Road Trip Planning Timeline

Here's a vacation planning checklist---What preparations did YOU forget???

Photo of luggage with wheels; rolling a suitcase makes loading easy!

When should you start planning for your next road trip adventure? The best answer for true travel-lovers is this: ALWAYS be planning!

  • Every day, keep your ears open for new road trip ideas when friends & family members talk about their vacations

  • Regularly browse through tour websites, or a road map handy to glance through when you're bored (many maps are marked with tourist attractions that you might not have thought about)

  • Keep a mental list of places you'd like to go. (2 lists, actually---a list of closer, cheaper trip destinations that you can reasonably plan to achieve; plus, a "dream" trip list for big occasions for which you'd need to save.)

    Once you definitely decide to take a road trip to a particular destination, then planning and list-making get serious! Not only is trip-planning a practical way to ensure that your trip will be smooth...but planning is also a big part of a vacation's fun!

    On the rest of this page, you'll find some suggestions for pulling off a smoother, more enjoyable family road trip vacation.

    Road Trip Planning Timeline -- 3 months to one year

    1.) Decide where you'll be going. Decide how long you'll have to spend on your vacation. Decide how you're going to get there. Decide who's going along on the trip, and if you'll be meeting others at the destination (which will require even more co-ordination.)

    2.) For ultra-popular destinations---for example, if you want to stay at the Disneyland Hotel (which books up far in advance for popular travel dates), make your reservations. (On the other hand, many thing could happen to prevent you from taking your trip; it's still months away, after all! Try not to make any reservations that you can't cancel for a refund at this point.)

    3.) Decide what side-trips you'll want to take while at your destination. Begin to read through guide books and travel web sites to find out everything there is to see at your destination. If you're headed to a famous vacation destination---say, a Disney park, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, etc, don't assume that the major site to which you're headed is the only thing you'll want to see. Learn everything that will be available for your touring pleasure ahead of time. That way, you won't find out later that, "Hey, I missed something I really would have liked to do!"

    4.) Begin to get an idea of the expenses involved. How much will the tickets cost? What motel/hotels chains are available? What kind of discounts are available? Could you save money by altering your travel dates a little bit...or by choosing a less expensive hotel? Also important: Will you be returning to the same destination next year? (If so, then the purchase of a theme park or National Park annual pass would be a practical, money-saving option.)

    5.) Send for the state and local "official" tourist guides, or visit their websites. You will find out more information about the area you're visiting, PLUS you may find out about discounts and specials! (In the case of a California road trip, DEFINITELY visit their website or send away for the official California tourist guide, because you WILL find discounts and a road map!...inside of it. The guide takes annoyingly long to arrive---nearly 2 months---but it's worth the wait.) You may use the following link to see the State of California official website and order your FREE travel guide.

    6.)Think about the condition of your car. Plan a schedule for any major repairs you'll need to make before your road trip. Will you be buying a new car, van or RV for the trip? Shop early!

    If you'll be buying any other equipment for your adventure---tents, camping equipment, a boat, off-road vehicles, fishing gear, etc, etc, now's the time to watch for sales and make your purchases when the best prices roll around.

    8.) Arrange to get your desired vacation dates from your place of employment.

    Road Trip Planning Checklist -- 1 to 3 months ahead

    Buddy and Natali loading the luggage

    1.) Get your vacation clothes! You'll want to save some brand-new or nearly-new clothing to wear on the days that you're going to be taking the most photos. After all, you're going to be looking at these photos for years and years to the family needs to be "looking decent" in them!

    2.) Finalize your list of places you'd like to visit at your destination and along the way. Find out the days of the week, and times of the day that these places will be open. Call ahead to find out when any special programs will be taking place that you'd like to see. (For example, some national parks stay open later than the park visitor's center; yet, touring the visitor's center is important for understanding the natural or historic features that you'll see in the park. Other parks feature tours or lectures that add special meaning to your experience. Find out ahead of time when these tours, films, lectures, programs, etc. are going to be held.)

    3.) If you need a new camera, buy it now AND learn how to use it! Especially if you'll be getting a new digital camera, there's a "learning curve" before you can use it smoothly. Learn how to snap photos in various types of lighting, download the photos onto your computer, erase the disc, etc. PLUS, get a "memory card" that will be adequate in size to hold all of the photos that you plan to take along the road.

    Your camera is what's going to turn your family road trip from a mere "2 week event" into a LIFETIME MEMORY. You will never forget this trip...or at least, you shouldn't. Get a camera that will do your memories justice.

    4.) Will you be needing any additional luggage for the trip? Get that now. You'll be too busy during the final trip preparation to want to do something as mundane as luggage shopping.

    5.) Make adjustments to your vehicle, if needed. For example, if you're adding a roof-top luggage rack or a trailer hitch, now's the time to do that. If you'll be towing a boat, trailer or camper on your road trip, give the set-up a test run. You don't want to find a "bug in the system" at the last moment.

    6.) Did you purchase a new van or RV for the trip? Take a test-run, overnight trip to a local location to learn how to use all of the features. When you're 1,000 miles away from home isn't a good time for any surprises!

    Road Trip Planning Checklist -- 2 weeks to 1 month

    1.) Perform any minor maintenance on your vehicle that's needed. (Of course, you've already done the major stuff!) Get new tires, if necessary. Have an oil change and check the hoses/belts/windshield wipers, etc. Make sure your car's inspection sticker won't expire while you're out on the road. If it will, get your car's new inspection sticker now.

    2.) Finish up buying all clothes and trip gear now.

    3.) Unless you're waiting for some last-minute specials, make whatever reservations you haven't already made now.

    4.) Make detailed packing lists; the larger the family, the more necessary the lists are! Make lists for the clothing bags, equipment bags, food bag, medicine bag, personal grooming bags. (If you have lists and cross items off as they're loaded, you won't have to keep checking and re-checking to see what's already IN the bags versus what still NEEDS to go into them.

    5.) Make arrangements for the care of your home while you're away. Line up neighbors or relatives who'll be willing to mow and water the lawn, for example. Needless to say, when you'll be out-of-town is NOT a good time to hire a stranger to take care of your vacant home!

    Road Trip Planning Timeline -- 4 days to 2 weeks away

    Gabriel wheels a suitcase to the car.

    1.) Wash the clothing for your vacation.

    2.) Begin packing all items you won't be using until your trip. Cross of the items from your lists as you add them to your bags.

    3.) If you'll be camping or renting a condo with a kitchenette, make any menus that you'll need...and buy whatever food you'll need for the trip. Don't forget to have clean-up items (like paper towels, wet-wipes, etc) packed in the food bag, too.

    4.) Have your mail and newspapers put on hold.

    5.) Remind folks that you'll be going---the PTA, the church, your civic clubs, your bowling team, etc. Don't surprise anybody by just "not showing up" where you're supposed to be. Also remind folks who will be caring for your house and pets; it may have slipped their minds what date you'll be leaving.

    6.) Get haircuts (to look better in the vacation photos; you'll be looking at them for the rest of your life, remember!) Dye your hair, if necessary---get those roots covered!

    Road Trip Planning Checklist -- Last 1 to 3 days

    1.) Do the last-minute packing. Don't wear the clothing you plan on taking with you. You'll just get it dirty and need to do a last-minute wash before you head out. Surely, you've got other things to wear.

    2.) Load the car with everything that you won't be using in the last several days before the trip. If it doesn't all fit...well, it's good to know that NOW so that you'll have time to take out a few things and re-pack.

    3.) Get everybody bathed, nails done, legs shaved, etc. This is not something you do right before you take off...unless you like to travel when you're exhausted! It's WORK to get kids ready, as you already know.

    4.) Check your bank balance. Get whatever cash or traveler's checks you're going to need along the way. Make sure your debit card account has a generous balance.

    5.) Check your purse or wallet to make sure you have all your credit cards, debit cards, annual passes, medical and auto insurance cards. Have any tickets, passports, visas, birth certificates, etc. all ready to add to your purse at the last minute.

    6.) Get rid of any food in the refrigerator that will spoil while you're gone.

    7.) Straighten up the house so it won't be a mess when you get back.

    8.) Return all DVD's to Red Box and all books to the library.

    Road Trip Planning Checklist -- last minutes

    1.) Take your daily vitamins and/or medication and add it to your bags.

    2.) Make sure all the lights are on that you want on in the house; and all lights are off that you want off.

    3.) Phone whomever you need to call to say "goodbye, we're going," especially if you know they want to bid you farewell in person

    4.) Add perishable foods to the food bag and load the ice chest, if any.

    5.) Add hair brush, tooth brush, etc. after using them.

    6.) Take a "last tour" of the house, even if you've already done everything. It will set your mind at ease later on in the trip!

    7.) If you pull away from the house and find that you've forgotten something, don't panic. It's natural to forget one or two items...despite all the planning and lists! Almost anything you need can be purchased along your route.

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