The year was 2015 and I was about to undertake a journey I was hardly prepared for. Surfing the internet for every piece of information available, I spent sleepless nights to plan and then execute my first ever road trip. Maneuvering through tons of suggestions and blog posts it was hard for me to remember every dos and donts.
The only solace I was seeking for was some genuine and pinpointed advice. Being a novice, I became all the more selective with the content so as not to get discouraged. And, hence originated the thought of sharing my consolidated experience of 5 years of completing numerous road trips successfully and safely.
The tips for planning your first road trip would include all the basic and necessary factors to be concerned about as an amateur as well as an experienced road tripper. So, let’s get going!
1. Picking A Destination
The soul needs nurturing and so does picking a destination. We pick a destination at random or with appropriate consideration. It all depends on your style and taste. Short road trips are often randomly picked and lack intense preparation.
Whereas, longer road excursions demand in-depth analysis and meticulous planning to be executable.
It is rewarding to be aware of the various factors that need to be kept in mind while exploring your options. Since this post is exclusively for people who will be going through the experience for the very first time, I’ll try to elucidate upon each aspect.
Also Read: Gulabi Nagri (The Pink City) – Jaipur
The most important and decisive factor. It plays a crucial role while selecting the destination. A road trip is as rewarding as the weather throughout the journey. What is pleasant for the passengers might be a challenge for the driver. Thumb rule is to avoid hills/mountains during rainy season or monsoon. Landslides, flash floods, cloud bursts, and damaged roads make it unsafe as well as unpleasant for all.
Winters call for trips to the desert or arid regions due to low-temperature levels. You tend to enjoy the beauty of the barren in the absence of extreme heat. Hills are also as enticing during winters as the deserts with the ever-alluring snow. But the driving conditions definitely demand an experienced pair of hands behind the wheel. Receding winters and onset of summer define the best time to relish the beautiful hills. The smokey aromas, majestic greens and fresh air in the lungs are reasons enough to rev up the engine.
Some like it rough while others want it smooth. Choose your destination as per the terrain you are comfortable with. Every drive requires varied skills and levels of adjustments. I would recommend a flat terrain, to begin with. It will help you get accustomed to the long hours behind the wheel along with the luxury of enjoying the views. Driving through the hills requires more focus as well as sharp reflexes. Practice your skill and put it to good use.
It is important and fair to give a purpose to your road trip. It can be as simple as experiencing the thrill of the road or being more confident about yourself. Pushing your limits or just being fluid for a change. Purpose is like the direction you traverse. Knowing its traits prepares you well and adds to the enjoyment.
For me, it has always been the journey more than anything else. The control I possess on the pace and the challenge of maintaining a stable flow of thoughts. Every time I am behind the wheels, it’s like a teenaged affair. My purpose is always more time with myself and my partner (wife) and the unending heart to heart talks we get to do.
Have you ever explored this aspect of traveling?
2. Budgeting Your Trip
An important aspect while planning all kinds of travel. Budget and costing are like the backbone of any trip. Organizing a well planned and cost-effective road trip is an art to master. A lot of factors contribute to making calculative decisions. Let’s ponder over some of the major ones to help you guys plan more judiciously.
Prioritize & Plan
Planning goes a long way with every venture and a road trip is indeed an investment in that sense. Prioritizing from the start helps in planning until the end. Every road trip starts with charting the route. The focus should be to select a motor-able as well as a picturesque route with adequate refueling stations and pit stops. Another important factor to consider while planning is segmentation of the route. Try to analyze stretches (by referring updated blog posts and youtube vlogs) and avoid the bad ones to save on fuel efficiency and discomfort.
Is it really important to budget food spends?
Why not? One of the major and silent components of any trip, we end up spending a major chunk of our funds on it. Food can neither be ignored nor compromised upon in quantity and quality. But a lot of money can be saved if we make intelligent and informed choices. The first leg of any road trip can be easily supplemented with home-cooked durable food. Additional reinforcements can be made with homemade or inexpensive snacks for munching rituals in between.
Another effective and recommended formula to save big bucks is to stick to local food instead of the fancy restaurants. Connect to the surroundings you came searching for. Even your taste buds deserve some exotic food pampering. Dry foods and non-perishable content is another way of limiting the spends. Obviously you may treat yourself to a starred outlet and its delicacies too, but learn to balance the tip of the scale.
Own Vehicle vs Rental
There are numerous logic and ensuing arguments related to it. For some personalization is paramount, whereas for others style matters more. Few prefer modesty while most are drawn by luxury. Often, I am personally counseled by the experts on the intricacies of the matter. A hatchback solves the same purpose on the paved road which an SUV is bound to do. That little overdose of luxury can be enjoyed anytime but not the thrill of being on the road.
The Pocket Rule
As a thumb rule, it is wise to choose your ride as per your pocket. If your road trip has a special purpose and requires a technically sound vehicle for it, there should not be any scope for compromise. But if leisure and unwinding is the purpose, anything that is easy on the pocket should be the vehicle of choice. I have measured the length and breadth of Himalayas (Gangotri) and explored the desert in my modest WagonR. My brother was crazy enough to navigate Leh and Ladakh in his Maruti Ritz without any complaints or major concerns.
The freedom, authority, and sense of ownership for a personal vehicle can not be replaced with a rental one. Secondly, they burn a hole in the pocket beyond imagination. For the first time road tripper, my advice is to use your personal vehicle. Also, there is no denying the expertise we have with our own vehicles in comparison to a rental choice. Security deposits and paper formalities play spoilsport for many and there is no way you can enjoy the road with the terms and conditions occupying your mind all throughout.
The backbone or the artery of any road trip, the choice and condition of the vehicle plays a decisive factor. Listed below are some of the major considerations while making the selection.
- Safety – Stands paramount and not to be ignored. Safety features should be up to date and thoroughly checked before the start of any road excursion.
- Performance – The vehicle should be tested and reviewed by an expert to make sure its roadworthiness and overall fitness as per the target terrain. Get your vehicle serviced if the need be. DO NOT hesitate or postpone even a bit.
- Fuel Efficiency – It can make or break the spirit of a trip. Hence, a fine-tuned and optimized vehicle adds to the ease of completing a hassle-free and enjoyable journey. Plan the route and the extra kilometers well in advance and decide upon your purchase strategy (research on fuel costs in different states and anticipate your requirements accordingly).
- Features – A well-equipped vehicle not just adds to the entertainment but redefines comfort for the passengers as well.
- Marry the mileage – A golden rule that will not just help to cut on extra fuel costs but safeguard the vehicle from unnecessary wear and tear. In any case, you set sail to enjoy not to win a race. Soak in the aroma of the fresh air and beautiful sights you will cherish and carry for the rest of your life.
There are all kinds of travelers, each with their styles and preferences. You need to decide for yourself and act accordingly. Accommodation is an important aspect while traveling and a major head-on the balance sheet too. Thus, it scores high on the tips for planning your first road trip. A family or a large group of travelers would always prefer booking in advance. Whereas, a solo backpacker, travel couples or a group of friends prefers exploring the options available locally mixed with the art of bargaining.
For some luxury and comfort is paramount while for others basic serves the purpose best. For instance, while visiting a place like Goa we (me and the wife) do not feel the need to splurge on an expensive or exotic property but on food, activities, and experiences. On the other hand, a mountain destination is where we want some exclusivity (not luxury).
I still recommend doing some digging and book in advance. This way you can bank upon super deals and discounts. Onsite exploration and bargaining benefit too but only in the offseason and at the cost of sacrificing some hard-earned holiday time.
5. Travel Checklist
Once done with the above four main tasks, it’s time to lock and load. Packing always seems one of the herculean tasks and one can easily attribute it to a little ignorance, a lot of affinities with belongings and over anticipation. The tips for planning your first road trip often elaborate but seldom consolidate on this aspect.
According to me, it can broadly and easily be classified under 4 major heads.
To make things easier, let’s shed some light on each one of them.
Vehicle essentials will primarily include,
- Repair Kit
- Spare tyre and tube
- Compressor pump (portable)
- Cleaning clothes (extra)
- Documents (Driving License, Registration Certificate, Car Insurance, Pollution Under Check certificate)
I prefer keeping some old newspapers and extra pre-filled water bottles in the boot or under the seats which can be put to use for multiple purposes.
We all get excited while packing our bags and tend to stuff them with irrelevant items. This adds to the load as well as confusion. This is where tips for planning your first road trip prove decisive. The key is to be a smart and responsible traveler. Pack light and as per the need. The whole idea of a vacation is balanced upon a break from the routine. Hence, it adds to your comfort to de-clutter and take along only what is necessary. Let me list an inclusive list of items that we essentially need on a road trip.
- Clothes (pack as per the weather)
- Footwear (terrain and comfort)
- Reusable environment-friendly cutlery (plate, spoon, coffee mug)
- Essential Medicines (BP/Diabetes, etc.)
- Money (plastic and cash)
- Identity proof (address proof preferred)
Feel free to add or subtract anything that is relevant and important for you.
Make it a habit of packing a separate bag for emergency needs, be it for a road or any other kind of trip. It is a savior in times of distress and can help buy time for experienced and professional help. Here I am listing some basic components that should be a part of every emergency/first aid kit.
- Emergency contact numbers (local/family/friends)
- Road Helpline Numbers
- First Aid kit with general-purpose medicines.
- Medical history documents (if applicable to any traveler)
- Combat Knife for self-defense, but only if you are comfortable and responsible enough to handle it (verify if can be carried as per the state and country rules).
People tend to follow the above advice religiously but fail to carry the Emergency Kit/Bag with them all throughout the trip. Either it gets packed into the luggage or stays at the hotel room enjoying all the amenities. Emergencies are neither planned nor anticipated, hence, the emergency kit should be an integral part of you just like your arms and legs.
The most ignored and feared part of any trip’s planning. Medical emergencies or situations are neither planned nor desired. Yet, being prepared pays of handsomely. The below list is neither exhaustive nor final in any context or way. You may use it as a reference to include the most commonly used drugs for known medical conditions while traversing new territories.
- Personal medicines (if any)
- Bandage and Gauge
Feel free to add or subtract as per individual needs and requirements.
6. Emergency and Contingency Planning
Nobody can guarantee the success or failure of a trip sitting in their comfy homes. It is of utmost importance to be prepared for emergencies and have back up plans. The tips for planning your first road trip comprehensively covers this aspect with the below vital suggestions.
- Basic knowledge about car care when on road.
- Research your travel route well and chart alternate getaways as well.
- Basic know-how of administering first aid and stabilizing fellow travelers in distress.
- Pack some dry foods.
- Carry ample water and keep refilling (2 liters per person).
- Be aware of your surroundings and keep somebody informed about your progress or route modifications.
Preparation is the key to response in dire circumstances. Any kind of damage or loss can be greatly minimized by keeping alternate options available.
7. Codes and Rules of Adherence
A road trip is like a ritual which can be both rewarding as well as harrowing if not executed properly. It is important to adhere to certain rules and have a defined code of conduct. Being an ardent road junkie since last 5 years, I know how it feels to be stuck in the middle of nowhere. Confusion ensues and desperation creeps in when the situation spirals out of control. These tips for planning your first road trip are deductions from personal experiences and learning.
It is best to follow a set of time tested rules laid down by experienced road trippers and professionals. The aim is to make every mile enjoyable and cutting down on unnecessary hassles. Below are few reference points that lay the foundation for first-time road trippers.
- Plan well in advance to avoid last-minute chaos.
- Respect the road and fellow travelers.
- Follow traffic rules for your and everyone else’s safety.
- Keep a check on your speedometer (do not let adrenaline overpower you).
- Do not sleep in the car.
- Highway driving is different from city drives. Observe the traffic pattern and set your course accordingly.
- Zero tolerance for any distractions while driving.
- Have an experienced and dedicated navigator by your side.
- Do not overload the vehicle with luggage so as not to compromise with sitting comfort.
- Take a break as and when required. Do not push your limits.
Additional tips for people driving to the hills for the first time
- Embrace the opportunity with an open mind. A majority would discourage as they did to me when I decided to undertake my first road trip to the mountains (Gangotri – The source of river Ganges or Ganga).
- One can comfortably drive in the hills after the initial 30 minutes of acclimatization with the narrow roads, curves and the turns.
- Always keep to your left come whatever may.
- Do not even try to overtake unless you have a clear passage. Watch out for hand gestures/signals by drivers in front.
- A right indicator means you may pass the vehicle.
- Do not over speed.
- Always keep the car in gear whether in motion or stationary.
- Vehicles on ascent have the right of way always.
8. Define Your Flexibility
Every road trip boils down to prolonged hours on the road and in each other’s company. Although, there are various forms of distractions and engagements that keep us all occupied, things can turn out the other way as well. A difference of opinions, varied priorities, eating habits, music preferences are some of the factors which call for a level of flexibility.
It is important to understand each other and accommodate accordingly. Plan your breaks or decide as per consensus. Share the driving responsibilities. Be vocal about your suggestions but not imposing. Do not ignore any kind of discomfort. Avoid unnecessary arguments and give each other their space. Spend some time with yourself and enjoy the scenery. Also, try to involve everyone and make them feel a part of the journey. These tips for planning your first road trip also help in attaining a level of uniform flexibility.
9. Enjoy, Do Not Rush!
I have seen people rush through their road trips and overburden themselves with impractical plans and undue expectations. It’s not a race but a journey of being free and self-discovery. The moment you hit the road, you take charge of the path in front. There is no greater feeling than being a nomad and the master of your choices.
What is the hurry? Create lifetime memories but not haste. Stop for pictures, enjoy the food at the local stall, exchange experiences with strangers, explore the places of interest en route and gift yourself some things you can cherish forever. Only the fortunate ones get to experience life outside the cocoon.
I try to travel every 3 months and prefer places that can satiate my wanderlust. I always aim to explore like a child, relish the food as a local and promote co-existence amongst the people I come across. The pleasure attained from these experiences adds to my wealth of memories and helps me paint a beautiful canvas for my audience.
10. Be A Responsible & Eco-Friendly Traveler
Tips for planning your first road trip can not be complete without laying enough emphasis on Eco-friendly tourism. As a traveler/tourists, it becomes our responsibility to leave as minimal impact as possible on a place. The onus of acting upon and creating awareness lies with us as well.
Government and Non-Profit organizations have started various campaigns and initiatives lately. They aim at educating and empowering travelers to become Eco-Warriors and contribute as best as they can. Sustainability is the need of the hour and every helping hand is required.
Few ways in which you can contribute and be a responsible traveler are listed below.
- Do not litter your surroundings and carry your waste.
- Dispose of your waste intelligently and properly.
- Start using reusable cutlery like steel plates, spoons, straws, and mugs. You can use them on a road trip and they help maintain personal hygiene too.
- Say no to plastic. Adopt alternate solutions which do not harm nature and our Eco-system.
- Use the resources (water, food, electricity, etc.) judicially. Everyone has an equal share.
Nature caters to all our needs and even luxuries (of a different kind), free and devoid of any reservations (free for all). The only expectation in return is of some love and respect which it rightfully deserves.
Why the Tips For Planning Your First Road Trip?
The above compilation is a result of personal experiences and learning gathered while being on road. Extensive travel endeavors and multiple situations being faced have added to the pool of knowledge. Providing a ready checklist reinforced with suggestions is what this post aims at.
Having said that, I urge you all first-timers to take some time out of your overloaded schedules and shed those inhibitions. Start enjoying those miles and rediscover yourselves in the lap of mother nature once again.
Till then keep smiling and live some more. There will be plenty of time to drag on 😉 .