Organize your research into a daily road trip itinerary including activities, lodging, dining, and informational travel documents. Free worksheet download!
Unless you plan to take a serendipitous go-where-the-road-takes-you trip to anywhere (which is a great way to travel), your perfect road trip needs an itinerary. A well-designed itinerary will put the key elements of your road trip in one location, it will help you remember travel information from your research, and it will make your trip flow much smoother than if you tried to recall everything from memory.
Road Trip Research
This series entitled The Ultimate Road Trip Planner has been posted in sequential parts: PrePlanning, Research, Itinerary, and so on, but the truth is that road trip planning stages will overlap. For example, I typically create the skeleton of my itinerary during my research stages and then flesh it out as the information becomes available. When I know the exact dates of my trip, I create a Word document with dates like the example below.
Note: While I was writing Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I was also planning our week-long spring road trip from Central Florida to New Orleans and back. We returned from the trip last Saturday, so in order to add authenticity to this post, I am using our itinerary from that trip as examples in this post.
After you finalize the exact date(s) of your trip, it is time to book your lodging. When you know where you will lay your head each night of your road trip, it will be easier to schedule your daily adventures in the vicinity of those locations. Everyone has different needs and preferences when selecting types of lodging. We prefer local innkeepers over hotel chains so we can immerse ourselves in regional flavor when we travel. That is not to say we never stay in commercial properties, especially when there is a budget-friendly option. As members of Choice Privileges®, we occasionally book Choice Hotels during the summer when they offer $50 gift cards as rebates for every two nights booked at one of their locations. On our recent New Orleans road trip we stayed at a fish camp, a state park cabin, a B&B, a B&B bungalow, and a Hampton Inn.
Once lodging has been finalized, it is time to start adding daily activities to your itinerary. I prefer to list lots of options, understanding that it will be impossible to complete every listed activity when the road trip begins. Gather your research and begin adding adventures, scenic drives, historical locations, local eateries, and such to your itinerary, listing them by proximity on the days immediately prior to or following each night’s lodging. I format my itineraries with a check box at the beginning of each listed activity, and I try to organize them to loosely follow the intended trip route. You may further personalize your itinerary to better suit your needs by using italics and bold font formatting, as well as creative color and indenting, if you so choose.
While designing your itinerary, you may want to create a Google or Roadtrippers map. I typically create a map when booking lodging locations to help schedule realistic driving distances each day of the road trip. You may create a more detailed map that includes activities, if you find it helpful. Both Roadtrippers and Google maps default to the shortest route, which usually includes interstate and other major highways. Google maps allows you to drag your route to scenic backroads and Roadtrippers maps will adjust routes when you add the locations of your activities as waypoints.
Putting It All Together
I love electronics and use my mobile devices daily during our travels. And although there are many fine travel apps (such as TripIt), and PDFs look wonderful on iPads, I still prefer having tangible paper copies of my collected travel documents at hand. So if you are like me, when you complete your road trip itinerary, print out a copy. While you’re at it, print copies of regional maps or informational PDF documents from your research, as well as lodging reservations or pre-paid confirmations. You will need a simple way to keep your travel documents together. Several years ago I discovered file jackets at Staples®, and began using them for organizing and filing my income tax returns. Although I think they are overpriced, they have proven to be the perfect size for carrying my travel documents, and a file jacket fits nicely in the driver or passenger door pocket/compartment.
To help you create your road trip itinerary, we designed a checklist worksheet, and you can download it here.
In case you missed the two previous posts in this series, you can check them out at the links below:
We Would Love to Hear From You
We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and road trip travel tips. Have you ever planned an amazing road trip? If so, we would love to hear about your experience and any planning recommendations you may have. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!
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Road Trip Itinerary Links