I have heard people say that “they can’t afford” or “would not know where to start planning” for a road trip many times over the years. Today, I’m here to help you take the stress out of planning a life altering road trip of a lifetime!
Planning a road trip does not have to be expensive or overwhelming. The number of websites, blogs, apps, and books available to help you plan one of these trips is endless.
Use one of those free, handy dandy travel apps to find a hotel, motel, cabin, Bed & Breakfast (Airbnb), or vacation rental by owner (VRBO) near you for a night or two. You will be amazed at the savings you can find on those last-minute reservations! A nineteen-day road trip cost me less in accommodations than a condo at the beach for one week!
Do not let the fear of the unknown or the dread of not having a set plan stop you from planning your next summer vacation! Use my top 5 rules for planning an epic summer road trip and discover the joys of the open road and freedom!
Rule #1: Go Visit a National Park!
Researching the National Parks and the areas surrounding them literally takes up hours of my time each year. Did you know that there is a total of 419 U.S. National Historic Sites, National Monuments, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, and other federally owned lands found throughout the continental U.S. and various locations around the world? Among those only 61 have the actual title of U.S. National Park.
All the National Parks have a multitude of programs, historical information, and geological wonders that grab your attention and provide memories that last a lifetime. From animal identification programs to junior ranger programs; hiking into deep woods or canyons; discovering the milky way through the Dark Sky program; and many others. You won’t regret a visit to one of these natural wonders! Find a complete list here.
Oh! Before you go make sure to get your America the Beautiful Annual Access pass. This pass is available online and must be purchased prior to your trip. However, the benefits are numerous. Passholders receive free access to the park (huge savings!), half price camping rates, and other benefits. Go online to https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm.
Bonus: Every 4th grader in the United States gets one for FREE!
Rule #2: Use the World Wide Web (Internet!)
Trip planning is probably one of my absolute most favorite things to do. During the research phase of planning I love to use the internet as my first access point for a new location. The internet is a valuable resource, but it can almost overwhelm a potential traveler.
Use key words (such as actual park names for instance) to learn about an area you are interested in visiting. Learn as much as you can about the history, geography, and climate of the place you would like to visit before you get there. Then, you will be prepared for practical things such as clothing, shoes, food, lodging, and entertainment options available in the surrounding area.
Combing through web page after web page of basic information doesn’t really give you everything you need in order to have a successful trip though. Over the years I have found that I need much more insight than a website can provide. This leads me to step three.
Rule #3: Talk to the People You Know
Find people who have gone to your intended destination before you! This is where family connections, friend groups, and social media come in handy. Luckily, I have two aunts and an uncle that love traveling more than I do (gasp!) and they are always eager and willing to help me plan a trip at the drop of a hat. This happy crew has visited all the Continental United States, Canadian Provinces, and nearly every National Park inside those borders.
When the idea of a trip comes up, I always send them a text to get their opinion of the area. I gauge my determination to continue the research process by their excitement level of telling me about their experience. If I receive an avalanche of texts back to back; I know this is a trip I want to take!
Over the past couple of years each time I talk to them they always mention taking a trip out to Utah. In case you didn’t know, Utah is the National Park capital of the United States. It is home to the “Big Five” and a host of other Historical Sites, National Monuments, State Parks, and Recreational Lands. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks are located within driving distance of one another and are the backbone of most Utah Road trips.
Last summer my family made the trip once again to Utah and upon their return I was reminded that this is a trip I absolutely MUST take one day. I have spent much of the past year researching Utah. In a couple of weeks, I will be making that trip myself and to tell you that I am wildly excited would be putting it mildly. I am ecstatic!
Rule #4: Seek Out the Locals
On a three-week road trip out west a couple of years ago (with those same aunts and uncle), I learned a valuable lesson about traveling. Always, always, always talk to the locals! In a world tailored towards tourism, it is sometimes hard to break free from the cycle of souvenir stores, big chain restaurants, interstate highways and iconic places. This is especially true if you are on a limited time frame during the trip.
However, if you will bust out of that cycle and allow
yourself to get off the beaten path you will find treasures beyond belief! If
you are like
us me, where to eat is always on the top of the “what are
we doing today” list no matter where you are on the map. My best advice? Eat
where the locals eat! While you are there keep your ears open and listen to
what they are saying and the places they are talking about in the area around
you. Then, introduce yourself and ask them for the must-see places and/or
things to do in the area. Many of those hidden gems will not be on your
internet search engine websites!
While in town check out the local library and chamber of commerce. These jewels are loaded with information and real people who are familiar with the area and all the wonderful things it has to offer.
By following this plan, my family and I have found many, many places that we never would have found had we stayed on that same beaten path with the rest of the world. And, let me just tell you: We’ve stumbled onto some amazing places out there!
Rule #5: Be Flexible!
One thing that can ruin a road trip faster than anything else is a strict schedule. In a world where lifestyles are based on strict schedules, being able to function without one is hard to do for the average American. I get it!
However, if you will allow yourself the opportunity to be flexible, spontaneous, and carefree for a short weekend or even a month (whichever you can spare!) you will find joy and happiness that you would never have believed possible! Being free to get off the hamster wheel and forge your own path is liberating!
There are a few things that you need to remember before you completely turn yourself lose in the wild blue open though!
You will need to eat at some point along the way. I suggest fixing a cooler to keep in the car filled with drinks, sandwich makings, and snacks. You never know when the perfect picnic spot will appear. Also, being out on the road (not the Interstate!) means that there may not be easily available restaurants or grocery stores nearby.
Next, make sure you have plenty of gas in your vehicle. There are tons of apps available to help you find the nearest gas station, travel conditions, and road construction. Use that tendency to over schedule in this area by paying attention to the gas needle and the area around you so that you are not caught on the side of the road with no gas in your tank.
Each morning (or night before) take a travel atlas out and decide what you would like to see the following day. Look up how many miles it takes to get there and ask yourself how far you are willing to travel to get there. Be prepared to stop along the way to see something neat, take restroom breaks (at least every two hours), and walk around.
Preventing urinary tract infections and blood clots is the key to your ability to enjoy and take more road trips in the future! If you are traveling with small children, it is vitally important to get them out of the car often and let them run around a bit to keep that blood flowing! Adults can travel for longer periods of time but need to get out of the car at least every 3 or 4 hours.
Tip: when you stop for fuel, everyone in the car should get out and walk around for a few minutes.
Also, it is a good idea to keep biodegradable wipes just in case you have a restroom emergency (with no restroom) or find yourself in a muddy mess due to an opportune hike down a wet trail. Take plenty of water with you and never leave trash behind. There are many reasons to use biodegradable products but being prepared is always best practice. See the 7 steps to the Leave No Trace policy here.
Lastly, make sure you share your approximate location and/or destination with family, friends, or local authorities in case you find yourself without cell phone service. In this high-tech world, there are still lots of places where cell service is spotty at best. Always be prepared.
The United States is filled with fascinating places, unbelievable history, and life altering experiences. The list of things to do and see is endless. I encourage you all to step out of your comfort zones, put those beach toys and umbrellas away for the summer, and hit the road less traveled for your next family vacation. Remember these five rules and be sure to check out your National Parks!
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Life is a great adventure…accept it in such a spirit.”
The North entrance of Yellowstone National Park has a huge stone archway that is inscribed: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”. You, my dear fellow American are one of those people. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back from discovering your lands! You just might find a new addiction that you never would have believed existed down that long, open road!