Planning a Road Trip
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than the secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” Jon Krakauer
I love this quote because it sums up my life perfectly. I suffer from what my fiancé calls ‘itchy feet’. I am perfectly happy living my day-to-day routine for about 2-3 months and then something takes over and I have this incredible yearning for adventure. A yearning for new scenery, new experiences and rich possibilities. It’s usually at this point that I insist we start planning our next escape. This consists of packing our bags, hopping on a plane and picking up our new ‘horse’ for the week, otherwise known as a Mustang. (James’ one insistence for a USA drive!)
I love a road trip. Just the open road, vast sky above and unknown adventures to come, they are just exhilarating. I will save all year for this two-week adventure. Some people save for a new car or new clothes, but I’m perfectly happy with my beat up old Kia Picanto (yes I really do have a granny car and I don’t care) and my charity shop and eBay purchases, because it affords me this two week adventure every year.
Our first road trip saw us driving through France, Switzerland and Austria with two friends, finally ending up at our friend’s wedding in stunning Lake Garda, Italy.
The next year we crossed the pond to California, driving a loop from San Francisco to Los Angeles taking in some jaw-dropping scenery in Yosemite, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon along the way.
The third trip took us to Canada’s Rocky Mountains. We braced the cold to be rewarded with spectacular mountain views, pristine glacier lakes and gigantic forests. We even saw the odd bear.
Last year, we exhausted ourselves with outdoor pursuits in the breathtaking mountains of Colorado and hot and vast deserts of Utah.
So you could say I’ve become a bit of an expert at this planning malarkey. Here are my top tips for planning a road trip to remember.
Do your research
If you already have a rough idea of where your road trip will take you, then it’s a good idea to read up on the locations before you start planning. Don’t just stick to factual books though, I find classic literature great for getting you inspired. In preparation for our USA road trips, I read ‘Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck and “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. A classic will gear up your imagination.
Decide the duration and locations
After a bit of research, you should hopefully now have an idea of the country or countries you are planning on driving through, so now it is time to identify how many days you will go for. There’s no point packing five locations into a week-long trip, as you won’t see each place properly.
For a two-week trip, I’d recommend 4-5 locations to maximize your time in each place and not feel too rushed. I will usually start with a night at the arrival airport to refresh before the first days drive. I then mix up the number of nights we stay at each place depending on what is on offer there. Some drives between two main points in the USA can take a few days, so I will split these up with a night in a hotel along the way. Once you reach the intended place, then stay for 2/3 nights to ensure you have time for those adventures!
Define your budget
Once you have your duration and location decided, now’s the time to determine your budget. This is important because it will influence where you will stay and what activities you can do. Once your budget is set, factor in each of the following:
Accommodation type – Will you be camping, staying in budget hotels or can you splurge for a night or two? Personally, we like to save our money for the experiences – white water rafting, hiring bikes, horse-riding etc. so we always opt for basic but clean budget hotels. Camping is always a great option too. I usually just book one night at a slightly nicer hotel as a treat and something to look forward to either mid way through or at the end.
Food – What will you set aside each day for this? I tend to budget for one meal out a day and then buy supermarket snacks to create homemade packed lunches! And if breakfast is included at your hotel, always make the most of this and eat as much as you can. I will take fruit and muffins away as well which act as an ideal mid morning snack.
Fuel – Work out the distance your route will cover, research the fuel price and do the calculations.
Activities – This is where I’m happy to pay a bit more because I love adventure. Identify what you want to do during your trip and how much it will cost. Set this aside. Remember there are so many free activities you can do as well. I’m a huge fan of hiking which is not only free but great exercise too.
Book the hotels in advance
Now that you have your itinerary planned out, I advise booking the hotels. It gives you peace of mind that you will have somewhere to stay every night. Of course, you may be the type who would rather ‘go with the flow’ and have no idea where you will stay. That’s fine too, but being a worrier, I prefer to have a back-up plan! I use booking.com to secure each reservation, but then a month before your trip, contact each hotel directly and ask to book directly with them. The reason I do this is because booking.com allows free cancellation, so if anything happened to prevent you going on the trip (god forbid), you won’t have spent a penny on this. However, hotels will always give a better rate for direct bookings, so once I know that the trip is on 100%, I’ll contact them and switch the booking.
‘Moon’s Road Trip’ by Jamie Jensen is a good place to start researching your trip and accommodation.
Book your flights wisely
I like to get my flights booked as soon as possible because rates tend to be cheaper the earlier you do. Also, if you can try to fly out and back on either a Tuesday or Thursday and early morning or late at night it’s always cheaper! Great comparison flight sites are skyscanner and Kayak. Always shop around.
Don’t always book your activities beforehand
Leave a bit of spontaneity to the trip, you want to keep that excitement going and not knowing what you will be doing each day adds an element of adventure. Sure, if you know you want to go kayaking, then research the best places to go on your route, but there’s no need to get this booked. Weather and unexpected events can throw a curveball at pre-made plans, so just rock up and book as you go!
I’m looking forward to sharing with you a more in-depth review of each of my trips, as there is so much to share! Hopefully I’ll inspire YOU to stop spending on unnecessary things and put a bit back away each month towards an adventure. Til the next time!