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Last summer I had the amazing opportunity of going on a 35-day road trip across 25 states with one of my good friends, Ashley. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life! Up until that point, I had barely ventured outside of the southeastern US. Some of the things we saw were mind blowing, and each day seemed to get better! Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be sharing some photos from our trip along with some tips for planning a trip of your own! We’ll cover budget tips, tips for making your car ride more successful, must-have necessities, and tips for getting around the national parks! Ashley is going to be weighing in on some of the posts too, and I’m SO excited to share about it with you!
Today I’m going to give some basic tips for the early stages of planning your trip. Whether you are planning a short trip or a long trip, you want to be prepared!
Ashley and I started planning for our trip the January before we left in August. There are two things I would have done differently, though! First, I would have decided on our dates that we were leaving earlier in the process! We actually ended up staying with friends or family most of the time, and they will always want to know a timeframe of when you are coming! Also, some things we were interested in doing required advance planning that we just didn’t do! We wanted to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, but you have to obtain a permit at least 6 months in advance! Also, if you are wanting to camp anywhere, most campgrounds fill up really quickly and you will need a permit for wilderness camping! Be sure to look into these types of things well in advance!
As much as you love the person you travel with, you WILL get annoyed with each other at some point. If you’re like me, that point will happen sooner than later. Not only did Ashley and I spend a lot of time in a small car together, we also slept in the same room most of the time. That’s a lot of time together! Make sure to choose someone that won’t cause drama and will still be friends with you during your worst moments! Another thing to consider is how many people you will take with you. Ashley and I considered taking more people on our trip, but since we ended up staying with people most of the time, we knew that asking about putting up two people is a lot easier than asking about 3 or 4! Also, with more people comes more suggestions on things to do, and the last thing you want to do is have a falling out if someone in the group doesn’t get their way! Traveling with someone requires patience and selflessness, which is definitely easier said than done.
There simply is no way to see everything on a road trip. The US is just so vast and diverse! Spend some time brainstorming about everything you’d like to see, and then decide which of those things are most important to you. Odds are, something on your list won’t make the final itinerary. I recommended having 2 or 3 must-see places, but then being flexible about the rest, especially if you are traveling with someone else! Deciding on what’s most important to you will also help in the budget process. Decide on the areas where you will save money and the areas where you can splurge! The must-see items on Ashley’s and my list revolved around sight-seeing and hanging out with people.
Budgeting is one of the hardest parts about a road trip. The last thing you want to do is run out of money on the other side of the country. If shopping is your thing, you might want to hold back a little. If staying in hotels is your thing, you’ll probably have to sacrifice something else on your list! The important thing is that you over-estimate, because you never know what could happen. Ashley and I initially planned that we would stay in hotels half of the time and stay with people half of the time. I didn’t want to do any camping since it was just us girls (although Ashley would have been all for it)! We estimated our costs would be about $3500 per person for the 5-week trip. We gave ourselves a daily amount of money to spend and estimated the hotel and gas costs. We actually ended up coming in WAY under budget because we only stayed in hotels two nights and our hosts often gave us food!
This is so important! Be sure to have some “floater days” where you haven’t planned out where you will be and what you will do. That way if you are really enjoying yourself in one location and want to stay longer you have the option to do that! Or, if something goes wrong and your car breaks down you can have that padding built in and not panic.
One of the biggest things I realized on this trip is that there some people just love to be hospitable! When we began planning our trip, we asked around about places to stay near our locations of choice. We were so surprised by the amount of positive responses! We stayed with some family members, but also people that our parents knew or people that were mutual friends. I did not expect our hosts to be so generous with their time. Some places we stayed were a couple hours from our destinations, but we didn’t mind. It saved us money by not getting a hotel, but most importantly it gave us the opportunity to make friends and hear about people’s lives! Even after all of the amazing things we saw, my favorite part of the trip was meeting people from across the country!
If you plan to go to multiple National Parks on your trip, look into getting a National Park Pass! They are about $80/year. National Parks often charge $20 or more for an entry fee, so this could pay for itself after 4 parks! We ended up visiting 10 National Parks, so it definitely saved us some money!
I’ll share more detailed tips on how to be prepared in the coming weeks, but make sure you know the basics. Know how to read a map. Your phone will stop working at some point and you don’t want to get lost. I also recommend getting a GPS that doesn’t require cellular data! Know how to change a flat tire! The last thing you want is to get stuck on the side of the road. Keep water and snacks in your car, and make sure someone always knows where you are and what time you plan to reach your destination.
If you know anyone who has done a trip before or visited a place that you plan to visit, ask them for advice! We met our friend Kelli just a few months before our trip, and she did a 2-week road trip not long before we did our trip. She had tons and tons of recommendations for us and we loved it! Our favorite things in San Francisco and along the coast of California were because of Kelli’s recommendations. Your friends may also have some good tips for long car rides or how to get the best deals in certain areas. Be sure you ask them! Along with this I would say, do your research! Look at reviews online and find out what is good to do and what you might want to avoid! Everyone is different, so some people may love things that you wouldn’t find as interesting, so make sure you do your research and find out what sparks your interest!
I wanted to call this one, “Keep Your Expectations Low,” but that sounded bad. Let me explain what I mean. Ashley and I found that whenever we had really high expectations for something, we ended up being disappointed because it wasn’t what we imagined. Even if what we were seeing was awesome, if it was different than we thought we were often disappointed. We found that if we kept ourselves from pretending what it would be like or having really high expectations, then we were ALWAYS blown away. Some of our greatest moments on the trip were things we weren’t prepared for! It’s like making a Christmas list and being upset when you don’t get something on the list, even though what you got was still awesome. Don’t do that! Keep an open mind and soak up every moment to enjoy it as much as possible!
Thanks for reading! Come back next week for some photos from the first few days of our trip!