RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip


The Web's Top Automated Road Trip Planning Programs

Point, Click and Drive!

We all love the idea of self-serve, Web-based, roadtrip planning tools, but is it really possible to point and click your way to a great adventure? We tested the following online roadtrip planning services on a hypothetical road trip beginning in Las Vegas, Nevada and ending in Portland, Oregon with overnight stops in Tonopah, Nevada, Lake Tahoe, Boise, Idaho and Richland, Washington.


AAA TripTik + Yahoo! Trip Planner Rand McNally
Mapquest + TravMatix + Plan-Your-Trip +
RoadTrip America (Under development)

[NOTE: These are all "Free" services. Click here for information about fee-based planning services, starting at $19.95 a year
]

Our Rating System

= What all of us really want, a system that actually delivers useful and timely information to plan a roadtrip thoroughly and smoothly. We have yet to discover such a system, although several are certainly headed in that direction.
= User friendly with good quality supporting content
= Operable with certain limitations
= Works, but with major limitations
= Not great or too frustrating to use


AAA TripTik
RTA Rating:+

On February 20, 2007 the proprietary TripTik program, previously only available to Automobile Association of America club members, was made available to the public free of charge. Since our first trials in 2005, the program has been greatly improved and draws upon several key informational databases (AAA, NAVTEQ, TCS, ESRI, etc.) to deliver an online mapping and planning program that is currently the best available. Of all of the programs we have tested thus far, TripTik returned the most useful attraction and lodging information for the test route. The program was able to locate and map cities (even when spelled incorrectly), and the mapping program itself is very fast and intuitive. We especially like the ease with which intermediate destination points can be rearranged on the trip plan. This program also automatically formats a trip plan that can be printed and taken on the trip. The "Overview Directions" format is easily the best we have ever worked with. Because AAA has a built-in reservations module, it was easy to drill down and find lodging choices at all of our test destinations, and we found the reservation booking program simple to use. The reason we did not give this program our highest rating is that there are still some remaining technical glitches. One of the potentially outstanding tools is the "Modify Route" device that is supposed to allow a user to use "point and click" to add a new destination to the map and the trip planner. We were able to activate the tool and even get some of routing information to display, but we could not get that information added to the trip plan. Worse, we found it nearly impossible to end the use of that tool. On the plus side, the detail that the program provided about scenic drives and special attractions was outstanding. This is not quite the "Holy Grail" of trip planners, but it is much farther along the continuum than any of the other free web-based trip planning tools. (2/20/07)

NOTE 2/25/07: According to AZBuck and other members of the Great American RoadTrip Forum, AAA's planning tool still needs some improvements. Read their comments here.


Yahoo! Trip Planner
RTA Rating:
There is much to explore and discuss about this new Trip Planner developed by Yahoo! Travel. It is, by far, the best application out there that uses user-supplied content to augment the information supplied by commercial databases about available lodging, restaurants and attractions for planning a trip. The format and structure of the trip-planning pages make them the easiest to use of any of the trip-planning programs we looked at. It is relatively easy to "drill down" and look at information about a large number of recreational attractions along a route. Yahoo!Travel uses content from travel guides they have acquired for hundreds of cities around the USA as the source material for this information. In addition, they have created a trip-reporting program that enables users to add photos and journal entries from a trip. Useful when planning a new trip, these published trip reports can be found by using the "Browse Trips" feature. In our test itineraries, we found that creating a private road trip plan seemed to disable some of the functionality, and it took us while to discover what the problem was. The Trip Planner also requires users to log in as Yahoo Group Members in order to use it.

Trip Planner's mapping data is provided by TeleAtlas and NavTech, which means the maps are excellent and very easy to use. We found the scrolling feature of the maps (which keeps the map in view while reading reviews and in-depth background about the listed restaurants and attractions in a given area) to be a very good feature.

This trip planner is the most complete package we have examined, but the reason we haven't given it our top rating is that we find the procedure for adding stops and creating a trip itinerary is a little difficult to follow. Hopefully, this will be improved in the future, because this is certainly the best program we've tested, and we're looking forward to seeing more enhancements in the coming months. (2/11/07)


Rand McNally
RTA Rating:

The Rand McNally trip planning tool, (now called TripMaker Planning Tool) is arguably the most improved of the programs we have looked at. The first version drove us nuts when we tried it on our test itinerary in 2005. Without question, the maps generated by Rand McNally's program are the prettiest of all the programs we looked at. For paying members of its "Road Explorers" program, Rand McNally provides a more detailed product than their "free" trip planner offers. It is much easier to add stops on a planned route, but the database for recreational and lodging alternatives remains its biggest weakness. The program is not helpful unless the traveler already knows more about the planned itinerary than the travel planners at Rand McNally. (2/11/07)


Mapquest
RTA Rating: +

Mapquest also uses the RTA-preferred NavTech database, so the maps are great. The initial stages of the program are well done. It is easy to set up a basic route, and the program generates good maps and satisfactory driving directions. The problems arise when you try to add attractions and then edit them. Navigation becomes clunky and frustrating, and ultimately failed for this reviewer. Also the attraction/lodging/dining database was generally insufficient for the test route.


Interstate Data's TravMatix
RTA Rating:+

Based in Ashland, Kentucky, this roadtrip planning service is probably the most ambitious application that we have looked at since we began testing and using these online trip planning tools in early 2004. This service incorporates data from MobileGates, a telematics firm that delivers info about restaurants, Wi-Fi access points, lodging and some recreational attractions to the online trip planning program offered by TravMatix. The program takes user-supplied parameters about brand names and amenities for restaurants, fueling stops and recreational opportunities and plots a route with matching locations shown on a map. We tried three different browsers on a test route from Las Vegas, Nevada to Seattle, Washington and the program consistently failed to deliver results that were useful. However, we are still rating this as a + program based on the potential of what may work someday soon. One element we like is that travelers can book lodging reservations from the site and send confirmation details to their cell phones for use on the trip. Of course, they need to be using a cell phone network that is compatible with this program's partners. Another component tracks the lowest fuel prices and their locations for the gasoline brands the user specifies. When this program is able to deliver its content in a more user-friendly way, we will update this report. (2/11/07)


Plan-Your-Trip
RTA Rating:+

This regional site's database does not include information within the test road trip subject area. The site boasts that the planning program includes 862 towns, 1423 highways and 1411 businesses found in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah. The site does have a nifty image map which can be utilized in addition to the traditional fill-in boxes. Although its supporting information about attractions/dining/lodging is thin, we rated it higher than some better-funded national services because of its user friendliness.


RoadTrip America
Under development

Under long-term development is a tool that allows the user to create preference & interest profiles (e.g: flowers, hiking, golf, theatre, photography) and types of topography and road sizes preferred. The program will return a range of activities/attractions/shopping/dining/lodging choices plotted between a starting and ending destination. The beginning interface will be a "clickable" map of the potential road trip routes. Users will also be able to request all attractions/destinations in a user-specified radius of a starting point. Final routing plan will consist of a map and directions with some background information about the selected points of interest. The program will also support booking of lodging, camping, and event tickets along the route. This program will most likely use the NavTech mapping database and a variety of proprietary databases for attractions and lodging reservations. (This project, started in 2000, has been postponed and a completion date is not known. We will update this page and information about this trip planning tool when there is news to report.) (2/11/07)

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