How to Plan a Long Road Trip

A truck towing an  RV parked in front of a sandy ridge.

Our love for road life began in what we call the Crazy Summer of 2014. We had this wild idea to take a month-long road trip with our three baby boys, traveling across the country in our minivan with a tiny pop-up camper in tow. We decided to just go for it. Before we knew it, we had survived the long haul across Texas and the changes in the air told us we were closing in on Yosemite. Even with two babies in diapers, we loved every minute. We saw everything we could, packing our days full with inspirational views.

It was hard and amazing, and it opened our eyes to the beauty that our amazing country holds. Five years later and (hopefully) a little bit wiser, we decided to go all-in on road life. We sold our home and most of our stuff and took a risk on an adventure. We planned to live in our camper and travel the country as full-time nomads. It’s only been a year, but so far, life on the road has not disappointed us––even when it has humbled us. We’ve learned so much, sometimes the hard way, but we’re here to share our best tips for how we plan a long road trip. 

Decide where and when you want to go, and for how long. Before you can focus on the small details of a road trip, first solidify the main points. Where do you want to go? When will you travel and how long do you want the trip to be? Answering those questions helps all of the other details fall into place. For our trip, we knew we were headed to the Pacific Northwest from Florida, and we knew that we wanted to be there around August, so we built around that.  We also learned the importance of planning for the travel season. Peak season means preparing for bigger crowds, parking difficulties and possible trouble getting reservations. But on the other hand, traveling in the off-season can bring weather hazards and park closures. In our case, we visited the Grand Canyon during the “shoulder season” between peak and off-seasons, and it felt like we had the entire place to ourselves. What a dream! 

Know your travel limits and plan accordingly. Figure out what kind of travelers you are and make a plan that works best for you. As a family of five, we knew from the beginning that we could not travel at the pace of a young, childfree couple. We like to travel slow and avoid large cities. In fact, we made three travel rules that set a good pace for our family. First, we don’t travel at night or during stormy weather. Second, we don’t drive more than 55 mph. And lastly, we don’t cover more than 300 miles in one day. We’ve followed those rules this past year and our time on the road has been a lot less stressful.

Be familiar with your RV. It's also important to make sure you know the specifications of your RV: the height, the total length, how much weight it can bear, etc., to avoid any mishaps. Travel apps and route planning software are a big help. You can find dumping stations, cheap campgrounds and truck stops and identify low bridges and narrow roads ahead of time. Good resources are a game-changer.

Plan a short trial run before the big adventure. This was a huge help for us. Some things are hard to learn without actually doing them. As we got closer to our departure date, we made a reservation for a beach campground about an hour from our home. It allowed us to experience the travel, setup, camping and breakdown, and we learned a lot from the experience. You may find you need to adjust some of your routines or that you don’t need to pack as much as you think. In our case, we found we needed some walkie talkies to help make parking and coordination easier at the campsite. The trial run trip gave us the chance to take notes and work out the kinks, and we were so glad we did.

Embrace the unexpected and occasional detours. When embarking on a long road trip, be flexible. Sometimes things go awry, but flexibility ensures that the rest of your plan doesn’t have to fall apart in the wake of a curveball. For instance, on Father’s Day last year, we were in Desert Center, California, and one of our RV tires went flat. Fixing a flat on an RV can be a bit different than changing a tire on a car, and with three small kids in tow, we were apprehensive about fixing it ourselves. Instead of panicking and making a wrong move, we decided to take a break, get a hotel room for the night and drink frozen drinks by the pool while we found someone else to fix our tire professionally. Our flat tire turned into an opportunity to make a new memory about the time we turned lemons into lemonade. 

Slow down and embrace the ordinary. When we first hit the road, we tried to see everything. But instead of enjoying our travels, we just wore ourselves out. The beauty of a long road trip is that you have time on your side. So slow down, take your journey stop by stop, and give yourself time to enjoy each location. When you give yourself permission to enjoy the ride, everyday life becomes just as beautiful as the view from the top of a mountain.