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Saturday, May 5, 2007

Road Trip Route Planning Tips

As I’ve said before, I’ve taken my share of road trips, with and without family, to destinations that take more than one day to get to.  Planning a multi-day road trips is difficult, because there aren’t many tools that help you do it.  Planning when and where to stop over is difficult with these.

Sure, there are plenty of trip route / mapping services out there, including Google MapsYahoo Maps, and AAA TripTiks.  All of these services (and others) will take a starting address, ending address, and give you a driving route between them.  Most have even added the ability to include intermediate stops in your route – stopovers.  But they don’t give you any help as to when or where you should plan to stop.

To get around this, I start with freetrip.com.  This site gives you basically the same information as other sites, except when you give it a starting and ending location, the route it displays includes elapsed miles, hours, remaining miles, and remaining hours.  <b>None</b> of the other major mapping sites do this, and it’s critical to planning multi-day trips with stopovers.

So you take the route that freetrip.com gives you, and then you start to cut up your trip into legs.  First you need to decide how long you want to drive each day.  Remember that you will need to stop for gas, bio, and meal breaks.  So, depending on how much you stop, eight hours of driving time may end up being twelve hours "on the road" including stops.  So take your actual target driving time per day, and start counting up using the elapsed time on the freetrip.org trip route.  At each daily driving time limit (e.g. every six, eight, or however many hours you want to drive), note from the freetrip.org route what city you are in.  Now you have your stopover cities. 

Next, you’ll need hotels in each stopover city.  Most of the route planning services give you the option of displaying hotels along your route.  But these aren’t terribly helpful to me because (1) you can’t search out amenities at the hotels, and (2) they usually just dump <i>all</i> the hotels along your route, starting from your starting point and ending at your destination.  What I find that works better is, pick a favorite hotel I like based on amenities, reward program, etc. and then  use that hotel chain’s website to locate hotels near the stopover city.  From there, I book the stopover hotel rooms, and get the hotel’s address(es).  

Armed with the hotel addresses, now I go back to Google or Yahoo (not freetrip) and get actual address-to-address driving directions for each day’s leg.  I don’t use freetrip.org for this – I only use freetrip for the rough leg breakdown.  The reason is, in practice I’ve had trouble with freetrip’s actual turn-by-turn directions – inaccuracies, switchbacks, and round-about routes were common.  They work well for roughing out the trip, but for the detailed turn-by-turn directions, I find that Yahoo or Google are better.

So now, you should have directions for each leg of your trip, along with hotels you’re going to say at.   Be sure to read my "Packing Tips" to see how I pack for each stopover in a way that minimizes the luggage you have to carry into and out of your hotel each day. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:39 am  

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