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How to Plan a Multi-Stop Road Trip


On long road trips, staying in a hotel in between destinations is almost inevitable.  Make those stops easier with these tips.

This summer, my family is planning our longest road trip ever!  We're driving coast to coast diagonally across the USA!  It's an enormous undertaking and got me thinking about how I actually plan out such a big road trip.  If everything goes as we've planned, we'll have roughly twelve days of driving (total for both ways), which means a lot of stops in hotels.  Maybe you're also contemplating a BIG road trip and are wondering about how to plan out the stops.  Here's what I do:

1- Map It Out

First thing you need to do is to pick out your destination.  I'm guessing that you've already done that if you're planning a big road trip.  We're going to Orlando, FL from the Pacific Northwest, as you can see from the above map.  If you're uncertain where you want to go, I'm not sure I can help you.

Once I have the destination, I plug the trip into Mapquest or Google Maps and start breaking the trip down into sections.  It helps to think about both how many days you want to drive and how many hours you can drive on each day.  You should also keep in mind what extra adventures you might want to do on your journey and schedule extra time for those things.

2- Plan the Stops

Next, I zoom in on the travel route that Google Maps gives me and start picking out medium sized cities to start looking for hotels.  Once I have a city I think will work for us, I add it as a stop on Google Maps to see how far the destination is from our first city.  We aim for an 8-10 hour day, so if the city is about that many hours away, then it's a good candidate.

3- Book the Hotels

I like to use to book and organize all of our hotels (not a sponsor).  I find it easier to keep track of locations and dates if they're all on one website or app.  If you sign up for their rewards program, you can earn free hotel nights!

After I've picked out a city I think will work for an overnight stop, I put that town and date into and see what it brings up in the search results.  If I like what I find as far as price and amenities, then I'll reserve the hotel.  The nice thing about is that I can reserve the room without paying for it, and often have the option of canceling up to 24 hours before the date.

4- Tweak the Stops

If I don't like what I've found on the website, then I go back to the map and look for a new city nearby to the other one.  Sometimes that means adding an hour to the drive or ending the day an hour sooner.  Continue to tweak the stops until you have your entire journey planned out.  Don't forget to change the date on the hotel reservation as you travel (I've messed that up more than once)!

5- Make All the Lists

I am a very unorganized and messy type B person, but I embrace ALL the lists when we travel.  I like to use a notepad app (I use ColorNote) on my phone to keep track of all the details.  I use one "note" for mapping out the trip, listing the dates and where we'll be each of those nights.  Another note has all the random thoughts that pop into my head like, "oil change," "face masks for everyone," and "auto tags."  Not necessarily things to pack, but things I need to think about more and figure out before our trip.

Of course, you can also start a packing list with all the things you want to bring.  Or maybe more than one list for different types of belongings, like cooking and food stuff, kids' activities bags, swimming bag, etc.

I also have a list of surprise toys or treats I want to give the kids during our trip.  This is a good place to keep track of what I've already bought or am planning to buy and when I might want to give it to them.  It also helps me to make sure each kid gets similar things if I buy something special for one child.

6- Start Packing Early

I highly recommend that you start gathering and stockpiling your road trip items well before the time you leave.  I like to have a big plastic tub in my room that I just throw things into.  Once we get about a week out from the trip, then I start actually packing and figuring out which box will be for our food, the surprise toys, or whatever else we're bringing.

On long road trips, staying in a hotel in between destinations is almost inevitable.  Make those stops easier with these tips and products.

Part of being organized for a super long road trip is knowing how you'll handle your hotel stops on the journey.  I decided that the easiest way to talk about this list is through each of the items I suggest you bring.  The following list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it will give you a good start.

Products that Make the Stops Easier

Packing Cubes- I know I'm not the only blog out there that lists packing cubes as the first item on the travel shopping list.  However, I haven't read of many people using them like we do!  Instead of packing each person in their own cube and putting all those cubes into one suitcase, we put everything we need for one day into a cube and store all the cubes in a large plastic tote in the car.  When we get to the hotel, we just grab correct bag and go inside.  It's especially great on those nights where you don't get to the stopping place until very late.

We label our packing cubes with numbers or days of the week to help us keep track of which bags we've already used and which one we need to bring into the hotel.  You can find a few printable label options on the link below.  After run out of clothes, the plastic bin can be used as a laundry basket for washing up all the clothes (or bring a pop up one like this one).  For families with smaller kids, the bin can also be a bathtub in rooms with only showers.

Printable Packing Cube Tags

Small Toiletry Bags- I debated for a long time whether to do one toiletry bag that we brought into the hotel every night or just to add one small bag to each packing cube.  I am really glad that I chose to make up 4 bags, which cut down on the amount of things we had to carry into the hotel.

Refillable Toiletry Bottles- There are websites like Minimus that supply single use toiletries and other convenient items for travelers, however refillable bottles will allow you to use whatever shampoos and soaps you prefer.  It's also good to be able to refill the bottles several times.

Folding Toothbrushes- In order to pack a toothbrush for every member in our family in each of the four toiletry bags, I assigned each kid a color and bought these folding toothbrushes.  The toothbrushes and a small tube of toothpaste fit very easily in the bags.

Small Power Strip- We don't always need to plug in electronics when we're in a hotel, because we usually do all the charging in the car.  However, if we're spending more days exploring or staying in the room, then a small power strip and a few charge cords are very nice to have around.

Collapsible Basket- I've found a collapsible basket to be very helpful for carrying all the extra things in and out of the hotel.  I pile in things like electronics, charge cords, travel nebulizer, books, snacks, or whatever else needs to come into the room with us.  Most of those things have a different "home" in the car, so the basket can be stowed under the seat while we're driving.

Traveling with Asthma

Kid-Sized Backpack- Each of my kids has a backpack that they use to carry their favorite stuffed animals, a blanket, and a few toys.  They carry their own bag into the hotel and pack it back up the next morning.  It's life-changing for the kids to be responsible for their own bags!

Travel Laundry Kit- When you're traveling for many days in a row, laundry can become a tricky job.  We try to plan our packing cubes, so we have clothes until we can get to a washer and drier.  Sometimes, things happen and you need to wash a few things in your hotel room.  Tide makes a soap that is safe to use for handwashing.  We like to pack a clothesline to hang dry the clothes.  Be sure to pack a couple stacks of quarters for the laundromat or hotel facilities and a pop up laundry basket to carry everything.  Once our clothes are clean again, I sort everything again into the packing cubes, and we're ready for more adventures.

What else would you add to this list?  Have you taken any multi-stop road trips?  What was your longest journey?

On long road trips, staying in a hotel in between destinations is almost inevitable.  Make those stops easier with these tips.


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