Road trip season is right around the corner, which means there’s no better time to start brainstorming new locations and planning out your routes. Most of us don’t use a paper map or visit our local AAA to pick up TripTiks when we’re ready to hit the road anymore. Paper maps are arguably a thing of the past — although it’s always wise to keep one on hand.
We rely so much on pulling information from a multitude of online sources that juggling saved Instagram locations, Pinterest-discovered attractions and navigation can be overwhelming. Sometimes, you end up piecing together trips on the go and spending more time than necessary researching information instead of enjoying your time on the road. That’s where a road trip planner to come into play — take away some of that stress and let a road trip tool help you plan, organize and manage it all both before and during your trip.
Not only do these tools help you plan out your routes and points of interest along the way, but they’re specifically good for helping you budget: including calculating the cost of fuel or picking the most cost-efficient way to get from point A to Z, and everywhere in between. In this guide, you’ll learn some of the lesser known details about how to use these road trip planning apps and tools to their full capacity and what they’re best for. Think easy collaboration planning with your friends and family, customizing must-see stops and more!
The genius’ over at Roadtrippers really nailed down the ultimate road trip experience. In fact, Roadtrippers may just be the best road trip planner — the holy grail of travel apps and online road trip resources. Of course, you’ll have to try it out for yourself to make the final judgment call. So, what makes this tool so great?
There are two main ways to use Roadtrippers to plan your route. The first is if you have no idea where you want to go and need some inspiration. The second is when you have a starting point and a destination but you’re looking for places to visit in between. Roadtrippers helps you plan your route by allowing you to plot points on a map. It then calculates the best route between them and helps you find info about what’s along each route. Instead of just offering up information about dining, fuel and accommodations (they have those too), you can toggle on filters like odd things to do, outdoors and recreation, attractions and culture, camping and much more.
Traveling with friends or family? Trip collaboration is a great feature that allows you to work on a trip with your fellow travel companions. They can review the trip, make changes or offer suggestions. Any changes made to a trip will immediately update with an email that gets sent to everyone in the trip, letting them know what the change was.
Once you’ve plugged in your starting point and destination, it’s time to start searching for what to do in between. As you build your trip, you’ll learn more about each location and how to fit it into your trip.
How to Use the Roadtrippers App and Tool
Using the “Plan Your Trip” feature, plug in your starting point and destination. Once you’ve entered your desired locations, Roadtrippers will create your route, taking you to a page that allows you to add a variety of custom features and discover stops along the way.
Build a Collection of Trips
Gone are the days of printing out the details of your trip. Roadtrippers saves all of your trip research under a page in your account called “My Trips.” This page gives you an overview of every trip you’ve ever created or added from other curators. If you wish to amend a trip, all you need to do is click on the road trip board and it will take you back to the map view. In fact, you can access your trips on the go. The web version syncs to the mobile app so you can access your trip while on the road.
Roadtrippers is an excellent resource if you’re planning a route with your group. Its ability to “trip collaborate,” make changes on the go, scout out points of interest and source inspiration are just a few of the reasons Roadtrippers is number one on our list.
Google My Maps
Not to be mistaken for Google Maps, Google My Maps is a separate road trip planning tool based off of your Google Account, so you’ll have to be logged in to create a trip. Google My Maps is very robust in that you have the ability to search coordinates, work with layers, and utilize advanced customization settings to help compartmentalize different aspects of your road trip.
Because it allows you to plan in such great detail, Google My Maps is a particularly helpful tool if you’re traveling internationally. So, if you’re planning to drive the French Riviera or the Algarve in Portugal this summer, we suggest doing some route planning well in advance. Of all the tools in this guide, Google My Maps offers the most detail no matter where you’re planning to visit.
Pro tip: While custom maps can’t be used offline, unlike the rest of Google Maps, there are a couple of workarounds. First, you can pull up the map up in an area with reception and leave it running in the background. Loaded maps in the app have been known to work later even with no reception. Another alternative (especially if you’ll be traveling in another country where you’ll be completely offline) is to transfer your custom map to a third party app or purchase the My Maps app in the app store.
How to Use Google My Maps to Plan a Road Trip
Go to Google My Maps from your desktop browser. Look at the Google icon in the top right corner to make sure you’re using the correct Google account. Then click “Create A New Map” and a window will open with a blank map. To give your map a name and description, click the map name, which defaults to “Untitled Map.”
Working with Layers
Layers allow you to organize and add points of interest, stops and directions to one map. For example, if you wish to separate your dining options from attractions, layers are an excellent way to compartmentalize your road trip. When you create a new map the first layer will already be created for you, so you’ll probably want to rename it — do so by clicking directly on the name.
The layers feature allows you to add up to 10 new layers. If you wish to remove a layer, you can simply delete by clicking the three dots next to the layer title. Google My Maps also gives you the option to hide your layers by unchecking the box to the left.
Adding and Customizing Location Pins
If you’re visiting several locations along your road trip, the blue waypoints can get a little overwhelming. Google My Maps allows you to customize your points of interest while adding notes for each location. Color coordinate and change icons using this feature.
Directions layers are especially helpful for showing the route of a walking tour, bike path or road trip you want to take, but they are a little less useful for navigating. You’ll have to transfer your directions to the Google Maps app.
Unfortunately, Google My Maps does not offer a navigation feature. However, you can view your map using the Google Maps app.
- Go to the hamburger menu on the left
- Click “Your Places”
- Click “Maps”
Your custom maps will then populate (be sure you’re in the correct Google account). To navigate to one of your pins, open the map, find the point of interest, click it and then click “directions.” When you do this, you won’t be looking at your custom map anymore, but rather the regular navigation of Google Maps.
Share Your Maps
Google My Maps allows you to easily share your map with friends and family. Additionally, the tool offers you the option to share publicly.
While there are limitations with planning your road trip through Google My Maps, it’s a great tool to use when planning for a remote road trip. We especially love this Google tool for the use of longitude and latitude, so you can find off-the-beaten-path locations like natural hot springs.
Discover how to get anywhere by any form of transportation. Sometimes a road trip is only part of your adventure. If you’re planning a comprehensive itinerary that uses multiple methods of transportation, Rome2Rio is an excellent planning app. For example, if you’re planning a Euro trip adventure this summer, Rome2Rio can help you decide where it’s most cost effective to drive, fly or take a train.
Enter any address, landmark or city as your destination and Rome2Rio will instantly display all your travel options and booking information, along with accommodation providers and things to do — all in one convenient spot.
Our favorite part of using Rome2Rio is the automatic cost calculator. Along with populating different options to reach your destination, this tool also lists the price for each method by currency to help you pick the best option for your trip.
How to Use Rome2Rio
Rome2Rio will populate the best methods of transportation between two locations. If you have a multi-location trip, you can continue to add to your itinerary to see the best routes. Choose from the transportation methods or combination of methods that populate.
If your route includes a method of public transportation, select that leg of the trip to find time tables and schedules. If you’d prefer a different mode of transportation, you can simply click on a specific leg of the trip and change. For example, if you’re feeling adventurous and prefer a road trip from Nice to St. Tropez over taking the bus, Rome2Rio will then calculate the next best route for you, plus estimate your fuel costs, drive time and mileage.
Zoom in on a specific leg of your trip and explore attractions using the “Things to do” feature in the area. While Rome2Rio’s data is not as robust as Roadtrippers or Google My Maps, they feature a colorful library to paint a visual picture for attractions around an area of interest. You can also save your trips, share with others or use the “Explore” feature to discover how to get to other locations near your destination.
Google My Maps and Roadtrippers are great go-to tools for seeking inspiration and creating detailed routes, but Rome2Rio is a tool that can plan your entire trip from flights to the drive. The method of transportation is often a deciding factor in why and where we choose a specific location to travel, so knowing the ins and outs of the best transportation is key to a successful trip.
If you’re a Millennial traveler, you most likely remember your parents using MapQuest to print out paper directions for the family road trip or even driving around town. Prior to the days of mobile GPS, many of us lived and died by this tool, but it has come a long way since and now works extremely well as a road trip planner! When you hit the site, try the Directions option rather than the Route Planner.
MapQuest is helpful for optimizing your trip when you have more than a few stops while keeping in mind directions, hotels, food and shopping locations along your route.
Like some of the other tools on this list, MapQuest is both a website and mobile app, but it stands out from the rest by offering in-app navigation and roadside assistance while you’re en route. At the touch of a button, you’re able to summon a tow truck or other service provider directly through the app — 24 hours a day. Service fees are pre-negotiated and displayed up front. Additionally, you can track service vehicles and arrival times, similar to rideshare apps. Keep in mind, MapQuest only works where you have service, so it’s doubtful you’d be able to access this feature in a remote location.
How to Use MapQuest
MapQuest is pretty foolproof. Simply input a starting point and end destination, then you can add additional stops along the way. Pay attention to the order of your stops — you may need to drag and drop locations into the desired order since the web version has some difficulty automatically arranging these for you. If there’s any doubt about the order, reference the map or list to see the alphabetical arrangement.
Calculate Your Fuel Cost
We love a good fuel calculator and MapQuest delivers. You’ll have to enter a series of details about your road trip vehicle, but this will populate the most accurate fuel cost of any of the tools that we highlight in this guide.
Add Trip Filters
Planning for gas stations is the most important part of your trip, especially if you’re driving through a remote location. States like Nevada and Utah are known for long stretches of road without gas stations, so click on the gas layer to take a peek at what’s ahead. In fact, you can use the MapQuest layers for a variety of other features (27 to be exact) like food, coffee, banks, pharmacies, shopping and more.
MapQuest may not have the beautiful design that Roadtrippers offers, but it’s a highly reliable tool. It’s the only road trip tool in this guide that actually offers an in-app GPS. This means you don’t need to export or transfer your road trip to Google Maps, Apple Maps or any other kind of GPS, making it especially convenient to have everything in one location.
Rand McNally TripMaker
If you’re trying to put some excitement in your trip, the Rand McNally TripMaker is especially helpful for finding those odd and quirky sites along the road. If you’re in no particular hurry, adding some side trips to your main route can yield some awesome adventures and the Rand McNally TripMaker is just the tool to help you find what you’re looking for and then some.
We love this road trip planning tool for finding quirky and oddball things to do. Better yet, it allows you to search these attractions along the way within a particular radius so you don’t go too far off the main course. The only downside is that you may want to look up points of interest in advance since the tool doesn’t provide photos, just a description of the location.
How to Use the Rand McNally TripMaker
Like the rest of the tools, you’ll need to input a starting point and destination. You can also name your trip to keep things organized if you plan to build other road trips in the future. Once you’ve created your trip, you can begin to add stops and search for things to do along your route.
View Each Leg of Your Trip
TripMaker allows you to see the distance between each leg of your trip and the estimated amount of fuel for each. Plan ahead for remote locations and long distances between gas stations with this feature. If you’ve added a stop to your route, but decide it fits better into the latter portion of your trip, you can simply toggle the arrows to move its position along the route.
Filter by Type of Attractions
We’ve already mentioned that the TripMaker is especially handy for finding quirky things to do along your route. Filter by type of attraction or find everything available within a particular radius. Warning: this can make your map rather cluttered and since the TripMaker doesn’t offer layers, we recommend checking only a couple boxes at a time.
Unlike most of the tools in this guide, the Rand McNally TripMaker isn’t compatible with outside GPS devices like Waze, Apple Maps or Google Maps. While you can send your road trip to a Rand McNally GPS, these are often costly and less efficient than using one on your phone. We recommend using TripMaker for the research and planning phase of your trip when you’re looking for those quirky stops along the way.
There’s something to be said for getting lost when you’re traveling, for going off script and opening yourself up to new, unexpected experiences. But constantly improvising rarely ends well, and you’re likely to miss out on what could have been some of the most memorable moments of your road trip if you’d only done a bit of planning.
The solution is to put in the legwork while you’re at home. Save yourself the headache of visiting the wrong attractions or getting lost on your next road trip and instead take some time to plan out your route using these tools — so you can enjoy pushing the pedal to the metal or the sun on your face while you navigate the open road.