Planning a Road Trip

With less than two weeks to go before we hit the Emerald Isle, it’s time to plan our 2018 Ireland Road Trip. We thought we’d take the opportunity to share our tried and tested approach to travel planning.

Stage 1 for us is to Buy a Map. Online maps are great, but to plan a trip properly we really need a proper old-school paper map that we can spread out on a table or stick to a wall. For our 2018 Ireland trip we found a laminated poster map that fits nicely on the only available wall in our motorhome. We have a traditional 7.5 miles to 1 inch road map too for more detail (behind the times, us?😂).

Then it’s time to start gathering information on places to visit.

Our first port of call is always the relevant DK Eyewitness Guide. We find that they give you all the information you need (including lots of photos) to pick out the major sights you want to see without drowning you in detail. We don’t generally have the most up-to-date guide; for Ireland, we bought a second-hand 2015 guide online. Most of the stuff we’ll be looking at is hundreds of years old; it really will all be in the 2015 book so we don’t feel that we need to pay a premium for the very latest guide book.

Next it’s time to deploy the Post-It notes! Here’s our wall map after a first look through the DK guide:

Onwards to RoadTrippers.com to plan out a rough route to take in as many of the Post-It notes as possible.

I first used Roadtrippers to plan out our nine week motorhome trip in the USA in 2016-2017. One thing that Roadtrippers does that I found really useful is tell you the total mileage for your planned trip. I added 20% for our USA trip to account for “wiggles” as we discovered things along the way, and that turned out to be pretty much spot on. I think for Europe I’d add a bit more, maybe 30% (in Europe, theres always something to entice you off your route).

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I could see the total mileage being really useful if you were planning a trip on a strict budget and wanting to get a good feel for the fuel costs. It was important for us too on the USA trip as we were hiring a motorhome and a significant proportion of the hire cost over there comes in the form of mileage charges; how do you know which rental quote is best (or indeed how much mileage to prepay at a slightly lower but non-refundable rate) if you haven’t got a reasonable estimate of your planned mileage for the trip? Mileage isn’t an important factor for our Ireland trip; it’s just a case of planning out a very rough route at this stage.

I can now start reading more widely to add more places to visit and things to do; it’s much easier now I have a broad outline of the trip to slot everything into. I always include a general history book in my reading list; you do sometimes come across really interesting things in a history book that aren’t photogenic enough to have become a major tourist attraction or to have made it into the DK guide. Sometimes I’ll look at other guide books (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide etc), sometimes not; it depends on the trip. Roadtrippers has a lot of suggested points of interest, and I’ll probably have a quick look at the top-rated “things to do” for each county on Tripadvisor at some point to check that we aren’t going to miss anything amazing.

What don’t we plan? Well, we certainly don’t go as far as planning out where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing on any particular day (or any particular week for that matter), nor do we book any attractions well in advance unless it’s for the very start or very end of the trip. After all, a big part of the fun of a road trip is the flexibility to make it up as you go along. Nowadays, the availability of mobile internet means that we can easily book places to stay (for nights where we need the facilities of a campsite to fill / empty tanks as appropriate) and attractions (where there’s limited availability or a discount for booking in advance) a day or two before arriving.

For our 2018 Ireland Road Trip we’ve booked the first three nights at Camac Valley campsite near Dublin, just because that’s where everyone travelling by motorhome seems to stay to visit the city. In the absence of any obvious alternatives, we wanted to be sure we’d get in. The only other thing that we’ve found that requires serious booking in advance is Skellig Michael. I would LOVE to go there but it involves a boat trip, places are strictly limited, it’s already booked up for the whole summer, and even if there were availability we don’t really want to commit ourselves to reaching the South West corner of Ireland by any particular date 😞. Plan B is to enquire nearer the time on the off-chance that there are any cancellations…..

I think we’ve got the amount of planning about right. We’ll have the flexibility to pootle along at our own speed on a day-to-day basis but with an idea of the general route we want to be taking and a plentiful list of things to see along the way. Underplanning can be as much of a risk as overplanning when it comes to a motorhome road trip; you don’t want to end up cluelessly meandering around and not making the best of the time available, now, do you?

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reading some more Irish history and all the relevant travel blogs I can find. So far I’m really enjoying Travelling Panda and Go Brambling. There’s nothing like picking up ideas from other people’s travels, and of course we’ll be writing up our Irish adventures as we go along and adding them to our collection on Dossers’ Diary…

12 comments

  1. Love your blogs. We took a completely different approach when we visited Ireland last year (https://conhiltravels.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/ireland-2017-1-planning-our-trip/) but it was our first trip and definitely a learning experience. We had to be in Dublin for our son’s wedding, but we learned that weather changes everything and from then on we have taken a view very like yours, and only book in advance where absolutely necessary.

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  2. Add Quin Abbey when you are in the Ennis/Bunratty area (see my blog or better still Ed Hannon’s (visionsofthepastblog.com)) Miss out Adare and only take the Conor Pass if you fancy a bit of excitement. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Chris.

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      1. ah, another good reminder from Chris’ blog: the South Pole Inn. We’ll be passing there so it’d be very rude for Mark (a British Antarctic Survey veteran of 18 years) not to stop off for a respectful pint of Guinness……

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  3. We do the same thing with paper maps! We do a little more daily planning so we know in advance if it is a “driving” day or not. In the US, a driving day can be as long as 800 miles if we have a specific destination in mind. These are usually at the start or end of the trip.

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  4. Interesting to read your planning process. It’s almost identical with what we did when planning our tours of the US except that ours was far more rigid since we needed to book motel accommodation for each night in advance so each traveling day was fully detailed. We wouldn’t have considered arriving at a destination not knowing where we going to rest our heads for the night. We’ve seen it happen to other people. I think that the most distance we drove in a day was 500+ miles from Niagra Falls down to Lancaster PA. It was quite enough!

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    1. Yes, it’s different if you’re staying in hotels / motels rather than a motorhome. We still only booked 2 or 3 days in advance on our Costa Rica trip though (hotels and hire car).
      At the extreme, we have even heard of people perusing menus before leaving home and not only deciding where but also what they plan to have for lunch on their travels 😉 Now THAT’S impressive forward planning!

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