|Rainy landscape on US 40, outside of Vernal, Utah|
1. Make Sure Your Companions Are On Board (Literally and Figuratively)If you're traveling by yourself, then no problem, but if you're planning on taking some companions, make sure they actually want to go on a road trip before planning one. Some people get carsick, and others just don't enjoy the thought of being in a car for more than an hour or two at a time. Talk to your traveling companions first and see what their opinions are. Now, if someone in your group says they don't like road trips, but has never been on one (or it's been a long time), this could be an opportunity to introduce them to a new way of traveling. However, if that's the case, a 3-week, 21 state, 8,200 mile trek (yes, I have done this) probably isn't a good way to start for a road trip rookie. Start with something small first, and see if they like it, then move on to something bigger.
2. Understand the Full Cost - Budget AccordinglySome might automatically assume that road tripping to a destination is going to be cheaper than flying, because you don't have to pay for plane tickets. That part may be true, but it's important to think about the total costs involved with a multi-day road trip. Not only will you have to pay for gas, but you'll also have to account for 3 meals a day and hotels en route - not to mention the temptation of laying down $100 for the family of 6 to see the World's Largest Ball of Yarn when you see the sign on the side of the road. Plus, driving across the country is going to require substantially more vacation days than flying; if your vacation time is limited, you should strongly consider whether you want to eat up a significant chunk of it on one trip. It's still very possible that a driving vacation will be cheaper than flying there, but it's important to do the math first - and even more importantly, set a budget before setting out.
A couple of things I've done to keep costs down - pack an ice chest and do a picnic lunch for one meal a day, stay at hotels that offer free breakfast, and use your airline frequent flyer number/hotel frequent guest number to score discounts or freebies at hotels.
3. Know Your Driving LimitsThis may sound silly, but those blue and red lines on Google Maps or a road atlas can look deceptively easy. 750 miles on the interstate might sound easy enough, but it can be tiring. Before doing any serious planning, think about your preferred travel habits, and ask yourself some questions. How fast do you prefer to drive? How many hours of driving can you handle in a single day? Do you prefer to start and end early, or start and end a little later? How do you handle driving at night? Are you taking kids and/or other travelers on the trip that require more frequent stops? And most importantly, what do your companions prefer, and how much of the driving are they willing/able to share? Think about all of that, and then come up with a realistic plan of how much ground you can cover each day.
I can't emphasize this enough - if you realize en route that you've bitten off more than you can chew, and you become too physically tired to continue, it's CRITICAL to either hand the wheel to another driver, or if one isn't available, stop and rest until you are able to continue. Risking your life isn't worth trying to squeeze another 100 miles out of the day.
4. When Traveling With Kids/Family, Let Them Help With the PlanningThis is an easy way to keep the peace on a long trip. Invite the kids to help plan the route and pick things to do along the way. When I was young, my mom and dad used to let me plan the routes and pick hotels to stay at, and they always made sure to ask all of us what we wanted to do on the trip, both at the destination and along the way. That went a long way to keeping the troops engaged (and behaving) in the car.
Also, think about the "style" of traveling that you and your family/companions prefer. Are you the anal type that likes to plan out each day in excruciating detail? Or are you more the "go with the flow" type that prefers a loose schedule, but don't mind deviating if something more interesting comes along? Think about that and plan (or don't plan) accordingly. One additional thought on that subject - if you're the non-planning type, make sure you consider the popularity of where you're going first. If you're headed to or driving through Destin during Spring Break, for example, it's probably not a good idea to just show up and expect to find a hotel room. Unless you just like the idea of sleeping in your car, that is.