Planning a multi-month road trip doesn’t happen over night (specifically, if you are on a budget). Make sure to start the process early to provide you with sufficient time for research, discussion and revision.
STEP 1: Decide on what country / countries you want to travel.
Traveling with our two boys Mieke and I take four key parameters into consideration when planning an adventure:
- Healthcare: Given the length of our trip it was important to us to avoid any countries with chronic diseases (e.g Malaria) to minimize the risk of exposing our sons to something that they could struggle with for the rest of our their lives.
Eliminates: South East Asia, India, East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa, Central America, northern part of South America
- Security: There is no need to expose your family to unnecessary risks. Consider the political and social stability of potential countries to travel. Make sure to put your own origin (and potentially religious upbringing) into context.
Eliminates: Middle East, Northern Africa
- Language: We prefer to travel countries where we feel that our spoken English, French or German will allow us to communicate with locals. Open unencumbered exchange is in our experience helpful in exploring local culture.
Eliminates: Japan, China, Russia
- Climate: We generally try to avoid extreme weather conditions, given that the boys are not yet capable of handling extreme heat or cold.
Eliminates: Deserts, North and South Pole
Remaining options: New Zealand, Australia, Europe, North America, southern South America
We decided to go for North America based on the advantage of having family that we could misuse as base camp and the natural variety provided by the north American continent.
STEP 2: Decide on any places of interest that are a must have to include in your route.
Its much easier to plan a route around a list of places that are a must see. Don’t be afraid of the research required to compile this list. Also don’t be afraid to tackle this challenge the old way: read some travel guides! One of our favorites to start with are the travel guides from Marco Polo. Very high level these guides provide you with a good overview of the most important places of interest that you can utilize as baseline for deep diving into the real gems your country of choice has to offer. Fun fact: travel guides are the perfect reading material for the bathroom. The one place in a household with children that you might find some solitude from time to time. Post it notes + a pen will help you mark and share your discoveries.
For our road trip of north America, Mieke and I compiled the following list of places that were a must see for us:
- Boston, MA (home to Mieke’s cousin)
- New York, NY
- Washington DC (as Mieke has never been)
- Shenandoah National Park (considered one of the top 5 National Parks to visit)
- Niagara Falls
- Mount Rushmoore
- Yellowstone National Park
- Banff National Park
- Jasper National Park
- Whitehorse, Canada (our honeymoon destination)
- Denali National Park / Alaska
- Portland, OR (home to one of our best friends)
- San Francisco, CA
- Yosemite National Park
- Great National Parks of the West (Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Canyon Lands, Capitol Reef, Arches, Mesa Verde)
- Austin, TX (home to Mieke’s other cousin)
Marking your places of interest on GoogleMaps will provide you with a first impression of how a potential route could look like. Utilize the function to visualize them on your personal map. Make sure to log-into Google/Chrome before going ahead with this exercise, as your work will otherwise be lost.
STEP 3: Identify a starting and end point to your route.
Parameters to consider when choosing a start and end point to your route:
- A round trip is usually much cheaper to organize and therefore recommendable when planning a route.
- Flight Cost: Identify the largest international airports close to the points of interest you have identified. Research, which airports are cheapest to fly to from your home airport. GoogleFlights is our recommended tool for checking flight cost also allowing to research multi-city flight routes.
- Vehicle Cost: Research the rental cost for your vehicle of choice for the airports you initially identified. Note that rental cost for a vehicle are usually much higher than the cost of flights and exploring rental costs of different starting points can therefore pay off quite significantly. For traveling the US Cruise America and El Monte RV are two solid options for getting quotes on motorhome rentals.
For our trip we ignored the above. We choose our starting and end point based on where our family lives. We will start our trip in Boston, MA with Austin, TX as our final destination.
STEP 4: Start planning your route – GoolgeMaps is your friend!
Before you start planning your route you should jointly discuss two key parameters that are decisive to this step of the process:
- Avg. travel time per drive: Lengthy drives with children can become very stressful. Make sure to set an average target travel time that you believe your children can easily manage. Note that this doesn’t mean you need to stick to this time on every single stint of your trip, but it will help you in creating a more child friendly route.
- Type of accommodation / vehicle: Discuss how you want to travel. Do you want to stay in hotels? Do you want to camp? Do you want to mix the two? For our road trip we decided to utilize a class C motorhome a focus on camping options. Feel free to read up on how we choose the right vehicle for our road trip.
Once you have decided on these two parameters start researching potential travel destinations allowing you to connect your places of interest. Combining search on GoolgeMaps with GoogleReviews turned out to be the easiest methodology for us in identifying places that we would consider to add to our route. Below please find an example of how we connected Mount Rushmoore with Yellowstone National Park.
Saving all potential travel destinations connecting your places of interest on GoogleMaps will leave you with something looking like this:
Now it’s time to insert all your destinations + route captions into a GDoc to allow you to plan number of nights per destination, compile total travel distance and start revising your route to fit your travel schedule. Please feel free to explore the GDoc we created for this purpose.
STEP 5: Revise your route based on the intended length of your road trip + budgetary restrictions.
Using the GDoc you can easily discover whether the route you have devised will fit your travel schedule and budget or whether you will need to cut certain parts of your route. We would generally recommend to reduce the number stops in favor of staying in places longer. Your children will appreciate the additional play time, while experiencing the places you do visit more intensely.
STEP 6: Visualize your route.
GoogleMaps will only allow you to add 10 places to a route. Utilizing the drag & drop option you can expand to a total of 16 places, however, this is not enough to visualize a multi-month route. After some research we discovered Tripline to be the best solution for putting your entire route onto a single map. The result:
STEP 6: Make key reservations in advance to avoid unnecessary surprises.
Make sure that you familiarise yourself with the reservation policies of the places you have added to your route. For example, popular US National Parks are often booked out within minutes after reservation windows are opened. Make sure to be smart and reserve the most frequented destinations along your route well in advance. Set yourself calendar reminders to be on top of reservation windows and also make sure to research your campsites in advance to making your booking. The satellite view on GoogleMaps will provide you with a great opportunity to select a sites according to your personal preferences.