Strategies for Planning your Road-Trips
Our Life on the Road series comes as we glide into a period where we finally feel experienced enough to share our insights. Having left UK shores at the beginning of March 2016, we have 50,000 miles under our belt and lessons galore that have expanded our minds. Whilst we don’t ever consider ourselves experts, we have built up a wealth of knowledge about life in a motorhome that we are passionate to share. Whether you are long-timers, full-timers, weekend warriors or new timers, there will be something in here for everyone.
This latest blog in the series focuses on planning strategies for your next road-trip. Thanks for the overwhelming vote from our Facebook community this was bar far the most popular blog request. And so, read on if you would like some practical tips for making your next road-trip an adventure and not a nightmare. Enter into our world where we share how we plan for and prepare for the countries we visit and get a sneak preview of how we do things in Motoroaming HQ. This is especially relevant as we begin our research for our month-long adventure to Morocco in 2020.
How to make your next road-trip an adventure and not a nightmare.
Travelling is such a personal affair. From the transport we choose, the accommodation we select to be home and the philosophy we hold when it comes to places we want to visit. So I enter this blog with a degree of caution as our approach may not suit everyone. That said, we offer our loose strategies in the hope that it might offer some inspiration.
Before I launch into my 10 Road-Trip Planning Strategies, here are some thoughts about how be a confident travel planner which makes the art of travel so much smoother.
The Art of Travel – The Skills of a Travel Planner
To Plan or Not to Plan, that is the question
Back in my corporate days as a Leadership Development Consultant, planning and preparation were key to my business. Without it, my reputation would have sunk as low as the dipping sun. So having an organised mind became part of my raison d’être. Those skills have remained with me ever since. Although I have to say that my insatiable, almost obsessive need to have precision plans has faded enormously since we hit the road.
Before we left UK, I bought maps, spent a fortune on Guide Books and invested heavily in highlighter pens and post-it notes. I was determined that our supposed gap-year travelling around Europe in our Pilote motorhome would be as co-ordinated as a war-time battle strategy. The only danger with this mindset is that whilst you have a vision, a checklist and a route-map they can become far too rigid. Perish the thought that there’s a road-block to take you off course. Or may be a Point of Interest offered by a fellow traveller that you are curious to see.
So yes plan, research and mentally have yourself geared up for the journey ahead, although then let go of that plan. Leave enough space for a change of route, a longer stay and revisions along the way. These are what make your trip into an adventure.
Adopt a Travel Philosophy
Surely just pack up and go right? You’ve spent six months planning, now the wanderlust, itchy feet are urging you to travel. Although part of the planning process that has served us well is having a travel philosophy. What does this actually mean?
Give thought to things like:
- Do you want to blast it or do more of a slow-travel?
- What sort of campers are you? Wild, campsites, Aires or a mixture of both?
- How many hours or miles do you want to travel each day?
- Are you motorway lovers to reach your destination or do you prefer to meander around the countryside and explore?
- What type of traveller are you? A reach your destination and chill type? A curious explorer? An adrenalin junky? A fitness lover?
These questions help you to discover the type of traveller you are or want to be. Whilst the answers may be uncovered the more you travel, giving some thought to it before you head off will influence your plans. If you are travelling with family or a partner, discuss this together and accommodate everyones’ needs.
Be Inspired by Others
It’s easy to develop a mind-set of ‘I’ll do it alone and I’ll learn along the way.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that type of exploration. Although these days there are so many people who are travelling and writing about their experiences, that they are an amazing resource. I used to have a skewed attitude that to learn from others was somehow a weakness and almost lazy. As if I was cheating. Learning from my own experiences, I thought would be far more life-changing. And that is true to a degree. Although when others have the voice of wisdom and insight it would be crazy not to dip into this. Travel can be exhausting so making our trip the most meaningful and fulfilling, when life is so short, is really important. Not only that other people’s knowledge can save you money, stress, time and expensive mistakes. So be willing to read blogs, ask questions and cherry pick from other people’s experiences.
Be a Responsible Traveller
When we make time for planning a road-trip, it allows us to think about the planet. It gives us the space to ponder on how to minimise our carbon foot-print – especially if we are travelling in a diesel guzzling camper/Motorhome. Whilst the miles we travel may not be a conscientious choice for the earth, the way we choose to live can be. So when planning a trip, explore ways to be responsible travellers in our country destination, and indeed those we travel through to reach it. For example when we travel through a country where animal welfare is poor, we take cat and dog food rations. If our research tells us about irresponsible littering, we take refuse bags so we can clean up rubbish as we go. We also consider the use of our refuse and find ways to limit the amount of plastics we travel with.
Sometimes when we are already on the road, getting ethical resources can be harder than when we are in our home country. So plan for ways to look after the planet. Look at whether products like Norwex or ECover can make your trip easier and cleaner and think about purchasing products like this before you leave home.
10 Planning Strategies
1. Good old fashioned research – Checklist of Considerations
Once you have selected your country of choice then the exciting part begins. Although it can be such a minefield of information to gather. Using a checklist like this one, can help bring together all the questions that are running through your head. Whilst the follow set of strategies might be more technology based, there’s nothing, in my mind, that can replace just getting a list and running through all the things you need to think about. At the time of writing, we are planning a trip to Morocco for a month, so I used this as a basis for the strategies I used and hence how the checklist came to be. I realised how many of these questions I ask naturally when we visit a new place. So having them all in one place certainly makes the planning phase so much easier. So arm yourself with the checklist and then get jiggy with Google and begin answering the questions you have about your chosen destination. Click the image to download your free copy.
Social Media channels are a huge resource for planning our trips and Pinterest is one of my go-to channels. Whilst these platforms have their downsides and feed obsessive habits if not managed, if you know how to use them, they are a gold-mine of information.
Pinterest might be a relatively new kid on the block in Social Media terms, it is one of the best places to search amongst the thousands of travellers who write blogs about their experiences. With a simple search of your chosen destination, you will be presented with literally hundreds of posts that will highlight a diverse range of aspects of the country you are about to visit. From food, culture and ‘best bits’ to road-trip itineraries – Pinterest has it all. When we visited Sweden I did a search for alternative visits to Stockholm, which influenced a completely unique city experience in the summer of 2019.
Once I find an interesting article, I then pin it to my own Pinterest Boards, take notes or pin the places to Google Maps so I can come back to the information nearer the time. More on that shortly.
For information on the boards I manage, click the image below.
Facebook is another place where a ton of experienced people can be a font of knowledge for you. Forums and Groups have a great collection of topics for discussion and I often explore these for nuggets of information about our next destination. Whilst in the process of planning Morocco, synchronistically a handful of motorhomers were visiting and posting valuable information and images that helped prepare us for our trip. So watching their videos, seeing their photos and reading their challenges has been really helpful.
You can use Facebook as part of your research either by watching it day-to-day and hoping you catch the relevant posts. Or you can use the search facility in a specific group to pull up past posts on your chosen country. Check the images below to see how to make Facebook work in this respect. If there is a post you want follow as people in the community continue to comment, then there is a save facility which means you can access the post easily when you need it.
Alternatively you could use Facebook to ask specific questions that are concerning you and that help you fill in any gaps that you can’t find answers to elsewhere. What a fabulous planning tool this can be. You will often find me checking out a wild spot, a pretty town or location recommended by someone else and pinning it to my Google Map.
Instagram is another source of visual inspiration, depending on the people you follow. Whilst it isn’t a significant planning resource, as a visual person, I do love the images and it whets my appetite. Thanks to an image of Hallstatt in Austria, we made a diversion to this picture perfect location hidden in the Alps. How lovely it was too.
4. Ebooks and Country Guides
In the olden days before Google, we used to rely on books like Lonely Planet Guides. And whilst they have their uses for sure, they are weighty. And let’s face it, we all need to watch our weight when we travel. So I started to use eBooks dowloaded to my iPad to learn about new countries and their cultures. Whilst they don’t give me the intricate detail I might need for our love for ‘off the beaten track’, it can be really useful as a first level planning tool. These Guides are written for a certain genre of traveller, which often does not include the road-trip camper and motorhomer. Although they do give some valuable information that goes into the melting point, so they do serve a purpose.
Again for Morocco, the books I wanted to read didn’t come in eBook versions, so had to rely one particular book that caught my eye on Amazon. So with interest I bought it and it will become an important source of research and learning.
5. Note Taking
When I’m in a creative mode, which sometimes battles against my need for structure, I just get out my notepad and coloured pens and just mind-map. A technique I used in my corporate life serves me well as a traveller. This is especially helpful when I’ve read through my saved Pinterest articles, got the all-important information from Facebook and ticked off my checklist through the internet. I just love to jot my highlights and main points on paper randomly. It gives all my thoughts some organisation and I can see things coming together. This is where excitement fills my belly and enthuses me to do more reading and count down the sleeps before we go. If you want to have some fun, get paper and pens and just write down randomly what you are learning. See it all coming together before your eyes. Not everything needs to be high tech.
6. Other People’s Experiences
When we adopt an attitude of asking others about their experiences, we can learn a whole new perspective of a place. Of course we all have our own journeys and personal views, although collecting those invaluable memories will help you make your own decisions. So whether it’s through your own network of friends, your motorhome/camper fraternity or through Social Media, pick people’s brains. Learn about their highs and lows, extract advice and get their recommendations. Whilst you are unlikely to take on board all that they offer, it will give you more information from which you can make choices that suit you and your travel philosophy.
7. Google Maps and Maps.me
Ok, now we’ve done some fabulous planning, we’ve scoured the internet, read until our heads hurt and our excitement is off the scale. We’ve started to organise things that we need for the trip like Green Cards or Insurance – so what next?
For me, it’s time to drill down a bit and start to explore more of the specifics. The high level planning is great, although as the trip gets nearer, having a plan about the routes you might take, the border crossings and priority places you have on your must-visit list now becomes a priority. Whilst we need to balance our plans with a degree of flexibility, having a rough route or direction feels important. It would be a bit like running a race and not having a defined starting line. It would result in chaos.
This is where two apps come into play for me. Google Maps and Maps.me. I love Google Maps, it offers so much to the organised traveller; it’s a Sat Nav, walking guide, services search facility and Point Of Interest guide. I see it like a paper map that we might have used when we were kids, peppered with drawing pins of places we dreamt about visiting. This digital version is so much easier to manage when we’re on the road, thanks to our many devices.
There are two ways of using Google Maps. The first is using the App on your phone to search for and then pin places that you want to visit, taking notes of why it appeals. (Don’t forget this bit as you risk having a collection of random pins that you’ve forgotten their relevance.) The second way I use Google Maps is on my Laptop to create a personalised map of a particular road-trip so that I can track both our potential and actual routes. I can upload pictures, write my thoughts, link to websites and develop it into a whole exciting interactive map for our followers. It’s awesome. Check out some of the maps we’ve created here.
Maps.me I came across through a fellow motorhomer in year two of our travels and it revolutionised our journeys. As a free App and community sharing tool, it allows you to create your own pins for overnight stays, UNESCO sites, Service Stations, LPG and campsites. Most powerfully though, it enables you to share with other travellers. So you start to build up a collaborative resource amongst like-minded people. Best of all it is an off-line facility. So once you have downloaded the maps for the country of your choice, then you can use it to navigate to a place to stay, visit for the day or do a city walking tour without it costing a fortune with your data. Perfect. I love Maps.me, it’s an incredible resource and if you click the blue link you can go to the website for more information. If Maps.me is new to you, I have written a PDF guide about how to get the best from it, which is yours, for free by clicking this link here.
8. Search for Sites and Park4Night websites/Apps
Given that we are now at the stage of planning a very rough route and possibly ear-marking some places to stay, it’s time to get more detailed. Now we love wild camping, although some countries don’t allow it, frown upon it, or it is simply not appropriate. So having a bit of foresight into places to set up camp, especially somewhere like Morocco, seems appropriate.
We always find somewhere for our first two nights. Sarah from Veedubadventures lovingly calls this her ‘soft landing‘. I think this is great. We call it grounding ourselves. Arriving in a new country can initiate a stressful response with all the build up. Language challenges, ferries and a host of uncertainties all combine to potentially create a storm of anxiety and sometimes just a bit of edginess. So we always make sure we have somewhere to stay for the first two nights and have this destination in our plans ahead of time. After that we then get a sense of where we want to go next and take flight.
These two grounding days, if we haven’t done it already, become a playground for exploring wild camping options or nice campsites that are in and around the places we’ve pinned. And our two ‘go-to’ apps for this are SearchforSites and Park4Night. Both sites give us untold treasures when it comes to recommended places to stay. Park4Night for wild options (although can be a bit tricky for a 7.5m motorhome) and SearchforSites for good quality campsites and Aires from trusted UK comrades. Both of these resources are excellent for planning purposes and the recently upgraded SearchforSites App gives you a much more robust route planning tool and off-line navigation if you want it. We do though, tend to use these sites on a day to day basis rather than mapping out all our overnight stops. So much of our journey depends on the weather, road conditions and our frame of mind that booking ahead is not really an option for us. Although our strategy might differ in Morocco as our plans unfold and we learn more about the country.
9. Good old fashioned Maps
Whilst technology serves us well on the whole, sometimes, just sometimes, a good old fashioned map is appropriate. We started out on our travels with a huge A5 Europe map that I had littered with post-it notes and coloured highlights. Although over time this was relegated to the footwell of the cab and fell victim to curls, frays and tears. So it made way for our Google Maps instead. That said, for Morocco the advice I have read is to get a proper, recently updated map that allows you to see the big picture and plot a route according to your highlights. There is something quite cathartic about the feel of real map and a Guide Book – and it excites me to use them again. Crazy eh? If there is enough detail in the map (go for at least 1:250,000 for detail and 1:1million for a bigger scale) then it will give you POI that may not have come up in your research so far. The Book Depository based in UK has a great range of maps – nearly 32,000 of them and is where I sourced my Morocco maps from.
10. Now go with the flow!
The final strategy that you need for planning a great and memorable road-trip is to now let go! It may seem counter-intuitive based on everything that I’ve just said, although let go you must! It’s so easy to become too obsessed with a plan and in doing so you miss things that could be one of your greatest highlights. We also love meeting people along the way, especially locals, who will tell us about things, that take us completely off-piste. And to those people, we are so grateful. We love off the beaten track places and it’s often the locals who know about these places. So being willing to let go of the route plans and pins you have created and go with the flow a bit, is really important.
I love that I have the knowledge, route options and highlights running in the background, although there’s nothing better than going left instead of right sometimes. So be free to move beyond your plans and allow your trip to open up in ways you’d never thought possible. Trust your intuition and put your curious, explorer heads on and see what delights emerge. The beauty is that you always have the safety of the plan to come back to whenever you need it.
Eisenhower once said that ‘Plans are nothing, planning is everything.’ And he is right. Whilst going out on the road with no plans might seem really exciting and adventurous, these days that doesn’t really work as a philosophy. Travelling is an art and that art doesn’t just happen. It needs a little thought and clarity. We learnt this after our trip to Scandinavia in 2019. Without the plans and our detailed research, our trip could have been messy, expensive and far less memorable than it was. So we are happy that there is a planning queen on our team!
Although the art of a great traveller is also to have enough courage to let go of all the plans if your intuition tells you so. The plan is just that, a plan! It is not caste in stone and, for a truly memorable experience, sometimes letting go is important. So armed with these planning strategies, we hope it has given you an insight into how we plan our life on the road.
Let us know how you get on with these techniques and whether you have any other top tips for road-trip plans.
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