Tips for planning a road trip

I do a fair amount of research when planning a road trip.  I often drive The Husband crazy until I have all the details figured out.  I become consumed in learning all that I can about the places we are going so that I can design the perfect itinerary.  Lets call it vacation planning OCD.

1) The National Park Service website is where I usually start to learn about the parks we are interested in.  The Passport to Your National Parks iPhone app is also a great resource.  You can keep track of the parks you have visited and the parks you want to visit.  When I learn of parks I want to visit I add them to the list in my app so I don’t forget about the cool places I have heard about.  I actually prefer the search tool in the app versus the NPS website.  I find the search tool in the app much easier to use.

A snapshot of my to visit and visited lists.

2) Most National Parks have lodging in the parks.  Xanterra and Delaware North are two companies that have hotels in many of the parks.  Each park has their own website for lodging and I find them very helpful.  They usually have a good overview of what’s available in the park and are often the ones hosting the tours and fun meal outings.

3) One of my favorite resources is blogs.  Going to a corporate website is fine for some information but I want stories and suggestions for activities that people enjoyed.  I have found the best results when searching for the park I want to learn about with the word wordpress or blogger after it so that I am taken to the blogs directly.  I have learned of so many great restaurants and stops on our travels specifically because of blog posts I have read.

4) We like to stay at KOA‘s when traveling.  They often have locations near many of the National Parks and are a mix between camping and a hotel.  We usually stay in a camping cabin which has a bunk bed for the kids and a full size bed for The Husband and I.  The kids love the bunk beds.  Some locations have two room cabins which have two sets of bunk beds and are like $10 more a night.  The full size bed is not ideal but we make it work.  The cabin is cheaper than a hotel and you have the camping feel with the luxury of sleeping indoors.  KOA’s are also great for kids.  They usually have a playground and a pool which is always welcomed after a long day in the car.  Some locations have mini golf, arcades and evening movies.  The KOA website has a great map of the country with all of their locations easily marked so it is very helpful when planning a trip.

5) Do your homework.  Lodging in many of the National Parks fills up quickly and in order to get reservations for where you want to stay you will need to know when you can make reservations.  I don’t know about you but I have no interest in taking my family on a trip only to find out that the campground or hotel we want to stay at is full.  If I am going to be driving hundreds or thousands of miles from my house I want to make sure the accommodations are to my liking.  The less expensive hotels fill up quickly as do the reservable campgrounds.  Hotels can usually be booked 366 days in advance and campgrounds are about six months.  It’s not unheard of for lodging to fill up in certain locations the day reservations open.  Check the website for the lodging you are interested in to learn their policy.  I usually plan 12 – 14 months in advance for big trips because we often stay in hotels.  I know that sounds like a lot but when you have to make reservations 12 months in advance you have to be on your game.  I’ve already made our reservations for next summer and am super excited for what we have in store!

6) Road trips can add up quickly if you do not plan properly.  (We learned this lesson the hard way.)  Once we figure out where we want to go and where we want to stay I use Google Maps to calculate the milage for the trip.  This way I can get an idea of how much gas we will use.  With the price of lodging and gas I can get a base figure for what we will spend.  I also try to add in the price of activities I know we will want to do so that I can get an accurate estimate (this is where the planning OCD comes in).  We try to take as much food with us as possible to minimize eating out.  We often eat breakfast in our room, have a picnic lunch in the park and enjoy a nice dinner out.  Occasionally we change things up and eat breakfast or lunch out but we try to stick to the plan so we don’t go over budget.  We decide on an amount per day that we will spend and it makes planning really easy.  Lets use $100 as an example.  We get $100 a day to spend on food and whatever else.  Some days we use less and others we use more so it all balances out but it is really helpful to have some kind of budget.

7) A tip regarding souvenirs.  Kids want to buy things everywhere they go and trinkets add up quickly.  Several months before a trip we tell the kids to start saving their allowance.  When it is time to go on vacation we match however much they have saved and that is what they have to spend on vacation.  They can buy whatever trinkets they want but once they run out of money that’s it.  It helps them make smarter choices and learn to budget.  They often don’t want as much when they have to spend their own money but if mom’s paying they’ll take the entire store.

These are the tips that work for my family.  I would love to hear what works for your family.

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