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Why You Should Plan a Road Trip Right Now (Even if You Can’t Take It for a While)

You might not be able to hit the road right now, but dreaming and planning for future travel pays off in more ways than one.

By Sarah Von Bargen on May 26, 2020

Why would you want to plan a trip now, when many businesses are shuttered and we should only be traveling if it’s truly essential?

Well, as strange as it might sound, planning a road trip even when you’re not sure when you’ll be able to take it – even while you’re on lockdown during a pandemic – might actually improve your mood in the here and now. Yes, really. 

Making plans for things you’ll enjoy – even if you’re not sure when you can put those plans into action – can significantly brighten your mood. Psychologists call this “anticipatory joy†and it’s estimated that it accounts for 30% of the pleasure you get from an experience. So even if you can’t take your road trip next week (or next month), planning one might improve your outlook. And when things eventually open up? You’ll be ready to hit the road with an impeccably planned itinerary.

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Think about what you want in a destination

What are you looking for in a travel destination? Great hiking and impressive natural scenery? Fantastic shopping at adorable boutiques in a historic downtown? Long beaches and piles of hot, butter-dipped seafood?

Right now, those beaches might be closed at the moment and those boutiques might only be offering curbside pickup. But you can still get a lot of enjoyment from researching the best places so when things do open up, you’ll be prepared. 

A few resources to get you started: 

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Consider how far you want to drive

At the moment, car travel is much safer than air travel, so how far do you want to drive on this trip?

Do you want a long, multi-day, multi-state road trip? Or are you more interested in driving a few hours to a city in your own state that you haven’t explored?

Knowing this can help you narrow down your potential destinations.

Hone in on your favorite road trip stops

Road trips are just as much about the journey as the destination. Where will you stop on your trip to squeeze as much joy as possible out of those miles?

Do you love greasy spoons? Pick-your-own farms so you can fill the trunk with flats of tiny strawberries? Funny roadside attractions? Local museums?

My personal M.O. is at least two stops per day, one for food and one for entertainment.

A few resources to get you started: 

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Luxuriate in your road trip research

Because our goal here is two-fold – plan a great trip AND leverage the anticipatory joy of planning said trip – it’s a good idea to spread your trip research across several platforms. Rather than looking at Tripadvisor’s top five suggestions and calling it a day, immerse yourself in the planning process and all the possibilities.

Here are some of my favorite trip planning tools:

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