Where is that place that has been pestering the back of your mind? Where you’ve always wanted to go but never quite got around too? Perhaps you want to see somewhere in depth and spend a few weeks travelling around under your own steam. Well if that’s the case perhaps a road trip is the right choice for you. Ultimate freedom of where you want to go when, and if you see an intriguing sign post you can just follow it for those amazing off the tourist trail experiences.
We recently embarked on a three-week road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. This was by no means a spur of the moment decision, it was something we had been wanting to do since we arrived in New Zealand. In some capacity, we had been planning it since we arrived and this inevitably helped us make the most of our time, see everything we wanted to see, and have a relatively trouble-free adventure. We thought we would share with you our top tips for planning a road trip so you can do the same.
Pick a Destination
Having explored a decent amount of the North Island on weekend trips we were chomping at the bit to head South. This was an easy decision for us, and a logical one, as we have been living in New Zealand and have the car, the roof tent, and all the paraphernalia, to get on the road. Domestic road trips can be fairly straight forward, and good for your budgeting. However, don’t be put off on planning an international roadie.
The variety of car hire and campervans available for all budgets is huge and you can drive around in luxury, or simplicity, to your heart’s (and purse strings) content! Consider the following to make your life easier:
- Think about budget and how much you would ideally want to spend per day.
- What time of the year are you planning on visiting? Is it peak season? You can make significant savings, and avoid the crowds, by travelling outside of school holidays or in the off-seasons. Campervan hire in New Zealand can be as much as 30% less in off-season!
- What will the weather be like while you are there?
- What is the country going to be like for driving? Do they have good roads and infrastructure?
- Will you easily be able to navigate to where you want to go? Is there a language barrier?
- Are the road rules the same and can you use your current driver’s license or will you need an international license?
- Travel insurance: just take the hit! It’s generally not that expensive, and if anything did happen it is more than worth it. A lot of companies offer domestic travel insurance too if you aren’t heading so far afield. Make sure you shop around and use comparison websites if you can.
Once you’ve decided on a destination (or a few if you’re travelling somewhere like Europe) then it’s time to get excited!
Do your Research
Sources of inspiration for trips are nearly endless with blogs (hi there!), travel guides, tourism websites, and various social media platforms. We found this much more of a gradual process that built over time. Follow relevant Facebook or Instagram pages and if there is something on there that takes your fancy jot it down. We stuck post-it notes on a map to show things we wanted to see, and pinning points of interest on Google Maps is pretty handy too.
Talk to people who have been to the destination to get their recommendations as there is nothing like first-hand knowledge. You can also refer to travel guides like Lonely Planet/Rough Guides to work out the finer details and find hidden gems. Tripadvisor is another great tool but do be wary as this is down to opinions from people whose preferences may differ from your own.
Ultimately, be your own boss when researching and picking places to visit, you know you, and you know what you will enjoy seeing and doing.
Plan a Route
Once you have got all the places you want to see, plot them on a map or use Google Maps or apps like Roadtrippers. This will give you a good visual of where you are headed and highlight an obvious route, it will also show whether there is anywhere that creates too much of a detour. You might have to prioritise destinations dependent on the time you have.
Next, have a look at the route in more depth, driving distances, times, ask yourself how much time do you want to spend driving each day? Do you need to add any extra stops to break up journeys? and if so is there somewhere interesting you can do this? Being super organised we set up a little spread sheet to help us with this part. We made sure we allowed extra time on each journey for viewpoint stops, refreshment breaks and or traffic.
Finally, don’t be afraid to chop and change your route if something new appears that you really want to add in, or you decide to stay somewhere longer and cut another stop out. We changed ours at the last minute as the Kaikoura road reopened following the Quake damage in 2016.
Ok, so you know what you want to see and how you are going to get there. Are there things you want to do that you might have to book? Think activities, tours or other transport. We booked our ferry from the North to the South Island nice and early to get the best prices and availability. We also booked the activities we thought were must do’s. For example, the Fox Glacier Heli Hike, Queenstown Jet Boating, and the Sounds cruises.
This should be must do’s or things that are integral to getting about. These might be a bit of an expense but better to get it out the way, and recoup funds before you go than to wait and miss out altogether.
Just make sure you have booked the correct days and will be in the right place, at the right time!
Further down the line you can book your accommodation, or if you’re in a campervan/tent then at least look at where you might stay.
We planned a couple of Airbnb’s throughout our trip so we had places to relax over Xmas and New Year as well as in the bigger cities where camping wasn’t such a good option for location. When choosing where to stay consider the following:
Location – Easy to get to? Scenic? Close to attractions or town? On the route or a detour?
Facilities – Will you need a kitchen? Laundry? Hot or cold showers?
Memberships – some campsite chains offer memberships that give you great discounts and if you are planning a long trip this can really help make ends meet, if the campsites are where you want to stop!
Conservation/ Private/ Chains – weigh up your options here. In New Zealand we have great Department of Conservation campsites in beautiful locations, and very cheap, but with limited facilities. Privately run campsites are often smaller, with more character, but do vary so read up on the reviews. Chains of campsites will generally be a good standard, with plenty of facilities, but less charm, less space per pitch, and at a premium.
You can book ahead if you think it will be busy, and don’t want to worry about it on the road, or wing it and pick as you go. If the latter is your style then be prepared to ring ahead to check availability, there is nothing worse than turning up tired and grumpy and then being turned away! We also used an app to help us; Campermate is a good one for NZ and Australia and shows free, cheap and more expensive campsites, all with reviews.
The Packing List
Unless you are glamping your whole route, you have essentially signed up to live in a confined space for a couple of weeks, so pack light (on a side note to this pick your travel companion carefully! You will be seeing a lot of them!). A soft bag will squeeze in more spaces than a hard suitcase saving you some space.
If you haven’t hired a campervan check you have the essentials packed so you can cook, wash and be comfortable. Our top useful items included a headtorch, collapsible 20L water container with a tap on it, earplugs, quick drying travel towels, powerbank, and the iPad for movie nights in the tent. We also highly recommend you take a map, it doesn’t matter how much data you have if you are getting off the beaten track with no signal!
On the road
The time has finally come you’ve planned, packed and now you’re on the road…happy days!
Don’t be afraid to switch up your route last minute, or detour at an interesting signpost. Check your cancellation policies if you have booked ahead, or make sure you can still get to your destination for the evening.
Don’t stress about things you cannot control, yeah it sucks to be stuck in traffic, or have your ferry delayed 5hrs like we did. Just go with it and enjoy, the ups and downs are all part of the journey. Allowing extra time to get places, especially for booked activities, gives great piece of mind though.
Planning each day is also helpful. Each evening we would sit and talk over what we had planned to do the next day, and when we wanted to be up and out of the campsite. This proved invaluable when Guy had the foresight to set an early alarm in Kaikoura. The quake damaged road that would give a 2hr drive to the ferry had been shut on and off, the alternative was a winding 6hr 30min route across the middle of the country and we had a ferry at 1pm. Inevitably it was closed the day of departure, and the panic of packing up in 20mins and hauling arse across the country to just arrive in time for the ferry, was much better than if we had woken up later and missed it altogether!
No one can account for the unexpected, but by planning ahead you should hopefully avoid as much disruption as possible. Plus, it takes the stress away from the trip and lets you relax and soak up the adventure instead.
We hope you have an amazing trip! If you want to read more about how we got on check out our other blogs!