So you wanna go on a road trip, huh?
There’s a lot to consider in the planning phase. Where are you headed? Will you camp? Stay in hotels? Crash on friends’ couches? Air BNB? A mixture of accommodations? Will you drive a car? A motorhome? A car with a trailer? How long will you be gone? If you have pets, will you take them? If you have kids, will they need to be out of school? How many hours per day are you willing to be on the road? Will you work from the road, or take vacation time? There are TEN MILLION more questions like these to answer, and the cool part is that only you can answer them. There’s no one Right Way to take a road trip. But here are some of the decisions we made and how we arrived at them.
Where To Go?
This seems the logical place to start your planning, and it’s where we started ours. We made the decision a few years ago that we wanted to prioritize experiences for our family over stuff. For us, that means travel and adventures get more in the budget, and toys and gadgets and eating out and cable/satellite and all the other trappings of modern life get less or none. We want memories, not stuff that breaks or sucks the life out of us.
An idea is born…
Last summer it was time to begin thinking about our next adventure, and around this time I was doing FitBit virtual challenges (don’t laugh) to help remind me to stay active (this relates, I promise). One of the challenge categories was Yosemite hikes. This is a bit of a rabbit trail, but it’s pretty cool – you can take virtual hikes that correspond to the number of steps you’re taking during the day, and the app will alert you when you’ve reached landmarks on your hike. The landmarks all have 360 photos of the actual spot in the hike that you’ve reached, and it’s breathtaking. All this reminded me how much fun I had as a kid taking endless road trips to National Parks all over the US, and how much I loved Yosemite especially. No one else in my family had been there, and the kids had never been nearly that far west at all. And so was born the idea of a Yosemite trip.
From there, it truly snowballed. “Hey, honey, we’ll be so close to San Francisco, we should go there too!” “We should drive, and camp along the way!” “We could totally see our friends in L.A. while we’re in California!” “I could shoot sessions along the way to help pay for the trip, and we could explore different areas of the country!” etc. Our planning was dangerously close to getting out of hand. We realized we just couldn’t see EVERYTHING we wanted to in one trip, even if we stretched out from the original 2 weeks we had envisioned to a month (which we ended up settling on). We made necessary (but sad) cuts in our planning and finalized our routes based on the sessions that I’d booked, and voila! An itinerary.
How To Go?
This took some thought. We’ve taken quite a few (much) shorter road trips with our little family, and we know from our experiences that long car rides can be super obnoxious. Everyone is packed in tight, seat belted in place; food and activities are hard to access with all the baggage and the aforementioned seat belts and lack of space. Inevitably, someone has to call a bathroom stop every 30-60 minutes, stretching a 7 hour trip into a 10 hour trip (UGH NO JUST NO). And the idea of tent camping every night (ew no) or hotel/motels every night ($$$$$!!!) wasn’t attractive. I really like to a) be clean and moderately comfortably, and b) save money.
This process landed us at the RV option. The hubs and I took a day date to the local RV sales lot, and toured some different models. Holy heck there are a HUGE RANGE of RV’s to choose from! Length, layout, slideouts or no slideouts, motorhome or trailer. There is a large spectrum that goes from pretty rustic to “this is nicer than the home I own!” Soooooo much to consider. For us, the process looked like this:
You can ride in it, which equals more space and flexibility, and A HUNDRED PERCENT LESS BATHROOM STOPS. This also makes it easier for McGee and I to work from the road; while one of us is driving, the other can be in the back – in relative privacy – working. Also, there’s no moving our stuff around from stop to stop. Everything we need is all in one place.
Having our vehicle with us means we can arrive at our campsite, set up, unhook, and go see the surrounding city/countryside/National Park. Motorhomes can be tricky to navigate around cities, and finding parking can be a huge headache. Plus there’s a lot of “setting up” and “settling in” at campsites that is laborious to un-do if you want to just turn around and go see the sights.
[Yes, I realize there is a third option of driving a motorhome and towing a car, but that seemed overwhelming to us, as well as pricey with the added gas mileage.] In the end, we settled on renting a motorhome, and I’m glad we did. The pros really outweighed the cons, and still do.
How To Pay??
This is a big one, because road trips can be crazy-expensive. Gas alone — don’t get me started. But it’s doable, if it’s important enough to you. Around the time we decided to do this thing, I opened a Qapital account to start saving (because if you’re like me, intentional saving can be hard. Qapital kind of tricks you into saving, which is really helpful for my personality type.). I also started squirreling away a bigger portion of my income into my traditional bank savings account. The next phase of saving was booking sessions along the way. Another element of the process was lots and lots of Pinterest searches for money-saving roadtrip tips. There are a lot of people out there who have done this before, or even live on the road with their families as a lifestyle choice. Learn from those who have experienced what you want to do!
The bottom line is that if something is important to you, you can do it. Don’t expect it to be easy, and don’t write it off as a possibility if you don’t already have enough in your bank account to just go for it right this minute. Work hard! Be creative, and be intense about saving.
Where To Stay?
We have stayed everywhere from National Park campgrounds to KOA’s to RV resorts to weird backwoods state parks. We haven’t done any side-of-the-road overnights, or Walmart parking lot camping (which is totally a thing!! RV’s are welcome to stay for free overnight in all Walmart parking lots), just because we’re not 100% comfortable with that route. But it’s a thing, people do it, and there are even apps that help you plan that kind of thing. It’s just not for us. Here’s a quick rundown of the options we’ve used:
I am slightly obsessed with our National Park system. Always have been. Camping there is never glamorous and there are rarely amenities of any kind, but it’s beautiful and deeply awe inspiring. VERY important to keep in mind, however: these book FAST depending on the park, and for some parks, campsites are only sold 5-6 months in advance during a 5-10 minute window. So if you want to stay in the park, do your homework and book early. Also, be prepared to have a somewhat more rustic experience here; many park campgrounds don’t offer showers (even though we have a shower in the RV, it’s MINISCULE and it’s so nice to shower in a real shower every now and then), only have vault toilets (glorified outhouses), and there are no hookups available (hookups: Don’t think Tinder, you naughty person – think “electrical,” “water,” and “sewer.”). This isn’t the case at all National Parks, but be prepared.
We love KOA’s, every last one of us. There is something for everyone, even the dogs. We’ve stayed in so many, and they’ve all been very pet friendly, had great dog parks, well-stocked camp stores, good playgrounds, and unique fun things for us to do together. Most have great pools, some have hot tubs too; we’ve stayed at some that offer family movies under the stars, putt-putt courses, or giant jump pillows. They’re affordable – they’ve consistently been less expensive than the non-KOA campgrounds, with the exception of state and national parks.
These have been hit-or-miss for us. We’ve stayed at some good ones, we’ve stayed at some “meh” ones. Some have had pools, some have been glorified parking lots. The one we stayed at in Malibu had glorious ocean views, and beautifully landscaped walking trails. The one we stayed at in San Francisco had an obnoxiously nosey security guard and wildly overpriced laundry. Live and learn!
Typically along the lines of National Parks without quite as much grandeur, and reservations are typically not hard to get. Usually inexpensive, generally more primitive.
Feel free to ask me any questions you might have, right here in the comments! I loved planning this trip, and I’m loving the experience of being on it (Day 21!). Go see the country, guys!
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You can follow along on our trip day by day on Instagram (hint: most of the action is in my Insta stories): @emilylapishphotog
Previous Road Trip posts:
Emily Lapish is a full-time photographer, wife, mom, and crazy person. She likes long walks through Target while cradling a latte. She is fueled by passion for restoration, grace, and also by obscene amounts of coffee.