After several months of a forced hiatus from work and travel, I’m in the midst of planning another long road trip. I thought it was about time I shared a bit with how I actually go about planning these trips.
I generally start with a rough idea of where I want to go. Google Maps has been my go-to for quite some time, but I recently discovered Roadtrippers.com, which I’ve also found pretty handy.
I have a list of things I need to research for a trip, once I have my route. I need to find places to sleep, places to photograph and places to eat (only occasionally because I generally cook in camp).
Last year I took a trip down to Florida. The most direct route would have been to head down 95 all the way and I’d have had the drive done in 14 hours. Like so:
But…and excuse the pun…that ain’t how I roll. 😉
I enjoy taking more scenic routes that allow for exploration. My next step was to pick a few way points along a more desirous looking route. This meant choosing places I’d wanted to visit, searching for National Parks and Seashores or simply looking for big green spots on the map (no, I’m not kidding). On this trip I decided to wander on through Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and to the Outer Banks. I’d always wanted to visit Savannah as well. I thought to camp in the Outer Banks and then overnight in Savannah. But I like to have options, just in case.
Finding extra camping options along my route generally works out well for me. On a couple of occasions I’ve decided my planned stop didn’t appear safe enough. On other occasions I didn’t feel like stopping for the day or didn’t feel like going as far as planned.
So, I searched the map for the green areas along my route. Croatan National Forest and Francis Marion State Forest both stood out and googling them showed that they both had campgrounds.
My route now looked like this:
The route now wandered along the coast, avoiding the rush and development of the highways.
After that it was a matter of researching the stops I’d chosen. One of my biggest helps when traveling is couchsurfing.org. If you’re not familiar with it, it works basically like this: you have a guest room or a couch or a spot of floor suitable for a sleeping bag; you have a profile on couchsurfing with information about yourself and what sort of sleeping arrangements you can provide; other people can find you on couchsurfing and contact you about sleeping on your couch (or in your guest room or floor); people leave feedback for the people they’ve “surfed” with or for the people who have “surfed” with them.
Its ingenious really and generally changes the tone of your travel in a very positive way. Besides looking for places to sleep, couchsurfing also offers the opportunity to pick the minds of the locals who live in the areas you plan to visit.
I knew nothing about Savannah besides the bits I’d seen on tv and read in books. Being able to ask the locals what their favorite hiking spots were, where the prettiest sunrises and sunsets could be found, where the most impressive historical spots were, and if they recommended any vegan friendly restaurants or independently owned cafes (I love to keep it local wherever I go)– I had more information and suggestions for where I should go than I could possibly use in one trip.
I’ve only started using the Roadtrippers web site this year and I really like the information it provides. For instance, once you have your route entered, whether its A to B or A to B to C to D, you can choose to search for various kinds of locations.
State And National Parks:
It doesn’t have all of the locations already. I’ve especially noticed a lack in the campgrounds department, but it does allow you to suggest a location. And each location has a blurb about it and a link to its web site. Pretty handy tool.
So, back to this particular trip…it was handy that I’d chosen a few extra campgrounds along the way. I had planned to camp in the Outer Banks, but the campgrounds were closed for the season UNTIL THE NEXT DAY. Oops. But, hey…I had a backup.
I spent my second (and impromptu third night) with a Couchsurfer in Savannah. I was also able to meet up with another traveling couchsurfer to explore some of Savannah with. (Its really nice to be able to check out a person’s profile, find a slew of positive references and then feel more at ease getting to know a new friend.)
Suggestions For Trip Planning:
1. Plan for things to go wrong. For my current trip I’m finding places to camp at my waypoints, but also intermittently along the route in case I have to stop sooner or wish to continue on. I’m ALSO researching the local motels, hotels, rental cabins and couchsurfing opportunities in case of inclement weather as I will be hitting the mountains at the end of fall.
2. If you’re going to a National Park, check out the National Park Service web site. They will have most any information you’re looking for. But also check out the local tourism page. I’ve found that a lot of City or County pages set up for tourism are incredibly helpful and the people in charge are nearly always a great help.
3. Seek out the locals. Whether its asking questions on the local boards on the couchsurfing web site or making a point to stick to the local cafes and restaurants and seeking your information there, the locals are always the way to go.
4. Don’t be afraid to make friends. There’s a difference between being cautious and being terrified. Meeting people is part of travel and its actually safer, in my opinion, to make connections with the people around you. Stopping to say hello to the couple camping at the next spot could make them more inclined to offer assistance if you appear to need it. Also, its really nice to be somewhere new and have someone you were friendly to in the campground make a point of saying hello when they see you around. My first solo trip to Yellowstone was a little less lonely on the days a fellow camper would call out “Hello, Maryland!” out on the road or trails.
List of Sites I Use When Trip Planning:
4. Google Maps
5. Happy Cow
This only scratches the surface of trip planning, but I hope it helps or at least helps you figure out what questions you still need answered.