How to Prepare For a Road Trip

Jake and I spent a total of 96 days on the road. While we weren’t traveling every day, we had very few days of down time. And we were together, living out of a car (or tent or couch or guest room), for almost the entire time. Here are some tips for road trip travels of your own, no matter the length.

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Plan, But Also Be Flexible

In my opinion, this is the most important aspect of any trip with a travel buddy, whether it’s a childhood friend, partner or spouse, or someone you just met.

Although we both enjoy the travel planning process, the road trip this summer was Jake’s idea, so he did most of the pre-planning (we’re talking timeline, hiking list, and Excel budget sheet). I contributed by looking up things to do in the cities we were visiting, and finding places for us to stay. We both kept track of our process relative to our tentative itinerary, but we didn’t book anything too far in advance. We know that things change, and since we weren’t at the mercy of train schedules or hostel availability (car camping bonus!), we were able to be fairly flexible regarding our schedule for the trip.

Make sure everyone involved in the trip has a copy of the tentative itinerary. We gave our parents copies, so they could follow along and not worry so much about why the heck we hadn’t emailed them in a few days (usually we were in the backcountry).

Unfortunately I got injured a month into our trip. Nothing serious enough to stop, but serious enough to have to adjust our itinerary for a while. I cannot emphasize enough… BE FLEXIBLE! (And also, stretch a lot, to avoid getting hurt. Seriously.)

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Pack Only What You Need

This one is easier said than done. Since we were road tripping back to Phoenix before continuing up the West Coast, the first 2 weeks of the trip we were pretty loaded down. However, we learned exactly what we needed, and what we could leave behind. We both had brought too many clothes, we didn’t need all of the books that we’d packed, and we ditched the bikes to improve gas mileage.

Spend a weekend with all of the stuff you’re going to pack, and see what you actually use.

Camping essentials

Decide Who Decides

This is really important for long-term travel. There are a few things that one person needs to be able to decide on right away. Our hardest choice is restaurants, because I have some food allergies and I have to be a little bit more picky. So generally I research restaurants, and Jake decides which hikes we go on. That way we never walk around a city or national park trying to decide where to go.

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Have a Plan Before You Start Moving

We had some arguments because one of us didn’t have our navigation plan in place before starting to drive. Make sure you know where you’re going and how to get there BEFORE you put the car in motion.

Fight Road Boredom

In advance, know how much you’ll be driving and prepare. We listened to podcasts, made playlists, and read aloud during our trip.

Reading at camp

Take Time Apart and Time Off

It’s important to realize that spending too much time together, even with your partner or a friend you’ve known for years, is sometimes too much. Jake and I had a few days where we just needed time apart, and that’s perfectly okay.

For any trip longer than 2-3 weeks, I’d recommend a few days of relaxation. For a trip of 3 months, especially one that was as physically demanding as ours, we really needed a lengthy break now and then. A few times we holed up in a hotel and binged on Wi-Fi, or we just found a great free campsite, hammocked, and read for a few days.

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Be Realistic About Your Budget

This is something that we have managed to do pretty well in our travels. We spent about 8 months before the trip preparing financially, by saving as much money as possible.

I’d like to make it clear that we are not secretly wealthy or spoiled rich kids. We are just very selective with our money. Instead of going to concerts, going out clubbing on the weekends, and staying at 5 star resorts on vacation, we live a fairly boring existence when preparing for an extended trip. Our rent was dirt cheap (thanks Ally!), we didn’t eat out much, and we found free or cheap events in and around town to keep us occupied. I basically spent all winter cooking Crockpot food, playing board games, and watching The Office. We only took one extended vacation, most of which was very cheap (because it was to Mexico), and we had PTO from work so were earning money while traveling. This helped us save as much money as possible, so we had plenty saved up in case something went wrong during the trip. The most important part is to have a range of what you think the trip will cost, and then add another 25% for just-in-case disasters. We got really lucky, because we had no car trouble or other unexpected expenses, so we had a decent amount left at the end of the summer for some extra splurges (like visiting Las Vegas on our way back).

Jake is a brilliant budget planner, so we had everything calculated months before we left. I’m sure he’ll go into that in more detail on his blog, but basically we had categories for transportation (gas, oil changes, tolls, parking), food (groceries and restaurants), lodging (campgrounds, hostels, and hotels), and miscellaneous items such as extra clothing, camping gear replacements, entertainment, etc. We figured out that our expenses would actually be equal to or a bit less than they were in Denver, because we wouldn’t be paying rent. We cancelled everything unnecessary (Netflix, my car insurance, etc.) and ended up staying within our budget range for almost the entire trip (San Francisco was REALLY expensive). It was good to have a plan and keep track along the way, to be sure we weren’t going to run out of money in Canada (they can actually ask for bank statements when you attempt to cross the border, to be sure you won’t end up homeless in their country!).

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Always Remember the Big Picture

Even when you can’t start your big hike because there’s a thunderstorm coming, you have to drive out of your way to avoid wildfires, or you didn’t sleep all night because there was a bear climbing on your car (yes, these all happened to us), remember that this is an adventure, and negative-seeming events are just more stories to tell. If you haven’t had to work the 8-5 grind for 2 months, spending all day reading in the tent or spending an extra hour in the car probably isn’t all that bad. Remember to keep things in perspective when they inevitably go wrong.

Colorful fall aspens in Colorado

 In conclusion, we had a great summer. It was so freeing to be able to wake up every morning and know that we had the entire day (and week and month) to do whatever we wanted, and to be able to spend so much time outdoors. The hardest part of our road trip was going back to work… Haha!

Thanks so much to those that helped us along the way, and thanks to Toyota for making a damn good car (if you’ve got a 2000 Camry, you made a REALLY good investment).

Remember, with the right amount of planning and the will to succeed, ANYONE can do something like this. So get out there for a weekend or 10, and enjoy the great outdoors!

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And if you’re looking for a suggestion, the Canadian parks are free in 2017. Order your parks pass here and get exploring!

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