The Complete Guide to Road Trips

The Complete Guide to Road Trips
© Getty

By Meredith CareyCondé Nast Traveler

As travelers look to ease back into exploring after months at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, road trips are among the first ways to get back out there. A generally low-risk, socially distant method of transportation, road trips give travelers almost complete control over who they're with, where they're stopping, how clean the space is, and more. And now, as more destinations, national and state parks, and beaches reopen, we're looking to the roads to take us there.

But while previous road trips were driven by the spontaneity of detours, this year it's all about planning. You'll need to take more precautions with your route to ensure you're not running into state-specific quarantines. Picking the right car or perfect RV to match your passengers' needs is a must to make sure you're all comfortable on long rides with fewer stops. And you'll want to have all of the essentials on hand, like cooler bags, phone mounts, and even cleaning supplies for the inevitable back seat mess.

Here, we run through how to take our favorite road trips and all of the tools—from the insurance and the car rental to the road trip-friendly credit cards and packing essentials—you need, no matter where you choose to drive.



Road trip inspiration

If you're unsure where to even start when it comes to planning a road trip, we have some iconic American options to choose from, whether the classic Pacific Coast Highway or the southwest's national parks (and Vegas) are calling your name. You can read more about our 14 favorite road trip routes in the U.S. (and some pointers on where to start planning) here.

Looking to start planning a 2021 adventure outside the U.S.? We've got picks for you on that front too, with day-by-day excursions in Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe, New Zealand's North Island, Namibia's Mad Max-esque desert, or Scotland's northern coast, among others. Discover more of our favorite road trip itineraries—and be sure to read up on whether or not you need an international driver's license.



Planning tips and tricks

Once you've mapped out your general route, it's time to start dropping pins on a map app so you know exactly where to go and stop along the way. Condé Nast Traveler contributor Ashlea Halpern suggests using the Google Map's My Maps feature to customize your itinerary, since using the app without the feature means you're capped at 500 interest points and 10 directional stops.

If you're looking for what stops to add along your route, you can find more than 100 important civil rights landmarks to visit on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail's interactive mapping tool, use apps like All Trails to find hiking paths, and look to groups like Refuge Restrooms, an online database that helps transgender and gender-nonconforming people find safe bathrooms on their route, to round out your itinerary. You can read up on some of our best tips for planning a stress-free road trip here, and check out this list of road trip apps that can help you get the most out of your drive.

If you're making your way in an RV, whether it's for the first or 50th time, you'll also need to do a bit more legwork this year, since rental company RVShare reports that bookings have doubled compared to this time last year. That means more demand for already highly competitive campsites and RV hookups. Look to Campendium and Kampgrounds of America for insight on what spots are still available. And if it is your very first time in an RV, check out our guide to make sure you avoid the most common rookie mistakes.



How to prep your car for a road trip

If you're taking a rental on this adventure, you'll want to make sure you're choosing the right car, whether you need a backseat that will fit leggy teens, plenty of cargo space for a cross-country drive's worth of luggage, or a strong roof capable of supporting a tent. Luckily, you don't have to do too much hunting for the right vehicle, since Traveler contributor Kym Allison Backer broke down the best types of rentals for all of the concerns above. Just read up on what car rental insurance you need—and what your credit card might already cover. Speaking of credit cards, we've also compiled a list of the best credit cards for road trips, whether they bring in extra points at gas stations or offer additional roadside assistance.

Whether you're renting or driving in your trusty vehicle, you're going to want to pack some essentials to get you through the trip—starting with snacks. (We're fans of sour candy.) Plus, you may need items like an audio splitter for the kids in the backseat, a towel for roadside picnics or beach stops, and a collapsible dog bowl. We've got a full list of the essentials you might be forgetting to add to your pre-trip checklist. Among them? Cleaning supplies, especially important now not only to mitigate messes and spills but to keep your car sanitized. We've built a kit you can keep in your car at all times, not just on road trips.

With that, you're ready to hit the road.

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