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I am a novice road trip planner. I had only planned a road trip once before: last year when we drove from San Diego to Corpus Christie over a 5 day period and that was hard enough! I must have been crazy when I decided to plan an 8-day adventure up the coast California, stopping at 5 campgrounds, one casino and driving a total of 1,500 miles. I quickly admitted I was way in over my head. Planning a road trip is hard and takes… planning! So here are my lessons learned while planning my trip. What are some lessons you’ve learn while planning an adventure?

  1. Check out your gear– Take an overall inventory of all gear at least a month before you trip. This will allow you time to figure out what you need for your trip. Nothing is worse than last minute shopping (especially high ticket items like a new tent or sleeping bag). If you purchase a new item, test it out. We recently bought a BioLite Campstove for our upcoming trip (if you aren’t familiar with the brand, check it out: fire, food, USB plug, French press, amazingness). We set it up in the front yard, built a fire and put some fire on that grill. Now we understand how the stove works, how fast it charges a phone, and how to set up/take down/pack up the bundle. If you buy a new tent, please practice setting it up before going! You want your trip to be worry-free and having issues with setting up your new gear will only worsen your experience.
  2. Look at road closures– I used Google Maps to track our trip and the directions were not accurate. After telling my friend how excited we were to head up to Big Sur off highway 1 they reminded me that the bridge collapsed and highway 1 is closed. Sure enough, I had to re-route a portion of our trip but glad I did in advance than run into that during the trip!
  3. Organize your driving miles– It depends on your goals for the trip and where you want to stay but we lucked out by only having a destination and hand-picking all other stops along the way. I knew I didn’t want to drive long distances at one time so I spaced out a 600 mile destination into a 4-day cruise up the coast and camping at new locations along the way. This made it so we wouldn’t be driving more than 4 hours at a time and maximizing our outdoor stays.
  4. Save money in advance– Try to start a road trip fund as soon as you commit to going. This will only make the planning easier with less stress and your wallet won’t hurt when you get back. If money is tight, you can still save pennies a day with a big benefit. If you plan 4 months in advance and put a $1/day in a jar, that’s $120. Hello, gas money!
  5. Go before the rush– If you’re anything like me, you don’t like big crowds at your favorite outdoor spots. Again, you’re on vacation, relax. Depending on your ultimate destination or goals for the trip, pick a time of the year when its not the “busy season”. Spots are easier to reserve and sometimes the busy season isn’t necessarily the best season.
  6. Organize your belongings in your car with easy take-in/take-out loading. We are packing up all our gear 7 times on our trip. That means setting up and tearing down needs to be easy. To ease the pain, organize your gear in different buckets- literally. The good thing about buckets or tubs is you can throw everything in at the drop of a hat and still be able to find it later. Below are example of how I organized.
    1. Kitchen bucket: Stove (small), plates, cups, utensils, paper towels, card games, lantern
    2. Food bucket: All your dry goods
    3. Food cooler: All your cold goods
    4. Clothes bucket
  7. Try to see family and friends on the way- So I lied. I planned 3 road trips so far. I forgot about our “wing it” trip when we headed to Lake Tahoe and decided to not plan ahead (see my Mammoth Mountain RV Park post). What made this trip so special was me seeing my childhood best friend on the way up. She lives about 8 hours North but was conveniently on our way to Tahoe which made seeing her an absolute must. Who do we get to see this coming up trip? My dad and stepmom 🙂
  8. Check the weather at least 2 weeks in advance– Its always difficult to predict the weather so be informed before you go. Make note of any upcoming storms or heat waves and pack accordingly.
  9. Save on space– When you go on a road trip, you can’t avoid the cramming of your belongings in the car so its always good to save on space where you can. Try bringing dehydrated meals. These are typically used for backpacking but most of them just require boiled water, the calories aren’t super high, and they are pretty tasty. If you have a long trek and want to avoid making fast food stops along the way, make planned local grocery store stops to stock up on fresh food.
  10. Plan meals ahead– Planning breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for each trip may seem unnecessary but its crucial to ensuring you stay on budget. If you know you are hitting up a drive thru, plan for it financially and geographically. One alternative is to pack a cooler of sandwiches and fruit rather than buy meals on the road. This is a cheaper and healthier option. When you plan ahead and save money along the way, this allows for your hard earned cash to be spent elsewhere.
  11. Get extra cash– Who doesn’t need extra cash on their next vacation? We definitely needed some on our upcoming adventure so we recycled cans, cashed in coins, and participated in rebate programs. This gave us an extra $300 for our casino night.

Now share some tips of your own… Happy Road Tripping 🙂