If you saw our last post, you know Jessica and I are on a cross country summer road trip. We have been planning this trip for about a year, and we wanted to share tips we learned with you in case you plan to road trip it like us someday.
Step 1 – Scheduling Your Trip
For a long time, our road trip was just a hypothetical. The old “what if we drove cross country one day?” The trip really started to come together once we began to schedule dates for the trip. You want to do this well in advance, so you can minimize conflicts. Since we are both teachers, summer vacation was the obvious choice.
We decided that we wanted to leave at the beginning of our summer break, so that we would have time in the second half of the summer to prepare for the school year and complete some odd jobs. We had a firm departure date (the last day of our end-of-year meetings) and a loose finish date. This left us with some flexibility in planning which came in really handy as we made time to visit most of the places on our list.
Step 2 – Where Do You Want to Go?
Jessica and I began by identifying the locations that we considered can’t miss or close to it. Our list included Boulder, CO; Crater Lake National Park; Bend, OR; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Mount Rainier National Park; Grand Teton National Park; and Glacier National Park.
Next we spent a lot of time in GoogleMaps trying various routes and seeing how long the driving times were between each location. This helped us know how many days we would need to commit specifically to driving. (WARNING: Holy Cow! The United States is really huge. Like…really really huge. It takes a long time to drive between cities in the west.)
Step 3 – Mode of Transportation
Once you have a rough outline of where you want to go, you need to decide how to get from place to place. You could fly, take trains or busses, drive your own car, or rent an RV. Different modes of transportation have their perks. Since we were visiting so many different locations, we decided driving was the best option for us. We briefly researched renting a car, but adding in the flights to get out there and the rental car fees, it was not worth it. Since we own a Prius, it was hard to compete with ~50mpg. We expect to drive about 9000 miles which should take about 188 gallons of gas. At $4 per gallon we are still spending only $750 for the driving. There are of course other costs to taking your car, but more on that later.
Step 4 – Research Your Locations
Once you know how you are getting around, you can start to research your must-hit locations in greater detail. Research can help you figure out how long you want to spend in each location, but this will also be affected by your schedule. Our research helped us conclude that we should skip Glacier National Park. We found that the main road through the park would likely not be open in the first half of the summer, and we did not want to arrive only to find out we couldn’t do the hikes we planned on doing. We want to get there soon, but it just did not jive with our current trip.
Step 5 – Plan Your Route
Alright, you know the key places you want to go and you know how you are getting there. Next you need to start really nailing down more of the details of your route. How many nights in each location? Do you want one miserable day of 15 hours of driving or two shorter days to get from one location to another?
As you plan these details, you can start plugging in additional areas you want to visit into your itinerary. Being well-informed about your must-visit locations allows you to make tradeoffs to visit secondary locales. For example, Jessica and I decided to spend less time in Seattle so that we could spend a night on the Olympic Coast. While planning your route on GoogleMaps, be on the lookout for other attractions you may not have known about. Jessica and I discovered a few places that we are now are psyched to visit this way.
As your route gets more finalized, you can begin to nail down reservations at necessary locations. For example, there were a few campsites that we knew were likely to fill up quickly, so we booked those first. However, there are a number of nights that we plan to figure out on the road. With internet enabled phones, it is easier than ever to find great deals on hotels the same day using sites like Hotwire.
Step 6 – Prepare!
Don’t forget this step. If you are going on a long trip, there are a lot of ducks to get in a row before you go. You need to get your home ready and, if you are driving your own car, you want it well-prepared for the trip.
Before leaving, I made sure that my registration, inspection, license, and insurance would all be good for the duration of the trip. I also prepared my car for the trip with a scheduled maintenance two weeks before we left. That included oil change, tire rotation and alignment, topped off fluids, tire air pressure check (including the spare), and new windshield wiper blades. I also got my car washed and vacuumed out the interior so it could begin the trip clean.
As for our apartment, there were a number of things we needed to do. We took care of bills by either paying them early (rent) or setting up online payments (gas, electric, and cable). We set our A/C to 85 degrees and closed all of our shades to keep it cooler naturally. We don’t have pets but we have a number of plants that we didn’t want to sacrifice. We brought those to our school and left them with a colleague who swears she will kill them by accident. We have faith though! We also asked a friend to stop by our apartment regularly to check on things. Finally, we put a hold on our mail so that our mailbox didn’t overflow.
Step 7 – Packing
With all of that done, all that was left was to pack. With such a small car, we had to pack efficiently. And, that deserves its own post. So stay tuned to see what we brought and how the heck we fit it all into a Prius.