like the one above, there’ll be times when the kids have their eyes glued to their phone or playing on their PSP. It’s the world we live in these days.

The majesty of the mountains or a cliff top drive along a magnificent coastal route can seem rather humdrum compared to the thrills of Battle Royale in Fortnite!

For many youngsters, fantasy is more real than reality, or at least, that’s where the thrill seems to be.

So, as at home, when you’re on the road maybe it’s a good idea to have a time limit on screens? The thing is that the world is out there, not on a screen! Perhaps we should leave the gadgets at home after all?!

8. Keep hydrated and energised

This is so important, especially for the driver, in order to stay alert. By energised, we mean keep your blood sugar levels up.

Eat snacks and drink juices as you go. And sometimes it means reverting to a strong tea or coffee for those last few miles.

We don’t really want to state the obvious but if you’re tired do pull over and rest.

The thing we love about travelling in Scotland is that wild camping is far more tolerated so it’s easy to just pull over when you’re tired and rest up for the night.

A road trip should be seen as an adventure, not as an ordeal, so be aware of your energy levels and need for food and water to help keep you focused throughout the journey.

For this reason, even though your van’s kitchen cupboards might be well stocked, have some meals readily available. You don’t want to be slaving away over a stove for hours on the road unless you’ve found somewhere to stay overnight.

Keep it simple and get going again!

RELATED CONTENT: See our brain boosting energy foods we always have with us in the van

9. Blast out some road trip songs

One way to stay awake is to blast out some road trip songs! So, compile a playlist before you go and turn up the volume.

When we hit the road Gav always reminds us of Canned Heat’s famous bluesy song, ‘On the Road Again’. But it’s not long before Trudi’s thrash metal takes over!

We’ve just started the Motorhome Hobos You Tube Channel and have put together a playlist we can both agree on – sort of! It kind-of meets our tastes half way.

It’s a playlist of classic road trip songs that will have you singing along and playing air guitar. And great songs will add a soundtrack to your epic adventures!

See Our Road Trip Playlist

10. When you arrive at your destination share the gratitude!

We don’t want to sound all hippyish but when the road trip is over take a moment to be grateful.

See, it’s all too common to jump straight out of the van, hook up the electric, put the awning up, and get the next meal on the go as if life depended on it. For sure, phone or text home if people back there are waiting to hear of your safe arrival – but then pause!

Recognise the efforts you have all made and share the love and gratitude. Hopefully the journey itself will have provided you all with some epic moments that will live long in the memory.

Thank your van, thank the people who laid the roads for you all those years ago, thank the road trip itself for all that it might have taught you.

This need only take a few minutes but can really help set the tone for the next stage of your adventures. It turns a road trip into a deeply meaningful experience, a bit like a pilgrimage that will live long in the memory.

Share your own road trip tips and ideas

We’d love to know what you would have added to this list of road trip tips and ideas.

What else has helped or inspired you on your own adventures? Contact us here or comment below.

Remember to check out our road trips essentials page and the stories of our best UK road trips involving some spectacular mountain drives.

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