Planning a Road Trip

This is our first post in our series of “Top Questions on Road Trips according to the Trip Advisor travel forums, and we answered this questions a couple of years ago in our  website, at our
Road trip Planner page, which we repost here, with some additional comments and tips:

Planning a Road Trip

1. Gather information and study it

First of all you have to know your destination, learn about it:

  • What are the main sights and attractions?
  • What sort of weather will you encounter?
  • Will you drive the whole Route 66 or part of it?
  • What hotels and accommodation will I find?

Check a map, identify the main places you’d like to visit (Grand Canyon? Petrified Forest?) and what kind of driving you’ll be doing: Drive the original alignment? Stick to the freeway and only stop at the interesting cities?).

car and map, a road trip
Plan your Road Trip

If you have friends who have done the trip, ask them about their experience both planning their trip and enjoying it, and also, what they would have skipped and what they are sorry they didn’t visit during their vacations.

Write a rough outline of the trip, and a “wish list” of must-see sights.

You can gather all of your Route 66 vacation planning data here in our website (www.theroute-66.com); check the following links:

  • Route 66 itinerary planner, an itinerary of the mother road, from Chicago to Los Angeles.
  • Towns & Cities: a link to each and every town along Route 66. You will find all the attractions and sights of that town.
  •  Landmarks: a complete list with links to all the motels, diners, bridges, hotels, and other sites along Route 66, listed by state.
  • The top 10 sights in each state along the Mother Road.

So, as an outcome to Step 1 you will have a first outline of your trip. Which gives you a rough idea of where your trip will start and end, the parks, towns, Route 66 attractions, classic landmarks and must-see places.

Now you can write down an initial draft of your Route 66 trip plan. Writing it down helps to focus and get a clear picture of your trip.

Now you have to try to adjust this trip-plan into your time frame, because, regrettably, vactions are so short!

2. Time needed for your Road trip

How much time can you spare? Your trip will change depending on the available time you have. But don’t be discouraged, a one-week or a one-month trip can be planned so that you can pack as much fun and adventure as possible into them; it all depends on how you Plan your trip.

Time needed to reach Route 66

Getting to Route 66 takes time, you have already defined the starting and ending points of your journey. You have to calculate how long will it take you to get from your home to the starting point and, back again from its end point.

International Visitors

Unless you live in Canada or Mexico, all other foreign visitor will have to fly to the US.
You will have to find out which flights are available and which airports a closest to your Route 66 start and end points.
Visit our Flights page, with plenty of tips and information on airports and flights, and also our International Visitors page with even more useful tips.

So, you have to calculate: not only the international flights, but also connecting ones in your country, stop over times on the way and also the domestic US flight to and from your
starting and ending points.

The duration of your Road Trip

Driving is fun and it is what a road trip is all about. Route 66 is, however, more than driving, it is also enjoying the sights, the people and savoring the journey.

If you drive too many hours you will get tired and rush by the attractions, so keep your driving down to less than 6 hours per day.

If you take side trips your trip will take longer. If you drive along the original US 66 alignments, you will drive longer distances and at a slower pace than if you stuck to the freeway.

Driving Time

Calculate your driving time based on your itinerary. For instance, it is 2,278 miles (3,665 km) from Chicago to Los Angeles, which at an average speed of 50 mph (80 km/h) means that you could drive the whole of US 66 in about 46 hours. But you will be stopping on the way:

Consider your stops and traffic. Towns and villages (with their speed limits) mean slower driving. Also you will stop to take in the scenery, visit the sights, eat, fill up with gasoline and to stretch your legs

Driving Route 66 planner tool

Check our  Route 66 travel planner Tool: it will let you calculate the total distance of your journey between the starting and ending points that you select. It will also give you the total driving time and the Trip duration based on how many hours you intend to drive each day, and your speed. Plus a map showing the itinerary.

Play around with the planning tool using different starting and ending points for your trip.

You will be able to calculate how many days you will actually have for your trip, knowing:

How much time you have for your complete trip (i.e. 7 days)
How long it will take you to go and come from your home to Route 66 (i.e. 2 days)

In this example you have 5 days for your road trip. Now refine you Route 66 Trip Plan by estimating:

  1. How many hours you will drive each day (i.e. 5 hours).
  2. Your average driving speed. Tip: err on the safe side, calculate a lower average speed (i.e. 40 mph).
  3. How many hours you will dedicate to visiting the attractions during each driving day. (i.e. 3 hours). That makes an 8 hour daily drive (driving + sightseeing).

Our Route 66 travel planner Tool lets you do this calculation easily, try it! You can select driving time and speed.

So, in this example, you will have 8 hours between your check-out and check-in times. If you leave at 9 AM, you will arrive at 5 PM. You will be driving 5 hours x 40 miles/hour= 200 miles per day on average.

In your alloted time span of 5 days you will have driven: 1,000 miles.

You also know the distance you will cover each day (in this case 200 mi.) so this will let you reckon where you will stop to spend the night. And let you plan your accomodation for the night.

3. Calculate a Budget

How much will the trip cost? You must have a reasonable idea of the cost of your road trip. Take into account the following:

Getting There

The cost of reaching the Mother Road (and getting back home after your trip) depends on whether you will fly or drive to and from your home to the starting and ending points of your journey.
Calculate these costs (air fares, airport taxes, taxi, gasoline, tolls, etc.)

Flights. Google Flights is a good tool to calculate the cost of air fares. Try it.

plane landing
Flying into your road trip

On the Road

Gasoline. (Petrol) You have already calculated the total mileage you will be driving along Route 66 (add a +10% to it just in case) -if you are in America, add the mileage from your home to Route 66 and back.
Then estimate the average mileage per gallon (km/l) of your car here, and calculate how many gallons of gasoline you will need for your trip. Turn this into dollars by checking the current Gasoline and Diesel Fuel prices in the US.

Accommodation. Lodging is a key element in your budget, and its cost will depend on the season whether it is high or low and what accommodation you choose: upscale, regular motel chains or an icon landmark motel.

To calculate your lodging costs take the stopover towns that you identified in Step 2, and the starting or ending point of your journey -if you plan on sleeping over at them. And
check hotels & motels along Route 66 that are available on the dates that you have identified in Step 2 using some online hotel booking tool: Visit our Hotels Page

Tips for Booking your accommodations: If you plan to drive Route 66 during the high season summer holiday period, reserve your hotel or motel in advance. Some key lodging may be fully booked months in advance,
so pinpoint these locations and reserve with plenty of time.

There are of some Vintage and Route 66 “must see” hotels with thematic rooms which should be booked well in advance. Demand is high.

Read our Tips on Accommodation.

Travel Insurance. For our international visitors: Are you covered? If you are traveling outside of your home country, your health and accident insurance may not cover you.
Your travel insurance should cover cancellations or other travel mishaps.
Learn more about Travel Insurance.

Renting a Car an RV or a motorcycle. If you are an international traveler, you will surely rent a vehicle to do your road trip. Calculate the rental costs and the different options available.

Tips on Renting a Vehicle: For complete information, check out our pages on Renting a Car or  Motorcycle rental.

Food. Calculating the cost of food depends on how you like to eat: Will you eat at restaurants? Fast food or more formal meals? Have both Lunch and Dinner? Buy snacks or stock up at the local supermarket?

Attractions and admission fees. You will have to pay an admission fee at National Parks, Museums and events… calculate these too. The fee for National Parks is between $25 and $30 per car per park.
There are some senior and annual Passes which may interest you.

Miscellaneous items. Always set some cash aside for tolls, the unexpected, for souvenirs, emergencies and whatever may tickle your fancy.

4. Check your Plan again and again

So now you have an idea of your itinerary, stops, time required, the connecting flights, your accommodation needs and the cost of your trip.
It is time to refine your trip. Review your first draft. Get some more details. Add or remove sights and attractions, perhaps give yourself more time to see things, for shopping or to visit some cultural attraction. Factor in some side trip. Read more, and improve the original rough draft.

Remember:

Trips are lived three times: when we dream them, when we live them, and when we remember them.

Review flight options, the connecting flights, the car rental pick up and return points. Check other lodging options. It may be cheaper to fly a few days earlier or later.

Planning a trip on Route 66 is part of the fun, it is about the journey not the destination; enjoy the process!

How much should you plan?

Some travelers like to have a very detailed Route 66 trip plan detailing all their stops, the sights they will see and the hotels where they will stay at. This is perhaps a good idea if you have a tight schedule, so that you can optimize your trip.

Others, especially those with more time on their hands, prefer an open plan, and are open to letting the road take them to unexpected destinations. Road trippin’ is about adventure, surprises and exploring…

A middle-of-the-road approach is to outline a general broad idea of your Route 66 vacation, and then book key accommodations with plenty of time.

Leave room for unexpected scenic spots that may surprise you along the way.

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