There are few things in life that I enjoy as much as hopping in a car and taking off down the highway to explore new destinations. With the wind whipping through my hair as I sing along to my favorite tunes, there is no greater sense of freedom. I live for those moments and I wouldn’t give them up for anything, but of course, it takes some planning to carve out two weeks from my hectic life and to figure out the details of the journey. With my trip now within the 10-day weather forecast (which is when it starts to finally feel real), I wanted to walk you through the steps it generally takes to plan my road trip. While it’s not necessary to know exactly where you’ll stop each day, it’s helpful to take a peek at the distance between cities on your route. Otherwise, you might find yourself driving through South Dakota during the Sturgis Bike Rally where the hotels are booked up for a 200-mile stretch and you end up paying a ridiculous amount of money to sleep in a run-down motel in Kadoka, South Dakota. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
Step 1: Picking your ultimate destination
My hubby and I are both obsessed with the Tetons. They are majestic and wild and unadulterated. A previous trip was centered around a trip to the Grand Canyon. We like to pick something epic as our ultimate goal because it helps fuel the excitement leading up to the trip. After all, is there anything better than anticipation?
Step 2: Planning your route
This will be our third major girl’s road trip and we like to switch up our route each time. On the last trip, we went through Denver and up through Wyoming; this trip, we want to cut up the backside of the mountain range and drive through Utah and Idaho. While you can make mid-trip changes in your route, having an idea of which way you want to go will help keep you on track if you need to be back by a certain day.
Step 3: Getting there
We are road trip tourists so we prefer to drive the entire time, but you could certainly fly out to a specific destination and then rent a car from there. We typically bring a lot of gear so a car suits our needs. Even though we both have nice cars, we always rent one. As you can see above, we end up racking up more than 5,000 miles (a feat that typically takes me 6 months at home) and in my opinion, that wear and tear are exactly what rentals were made for. This time around, Budget Rental Car was offering the best rate and we’re renting a full-size car for two weeks with unlimited miles for $400. Not bad, my friends. Not bad at all. As a tip, certain credit cards will cover your rental insurance if you use them to book your travel so that you don’t need to pay the rental company for the coverage so see if your credit card company offers any benefits like that.
Step 4: Where to stay
On the way out and back, mid-level hotels serve us just fine. While their commercials are cheesy, you really can’t go wrong with a Holiday Inn Express. I almost always use hotels.com to book our room thanks to their Welcome Rewards program which gives you a free night after 10 nights, plus, the reviews are typically pretty good. When we arrive at our “main event” destination, we like to switch up our accommodations. We’ll stay in a luxury resort for a couple of nights and then go camping for 3 or 4, then it’s back to a nice hotel. This not only helps the budget, but it also gives us the best of both worlds. Trust me, a bath has never felt so appreciated as it does after a couple of nights in a tent.
Step 5: What to bring
This step is entirely dependent on your destination. My road trip uniform for our long driving days is leggings, flip flops, and a flowy shirt. Comfort is king if you’re in the car for 12-15 hour stretches. I will say that most people way overpack in the clothing department, so less is more with an emphasis on layers. I usually pack one duffel bag with casual clothing and one duffel for technical clothing (hiking, running,…) so that I only have to bring in one bag depending on what portion of the trip we’re on. I’ll do a separate post on what to pack for hiking/camping later in the trip. We also like to bring our snacks (LOTS of snacks), a lot of water, coffee, french press, and electric kettle. I have a power strip that plugs into a cigarette lighter similar to THIS ONE and it’s great for charging computers and using the electric kettle (while stopped). The goal is ultimately to have everything we need in the car so that we only need to stop for gas and bathroom breaks. Oh, and always bring a road atlas. There are entire states with very poor cell reception so relying on your phone’s GPS is never a good idea. While your smartphone will come in handy –it is after all how we found that motel in Kadoka, South Dakota– it is not foolproof.
I should also add that the best thing you can bring on your road trip is a good attitude. It’s a good rule of thumb to anticipate that at least one thing will go wrong. You just need to laugh about it and figure out a solution. I will also say that you should choose your company wisely. I can count on one hand the number of people that I would willingly spend an entire day in the car with. I steer clear of people who are winey, anxious, or ‘always right’ and stick with my go-with-the-flow friends who are always up for an adventure.
By Andrew Schmidt