How to plan a great road trip

So summer’s already here, degrees in the air are buzzing and rising every day, we find ourselves more drawn to the terraces and late night beers or cocktails.
And we plan vacations. Did you already set yours?

I’m a fan of road trips, since I discovered that it’s the perfect way to combine spontaneity with seeing the best of what a country or region has to offer.
My husband and I have been having this type of vacation for a few years now. We started with a tour of Brittany in France, three years ago, then upgraded last year to a whole country tour of Ireland. Just a few days ago we did a mini-road trip to the mountains.

I’m aware this type of vacation works best in a country where you speak the language a little bit, and where you’re more or less familiar with the culture. Not sure if I would go road tripping through Vietnam, at this moment.

And now we’re having fun planning our vacation this year, which involves extensive driving around another country. You know, as they say, don’t say “hop” until you’ve jumped. But I think it’s going to be awesome.

So, you might ask, what are the ingredients of a great road trip? And how do you plan one?

1. A great travel partner.

I’ve said this before and I will continue to say it – any vacation becomes 90% better or worse, depending who you’re having it with.
So think very well before you plan yours.

Traits of the perfect travel partner (taken from the guy who’s sleeping at the moment I write this post :) ): great patience (a must have!), similar music taste (what will you listen to, in the car?), funny and low-maintenance. You don’t want the other person to complain that the sheets on the bed in the hotel are the wrong shade of grey. Small bladder is also good, but optional.

I know, you can’t always choose your travel partner the way you’d like. Then, you might consider either traveling alone, or packing some extra stuff that will help you get by. Earmuffs, anyone?

2. A clear map of the route you’re going to take, with mileage per day.

Every time we went on a driving vacation, we were clear on where to get the rented car from, where we leave it, how many kilometers/miles to drive each day, and where to sleep.
The rest was pretty much made up during the day. We liked a city? We stayed there more. We wanted to see a certain forest? We made a 60 km detour and knew we were going to go to bed a bit later.

3. A list with the must see attractions.

Now, you normally do this when you go visiting a large city, right? You make a list with the “do not miss” sights and then go checking them off that list.
With road trips, do this for sights that are on or near that road.

When we were in Ireland, I forgot the map where I had marked my attractions at the beginning. And then as we were driving, we heard of more interesting things on the way. One day, we took a small flight over the Aran Islands, and on the way I pointed out some very steep cliffs in the distance.  In the evening, at the hotel, I remembered I wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher, and looked on the map to plan then for next day. I knew they were in the area. But – alas! – we had already passed them. Those steep cliffs in the distance had been my Cliffs of Moher. And since the road was pretty much planned ahead, there was no way of turning back to see them. If I had marked them on the map and kept the itinerary throughout…

So that’s how I have further reason to get back to Ireland.

4. Plan a balanced amount of spontaneity with a healthy amount of certitude.

In other words, know the area you’re going to sleep in, each night, on a road trip. Better yet, know the city and one or two hotels. Or even better, make reservations.
This way, you have a clean buffer between morning and night, that you can fill up with your regular mileage + whatever you like.

Speaking of mileage…

5. Don’t plan for more than 100 – 150 km per day. That’s about 95 miles/day.

And by all means, don’t use freeways. You’re missing the entire scenery.

Get a GPS and choose the option “scenic route”. You might have a more bumpy road, but what you’ll see from there won’t compare with any already-printed-seen-thousands-of-times-before summer vacation cards.

6. Be prepared to suffer. A bit.

Road trips aren’t for the weak. (Mwuhahaha!)
It’s not easy to spend hours and hours in a car, smelling of gasoline, to eat from supermarkets on the way (actually, in France, our trunk smelled horribly after a week from all the moldy cheese we had bought) and to sleep in mid-range hotels. And to get lost, from time to time.
I’m not sure how easy it is for people with kids. I’ve seen many on the way, with their whole families, plus dog, climbing rocks at the end of the world (Pointe du Raz in France), so I guess it would be possible.

But you have fun. You get to see the whole country. You get to stop wherever you like (ok, almost) and not tick the “obvious” attractions from the list, but what YOU enjoy.
Sleep in bed-and-breakfasts. Meet the local people, talk to them. Experience the whole country.

I hope I got you all energized about your vacation. Enjoy!

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