Welcome to my Road Trip blog! This first posting is going to be about how I planned the trip out and the basic logistics of it.
Honestly, I didn’t really have much of a plan at first. I knew I wanted to go on a road trip. I knew I wanted to see a lot of the National Parks. So I Googled ‘National Park Road Trip’ and I found an already made itinerary of all the national parks in the continental United States. I went through the list and picked which ones I wanted to stop at. It was a good chunk of them.
I used a website called roadtrippers to create a map of all the stops. You put in your start and end locations then you can add all of the places you want to stop along the way. The site automatically puts them in order based on location. It’s really easy to use and was really helpful for planning my trip. Here’s what it looks like.
After I had all of the National Parks mapped out I looked at the map I had made to see if there were any other places I wanted to go that were kind of along the way. I’m not really a city person, but I chose to add a few famous cities to the trip since I was going to be so close to them anyway. Might as well go check them out.
Once you have all of the locations mapped out you can go back in to each location in detail and save certain attraction to your favorites. This was particularly helpful for all of the cities I had added to the trip. You can easily save an attraction and then pull it up on the roadtrippers app to find out the address and even see a map of its location. This was great for all the times I wasn’t quite sure where I was.
I mainly used the National Park Service website to plan my itineraries at the parks. The site is really great. It gives you information about all of the things there are to do in each park. Each parks site is a little different but they typically list the most popular attractions and hikes as well as tell you how long and how difficult they are. This was helpful because I was looking for easy to moderate hikes, nothing too crazy.
To find out information about what to do in the cities I was stopping at I mostly used Trip Advisor and Pinterest. Trip Advisor is good because it lists out the top attractions and provides reviews from people who have actually gone. You can get a lot of good tips from reading the comments, like where to park or if there’s a fee to get in.
Pinterest is great. It’s by far my favorite way to search for info on the web. I created a bored called ‘Road Trip’ and then I searched for all of my destinations. What comes up are mostly links to blog posts that people have written about the places. You’ll see a lot that are called ‘Top 10 things to do in ___’ or ‘Two day Itinerary for visiting ___.’ These were great. I love reading travel blogs and love top ten lists and itineraries. It really helped me figure out what I wanted to do at each of my stops.
That was all I did as far as planning out my stops. It wasn’t set in stone, but it was a general game plan that would keep me on track. I didn’t have a set time frame for the trip or a date I absolutely had to be back by, so it was ok to kind of go with the flow. I think road trips are meant to be that way anyway. It’s more fun.
Since I wasn’t sure exactly how long I would be spending in each place I wasn’t able to make reservations for hotels or campgrounds very far ahead of time. This didn’t cause problems too many times, but there were a few occasions I ended up spending more money than I would have liked to because of waiting until the last minute and all the cheap places being booked. But what can you do I guess. It’s part of the process.
As far as camping goes, most of the national parks have more than one campground. Some of those campgrounds are reservable and other are first come first serve. Meaning you show up and see if there are any empty sites. If there are you just set your stuff up on it then go pay the fee. The fee’s are usually $20 or less. I’ll go into more details about each individual parks camping situation when I write the posts about each location.
Hotels were a little trickier to get on the cheap. At first I was using hotels.com because they have the buy ten rooms get one free deal. Its not bad, but after a couple places I learned that there are a lot of cheap mom and pop motels that are not listed on hotels.com. I’d book a $70 room at super 8, then get to the town and see a Joe Some Motel for $50.
I started actually waiting until I arrived in a town before I made reservations that way I could see with my own eyes what that town had for accommodations. This could be risky though because then you are waiting until the very last minute to book a room and risk everything being full.
Then my sister told me to try Priceline. This became my new favorite way to look for hotel deals. They were similar to hotels.com but seemed to have better rates. They still didn’t have every mom and pop motel on the site, but since the rates were better I thought it was a good way to go. I’ll go into more details about specific hotels and campgrounds in each destinations post.
I was worried about driving all over the country. I’m from a tiny town and had never done much driving on interstates or through big cities. It was a little nerve racking at first, and there were a few places that made my anxiety act up a little, but overall it wasn’t bad. At times I even enjoyed it. I am definitely a better driver now than I was and I am way more confident when I drive. I think that is a great skill to have gained.
I put A LOT of miles on my car, but it was totally worth it. I had to get two oil changes during the trip and one when I got home. I got triple A before I left because I figured there was no way I would be able to make it all the way around the country without at least getting a flat tire. But I did! I had a few minor car problems, but nothing that put a big damper on the trip. If you’re going on a road trip definitely get triple A. Even if you don’t end up using it, its worth having the peace of mind that if something does happen, you’ll have someone to come help you.
Not having enough money is the main reason people say they can’t go on a road trip. My situation is a bit different than a lot of what you’ll read about on other blogs. A lot of what I saw when I was googling before my road trip was about people who quit there jobs and lived in their vans and basically tried to live off of no money while they traveled the country. That may work for some people but it isn’t my idea of a good time.
I wanted to have a decent amount of money for the trip so that I could do the things I wanted to do and not feel like I was missing out on anything. I looked at is like if I’m only going to be in a place for two days, I want to experience as much as possible. I knew that this approach would cost a decent amount of money, so I worked my butt off and stopped spending all unnecessary money until I had enough saved up to take a really kick ass road trip.
The majority of the money went to gas. Then hotels and camping, then food. We camped as often as we could because it was cheaper than hotels. I recommend getting the annual national park pass if your going to go to more than three national parks. The pass is $80 and get you into every national park, national monuments, national forest, etc. It even gets you a discount on camping at some of the parks. It was money well spent since we easily visited at least twenty parks.
As far as food goes we saved a lot of money by not eating out. Most days I ate breakfast lunch and dinner out of the car. I did go out to dinner a few times, but the cost of eating out is insane and I would rather spend my money on activities and experiences than food. It was a good feeling to eat an occasional burger though.
I think that pretty much covers the basics of the logistics of my trip. I’ll dive deeper into specifics as I write each post about the individual destinations I stopped at. Have you guys been on a road trip, either short or long? If so how did you go about planning your route and your activities? What were some of your challenges?