Road tripping might just be the most fun way to adventure. There is something so special about seeing a place, any place, from ground level. While planes give you a mesmerizing top-down view (who hasn’t been amazed at the beauty of landscapes from 30,000 feet above?), being in a landscape - and crossing it at a slow 60 mph (at least compared to a flight) is very cool indeed.
We will be the first people to say that road trips are our jam. We absolutely LOVE them - it is the thing we miss the most when traveling outside the country, our lack of wheels which for us really means lack of independence and freedom. That is why when we are back in the USA we always try to plan out an awesome road trip.
That was probably one of the reasons we decided to go on an epic motorcycle trip across the southern half of the United States instead of going somewhere outside the countries borders. For us, the ability to drive where we want, when we want, and see what we want is a big, big draw for us.
Our planning started about a month before hitting the road - which if you know anything about us is pretty amazing because let’s just say no one would ever call us “overprepared.” It was probably because we were just so darn excited at the idea of venturing off into an area we had never really explored before and the wonders that these places we had only heard of or seen on a map could very like hold. The excitement of exploring had taken hold of us.
When you start to think of taking on a road trip, it is important to do a bit of route planning (we know, getting lost is fun too). Here are our recommendations when planning the perfect route, no matter your form of transportation.
First, figure out what kind of trip you want.
In other words, what are you hoping to get out of this trip? Do you want to see as many national parks as possible, or are you hoping to get a big dose of history? Knowing what your overall goal is, is super important when deciding where to go.
For our motorcycle trip, we knew we wanted to stay away from major cities and highways, see some beautiful natural wonders, and kind of get a bit “lost.” So we looked at a map, found all the big cities and planned a way around them (far around them if we could help it). We also looked for weird, off-the-beaten-path locals that probably wouldn’t be super touristy or busy. And because of who we are - and our interests in national parks overall - we knew we had to a hit a couple of parks that we probably wouldn’t be able to otherwise (hello White Sands National Park).
Before you even look at a map, on paper or on your computer, you should have an idea (doesn’t have to be concrete or anything) of what you really want to get out of your trip and then go from there.
Then decide on your time frame.
After knowing what you want to see you have to quickly decide on how long you have for the road trip itself. You can see a lot in a couple days if you only have a couple of days, or you can take it a bit slower and jam less stuff in if you have, say a week.
We had about four months set aside for this trip, with about a month of that being spent in southern Texas with family, meaning we had 12 weeks to fill with stuff. That seems like a lot of time, but you will quickly realize that there is a looooot of awesome stuff out there to see. Even with all of our time we still had to cut out a lot of things we wanted to see (sorry Grand Canyon NP).
Another thing you have to realize is that driving between places takes time, even if Google Maps says it is only two hours between places you have to factor in things like bathroom breaks, awesome vistas that are just begging to be memorialized in a photo, traffic jams due to wildlife, stuff like that. So don’t overpack your schedule in a way that doesn’t account for stuff like that. Also, make sure to add in a bit of “downtime” - otherwise, you will be exhausted and burnt out on day three of road tripping.
Finally, look at a map.
Now is the fun part: you have decided on what you want to get out of the trip and how much time you have, now it is time to look at a map. We prefer to scour over a nice, big paper atlas. Who knows why? Maybe because it harks back to a time when all you had was a simple paper map. Either way, we love to spend hours just looking at maps and for our motorcycle trip, we got totally immersed in staring at different landmarks, twisty dirt roads, and maybe a ghost town or two on our National Geographic Adventure Atlas.
Looking at a map is a great way to finally get an idea of what your route will look like, especially spatially. Knowing where one cool landmark is compared to another is important when planning out your days. This is also a great way to figure out where you want to stay for at night, either conventional lodging options like hotels and motels, or campgrounds nearby (we love the app iOverlander for finding super cool, hidden gem campsites).
So we highly recommend getting some form of map, either digital or good old fashion paper, and looking it over before you start your trip. You will see a lot of cool things that you probably never would have heard of, or thought of visiting unless you looked at a map (that is how we found Kitt Peak in Arizona, an awesome side trip that we highly recommend checking out if you are in the Tucson area).
Maybe do a bit of Instagram snooping.
Instagram is home to millions of images from all over the world, so what better way to get an idea of a place than to look at beautiful images of it? And if Instagram isn’t your thing, then at least check out Google Images - it is a great way to see what a place looks like before actually getting there.
We do this a lot when deciding whether a place is worth it (yes we know don’t judge a book by its cover, or a place by one Google image) but it honestly does give you at least some sense of a place. Also when it comes to creativity - and in this case specifically photography - we like to get an idea of some cool places to takes photos by looking at examples of what people have done before.
When planning a route, having at least an idea of the terrain and locations you are hoping to see will also give you a good idea of what to bring (oh that lake is big and beautiful and we are road tripping during the heat of the summer, maybe we should bring our tubes or SUPs, stuff like that). It is also a great way to get inspired (in case you needed any). Because nothing makes you excited to hit the road than seeing a drop-dead gorgeous vista or unique roadside attraction.
Road trips might just be the best way to see a place, at least we think so. Nothing beats having the freedom to go where you want, when you want, and see what you what (and stay as long as you want).
It seems we are always planning our next road trip (for us our next one looks to be a big two-week trip into Oregon and Washington). The excitement of hitting the road is something we miss when we are away from it for too long. We absolutely love the feeling of the wind in our faces, the knowledge that we don’t know what is around the next bend in the road and the ability to spend hours or days in a random place that we would never visit unless we were in our car (or van or motorcycle).
So if you are even contemplating doing a grand road trip this summer then we cannot stress enough that you should absolutely, 100%, no questions asked, GO FOR IT. So grab your friends (of the human or pet variety), find your form of transportation, and start route planning!