The days of spontaneous road trips are gone. I mean sure, you could just get in the car and drive, but don’t you think you’d miss a few amazing stops along the way?
Any road trip requires proper planning – be it a girls getaway to the beach or a #vanlife tour to all the national parks. Road trip planning tools can inspire you to take a trip, help you plan out the details, and navigate you along the way.
I’ve used these tools to plan my own road trips, from driving the Pacific Coast Highway to a road trip to Utah’s National Parks. Based on my experience, these are the 15 best road trip planning tools to plan your next adventure.
You’ve probably heard of Pinterest before. It’s one of the most popular social media platforms out there, but it’s most valuable when used as a search engine. Think Google with pictures!
Whether you’re planning a road trip to a specific destination or just looking to be inspired, Pinterest can guide you. Try searching for key phrases like:
- Best USA road trips
- Utah National Park road trip
- Road trip to all US National Parks
- Pacific northwest road trip
Pinterest allows you to search now and save pins for later. You can build an entire Pinterest board dedicated to your dream road trip. If you’re looking for inspiration, I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to road trips!
Okay, so I’ll admit I’m biased here, but travel blogs are one of the best resources for planning any type of trip. You’ll get insight from those that have been there and done that.
Start by looking at posts by bloggers you subscribe to. If you already subscribe to their blog, there’s a high chance you enjoy the same type of trips. Some of my favorite travel blogs for road trip inspiration are:
- Renee Roaming – for road trips to US National Parks and stellar photography
- Local Adventurer – for road trips all over the United States
- The Mandagies – for Pacific Northwest road trip and photography inspiration
- Two Wandering Souls – for van life road trips and some awesome BTS of van conversions
While you’re here, feel free to check out my guides for inspiration too 😉
The Outbound Collective
This site focuses exclusively on outdoor adventures. Their content is community-sourced. Individuals from all over the world contribute to their site. The Outbound Collective is the perfect site for road trip inspiration and finding epic hikes and side trips.
Search for stories (posts written by The Outbound community) in your destination. For example, search for Big Sur if you’re planning a Pacific Coast Highway trip.
Google My Maps
Maybe it’s because I’m a visual learner, but Google My Maps is my favorite road trip planning tool. Google allows you to create custom Google Maps and plot all your points of interest on one map.
After I’ve done a little research, I plot everything I’ve read about on one map. I sort points of interest into categories, like hikes, photography spots, and restaurants. Once I know where everything is, I start to plan out my route and build a tentative itinerary.
For more on using Google My Maps and my travel planning process, check out my detailed guide to stress-free travel planning.
Roadtrippers is one of the most popular tools dedicated specifically to road trips. This road trip planning tool gives you the ideal route from point A to point B.
To use Roadtrippers, start by entering your starting point and your ending point. Toggle on the various categories like outdoors & recreation, food & drink, or camping & RV to find points of interest along your route.
I love using the outdoors & recreation category to discover nearby parks and hikes to stretch my legs during long road trips.
The best part of road trippers is that it’s collaborative! You can save your routes and share them with friends. Multiple people can contribute to one road trip, taking everyone’s interests into consideration!
If you don’t know where to begin, check out some of Roadtrippers pre-made trips, like this one for Denali National Park in Alaska (on my bucket list!).
As of Summer 2020, Roadtrippers covers destinations in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
While the base version is free, you can only add up to 5 stops along your route. For longer trips and collaborative functionality, you’ll need a $29.99 per year subscription to Roadtrippers Plus.
Rand McNally Trip Maker
If you’re looking to plan a road trip with more than 5 stops and want to customize your route, Rand McNally Trip Maker is for you. You can create road trips for free and drag and drop your route to customize.
You can use the detailed filter to find things to do. Categories range from photography spots and quirky, off-the-beaten-path attractions.
You can also email and print your itinerary and driving directions directly from the tool. This might seem old school, but printed directions and maps for backcountry road trips can be a lifesaver!
Planning a road trip requires a lot of coordination. There are so many things to consider – what to see, where to stay, what to pack – that it can feel overwhelming. I like to make detailed to-do lists and checklists to help me plan a trip, ensuring I don’t forget a thing.
I usually use Google Docs for list building. There’s plenty of other tools out there, like Wunderlist and Trello, but Google Docs is enough to get the job done. Sometimes I even use the notes application on my iPhone to jot down quick to-do lists before I forget.
Saving to-do lists in Google Docs lets you access your road trip planning to-dos from any device. You can even save the document offline in case you need to access it without an internet connection.
Booking Your Trip
Once you’ve planned your road trip route, it’s time to book your trip. If you’re road tripping to a popular destination, like the Utah national parks, I recommend booking your accommodations at least 3 months out.
My favorite site for booking hotels is Hotels.com. They have their own loyalty program, giving you one night free after 10 days. You also get access to “secret” prices. I’ve booked 4 and 5 stars hotels for $100 a night using these secret member rates.
The popular short-term rental site is perfect for road trips to more remote areas. If you’re road tripping to national parks and aren’t interested in camping, an Airbnb can be a great way to stay in the area without feeling like a tourist.
When I’m road tripping, I like staying in Airbnbs instead of hotels. Having a kitchen is a great way to cut down on costs when traveling, particularly for week-long trips.
The ultimate source for national parks, Recreation.Gov allows you to book camping and activities in parks across the country.
They even have a mobile app, allowing you to book or view your trip details on the go. Popular campgrounds are reservable online exactly 6 months out. If you’re interested in staying in these coveted campgrounds, book the day reservations become available.
If you want to camp outside of an official campground, Freecampsites.net is your ultimate guide to dispersed camping.
If you aren’t familiar, dispersed camping is the term for camping on public lands outside of designated campsites. This is allowed in most US National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands.
Freecampsites.net is crowd-sourced, giving you access to camping spots and reviews from users.
To find a camping spot along your route, use the map to search for free, paid, or permitted campsites nearby. While you won’t be able to book these sites ahead of time, I recommend doing some advance research and checking status conditions before your trip.
If you’re looking to dine out while road tripping, Yelp is your best friend. Search for local restaurants and read reviews to find the perfect dinner spot. I love reading through Yelp reviews for dish recommendations too!
While I hope it’s not the case, if your vehicle needs repairs on your road trip, Yelp is a great way to find local repair shops or towing companies.
Last, but certainly not least, is Google Maps. You’re probably already using this tool daily. But you might not be using it to its full capability.
You’ll spend at least part of your road trip without cell service. It’s so important to make sure your trip details and navigation are available without service before you set out on your road trip.
Google Maps allows you to download maps offline, ensuring you can continue to navigate after you lose cell service.
To download a map for your road trip, go to your Google Maps app and select Offline Maps from the menu. Click Custom Map, then select the area you’d like to download offline and click download.
Always remember the key to a successful road trip is being prepared (whoa, did my inner Girl Scout just come out?). Using road trip planning tools before you hit the road is the best way to have a safe and fulfilling road trip.
Do you use any of these road trip planning tools? Let me know your favorite in the comments! I love hearing from fellow travelers 🙂