A Writer Maps a Road Trip out West with Rand McNally’s New Online Trip Planner
It was approaching—my 40th birthday, that is. It was a milestone that I decided to celebrate with a road trip out west. Maybe to somewhere I had never been before. Somewhere truly marvelous. Somewhere like . . . the Grand Canyon. As with many things in life, the best approach to travel tends to be a mix of preparation, inspiration, and serendipity. That and having the right tools. Enter Rand McNally’s new TripMaker®, a free online trip planner tool.
What is TripMaker?
TripMaker is an online road travel planner, the perfect tool for creating the great American road trip. It lets you plan several legs of your trip with logistics such as distances, driving times, and fuel costs for each. It also helps you find and add amenities and interesting road trip attractions from a wide range of natural, cultural, and historical sights—all hand-picked and written up by Rand McNally travel experts. TripMaker is more useful and fun than, say, Google or Bing maps, which primarily provide driving directions from Point A to Point B.
You can map out and save your road trip itinerary before leaving home, view or change it later, email it, and create printouts to take with you. You can also use TripMaker out on the road, either on a computer or by downloading it into a Rand McNally GPS device, which you can use as both a car and an RV trip planner. In this series of posts, I’ll show you how it all works and take you along on my milestone-marking road trip out west.
Creating a Basic Road Trip Itinerary
Although the goal is to be at the Grand Canyon on my 40th birthday, I’m actually hitting the road for three full weeks, using Denver as the start and end point of a 3,000-mile (give or take) loop. When I first imagined this adventure, I hoped to pass through at least eight states, allowing for side trips that might cross additional state lines. I also wanted to visit cities big and small and take in the natural beauty of our magnificent country.
Denver made a logical hub because of both geography and reasonable car-rental rates and airfare (to and from New York). From there, I would head to Moab, UT, a good base for exploring Arches National Park. Then it would be on to Williams, AZ, where I’d hitch a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway to the canyon’s South Rim.
Sedona was another place that intrigued me, and I just had to do Vegas (yeah, baby!) and Cheyenne, maybe with Boise and Butte in between. I also wanted to see Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, and Devil’s Tower National Monument. With my dream destinations selected, it was time to map out a basic road trip itinerary using TripMaker’s “My Trip” features.
Although you don’t have to log in to TripMaker to use it, I did so in order to name and save my trip. I then simply searched for, selected, and added each destination to the My Trip list, which appears to the left of the map. I didn’t even have to enter places in geographic order, as you can drag and drop them into place or add or remove them later, letting TripMaker automatically reroute you on the map. You can even drag the route on the map itself. Again, the tool adjusts things, adding new way points and creating an alternate route on both the map and in the list.
I also changed the My Trip setting from “Itinerary” view, showing a list of my key destinations, to the “Driving Directions” view, so I could get directions to and from destinations. As you can see, my trip is far from basic—it’s actually quite big and bold! And it looks even bolder in the map’s Terrain and Satellite views.
Great Road Trip Itinerary Planning Features
To the right of the words “My Trip” is an icon of arrows forming a circle. When I clicked this, TripMaker automatically reversed my entire loop, saving it as a second road trip itinerary (with the suffix “Return”). This is a very handy feature, especially for more linear, one-way or out-and-back type trips! Right below the words “My Trip” are odometer and clock icons showing the estimated total mileage and driving time. I also saw the driving time and distance between cities in the Itinerary view.
Though TripMaker gives you the option to avoid highways and tolls, by keeping mostly to highways, the mileage calculator indicated that I’d cover just over 3,700 miles, logging some 61 hours behind the wheel (factoring in the last leg, from Cheyenne back to Denver, meant adding another 100 miles and 90 minutes, give or take). On a three-week journey, the whole itinerary seemed doable in terms of routing and driving as well as in terms of having plenty of time for sightseeing, side trips, and sleep.
But one of the highlights came when I clicked on the gas-pump icon. It opened a fuel calculator window, where I input the gas mileage of my vehicle and selected regular gas, rather than diesel. TripMaker automatically estimated the fuel costs for all of my trip (just under $500) as well as for each segment of it. (Good thing I saved so much money on car rental and airfare!)
Thanks to TripMaker, I had quickly created a basic (yet bold) road trip itinerary that both fulfilled my dreams and was realistic. I also had a much better sense of what my budget would be. All this, and I’d only scratched the surface of what this road trip route planner can do. In the next post, I’ll show you just how easy it is to find interesting road trip attractions using the “Things to Do” function, add them to the My Trip list, and get your TripMaker itinerary ready for the road.