The California Road Trip Guide: How to Plan & a Downloadable Packing List

I am a big planner when it comes to trips, especially when it comes to planning trips for myself, closed-friends and family. In fact, in July, I will be taking some of my cousins from Minnesota to a 10-day California road trip. And if you are like me (or know me) and would want to hit every foodie recommendation, see every view, and wander every shop at every pretty street, then you are in for a treat! In today’s post, I’m sharing all of my road trip planning tips and a Packing List (downloadable link below, and it’s for personal use only!)


So if you’re in the mood for planning a trip of your own? Start here!


1. Book your flights:

As you all know, Tuesdays are when most flights are offered at the best deals. I usually start browsing on Monday night or early up to 2 am on Tuesdays a few months or weeks in advance just to get an idea of the price range for flights, two- ways vs. one-ways. For a California road trip like this, I actually will start from San Franciso, not LA, since flights are much cheaper there. So depends on how long you want your trip and where you live, 5 to 10-day road trip will give you a decent time to enjoy the drive! But if you have a flexible schedule and want cheaper flights, avoid flying on the weekends!

Once I have picked out the flights (arrival time, departure time, how long the flights are, non-stop vs. multiple stops, etc.), I purchase the flights directly on that airline’s website (not through any third-party sites. This is just my preference!). I highly suggest you download the airline apps prior to flying since you’ll get the option to save the boarding pass into your phone’s wallet: Fly Delta, Southwest, Alaska, United. This makes it more convenient since you’ll need to pull out your ID and your phone when going through TSA.

2. Car rental:

Remember to always check for the weather because it will play a big part in determining what car to rent for such a big road trip like this. Best time to start looking into booking a car is about a week or two weeks before departure. If you are traveling in the winter or completing a long journey, then it’s worth to make sure you’re renting something that is not only comfortable but also safe, especially on windy mountainous roads or bumpy off-trail routes.

Parking: For each hotel or Airbnb you book, make sure you consider where you’re going to park. My tip is to avoid downtown or busy area where there is no free street parking available. It depends on where your stay is going to be really, so you’ll either need to book early and buy parking as a bundle with your accommodation or be really flexible and ready to walk to your stay for the night.

3. Book your stays:

I don’t sweat too much about where I will be spending the night at. HotelTonight typically has last minute deals hours before the night, so I just look for wherever is convenient. For a bigger group type of travel (more than 2 people), you might want to secure the room/s in advance to make sure that everyone stays closer to each other just for the sake of convenience. For nights that you’ll be in the middle of nowhere, be ready to stay at some no-name motels/hotels since that’s the case! Also, consider cabin options when you’re in some national parks since those will most likely be the only options.

3. Finding things to do:

When it comes to planning for what to do, I’m an expert at this! I love browsing blogs and websites for travel guides and the next best things to do wherever I am at, so I will share all of the trip details in my next post after the trip is completed! Besides Googling things, I’d like to ask friends and family (if they have recently been, of course) for cool places and their tips/thoughts about the trip in general. I also have lists of things like this in my journal and my phone’s note. It comes pretty handy most of the time because chances are I will be checking off that list in a few months. The best tip when planning for a trip for other people is that you’d want to consider their age, what they’re into, and ask for their opinions in what they want to do as well!

For example, I will be taking my cousins on their first California road trip this time, and they’re all teenagers and early 20s. This makes it super easy since we’re pretty close to each other, and 90% of what I like to do, they’d be happy to participate or tag along. Besides the fact that they did point out that they specifically wanted to thrift and go to the beach in LA, so I will make sure those things will happen! I’m super excited to take them out hiking in the National Parks though!

5. Places to eat:

I do have lists of food places in each city written down in my journal as well as in my phone’s note app. Typically, I’d prefer local places that I don’t get access to in my city. I also know that my cousins will not enjoy sushi or any delicacies, so the best choices are always something that involves chicken, sandwiches, and easy grab-and-go food! And they also like Starbucks and boba, so yes, Boba Guy is on my list to take them there!


When planning:

Before the trip:

After the trip:

What To Wear On The Plane


  1. wear your most heavy items to save space in your carry-on
  2. avoid wearing accessories (jewelry, belt, hat), laced up sneakers, push-up bra/tight underwears
  3. Moisturize & hydrate

Personal Bag:


  1. Get a backpack that has a built-in laptop compartment, otherwise consider a separate thin sleeve for your laptop that is easy to slide in and out. I’m currently using a Kanken Classic to travel with. It has a laptop compartment but no padded support, so be careful! Super spacious & it opens up in a rectangular!
  2. Use a tote bag for easier reach if you want since it can also double up as a day bag during your trip




  1. I’d recommend a lightweight & durable suitcase for international – I currently have this Delsey one.
  2. Weekender bag works, too! I have this one from Bric’s, bought from Saks Off.
  3. Compartmentalize. Use packing cubes for easier packing & separate clean vs. dirty items, here.

Toiletry bag, here:


  1. Remember TSA 3-1-1 liquid rule – below items marked with * meaning they must be travel sizes or minis
  2. Make sure to dispense liquids into travel bottles & store them in an anti-leakage bag (zip-loc bag works too!)

Skincare bag:

Makeup bag, here


Coastal areas can be cold, so take with you a cozy comfy sweater to layer!


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That was a lot, wasn’t it! Planning is probably the most stressful part of the whole thing, so I hope this post is helpful to some of you! For the next post which will be live next month after the trip, I will share my trip details including my outfits! Meanwhile, if you fancy, check out my previous California Road Trip blog post back in December of 2016, here, and what I wore on that trip, here.

Check out my previous California trips below:

DTLA, Palm Springs, & Joshua Tree

Arch Rock Joshua Tree

Santa Monica Beach Walk

Korakia Palm Springs

Thanks for reading and have a fantastic day!

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All photos above were taken on my previous California trips by Toan Chu Photography

An Trieu

Currently based in Seattle, Style & Senses is my digital life and style journal of all things that inspire my senses and beyond. Hope you stay inspired, as always! - An Trieu.

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