Ever wanted to just get in your van, motorhome, caravan or even motorbike and just GO! Disappear over the horizon, even if it’s just for a few days.
I do. All the time. Seriously… ALL.THE. TIME.
Especially now I’ve left my job and suddenly have all this free time to fill. My head naturally turns to travel, adventures, things to see and places to explore. (When we’re not moving house or buying new motorbikes that is!)
But I know it’s not always easy to just go on a road trip. There are so many questions- most of them logistical. How do I do this, or deal with that. I hope this post might answer some of your questions. If not, let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them. If you prefer to watch a video rather than reading, here’s the link to a video I created about this subject. The video also shows you how to use Google maps, which is a tool I find really useful for road trip planning.
How to plan a road trip- where to start?
Believe it or not, I get asked this question a LOT. People are often faced by so many options that I think they feel a little overwhelmed. So here is a little checklist to help you figure out where to start your planning:
- How long do you have?
- How long do you want to drive for?
- Are you happy to drive on motorways (ie- you can go further, faster), only drive on smaller roads or a mix of the two.
- Do you want to see/ do something specific?
- Are you happy to go to a foreign country?
- What sort of weather do you hope to enjoy? (Warmer or colder)
Once you’ve answered those questions, you should have a rough idea on the radius of the area you can reach in your timeframe- assuming you have a timeframe of course!
For example, we are going away in our Motorhome in April. We have two weeks (Easter School Holidays) and we are happy to drive on motorways and then take back roads to explore the area once we arrive. We want to see castles, ruins and some waterfalls. And we most definitely want to go to a foreign country.
With these parameters, most of Western Europe was open to us. One other criteria we had was we want to go somewhere we haven’t been before (the map on the back of the van needs filling in!) So we assessed our options, had a good look on Instagram and decided on Germany, with specific focus on the Black Forest in the South West.
How to plan a Road trip- where to go specifically?
As soon as we’ve decided on an area, we start researching specific things to do/ see once we’re there. In Germany we’re going to explore, but we’re also going to help our daughter out with her college homework, so she needs to take photos of buildings, castles and ruins. So that has heavily influenced our potential destinations.
One thing I will say is we try to make a plan (not always easy if we don’t go where we mean to, like the time we set off for Norfolk but ended up in Cornwall!) but we are pretty flexible in our timescales too. We allow ourselves time for chilling in the van on a rainy day, or finding an event that we didn’t even know existed and going to visit that. At least every 3/4 days we have a ‘no driving’ day, Mr WB currently does all the driving and it’s not fair for him to constantly be at the wheel. Driving a van as big as this is no joke- especially if we’re towing the bike trailer as well.
Once you have some places you want to visit, it’s a good idea to put them onto a map so you can see how feasible they are. For this, we use Google Maps but you can just as easily use a paper map or a print out from Google. If you click on our link to Google maps, you can see that the blue pins are our places we would like to visit on this tour. You can also see how far away Berlin is from the rest of the points. We’ve left it on there and if we magically find some time we would love to go, but we’re not banking on it as it’s SO FAR away. That is why the map is so useful- it shows you exactly where the places are and lets you make an informed decision on how best to see them. It also gives us a rough route, although we don’t plan our routes in advance.
How to plan a road trip- Travel
If you live in America or Europe, there’s a high chance you can skip this section (although skim it jst in case you learn something useful.) But if you’re in the UK or on some other island, you need to find a way off it!
For the UK, there are two main routes- the ferry and the Channel Tunnel. Both have their pros and cons but it mainly comes down to cost, time and pets.
If you don’t want to leave your pet in the boot for hours on their own as you undertake a ferry crossing, than the tunnel is the only option (unless you get some of the longer ferries where pets are allowed in the cabins.) If you don’t want to drive from Plymouth to Dover and then back to Brittany, the ferry is the only option. Costs are fairly similar for both if you book in advance.
How to plan a road trip- Weather
So, you’re doing well. You’ve decided on where, when, for how long and how you’re going to get there. The next thing we look at is the weather. For example, it would be pointless doing the trip we want to do in Germany in the middle of winter when they experience high snowfall- apparently many places aren’t very accessible when it gets really bad. We actually thought April would be warmish and good biking weather, but looking at it I think it’s going to be 10-12 degrees and chilly! Our bad. It’s currently undecided if we’ll even take the motorbikes yet as it’s pointless dragging them around everywhere if we’re not going to ride them! So make sure you check the weather a week or so before you go and bring appropriate clothing. I always recommend taking something warm even if you’re going on a sunny holiday- or when you end up climbing Mont Blanc, you’ll freeze just like we did!
How to plan a road trip- where to stay
This is one of the biggest subjects, so I’m going to dedicate a separate post to it. However, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I want to stay on a campsite with a swimming pool, play areas for the kids, pet walks & entertainment/ shops nearby?
- Do I want to stay somewhere cheaper which allows parking overnight so I don’t worry about being moved on at night?
- Do I want to stay somewhere free?
These three questions pretty much cover the different types of campsite. We tend to lean towards option number 2- we like staying somewhere we’re allowed to stay, but not on a big & noisy (and expensive!) campsite. In France, these places are called Aires, in Italy they’re Sostas and in Germany they’re Stellplätz. They’re usually small, first come, first served and cost anywhere from a couple of pounds to £10/ night.
The sites we use to find these places are:
and a new one we’ve been recommended for Germany, but which seems to cover Europe also is called
All of these sites allow you to put in where you want to go and search for a suitable site nearby. We try and have one or two planned out to put into the sat nav so we know roughly where we’re aiming for. It usually takes a while to search through all the different sites which are available- I suggest allow yourself an evening with a nice glass (or 3!) of wine and take your time to find places you’re comfortable with. Ideally have a back-up plan in case the first one is full or closed. But there are usually many options around one area, so you should never be stuck with nowhere to go at all! (Which was always my biggest worry!)
How to plan a road trip- final preparations
So, you’re almost off. Just check the final things before you go:
- Is your vehicle road legal? Do you have insurance, MOT and your driving licence(s)? Remember to take all this paperwork with you, along with your passports.
- Do you have the safety equipment required by each country you will be DRIVING THROUGH, not just the final one you are visiting? You can check this easily online by googling.
- Make sure you have gas and possibly an adaptor for your gas bottle if it’s refillable.
- Do you have a fresh water hose? Most places expect you to provide your own.
- If you have a drone, check the rules and requirements for each country you might fly in. Ideally print them out so you can remember.
- Pack some easy food to prepare for the first night. I’m a big believer in eating local food. It’s one of my favourite parts about travelling BUT when you’ve been driving all day and all you’ve seen are service stations, something easy, hearty and familiar is a great comfort as you settle in to your epic adventure. Our meal of choice is chilli, providing we can keep the mince cold. Otherwise we choose soup and bread, sandwiches or tinned food. You might not win any culinary or health awards, but your sanity might just be saved!!
- Whilst we’re on the subject of food, be prepared for kids who don’t share your excitement for the local cuisine. Most kids, including ours, like something familiar. Jade is a particularly fussy eater and unfortunately she would rather not eat than eat something she doesn’t really like. So, in order to make life easier and less stressful, I try to make sure there is food on board I know that she will eat. Little things like this make a road trip far more fun for all the family!
And that’s it. Not difficult but the first (second, third, seventh and eleventh) road trip can take a lot of planning. But above all, it’s supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to looks forward to it. If you find yourself dreading it, figure out ways to make things easier for yourself or change the plan entirely. Of course you’ll be nervous- I always am as we set out, wondering what I’ve forgotten and where we might end up. But everything works out along the way. The world is waiting for you to go explore it. I wish you many safe and exciting adventures!
Have you been on any good road trips? Planning any? Let me know below.