How to Plan a Safe Road Trip

The road is a dangerous place. This can be very intimidating when you want to go for a road trip. While the risk cannot be completely eliminated, a good road trip plan will help calm the nerves and keep you safe. Between myself and Es, I have always been the more spontaneous one when it comes to travel. Traveling with Es introduced me to the luxury of traveling with a plan. When you need a good plan you need to take it from the best planners in the transport industry. Every flight in the world starts off with a flight plan and that plays a big role in making aviation the safest means of transport. Drawing from my experience as a pilot, I am going to show you how to plan the safest road trips.

Photo by Kornél Máhl on Unsplash

Picking the destination

Where do you want to go? What do you want to do when you get there? While these questions are usually easy to answer individually, sometimes when you are traveling as a couple or group agreeing on the destination can be the hardest part. Here are 5 tips to help you pick a destination that will make everyone happy:

  1. Get a list of all the places that the people involved are interested in.
  2. Cut the destinations that do not work well with the time constraints. The time constraints could be due to a limited number of days off from work or any other time constraints that you have.
  3. Cut the destinations that do not work well with the budget. This means you have to have already estimated the budget.
  4. Rate the remaining destination according to the quality and quantity of experiences it offers.
  5. Finally, pick the destination that is rated the highest.

Now you have the best destination, next we need to plan the trip.

For more tips on traveling check out our tips on traveling as a couple.

Girl holding a map while she is in the car
Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash

Planning for the road trip

How are you going to get to your destination? Which road will you take? What are the stops and sights along the way? What do you need to pack for the trip? These are the questions you need to answer at this stage. I suggest you make a checklist along with this plan. The checklist will be quite useful later.

First, what car are you going to use. The car you choose determines the routes you can take. To know if your car can make it, you need to know the state of the roads on your chosen route. I use google earth for this if there is no information online about the road. At least you can know whether it is murram or tarmac.

As soon as you have the route picked and the car for the job you can then start planning out the stops and sights to see along the road. You can use apps like iOverlander to find out places that others stopped at. At this point, start planning on what needs to be packed. Consider both the route and the destination.

Last but not least, find out how far the destination is and how long it might take.While this is not as complex as planning for a flight, it is important to know how long you will be on the road. This will help you determine the fuel needed(for the car and the travellers ) , the time of departure and the expected time of arrival.

With this plan you have already mitigated a number of risks. A good road trip plan helps you do the following:

  • Pick the best and the safest route.
  • Pack appropriately for the trip.
  • Pick the safest departure time to arrive at the safest time.
  • Gives you a rough idea of the roads to your destination.
  • In case you get lost, it gives you some way points to find your way again.
  • Lastly, it gives you a chance to enjoy the route.

Filing the ‘flight plan’

The safest flights have the help of people on the ground providing them with information and tracking their progress. For a flight to have access to these resources, they need to have their flight plan filed with the people on the ground. This helps ensure the flight is as safe as possible. We can apply this to the road trip to make it much safer. When you have your plans set you need to find a trustworthy person who will know of your plans and whereabouts. This helps in case there is a problem. In addition to that, you might get some great tips and advice from the individual. To be extra cautious, keep them updated during the duration of your trip.


Check the car

Just before any flight the pilot has to do a preflight. This involves a walk around of the plane and a checklist to ensure everything is ready for the flight. For the road trip you also need to check your car and checklists before you set off on your adventure. You need both a car checklist and a packing checklist. The packing checklist you should get during the planning stage.

Important things to check on the car:

  • The tyres – make sure they are the right pressure and not worn out.
  • The service- make sure the car has been serviced and make sure it will not need another service before the end of the trip.
  • The right tools – have the right tools for simple fixes on the road. For example a spare tyre, jack and spanner.
  • Check the fluids – check the fuel, coolant, break fluid, engine oil and wiper fluid.
  • Check the battery. Make sure it is serviceable. To help with this I got a battery with an indicator on it.

The ‘flight’

Car in the clouds
And we are off!!

Pilots break a flight up into stages. These include: takeoff and climb, cruise and finally decent and landing. This has the advantage of focusing on specific attributes of the plane at a time. During the whole flight they have to maintain situational awareness while doing all the tasks.

For your road trip, break it into legs that you can either share the driving or just rest at every stop. The journey to your destination is half the fun. Leave at a good time that allows you to really enjoy the road there with no rush. Slower is generally safer. If you find an amazing stop not on iOverlander, you could always add it so that other travellers can enjoy it too.

While you travel maintain your situational awareness. When Es and I go on road trips Es is always ready to navigate using google maps and we always try to know where we are at. On top of that the driver needs to be aware of all the traffic around them at all times.


How to plan a road trip in five steps:

  1. Pick the perfect destination
    • Write down a list of possible destinations
    • Filter using the time constraint
    • Filter using the budget constraints
    • Rate the destinations by how valuable they are to you
    • Pick the destination rated the highest
  2. Planning
    • Means of getting there
    • Route of getting there
    • Time and distance to get there
    • Research on the route to find the best stops and waypoints(sights to see)
  3. Filing the flight plan
    • Find someone you trust and let them know your travel plans
    • Keep them updated on your whereabouts
  4. Preflight
    • Go through the car checklist
    • Go through the packing checklist
  5. Finally the flight
    • Break it down into stages
    • Maintain situational awareness
    • Take it slow and steady. Stop and enjoy the scenery when it is safe.

This is the five step process that we started using when we learnt of the luxury of a planned road trip. With that said, we are always learning so let us know if you have any tips for traveling that we have not mentioned.

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