Friday, 21 July 2017

How to Plan a US Road Trip

  The US is the country I've visited more than any other - and, in my personal experience, all of my favourite trips out there have been the ones that required a fair chunk of driving. Of course, there are plenty of places you can go just for a nice city break or a quick trip, but my personal feeling is that if you want to do it properly, you're going to need to spend some time on the road.

  And with that being said, here's my quick tips for how to make your US road trip is a success!


001. Know what you're working with first.
  The first tip is quite obvious - you need to know exactly what you're working with. Do you have specific dates that you're going to need to be going in, or a certain amount of time that you have to work around? If your dates aren't fixed, do some research first by checking the prices against flights for different dates. You may be surprised with what comes up! For our last trip the flight prices were pretty consistent across the board - apart from one return flight which was randomly £250 cheaper than any other flight. It extended our trip to be more than we expected it to be but it was definitely worth it for us.

  Next up, you need to work out your budget!

  And finally, and I'd say before you do anything - go and book your ESTA or your visa if you need one. I would always recommend you get this sorted before you start booking anything else. It's normally immediate to get an answer on this. My most recent one was not - but I refreshed the page about five minutes later and my acceptance was on there. You're not going to get a refund on your flights or anything else if you're not approved, so save yourself the worry and make sure you're not going to have any problems first!

002. Who's driving?
  Again, this seems obvious, but there's going to be a lot of driving involved. A LOT. The roads are pretty easy out there, but do you have someone in your group who's going to be willing to take on the driving? In our most recent case, it was easy. I can drive, but I didn't really want to. My boyfriend loves driving and wanted to do the majority of it. Our other friend shared the same feelings as me. This made it nice and easy for us as my boyfriend did the significant majority, and we'd dip in every now and then if he was too tired. The trip before it wasn't quite so easy as we were all equally reluctant and had mistakenly assumed the others would be more willing than they actually were. Make sure you know who's going to be driving and if they're happy to do it!

  Next up you need to work out what you're actually going to be driving. If you're going to be visiting a lot of national parks, you probably want to look into getting a 4x4. If you're going to be doing mostly cities, then something smaller will probably work out better for you.

003. Pick the places that are most important to you.
  Where do you actually want to go? Is there a focus to your trip, or would you prefer a variety?

  For me personally, I'd always recommend a variety. I like to try and mix it up and keep what I'm doing fairly equal but spread out. I also recommend sticking to no more than 4 states - that's enough to give you a mix, but also allows you enough times to get to know the state you're in a bit better.

  Pick out the places that you most want to go to on a map. Google Maps lets you do a multi stop point, so I'd recommend using that to dot in all the areas you're interested in so that you can get a better feel for what the distances are going to be like between them. This can also help you sort out the order that you're visiting places in too, to make sure you're not doing too much of the same sort of thing in a row or that you're not taking a bizarre route!



004. Now fill in the gaps!
  Now that you've got those stops that are the most important to you in - take a proper look at them. More importantly, take a look at what the distances between them all are like. You may be surprised by just how many MASSIVE drives you end up with between your two locations. For some, that might not be a problem. For me, I like to try and split those drives up a little bit more and find new places to stay at.

  I begin by taking a zoomed in look at the route between my two locations and then picking out some spots along the way. If there's a place you've heard of there, open up a new tab to take a look at that one. Anywhere marked a little bigger, open some new tabs and look at those too. If nothing is immediately jumping out, bring up some tabs to look up some other locations not quite on your route but very near it. When you've got a selection there, take a look through the tabs you've brought up and have a look at the images. Which one jumps out at you the most? Stick that one in! It breaks up your driving a bit and allows you to find some cool new places to visit that you probably wouldn't have thought about afterwards. It's your choice whether you use it just for a break in the middle of the day or as an extra night somewhere - for us, we tend to use it as an overnight stay.

005. Where do you want to stay?
  Now that you've got your basic itinerary worked out, it's time to work out where you're staying. And how long for!

  Take a look through your priority locations and work out how long you think each place needs. Personally, I feel that if in doubt it's better to actually do less days in a certain location rather than doing too many. I'd rather leave with a plan to return again one day as opposed to be bored in a location and feeling a bit trapped there. For example, I definitely didn't spend long enough in Vegas last time - but that's not an issue, as I now fully intend to make another trip back over there in the next year or so and make sure I give it a bit more time this time. On the other hand, we didn't really enjoy Yosemite so much so I'm glad we had cut down the amount of time we had there.

  As for where you're going to stay - Unless you have plenty of money to spare and want the experience, I'd recommend motels for the most part. You're not REALLY going to be there too often, so I don't see the point in wasting money when a motel is more than good enough for the most part. I wouldn't say to exclusively stick to them though - I think it's important to give yourself a bit of a break every now and then and stay in a fancier hotel to give yourself a bit of a rest. For us, we scheduled these roughly every six days or so and tried to coincide them with the more appropriate cities as well. Do your research though when it comes to finding places to stay - for example, in San Francisco you're unlikely to find an affordable property that will let you keep your car there so be prepared to stay further out.

  I would recommend booking in advance for the most part. I know sometimes it's fun to see where you end up, but this can also end up ruining parts of your holiday. For example, national parks book up REALLY early. Anywhere remotely near a national park isn't much further behind it. Prices for these can shoot up closer to the time as they know you've got no choice, so I'd recommend booking early if you can.

006. On the go!
  Work out a basic itinerary before you go for what you're going to do in location - but don't be afraid to abandon it entirely if it isn't working for you. We wrote out a chart for each day which listed the things we expected to be interested in, but not necessarily in any sort of order. For example, in Zion we knew what hikes we wanted to do while we were there but worked it out when we were actually there which order we felt like doing them in.

  When it comes to food - it's up to you! Obviously cities like San Francisco will offer you heaps of blog articles suggesting places you should go, and if food is important to you then of course I'd recommend taking a look at these and making note of some of your preferences. For the most part, we wrote down some of the top tripadvisor suggestions but rarely actually stuck to them. We liked exploring the area and seeing what we came across ourselves - and if nothing was jumping out at us or we weren't sure, we'd then start looking through the ones that tripadvisor had recommended. And, admittedly, more often than not we just ended up eating at Denny's...!

  Make sure you take plenty of snacks with you as well! I'd always recommend starting off at a Walmart and buying oversized bags of pretzels or whatever else to keep you going. Of course buy lots of water, and if you're going during a hot period of time make sure you stick some in the freezer so that they can stay cool throughout the day.

  When it comes to music - up to you! I like listening to the local radio stations as it gives me a good feel for the area. This backfired a few times as at one point we had about two hours with nothing but religious channels and around the Grand Canyon we had nothing about an information channel for hours. We also had a backup playlist with good driving music on it that we could revert to in these times!


What are your road trip planning tips?


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