After being locked down for months during the Covid19 pandemic, people around the world are putting their heads together and figuring out how to plan a road trip. There’s still plenty of Summer fun left (unless you’re reading this in the Winter, then it’s all gone) and now is the perfect time to plan a ‘vancation’ to one of your favourite destinations.

Road trips are the best types of holiday; that’s why I spend all of my time travelling around different countries and soaking in the local culture. Sometimes, the drive is even better than the end destination too.

The world has some incredible roads to offer; the great Dolomite Road, the Icelandic Ring Road, The North Coast 500 up in Scotland. There are plenty of things to see and many adventures to be had, and I’m going to help with how to plan a road trip of your own.

All images credit: Vincent Vanlife

How To Plan A Road Trip

How to plan a road trip - Rose by our van

Why Choose A Camper?

I’m obviously biased, but travelling in a camper is the best way to see the world. Sure you could get on a plane with all of your luggage and spend loads of money on accommodation, but that’s boring and a lot of hard work.

With a camper, you can travel the world at your own pace, all of your belongings are inside your camper or RV with you, and you can stop and take in the scenery whenever you want!

Plus, you always have a bed with you in case you want to lie down!

They say the 80% of people only see 20% of what the world has to offer. That’s because most tourists fly into one area, stay there for while looking at all of the main attractions, and then fly back home. Without a car or the will for adventure, you can easily miss so many things that a country has to offer. With a camper, you can see all of them at your own pace and eat great meals for a fraction of a restaurant bill while you’re at it.

Planning Your Route

I recently spent three months travelling around the Island of Sardinia. I took the ferry from the UK to the Netherlands, drove down to Genoa, Italy, and then took a ferry to the Island.

It’s not too difficult to plan a route around an Island as you can pretty much just start at one point and drive clockwise or anti clockwise around it. There are, however, a few points that you might need to consider that may help you plot your route. 

If you’re in a self-contained camper and plan on boondocking most of the time, then you’ll need to empty your toilet and fill up with water probably once every 5-7 days. These spots can be found for free and pop up on van life parking apps like the one that I’m going to talk about later on. It’s important to know where you can get your essentials when deciding how to plan a road trip!

It’s a good idea to pick a midway point and then plot a route to and from that place. Last year I spent 13 months visiting 12 countries. This route took me from the UK to Italy and back. The route there went Uk, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, France, Monaco, Switzerland, and Italy. The route back passed through Slovenia, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Make A Loose Itinerary

My advice would to take it slow. Don’t try to cram in every country in one trip as you’re not going to really be able to enjoy the places around you. Sometimes I spent a week in one place (Lake Como, Italy was one of the best on the trip!) and other times I spent just one night in a place before moving on.

The motto was always ‘If it feels right, stay another night’.

I hate ‘organised fun’, so the idea of having to be at one place at a certain time was never how I wanted to play this trip. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know where I was going to park up the next day, but I always had a general direction.

It’s true that that direction might have just been ‘towards Switzerland’, but it served me well.

Do Some Vehicle Checks Before You Go

Renting

If you’re renting a vehicle, then make sure it’s going to be suitable for the types of terrain that you’re going to be covering. There’s no point hiring a VW T2 just because it looks cute if you’re going on an off-roading holiday.

Big bumps need big tyres. If you’re going up big mountains or plan on travelling off the beaten track, then try to search for something with 4WD and great suspension.

If you’re mostly staying on the flat or visiting campsites, then any size campervan will be fine. Test out what you might be renting first to see if you can handle it, and practice driving it around your home area a few days before you set off if you can to get a good feel of it.

Existing Camper

If you are planning on taking your own camper away with you, then just have a think about the kinds of place you can take it before you book any excursions or tours in. In other words, don’t put yourself in a precarious position.

I took my trusty Vauxhall/Opel Movano all around Europe and it did fine (mostly), though all of my steep hills were on tarmac and I mainly stuck to roads that showed up on my sat nav.

I did manage to get it through a Ligurian forest that was meant for off-road vehicles, but that was an accident and I wouldn’t recommend trying it.

Get a professional to give your vehicle a once over before you go to see if they can spot any problems. They won’t be able to spot things that might go wrong in three-months-time, but they can give your camper a fighting chance.

Lastly, if you’re a new vanlifer, you should weigh your van. In fact, it’s a good idea for anyone with a camper to weigh it every now and again. If you’re over your limit allowance, then you can be fined and be forced to dispose of goods until you’re at the right weight.

Make Sure You Have Good Breakdown Recovery and Health Insurance

How to plan a road trip - cooking dinner by the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Breakdown

Bad things tend to happen when you least expect them. I know you don’t want to consider this notion when you’re getting all excited about how to plan a road trip at night with your marker pens and road atlas, but it’s worth thinking about.

The truth is, vehicles can sometimes put all of your road trip plans to a standstill. I broke down twice in one month last year, though admittedly it would have only been once if the first garage had known what they were doing (not that I’m still bitter).

Having good breakdown cover is essential for getting you out of sticky situations. And yes, under the ‘costs’ section of your how to plan a road trip notebook, you should put some money aside to go for the best package.

It might cost more and hopefully you won’t have to use it, but it’s there if you do. My breakdown company organised hotels, train fares, taxis, and all sorts for me when I broke down, and it helped us to enjoy the area we were stuck in a whole lot more.

Health Insurance

Van life Insurance is now a thing, and you can get it no matter where you are in the world. Safety Wing offers digital nomad insurance for people travelling around the world, and you can start a policy even if your trip has already begun.

Other companies such as Explorer and Columbus offer competitive rates. We’ve always chosen ‘backpacker plus’ cover; our backpack is just real big and we drive it around.

I suppose that makes us more like snails!

Buy A Good Sat-Nav

Google Maps is great for figuring out how far you are from the nearest launderette or which Metro station you need to walk to, but it’s not good for picking the best route for your camper.

Get a good sat-nav like the TomTom Go Camper for your travels. I use it every time I head out on the road, and it has the exact dimensions of my camper loaded into the system so that it knows which routes I can’t go along.

Admittedly, it did mess up on that Ligurian forest. But I got through it ok, so no hard feelings, TomTom.

The screen is big, the visuals are nice, and I don’t have to risk running down the battery on my phone while I’m driving. This sat nav also picks the most scenic route too; what more do you want when you’re deciding how to plan a road trip!

Download Park4Night

If you have one app on your phone when you set off on your trip, then make sure it’s Park4Night. This is an incredible community-driven app that allows users to post locations of places that they have visited on their travels. They can upload pictures, co-ordinates, and descriptions, and other users can comment with their own experiences too.

This is great for a number of reasons, including planning where you’re going to get water and empty your toilet.

Park4Night has different symbols that represent different types of area; toilet for black waste dumping, water droplet for water fill up, green campervan for free overnight parking area, etc. It’s simple to use and can really help you to plan where you might want to go a few days or even weeks in advance.

The comment section is great to find out whether areas are still open to the public or if thieves have started operating nearby. They might tell you that the ascent is too difficult or what kind of campervan they drove up there. It’s information like this that’s invaluable for when you’re trying to find your next destination.

Things To Bring On a Road Trip

How to plan a road trip - Seb in a hammock

Van Life Essentials

I’ve been living in a van for almost 3 years at the time of writing this, so I have everything that I could possibly need right here with me.

If, however, you’re a new vanlifer or are renting a camper for the first time and wondering what to bring while deciding how to plan a road trip, then here are some van life essentials that you should pack.

  • Mobile phone with access to apps and as many charging cables as you can carry. They break more than they should, though that’s probably because I buy the cheap ones.
  • A good sat-nav, cradle, and charging cable.
  • A first aid kit is essential if you hurt yourself, but it’s also a legal requirement in many countries.
  • Roadside assistance packages that come with hi-vis jackets and warning triangles are also necessary in many countries. They also have wind up torches in them and a fire extinguisher. You can pick these up for around $40.
  • Spare headlight and indicator bulbs.
  • Rechargeable batteries for any LED/fairy lights.
  • Winter and summer clothes. It’s best to bring a few of each just in case.
  • A Scrubba wash bag so you can wash on the go and keep costs down.
  • Baby wipes or flannels that you can hot stick on a hot wash at the launderette.
  • My girlfriend Rose can’t live without her blankets. She always likes to get ‘snuggy’.

Anything Else…?

  • Basic tools for any interior/exterior repairs you might need. Spanners, Allen keys, screwdrivers, small pack of fuses for your fuse box and electrics under the hood.
  • Hot water bottle for those cold evenings.
  • MaxTrax recovery tracks for if you get stuck in sand or mud.
  • Wheel clamp for if you’re parking your van up in the city.
  • A BivyStick if you’re heading off-grid into the backcountry with no signal.
  • Full gas bottle for the cooker or a good supply of smaller canisters.
  • Any cooking utensils such as the Omnia Oven for making nice treats on the go.

Those are just the essentials, but you could easily add a Nintendo Switch or a projector in there too for if it’s a rainy day.

Van Life Costs

The main van life costs that you need to consider when determining how to plan a road trip are –

  • Fuel
  • Food
  • Phone bill
  • Attraction entry (touristy stuff, National Parks etc)

I don’t go to campgrounds very often, only free parking sites that I find on Park4Night. Campgrounds can eat into your budget massively, though sometimes they’re unavoidable if you’re not allowed to wild camp in a National Park etc.

Fuel will be your biggest cost as you’re going to be driving around a lot. Rather than filling up on the motorway, come off at a junction and fill up in the nearest town. The prices will be much cheaper.

Tip – The TomTom Go Camper shows where the nearest petrol station is and other ones on your chosen route.

Food is also another biggy, but it’s going to be a lot less if you decide to cook in your camper rather than eating out. We spend around £40 a week on food, covering breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

Our phone bills come out each month on a rolling contract. We use mobile internet from Voxi (Vodafone) for all of our streaming, emailing, downloading etc.

The last cost is what I like to call the ‘touristy stuff’. We don’t tend to do a lot of this when we’re out and about; the outside of a building usually looks more impressive than the inside. Once you’ve seen one stately home, then you’ve pretty much seen all of them.

I made an exception for St Peter’s Castle and the Palace of Sintra, Portugal because they’re amazing. The same went for the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California because it just had to be done!

Food

Food is perhaps the most important part of any road trip…or it is for me anyway. It’s incredibly important to have snacks to hand at all times, especially when I’m driving. I tend to get ‘hangry’ and make rash decisions when I haven’t eaten, which can lead to me getting stuck in boggy fields or taking the wrong turn on a roundabout.

Keep snacks in your cab when driving, that way you don’t have to stop as often. Concentrating on an empty stomach is hard work, and it will reduce the amount of arguments that you might have with a travel partner by 98.7%.

Having fresh food in your camper means you can cook nice meals by the beach or in the forest whenever you feel hungry. I know that in your head a lot of the emphasis on how to plan a road trip might have been heading to the finest eateries, but it’s not a cost effective way of travelling.

Make your favourite meals on the go for less and enjoy nice cuisine in stunning locations. You can even do food that you would cook in the oven using the Omnia Oven and the XL Ridgemonkey!

Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas on how to plan a road trip.

Head over to my Instagram account and drop me any other questions you might have if I haven’t answered them, and enjoy the open road!

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