As things are starting to open back up and people are getting vaccinated, I know a lot of people will be planning road trips for this summer. I am hoping to go on one myself. I think of myself as a pretty experienced road tripper. I know they aren’t necessarily the most complicated type of trip to plan but there can be a lot that goes into it especially compared to a resort vacation. This post is for the people that haven’t been on many or are planning their first one. Or, perhaps a foreign tourist planning their first U.S. road trip for the future. This is the order in which I normally plan my road trips, with tips.
Narrow down a budget. This will obviously dictate how far you can go and for how long. It pretty much dictates every aspect I think.
Decide on an area to visit. This is probably something most people already have in mind when deciding to take a trip. I am hoping to go to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming this summer. I chose that area because there are National Parks that I want to see.
Select the main stops. Decide on the main places that you want to see in the general area, or nearby. Obviously, this might be cities, parks, businesses, whatever is attracting you to that area and are deal breakers. For me that’s Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, and probably Glacier NP. It may be Great Basin NP and Valley of Fire SP, depending on if we drive or fly.
Figure out how much time you will have and whether or not you should drive from home of fly to a closer location. Obviously if you want to see a lot of places, have time constraints, and are located pretty far away, you should fly closer. I’ve been on many road trip that involve flying into a city to start the trip because it just gives you a lot more time. It may save you money as well, depending on prices of hotels and flights. I’ve also been on road trips where I just drive from home. I like both types equally. I’m hoping to fly into Salt Lake City this summer to go to Yellowstone and if that happens, I can also see Glacier NP. It’s pretty far away and too far to drive all the way from L.A. If we can’t fly I think we will save Glacier for another time and visit Great Basin NP instead.
Research smaller stops that you want to do. For me that’s maybe Valley of Fire SP, Shoshone Falls, and Craters of the Moon. I would just go to Google Maps and look around that the area you are going to be in and just click on places that sound interesting. You can do research on other sources like Pinterest, Googling places, talking to people. I prefer not to ask people what to see because I have gone to a lot of suggested places without looking too much into it and thought it was a total waste of time. Always look at photos before you go. Probably my most used methods are just Google, Pinterest, and Google Maps.
Next it’s time to figure out a route and order to your stops. This is pretty self explanatory. Decide how much time you need at each place and what route you want to take. If you are visiting National Parks I always leave at least the majority of a full day for each one. That is at the very least.
Then I would probably book your accommodation, rental car, and flights. You may have already booked your flights right when you decided to fly (I like to book as early as possible for the most part). I also book hotels in advance or reserve campgrounds. I also book the rental car around this time if I need one.
Last I would plan the little stuff. I would do more research about places you may want to eat, shop, little sites to see, or side stops. There is nothing worse than not researching a place enough before you go. I once drove right past a place I had been really wanting to go because I didn’t realize it was in that location. You can also start researching and figuring out what to pack. What the weather will be like and what you will need to bring.
Here are some additional tips:
- Consider booking accommodations in advance if you are going to an area with limited campgrounds or hotels, or if it is busy season. Whenever I travel with my dog I alway book in advance because there is a limited number of hotels that allow dogs and some of them have astronomical dog fees.
- If you are visiting more than 2 or 3 National Parks in a year, buy the America the Beautiful Pass.
- If you are driving through a desert or barren area, fill up your tank whenever you can and pay attention to when the next city will come. This also goes for National Parks, always fill up before you enter. We once drove through Canada, not realizing how tiny and far apart the cities were and came incredible close to running out of gas. We didn’t have cell service either.
- Be prepared with a physical atlas or a map that doesn’t need service incase you don’t have any for a long time. I can’t even count the number of times I have been without service in an area where you need it. Also, always have snacks, water, and the necessities in the car.
- Take a lot of driving breaks. It’s not worth the risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
- Emphasizing again that you should research as much as possible so you don’t miss any cool things. Also, be sure to research the weather so you can back appropriately.