How to Plan a Road Trip Itinerary

Planning a road trip is one exciting activity even before we hit the road. In a modern day like this, it is something that very easy to do. There are many tools such as google maps that can be used to calculate and planning the driving route. Even better, there are many websites or apps out there that can help you to make one. But, this post will be about the way we make our itinerary.

A Step-by-step Guide

1. Research destinations you want to visit, list them down. 

Research is important in making an itinerary. Read as much blog posts or articles on interesting places in the country you want to visit. In our opinion, our trip itinerary must be personal. It should be tailored to best fit our interests. You may find others itinerary on the internet but only use that as a guide. Do not copy the whole thing, as it may not fit you.

For us, we check Wikitravel and TripAdvisor as a start. This first step is only to list down point of interest in the destination country. After that, we read blogs or articles about road trips in the respective country to get the initial idea of the places. You may want to also read the review of all places on your list. From reading them, there are a lot of information and useful tips you can get. For example, one place might be best to visit during sunrise, or the road might be slippery when wet. So you can adjust your visiting time to those places.  

2. Pin those places on Google Maps and create your own road trip map.

Having the list of places you want to visit, pin all of their locations on Google Maps. By doing this, you will have a rough idea of your upcoming trip coverage.

3. Decide driving duration per day

I think this is important. Decide how long you will drive in one day. It really depends on our priority. For some other people, they don’t mind to drive longer, but having a shorter time to visit each place. For us, 2.5 to 3 hours driving a day is just nice. We prefer less driving time in a day so that we can stay longer in each place we visit. Our only priority is enjoying the trip. We don’t want to rush during the trip.

3. Plan your road trip route

If you already have the list of destinations and set your driving duration, it’s time to create your road trip route. We do it with My Maps in Google Maps. Another website to create a road trip plan is Furkot, Roadtrippers or Ezroadtrips.

The driving duration in the maps might not reflect the actual travel time. The beautiful scenery along your way might distract you and allure you to stop a while to enjoy the view or snap pictures. Spare enough time for this.

This is our road trip route on New Zealand South Island. We only can finish about 2/3 of the plan because we underestimated the driving duration per day. New Zealand’s nature is so pretty that it makes us stopped frequently along our journey. We were too greedy when planning the itinerary and want to go all over the place in one go. At the end, we are more than happy from stop being too greedy and just enjoy the relaxing trip and stay in one place a bit longer.

4. Sum it up

After done planning the trip route, you might want to sum the total distance of your planned trip. This later will be useful to set the budget for gasoline/diesel you need for the trip.

5. Have your itinerary in print

Well, this is an optional thing to do. During our trip, I always love to have my itinerary and maps in print. As simple as I don’t want to bother to open up my gadget everytime I need to see them. It is also useful when we have a change of plan along the way. We can just write it down on the printout. The print out later can be our “journal” of the trip, recording our actual journey if it is different than the initial plan.

Things to note

There is one important lesson learned from our past experience in planning the road trip. When you go to a big country like Australia, New Zealand or USA, you will often underestimate the distance because you see the map in too much zoom out level. We underestimate the distance almost every time. We have planned to drive some thousands of kilometers, but in reality, if we could only accomplish even 2/3 of the plan is already an achievement.

But at the end, planning is a guideline and not a something that you should follow religiously. During a trip, many things can happen either good or bad. There will be many spontaneous stops that you may want to do. We have to be flexible enough and not getting upset when something is not working as planned.


The detail actual route that we took can be seen in our New Zealand South Island trip index post.

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