Big Sur, a view on the ocean and the rugged coast, driving from Orlando to San Francisco
Road Trips

Road Trips Everything You Need to Know About Them

Road Trips is what KarsTravels is all about, see our motto: Go on a road trip at least once in your life. Because after one you’re hooked on them for life. We’ve been taking road trips for the last 16 years and still can’t get enough of them. Since we’ve got so much experience with them, we love to share our knowledge. All to get you inspired to go on a road trip. Read on further to get in depth information on everything around road trips, from itineraries to tips to how to take them.

Road Trips Some History

You either spell road trip or sometimes roadtrip. It’s a long-distance journey on the road, according to Wikipedia. Usually these are made by car.

The first recorded road trip was in 1888 in Germany. Bertha Benz drove from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back, which is a distance of 66 miles one way (106 kilometers). Karl Benz, the husband of Bertha, is the inventor of the first patented motor car. Bertha wanted to promote her husband’s invention.

In 1903 the first successful North American transcontinental trip by car was done by H. Nelson Jackson and Sewall K. Crocker. They drove in a 1903 Winton Touring Car in 63 days from San Francisco to New York.

In the beginning of the twentieth century new highways made traveling by car popular in the USA. Cross-country travel became popular. In the late 1930s and 1940s the modern American road trip began to take shape. U.S. Route 66 is an icon of early modern road tripping. In the 1950s businesses started to pop-up that catered to road trippers. Soon travelers from Europe, Australia and Canada came to take part in a road trip in the USA.

Motivations

Recreational purpose is the main driving force behind road trips. To go sightseeing or on the way to an end location for a vacation. Other reasons are simply to pass the time, to visit friends and family or to relocate.

Usually road trips are undertaken in the USA, Canada or Europe. Travel can be done easily here, there are lots of points of interest and they are large masses of land. However a road trip can be done everywhere you can travel on a road from point to point. However it can’t be travel by train, plane or bike from point to point.

The endless road, a road going on and on in a desolate looking ladnscape
The endless road

Why travel in the form of a road trip? Because it gives a sense of freedom. Not being bound to one place, going where the road takes you, poetically said. That feeling is priceless and is addictive. It’s also a perfect way to make lasting memories. It’s about the journey just as much as the stops.

North America

North America with the USA, Canada and Mexico is the ultimate road trip destination. There are numerous options for road trips. The USA is country numero uno to make them. From iconic Route 66 and highway 1 along the west coast to cross-country travel, it’s all a possibility.

In the USA a road trip can cross several states or stay within one state, if the state is large. The same applies to Mexico and Canada, although in Canada we’re talking about provinces and territories.

Big Sur coast of Highway 1 on a California road trip
Big Sur coast of Highway 1

So far we’ve done one road trip in Canada and five in the USA. One of those was a California road trip. We’ve seen parts of the East coast, Florida, the South and the Southwest. From 10 days to 6 weeks, and we’re definitely not done yet with North America. There’s so much to see and do. Road tripping through North America gives the ultimate sense of freedom, with endless roads and the feeling you can drive on and on.

Europe

In Europe a road trip most likely spans more than one country. Road tripping is a perfect way to see several countries in Europe, or to see a lot in one country. Unlike in the USA coast to coast travel, or from North to South travel is less popular. People will usually pick several neighboring countries to explore, or a popular route inside a country.

Stelvio Pass, as seen from above
Stelvio Pass

Since we’re based in The Netherlands, road tripping in Europe is easy for us. So we’ve done it a lot from 3 day trips to 6 weeks. We’ve already covered a lot of countries, such as Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We’re planning on continuing with road tripping through Europe. We still have so many ideas, the Baltic states, more of the Balkans, Ireland, England and so on.

Other Continents

The only continent not suitable for a road trip seems to be Antarctica. Popular for road tripping are Australia and New Zealand, followed by India and South Africa. But don’t rule out the rest of Asia, or Africa or South America. There’s plenty to discover here too. Although this is usually more adventurous road tripping, since for some countries you’ll have to drive a 4WD or even have to be able to repair your own vehicle. Overlanding is popular to do in Africa, South America or Asia. However again for the more adventurous soul.

To show a picture of the 7 pilars of Lawrence of Arabia. One of the sites we visited on our tour through Jordan. You see a large rock which is formed into 7 pilars. Surrounded by desert.
The 7 pilars of Lawrence of Arabia.

We’ve done some road tripping in Jordan, Israel and Tunisia. However this was with guided tours in a bus or small bus. Different to our road trips in Europe and North America.

With Whom Are You Traveling

Road trips not only vary in where you’re taking them or why, but also with whom. You can do them as a couple, as a family, with friends or solo. All is a possibility and being done by many. But these aren’t the only options, what about multigenerational travel, taking your pets with you or traveling with a disability. These are also options, and all of them create lasting memories.

One Day Trips

We talked about road trips of several days to weeks or even months. But a one day road trip is also a possibility. It’s a route you drive by car or motorbike that has several stops in it, but the whole trip only lasts a couple of hours to a day. These trips are usually more about the driving than long stops. They also require beautiful or at least interesting views all along the route, different from longer routes, where you can have boring parts.

Hyacinth field in pink, purple and blue and daffodils in the back
Hyacinth field

We started doing one day routes properly last year, and it’s our new hobby. One of the first we did is The Flower Route in The Netherlands. It’s one of the drives of a lifetime from National Geographic. But we’ve done many more, not just the ones with tulip fields.

These one day drives are perfect when you don’t have the time and/or days off to go on multiday drives.

Tips

When embarking on a road trip there’s do’s and don’ts. These tips from seasoned road trippers are useful for first-timers. Tips for drives can vary from what to bring with you, what to think of before leaving home, where to go to which vehicle to take with you, tips on specific countries, tips for specific situations (like the last 2 years).

Specific are there also tips for traveling as a couple, or solo, for taking your dog or cat, with a wheelchair or for multigenerational travel. Traveling with kids is also totally different and each age group requires different preparations.

We’ve traveled as a couple, in fact our first road trips were as a couple. But we’ve also made drives with our son, as long as 6 weeks on the road. We have several blogs with tips, among them how to survive a road trip with a baby, a toddler and a kid.

When to Travel

When picking a route, one of the things to consider is the season you’re traveling in.

First of all the season decides the weather you’ll have. A road trip in snow conditions can be less than ideal. It can be done, but you’ll have to consider road conditions, opening times of attractions and when traveling in the mountains, whether passes are open or not. It can also be that there’s more rain in those area’s and lots of things are closed for the season. On the other hand if you’re in love with snowy landscapes (like me) than it can be perfect, or if you want to avoid crowds or see the Northern Lights.

Less ideal road conditions in Iceland, a snow covered road, a barely visible vehicle in front of the car, Dashboard of the car visible
Less ideal road conditions in Iceland

So before embarking on your trip consider what you want to see and do and which driving conditions you’re comfortable with.

What Sort of Stops to Plan

When doing a road trip, the route is important, but so are the stops. The stops can be anything from points of interest such as a museum, a landmark, the beach, a swimming area, theme parks, a national park, a hike, a playground, a funny road side stop to a restaurant, a terrace or a visit with family or friends.

Yosemite Valley , with bridalveil fall on the right
Yosemite Valley

We’ve included all these kinds of stops in our road trips. Paul and I love going for a drive and then sitting down at several terraces or restaurants, having a drink and reading a book. National parks, theme parks, museums, landmarks and the beach are also hugely popular as a stop for us. On the blog we have several in-depth articles on perfect stops, such as Shenandoah National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hohenschwangau Castle, Waterfalls in South America, Cities in Europe or Petra and more. There’s so much to see and discover.

Questions

People, especially the ones who haven’t done it yet, also have questions about road tripping. Or the people around you have them. Is it dangerous? Can you go on a solo trip? Can you take a baby, toddler, kid, tween or teen on a road trip? How about the environmental impact? Can it be good for you? 

Of course a roadtrip can be dangerous, but the same as with every day life, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to take all sorts of risks to have a good trip and staying vigilant can’t hurt. An accident for instance can also happen driving to or from work.

Kids of every age can go on road trips. Just keep in mind that it isn’t the same as when you took a drive as a couple. Most important is that you know what your kid can and can’t do and keep that in mind when making plans. Do they get car sick, do they have to follow a strict schedule. What is it that they like to do. We always make sure, there are things in our itinerary everybody enjoys to do.

If you ask me is travel good for you? Most definitely, and road trips are even better. See our finding peace as a family blog.

Environment

Environmental impact is hard to precisely point out. When driving in a gasoline or diesel vehicle this has impact. But so does flying and for instance staying at an all-inclusive resort. Staying at home also has it’s impact on the environment. Taking the car has less impact on nature when compared to flying, but taking the train is even better. Gasoline is better than diesel, but electric is better than gasoline. All-inclusive is usually not that environment friendly. However eating locally can be really good. Think about the choices you make, and when a better option is available choose that one.

For instance the last years we’ve chosen to drive to our European destinations, although flying would have been faster (and cheaper in some instances).

Fun Facts

Road trips have sparked movies, photography, books, quotes, books and songs. And vice versa it has inspired people to go on them. Whether to trace the footsteps of a writer or when being inspired by it. Jack Kerouac’s famous book On the Road inspired many people to take a roadtrip.  

Year Reviews

Each year we seem to be taking more road trips. So far I’ve written reviews of our travels in the years 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. In one blog you have an overview of which road trips we undertook, and there are a lot of them.

Dreams

Having taken so many different kinds of road trips already, are there still roadtrips left we want to undertake? Yes, more than enough. Plenty of countries we haven’t been to yet and that are high on our list, such as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Mexico. Or parts of countries we haven’t been to yet, such as Western Canada, Northwestern USA and the South of Spain.

We’ve also written about dreaming about long term traveling and van life.

The Costs

The costs of a roadtrip can be as high and as low as you want them to be. You can sleep in your car or boondock, which is a way to save money. But you can also stay at luxurious resorts or everything in between. You don’t need to have a ton of money to make a good drive. You do however need to have some money for gasoline and food.

Think about your budget beforehand, how much you can spend and what you need approximately for your trip. This is what we do before each of our travels. Do we go out for dinner, or cook for ourselves or a mix. Are we going tent camping, apartments or resorts it all matters how much you’re going to spend. Are we going to a country where almost everything is expensive to our standards, like Norway, or where it’s cheap, like Montenegro or Portugal. So decide roughly beforehand what you can spend per day, this way you can decide which accommodation and stops you can afford. With 50 dollars a day, Disneyworld isn’t an option, but going on hikes and cheap motels can be done.

Which Vehicle to Choose

Are you driving by car, motorbike, campervan or camper? Will it be a fully electrical car or on gasoline? This influences the costs, where you can stay, how much you can bring with you and the experience.

Is the vehicle your own or are you renting it? There are so many options. Decide how you want to spend the night: if you want to stay in a hotel, you don’t need a camper. If you want to boondock, you’ll need a camper or campervan that’s equipped for this. You’ll also need to research whether boondocking is allowed in the country you’re visiting. Boondocking is not allowed in The Netherlands.

Paul’s motorbike near the Vinkeveense Plassen

When going on a motorbike you won’t be able to bring a lot of stuff with you, but you will experience a large sense of freedom.

Electric Car

Paul in the convertible

When traveling with a fully electrical car you have to make sure there are enough hook-ups for charging on your route. We have a fully electrical car, but on our road trip last Summer through France, Portugal and Spain we opted for a gasoline car. We knew France has hook-ups, but not as widespread as The Netherlands. Spain has less of them and Portugal even less than Spain. So our own car was not a good option.

So far we’ve road tripped by car, both fully electrical, gasoline and hybrid. Paul’s been on road trips by motorbike with his father. We’ve also been on a 3-day trip with a campervan, which we loved.

Where to Stay

There are numerous options on where to stay and they can be combined. Here’s a lot of them listed.

Car

Sleeping in your car. Which can be cheap, but isn’t always allowed. We’ve done it once, since we couldn’t find a place for the night. So we slept in our car, not very comfortable. Weather matters, since it can be cold inside when it’s cold outside.  

Tent

Our blue tent pitched on a grass field, for us alone, with next to the grass a paved place where our car is standing. Behind us another one of those spots. Campsites in Croatia.
Our spot at Camp Zagreb

Tent camping can involve only a small tent or a fully-equipped large one, depending on your needs. A larger tent usually takes more time to setup, which is less ideal when relocating every day. Large tents are not suited for boondocking. But you may simply require a large tent to fit the family and all luggage in. Campgrounds charge more for larger tents. We’ve done a lot of tent camping with our 4-person tent. Easy to set up and usually most campgrounds still have a space for a small tent.

Hotels

Our room at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, colorful and with 2 Queen beads. Yuri is liying on the right one
Our room at Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Hotels are there in almost every category, from 50 dollar motel rooms to you name it how much you want to spend on a hotel room. There are large hotel chains and (small) independent hotels. There’s boutique hotels, stylish hotels, simple motels or family friendly hotels. Whatever your budget, the amount of luxury you want and the amount of persons and nights. By comparison, the rooms in the USA and Canada tend to be more spacious than in Europe. In the USA and Canada we’ve almost always stayed at hotels, we love the Best Western hotels. In The Netherlands we like the hotels of the Fletcher group. We have several hotel reviews on the blog such as Fletcher Badhotel Callantsoog or the Van der Valk hotel Ridderkerk.

Apartments

Apartments can be convenient when you want to prepare meals yourself and/or want to wash clothes. A washing machine isn’t automatically included in every apartment, it’s quite rare. An apartment can be rented through Booking or Airbnb and smaller agencies. We’ve rented through Airbnb once, which was a good experience. We’ve rented apartments through Booking numerous times.

Holiday Rentals or Cabins

These are less usual to rent for a road trip. But they can be convenient, you usually have more space and there can be a swimming pool and/or other kids stuff on the park. Downside, at least in The Netherlands, is you usually, have to rent them for a certain set period. Say Friday till Monday, or Monday till Friday. You can’t rent them for one night or Tuesday till Thursday for example. However we do love them for the amenities and we’ve rented them at road trips.

Camper and Campervan

A white camper van, parked on fake grass, The side door is open. Behind is also open. Paul is standing their. Cooking our dinner on the kitchen in the camper van. Van life.
Paul making dinner

Campers are especially popular in North America, Australia and New Zealand. They are up and coming in Europe. Campervans are popular everywhere it seems. Those VW campervans look so dreamy. Campers are there in every size, from small 2-person ones to super large campers of several meters, big enough to fit a small car. The really large ones are less convenient in Europe, since most campgrounds can’t accommodate them.

We’ve traveled with a rented campervan for 3 days here in The Netherlands and loved it. We love that it’s not large, but instead cozy and easy to drive and maneuver with. Paul’s parents have a camper and love it. They usually trek around twice a year in Europe.

Bed and Breakfast

Traveling from bed and breakfast to bnb can be very convenient, since you’ll have your breakfast sorted out. It’s usually also a good way to make sure that your money is spent locally, since these are usually privately owned. The owners also source their products locally most of the time. It can also be a great way to bond local people and learn more about how they live in that area.

We love staying at bed and breakfasts, and have added them to our itineraries again in recent years. But after one stay at a bnb with Yuri in toddler age, we decided it wasn’t a fit with small children. There was too much that he could break, no gate at the stairs. It simply wasn’t kid-friendly, despite the host being super nice. Since Yuri is older now, a bed and breakfast is fine again. Although, in our experience, a lot of them are designed for two people.

Hostels

Hostels can be perfect and cheap. They come in several forms, from party hostels to luxurious ones or hostels also fit for families. We’ve stayed at great hostels a few times on road trips, a communal kitchen and room are great places to meet others, especially for kids. But they’re usually not cheap if you want a family room. You’ll have to pay for a subscription on Youth hostels, making it (more) expensive if you don’t use them that often. We’ve stayed at great ones in Iceland and Slovenia. If you don’t mind staying at communal rooms, hostels can be a great option.

Caravan, Trailer Tent and Pop-up Camper

Hugely popular in Europe, but less in North America; a caravan, trailer tent or pop-up camper. Especially caravans are popular in Europe. Having a caravan attached to your car is a completely different experience compared to traveling by car. Most campgrounds are equipped to accommodate caravans. However just like with a large tent, it’s less convenient for changing stops every day. The pro of a caravan to a tent is that’s more pleasant when it rains, it’s less cold and better when there’s wind.

Paul used to travel with a caravan with his parents and loved it. We however never wanted to spend the money to buy one, pay for storage most of the year, and then feel obliged to use it several weeks a year.

What Should I Bring?

What to pack before embarking on your road trip? When we travel longer than 10 days, we usually only bring clothes for about a week and wash on the road. How much you can pack has to do with which vehicle your traveling, on a motorbike or when driving a small car you can’t bring much. A roof box can be helpful with a car, definitely when your bringing camping gear.

Full car with chasiss in between, the car is stuffed to the roof
Full car with chasiss in between

A van or caravan requires a different way of packing, because most will be packed in the cabinets.

What I’ve learnt in all those years, is that it’s easy to overpack. If you notice that you haven’t used an item the last 2 to 3 times, you probably can leave it at home. There’s only a few exceptions to this, such as a tick pen. I’ve used it once or twice, but when I need it, I don’t want to have to run to the store.

When flying to the starting point of your drive you’re limited by how much fits in your suitcase and how much kilos your allowed to take with you.

What to Take Care Of

Before taking off there are some things you have to arrange. These are things for your house, such as the mail, your plants, garden and pets if they’re not coming with you.

However most important are insurances. Make sure your vehicle is insured, you have travel insurance and that you have health insurance covered. Have this arranged before you embark on your trip. You don’t want to find out something isn’t covered the moment you need it, forcing you to pay extra.

Also you need to know beforehand whether you need a visa upon entering a country and how to arrange it. Find out how long your passport needs to be valid after arriving and so on. You don’t want to find these things out at the airport and/or border.

We’ve had something like this happen to us. We had arranged our Esta’s when traveling to the US in 2014. They were still valid in 2015, or so we thought. But since Paul and I both had a new passport, the numbers didn’t match anymore. Long story short after a lot of fuss first at the airport in Reykjavik and then at JFK, we were allowed to enter the USA. We could have all avoided this by checking the rules beforehand.

Without a Plan

We love to make our road trips with as less as possible pre booked. I will have an idea of the route we want to take, first night(s) will be booked. We prefer this, since we can than choose on the spot  to extend our stay at a certain place or to shorten it.  

We’ve not done this the last two years, since it was less favorable, but will start doing this again. A certain area or attraction can be popular during a certain period. Find out beforehand, because than you do have to pre-book it or skip it in your itinerary. Hence the sleeping in our car one night in the Dolomites, everything was fully booked in August. Oops.

Christmas

Christmas and in the USA also Thanksgiving are favorite moments to go traveling. This can be to visit family and a road trip is a perfect way to do this.

It can also be that you make trips to experience Christmas outings, like Christmas markets or events. They usually take place in November or December.

We’ve also traveled around Christmas, see our Christmas in Jordan, or the best places for Christmas in Europe.

Hopefully This Guide Makes You Want to Plan Road Trips Right Away

KarsTravels offers lots of blogs and itineraries to help you even more to plan your road trip.

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