How to Plan Your First Road Trip

Aside from the routine trips to San Francisco, neither of us has experienced an all-American road trip. We didn't exactly know what we're getting ourselves into.
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Road trips hold a special place in my heart. For our honeymoon, my husband and I embarked on a week long adventure traveling to different U.S. states. We figured, if we truly want to see the beauty of each state, the best way to do it is to go on a road trip. Aside from the routine trips to San Francisco, neither of us has experienced an all-American road trip. We didn't exactly know what we're getting ourselves into. Thankfully, my husband married quite the planner. After hours of research, I finally came up with a solid itinerary for our trip. So how did we exactly prepare for our first road trip? I'll give you the scoop.


1. Pick your destination.

When we planned our honeymoon trip we had trouble deciding where to go. We really wanted to see everything! It was our first time traveling outside of California and Nevada so we got a bit carried away with our itinerary. We drove to Salt Lake City and stayed for a night, then Yellowstone the next day. Afterwards, we set our sights on South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. We barely got our bearings when we found ourselves heading straight to the lively city of Denver. Picking the destination was exciting for us because it was a collaborative effort. It wasn't just what I wanted to see but I made sure that my husband would also be thrilled when we reach our destination and vice versa. No matter where you decide to go, make sure you include your traveling companions in the brainstorming process. It's more fun that way!

2. Decide how many days you will be out on the road.

This is important because it will determine how far you can travel outside of your home/state. If you only have the weekend, it's best to pick a destination close to you. But if you're lucky, like us, and have a whole week to explore, then by all means.. go crazy! Have you been daydreaming to go see the canyons in Utah? Or you just can't stop talking about how you've been wanting to sink your teeth into the delicious beignets in New Orleans? The possibilities are endless!


3. Prepare a realistic budget.

The budget for your road trip can be broken down into these categories: gas, lodging, food, admission/activities and misc. It's good to prepare ahead of time but remember to be realistic when you calculate your costs because there will always be unforeseen changes. Also, there are some things that are worth splurging during your vacation. If budget is tight, make sure you prioritize. Pick one that you would really enjoy doing. If you love trying out new dishes, then splurge on food. If there are some activities that you've been wanting to do, then splurge on that. The key is to have a good balance on your budget.

Gas- The only non-negotiable factor during your road trip.

1) Use gas apps to help you find the cheapest gas during your trip. We use Gas Buddy and it works perfectly!
2) Find a gas station away from the city. The closer you are to the city, the higher the gas prices are.
3) Plan your routes wisely! Don't end up getting lost and wasting any of your precious fuel.

Lodging- I admit, I've never really gone camping (I'd love to try it someday). I like the comforts of a bed and a clean bathroom after a long and exhausting drive. But until then, I do try to find a cheap accommodation during our trips. There's a variety of travel search engines you can use like Kayak, Expedia, and Priceline. We like using Orbitz when we book hotels because of a neat feature that they have called Orbucks. The way it works is you sign up for free and you get credit each time you book through Orbitz that can later on be redeemed for future bookings. It's simple, fast and get's the job done. But If you're more of a camping type, then kudos to you because you'll get to save hundreds of dollars.

Food- The best way to save money on food is to bring your own. Before our trip, we usually stock up on snacks and ready-to-eat meals from Costco. Sometimes, I also cook one of my husband's favorite Filipino dish, Adobo, that I pack with rice (super easy to cook and yummy). Eating fast food is obviously unavoidable but at least by bringing your own food, you can keep it to a minimum.

1) Invest in a well insulated cooler to store your food until you get to your destination. We got our collapsible cooler at Costco for $24.99.
2) Book lodging that has kitchenettes. If your lodging doesn't provide free meals, this can help you stay in budget by cooking your own food. There's always going to be a supermarket nearby where you can purchase your grocery items.

Admissions/Activities- If you have a thing for national parks like I do, then you should definitely get the Annual Pass. For only $80, you get full access to all national parks for a whole year. How awesome is that? As for the other recreational activities you plan on doing during your trip, choose which one's you would enjoy the most. Don't forget there's several outdoor activities you can do that you don't need to spend a dime on.

Misc- Renting a car? Then you should get insurance. I know some people think that it's the car rental company's way to get more money out of you; and trust me I've thought of that too. But it really just makes your trip stress free. Trust me, it's worth it!


4. Make sure your car is ready.

Before hitting the road, make sure you do pre-road trip car check and don't forget to assemble an emergency kit just in case your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. A little preparation will come in handy when you find yourself stranded, thousands of miles away from home, with no cell service and can't call for road side assistance. Avoid the unnecessary headache by doing a simple maintenance check (you or your technician) before you leave.

Here's a list of what you need to check before you leave:

  • Engine oil and other fluid levels

  • Tire pressure
  • Car battery
  • Headlights, Tail lights and Blinkers
  • Windshield wipers
  • Brakes
  • Air filter
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    5. Research, research, research.

    This is the tedious part of the planning. If done right, however, you get to save hundreds of dollars and avoid future headaches. I like reading reviews about the places we go to just to get an idea. But I also make sure that I don't depend on other people's experience but rather form my own opinion.

    Quick tips:

    • Get a good night's rest so you're energized in the morning.

  • Charge your electronics! Cameras, GoPros, Cellphones, GPS, iPads.
  • Make sure your house is secured and everything is turned off (electronics, gas range, faucets).
  • Make sure you have cash. You never know when you might need it.
  • Don't do all the navigating by yourself. Let your co-pilot help you with the directions.
  • Don't forget to take breaks when needed and if you're feeling sleepy/sluggish, it's best to switch drivers than to fall asleep behind the wheel.
  • Don't forget your road trip entertainment must haves!
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    Most important travel tip:

    Things happen. Always keep an open mind and just go with the flow.

    I used to get really upset when things don't go the way we planned it but after experiencing a few mishaps, I've learned to let things go and make the most out of the trip.

    Just enjoy! The great thing about being in the US is that as long as you have a car, you can literally go anywhere your heart desires. Take advantage of that blessing!

    Are you ready for your first road trip?

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