A few years ago we took the most epic road trip of our life. It was (and still is) the best trip we have ever taken. We took the whole summer and drove all over the USA. It totally rocked our world. It made us fall even more in love with our country, travelling, road tripping, exploring and just being together. I shared maybe 1/3 of our trip here on the blog, but I really do have plans, hopes and dreams to get the rest out to you one day and plan on doing some good wrap up posts, like this one here. As we were travelling that summer I tried to blog in real time, but we were covering so much ground, so fast and would spend days without access to internet to blog and I got really behind, but what I did do a good job of was journaling. I tried to keep as detailed of a journal as I could about what we did each day and we spent a lot of time (in the car) writing travel tips and dreaming up blog posts together. I recently ran across them and decided it was time to bring them back out since summer is coming and some of you may be planning a trip soon!
These tips aren’t just for epic, multi-month trips. They can be for your one week trip down to the beach. If you are heading out in the car, to go anywhere, remember these tips:
1. Bags, bags and more bags. Pack everything in seperate bags. Have a camping bag, a bathroom bag, a car entertainment bag, a clean clothes bag, a dirty clothes bag, etc. And then have empty bags. We did a lot of camping and showering at public rest stops, etc. So I always had a bag to carry my toiletries in, a bag to carry my clean and dirty cleans in and out of the bathroom in. Think through things like that and try to pack a seperate bag for each and then always have extra bags for the unexpected times. We carried a lot of different bags including: duffels, mesh laundry bags, canvas totes, cloth grocery bags, book bags, purses, ziplocks (possibly the most important) and plastic grocery bags.
2. Wipes. When people sit in cars, sleep in cars, live in cars for extended amounts of time there is a new level of ‘uncleanness’ that you learn about. So be prepared. There were times when we could find a really nice place to shower and there were times when we couldnt find a shower for days….And even when camping, well you know the drill. But the difference is you cant just go home after a day or two of camping and shower, you have to get in the car and drive to a new city. So we carried baby wipes, personal wipes, face wipes, hand wipes and plain old paper towels. These saved us, if all I could do sometimes was use a face wipe this made me feel a million times better.
3. Boxes. When you can, pack things in boxes. For our kitchen gear I packed a tuperware type box (that had snap locks, very important) and it made cooking, storage and finding things so much easier. Boxes obviously take up more room, so use them sparingly, but use them when you can especially for important things you will use often.
4. Ice + bag. When on road trips people need snacks right?! And when you are on an epic road trip you need meals. Take a legit cooler and keep it well stocked with ice. We spent SO MUCH money on ice, especially when we found ourselves in the middle of no where and in desperate need. So be sure to keep an eye on your supply and stock up when you find it cheap. The best places we found were Wal-Marts and those ice vending machines that are super randomly on the side of the roads (but once you start looking you will see them everywhere). The best tip I have for ice is this: Put your ice in gallon ziplock bags. This is for two very important reasons, it will melt and make your food soggy if you keep it in the bags you bought it in and secondly once it melts, into your clean bag, you can use it as nice, cold (free) drinking water.
5. Trip advisor + guide books. We set out with a generic map of where we wanted to go, but no real plans. We ended up throwing out our whole plan and scaling almost the entire US. We planned as we drove between places and sometimes just wandered around aimlessly. The two things we used the most were Trip Adviser and this USA travel book. I recommend taking a book with you because your devices may die and will likely lose service on your remote drives and if you google ‘things to do in DC’ you will be completely overwhelmed. So sometimes it is nice to only rely on one limited and trusted source for direction.
6. Pack all kinds of clothes. Variety is key. We traveled the southern and mid region of the US, mostly in the heat of July. We almost froze to death, almost died of heatstroke, went on epic hikes, spent fun nights in cities, went to parties with friends, camped on the beach, showered in gas stations and slept in parking lots. You need a lot of different types of clothing to do all those things. So pack a variety, but make sure they arent wasting space and only one time wears, take interchangeable options. Pinterest will give you some amazing outfit ideas if you need help with packing this part!
7. Pack light. Seriously, you dont need that. Whatever it is, you can buy it on the road if it becomes absolutely essential. I took about 6 books, art supplies, tons of clothes and didnt touch any of them. We took our hiking backpacks and used them once. Be as ruthless as you can about your packing because as you travel you will accumulate more things and you will quickly find that the more room you have the more grateful you will be when you can lean your seat all the way back or crawl into the backseat to nap. Seriously, don’t pack that.
8. Apps. We either camped or stayed with friends, so apps like Reserve America, Trip Advisor, Airbnb, etc will be your best friend. Find an app or website that is an expert on the type of travel you plan to do.
9. Cook. Unless you are a millionare and have an unlimited amount of time, you need to make your own food about 90% of the time or more. We had multiple days where we didnt buy a single meal out and that was our goal. We tried to save our eating out meals for good meals, like famous restaraunts or meals out with friends we met along the way. Do not waste your eating out budget on unhealthy fast foods, it will only steal your money and make you feel terrible. Get smart and creative when it comes to meals. Plan ahead and stock up. Keep things like granola bars, chips, cheese and crackers, bread, sandwhich meat, etc on hand for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Then get creative with dinners. We often cooked hamburgers, chicken, and lots of sides, like mac n cheese or green beans. These you cant really buy more than a day or two in advance, but if you think it through and plan accordingly you can have some really delicious meals.
10. Cooking gear. In my box of cooking gear we had a two burner camp stove, a mini (teeny tiny) camping stove for hiking, the small propane tank for it, lighter, pot, pan, silverware (plastic and real), good knife, small cutting board, slotted spoon, spatula, kitchen hand towel, package of paper plates, paper towels, tinfoil (so very important), soap, scrub brush and a collapsable sink to wash dishes in.
11. Take care of your car. Make sure you get your car thoroughly checked before setting out. Make sure the tires are great and the oil is changed. We made it from Georgia to Texas and had a big issue, spent the day in pep boys and dropped a lot of cash. But the rest of the time the car was fine. I would recommend just having it checked out half way through. Nothing ruins a road trip like car trouble. And just in case, having a roadside assistance program membership is always a good idea.(USS KIDD in Baton Rouge)
12. Electronics. Invest in car chargers for everything you plan to take. We used a USB splitter so we could plug multiple phone or Ipads in at once. We also used an air mattress pump that plugged into the car so we always could have a nice, comfortable bed. We spent a lot of time at rest stops, stuck in the car watching movies and listened to a lot of podcasts on the drive. Find cords to connect your devices so you can have good sound in the car. Do not bring every electronic device you own, but if you are spending an extended amount of time on your trip, you will need a computer or ipad for booking, researching, working, paying bills and entertainment. Of course, you need a car mount GPS, your phone will not work for this type of travel.
13. Be flexible. This is always the number one tip for any kind of travel or for being a human in life. There will be literal road blocks, camp grounds will flood, forests will catch on fire, your car will break down, you will get lost, you will wake up soaking wet, there will be wild animals outside of your tent, you will leave your keys in your car, you will break a tent pole. Be flexible, go with the flow, that is where the real magic happens and you can stumble into the absolute best expereinces. If you are enjoying a place, stay longer. If you arent, leave. If you are tired, rest. Take the detour, stop and take photos, stop and eat from food stands. Take advantage of where you are and enjoy yourself, that is what this trip is for right?! Find the magic of wanderlust…
14. Break up the trip. When we reflected back on the most draining and most exciting portions of our trip (not which places we liked best, etc) we realized that the stretches of time that had the most variety in them were best. At the end of our trip we spent two weeks driving down the east coast (so beautiful btw), but it was miserable and exhausting. Every day we would wake up, go to the beach and just when we were perfectly relaxed, it was time to pack up camp, drive a few hours, set up camp, cook dinner, explore the town a bit and go to sleep. We camped every night, we were hot and tired and constantly covered in sand and needed to go inside. The best times of our trip was where we would go to a really cool city for a bit, then go camp and hike for a day or two, then go stay at a friends house indoors and rest. When we pushed ourselves to drive all night, not stop, sleep in the car, go see everything, etc, we were miserable. When we were just driving for days on end and didnt stop anywhere, we were miserable. We needed that variety in our trip and in our lodging and food situation. So plan for that, remember you are in this for the long haul, not the momentary overload of a place.
15. Document. Make sure you have a fun, easy plan to document your trip. My plan to blog every day: ridiculous. The only thing we completely followed through with was a note on my phone where we wrote down each city we stopped in. It is just a simple list. But it is a complete overview of our trip and without it I would never remember the order nor the names of some of the small towns we visited. Journal and take photos, of course. But have one thing you do everywhere or everyday. We made that list and we took a feet picture everywhere we went. It gives us a cohesive overview of our trip and I only had one thing to remember to do each place. Make it simple, fun and memorable. Other cools ideas: snap a photo doing a handstand or certain pose in front of each cool monument you visit, take notecards and snap a photo of you holding the name of where you are in each place, pick up a postcard each place you visit or a magnet or a patch, the options are limitless. Here are some tips on how you can use instagram to do this!
16. Budget. We planned this trip for over a year, we got rid of every single bill (except for car, insurance and phone) for that summer. We saved and planned and saved some more. Always estimate higher than you think. Add a line for care troubles. Set a daily budget. Set a cost limit on things like lodging. ALWAYS have some cash on you. Have multiple options to pay, cash, credit, debit. Stick to your budget. Splurge when necessary, scale back when you can. You can’t do everything. Fact. Your trip will only be enjoyable if you don’t come home with tons of debt or you are eating off the dollar menu. Looking for cheaper options can actually be a really fun challenge and will push you to try new things. So plan and save and plan and save.
17. Plan for the future. We quickly realized that we couldn’t do everything due to time, geography and money factors. We kept a list of places that we would like to visit in the future and things to do there. We found so many places we didnt even know existed and fell in love with cities that completely surprised us. This quick visit type travel was really great and helped us realize what places we could come back to and spend a whole week at and some places that we are ok if we dont ever make it back to. It also helped us hone our travel skills. We know how to plan for these trips now, we know what apps to use, where to stay and when. Keep lists of these things and be mindful of what you are learning!