Monday, December 24, 2012

ROAD TRIP 101: Planning The Big Drive

There are so many different ways to do a road trip - different routes, different schedules, different modes of transport. This is just the way we chose to do it, and the things we learnt along the way.

The planning and organisation that went into our road trip was intense - we knew we had a limited time frame to work with, and a limited budget, so planning ahead and scheduling prevented disappointment and hassle along the way.

We spent a good few days locked up in the apartment in New York, with calendars, Google maps, and the internet.

This is what we learnt:

1. Planning VS Spontaneity 
Planning ahead does save you money, and allows you opportunites - a lot of the places we wanted to visit would have been booked up if we'd left it to chance (eg Disney World, Grand Canyon etc). We're not saying you have to book everything, we just found that booking things meant we didn't have to waste time once we arrived in a town driving from hotel to hotel trying to find reasonable accommodation, and then end up paying through the nose for a room because there was nothing else available.

2. Consider the time of travel.
Choose your season - we travelled in fall, which meant we got to experience some exceedingly beautiful scenery, and avoid the brutal heat of summer (it was still boiling in most places though!). Prices were lower, places were less crowded, and roads were quieter. Also check event calendars - plan your stops around holidays, festivals and parties.

3. Cities VS Towns
If possible, visit the big cities on the weekend - there's always more stuff going on. During the week do the traveling, or stay at smaller, more relaxing places.

4. Price of accommodation.
We averaged about $165 a night for accommodation. Yes, you can get cheaper - a lot of inns offer rooms for $60 a night, and then there's the exceedingly dodgy-looking motels which have rooms for $30 a night, but then you're in Dodgeville, next to a highway, miles from the city centre. Which means you'll end up paying shitloads for taxis into town, or paying shitloads for parking in town. Either way, paying a little extra for a spot right in the middle of the action, and then being able to walk everywhere is ace. We mixed it up as well, and got to stay in hotels, inns, ranches, B&Bs and resorts. We tried to keep the price of accommodation around $140 a night, and then splurged on a few spots every now and then.

5. You're not in Kansas anymore.
You can't always rely on being able to stop just anywhere - a lot of the small towns along the way may not really be places that you want to spend the night. Trust me on this one.

6. Breathing space.
When planning, we left a few days unbooked (about every ten days or so), which ended up serving us well, allowing a bit of flexibility to extend a stay if necessary, or switch to a completely new location. They also allow for any unforeseen emergencies along the way.

7. Get on your wheels.
It's a road trip - your car is number one in this relationship! Are you renting, or buying? Is your car economical? Are you going off-road? We rented a Toyota Camri, which served us exceedingly well, and gave us about 29 miles to the gallon  - but we had to stay on top of it, making sure the car stayed healthy all the way across. I've drawn up a list of our top ten road trip items which will be up in a couple of weeks.

8. It's a marathon not a sprint.
Allow for rest days - especially towards the end of the road trip. The longer you go the tired-er you get. We started off with short stretches, but as we got more travel-fit we pushed for longer ones. These allow you to spend more time in one place, resting up for the next long drive. And nothing beats a little R&R.

9. Speak to the locals.
Americans are some of the friendliest and most helpful people we've met. Everyone we've met along the way has wanted to chat about where we're from, and where we're going - and a lot of them have provided us with great tips, lists of restaurants, places to stay and things to do. The more they know about the region the better.

10. Take care of yourself.
A long road trip away from home does take its toll after a while, and medical treatment can be very expensive. Make sure you have travel insurance, a full first aid kit, and some basic medications with you.

To conclude, yes there was a lot of admin involved, and it cost a fair amount of money, but it was BRILLIANT. We can't wait to do another road trip! It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that even most Americans marvel at. And once you're on the road it's really easy - the roads are easy to navigate, the people are super friendly, and the sights are out of this world. My brain feels like it might explode from all the prettiness.

Save up, rent out your house, take out a loan, sell your organs online, leave your kids with grandma (they'll be fine!) - do whatever it takes, and then do this. You will not regret it.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog, and in this post are purely that - views and opinions. What worked for us may not work for you, this is just the knowledge we gained along the way.

[Last image from the internet, all other images from me]

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