Road Trip Newbie Plan!
Planning Your First Road Trip
Okay one of the questions we get more often than anything else is "How do I plan my first road trip", and its a great question because to be honest, from the first road trip of having a car loaded to the brim for the weekend, to a month on the road and being able to see out the back window no problem, we have learned A LOT.
We learned how to pack efficiently, how to save tons of money and make these trips affordable as broke college students, what types of trails were in our "wheel-house", when to get reservations for campsites and a million things in between. So we want to share a few tips that have saved us a bunch of hassle over the years, that will hopefully help you get out on the road for your first trip! If you need help planning a route, or choosing which parks or what time of year to go (no summer is not always best) please message us, we would love to help get you out there!
These are just a few of the most important things we found out when we first started road tripping, that saved us TONS of money, and hassle. Follow these tips for your first road trip and you can ensure it will go as smooth as possible.
Allow for flexibility: This is so key, and really takes a lot of stress out of the trip. Bri is a #planner to the MAX. If it were up to her almost every second of all of our trips would be planned. This actually is great and massively helpful because we get a really detailed plan for our trips which is awesome, but we always make sure to note things that are kind of "non-negotiable" and let the other stuff just happen. What this does is opens up your schedule a bit so if you don't feel like doing a certain hike one day, or you want to spend more time at a certain spot, you can do that without feeling like your trip is over. There were two nights in Canada and one in Arizona that we ended up not making it to do what we had planned to do, but we allowed for some back up options to work out for us and what it got us, was a free professional photoshoot(see pic below!), a free night camping, and an awesome day seeing far more of Canada than we thought we were going to. We missed two back country hikes which we were excited about but I had just hurt my back so it felt like a bad idea, and it ended up working out for the better. More often than not, the flexibility makes your trip much more of a story to remember, and that really is the fun of it.
Buy a National Park Pass (click here to purchase): A national park pass runs you about $80/year, had we not purchased one it would have cost us well over $300 to visit all of the parks we did. Its about $30 a park to access and in many places there are a few parks really close together that you can hit in the same trip! If you find your way into 3 parks, you already saved yourself $10, and the pass is good for a full year from when you purchase it. It's really the best way to go, plus it saves you a bunch of hassle when you get to the parks, you just flash the card and pull through.
Budget - and then some!: If you're like us, (young and broke) finances are going to be a factor for your trip, but don't let this deter you, you can still make it happen. Fortunately for you, national park trips can be some of the most affordable trips or vacations around. However, we've found that what we actually spend was almost always more than we budgeted for, so make sure to cost everything out and then add on a few hundred dollars (depending on the length of your trip) to give yourself some wiggle room. Below are a few key way to save you TONS of money on a trip.
Buy (or borrow) a good cooler, and pack your food: I don't care if you're eating McDonalds for every meal, eating out will put you over budget faster than everything else combined. Some go to road trip meals for us are: Sandwiches; tuna, egg salad, pb&j, or even turkey. Chicken salads with dressing on the side (very important lol). Apples and nut butter, protein or meal replacement shakes, and fruit. All of these things will keep you full, are easy and simple to eat on the road, clean, and have enough calories to keep you going after long hikes if thats your thing. Notice I underlined and bolded "good". A good cooler is key for a longer road trip and we have found it well worth the investment. Just on that road trip we saved about $85 on ice by having a high end cooler. Over the last year and a couple of road trips we have paid for the cooler with money saved on ice. I know this sounds like a joke but its a game changer. Yeti Coolers are what we use and are probably the best around. You can purchase an RTIC as well for a slightly cheaper version that should still do a great job for you. The way we thought about this on the front end before we realized how much money we would save on ice alone, was that with a low end cooler you end up replacing it every 2 years or so because it breaks. With a Yeti or RTIC, you shouldn't have to replace them ever. So for the money its well worth it. The biggest lesson we have learned is buy the right stuff up front.
If money is tight where you camp can be a big deal. There are plenty of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campsites near most national parks that you can camp at for anywhere from $5-$15 on average, sometimes even free. Campsites within national parks, while convenient, well kept, and safe; are usually between $20-$30. If you plan on taking a 5 night road trip that can be a matter of $100 back in your pocket. to find some of these you can google "free campsites" and start doing research on them.
Tent or car camp, don't even entertain the idea of an air bnb or cabin. Even a cheap air bnb can put you $500 over budget quickly. If you're scared to camp, or dont have the gear, or dont want to sleep outside, throw an airmatress or a few pads in the back of your car and sleep there. It's worth it when you wake up in the morning and hike out to a massive waterfall, or rock face, or trees or hoodoos.
Lastly, as we already said, buy a National Park Pass
Plan In Advance: One thing we never expected was that at many national parks, if you want a campsite, you will need to book sometimes up to 6 months in advance. Parks like Yosemite, Zion, and Yellowstone, for peak months, will sell out in a matter of hours, months and months ahead of time. So if you plan to see some of the "big" parks, try planning well ahead of time. If this isn't an option, they have a lot of first come first serve sites available but some parks you may need to be there around 5:30-6:00 am waiting in line to get one!
Research, Research, and More Research!: by far one of the most important things is understanding the trip you are taking. Some hikes you need permits, or bear spray, or are filled with rattle snakes, or get upwards of 100 degrees by noon. Some parks are closed for half the months of the year, trails in a lot of parks in the southwest are marked by Little Rock towers people have built, not by anything else. There are tons and tons of things that can get you into serious danger in the wild. People underestimate how powerful nature is, and it's not something to be scared of its just something to be aware of. If you do your research, use common sense, and read up on hikes before you go on them you should have no problems at all
All Trails: last but definitely not least is our favorite website. AllTrails.com has pretty much every trail out there with its distance, elevation gain, rating (easy, moderate, hard) and comments and pictures from people who have actually done it. Pretty much any and all trail information we are looking for we get from alltrails, its awesome.
These are just a few tips that really saved us a ton of hassle and time. We decided not to share a packing guide because there are plenty out there for free on google that you can check out. If you have any problems or are looking for gear reccomendations please reach out to us! We are here to help you get out there and experience the life you desire to live so please don't hesitate to reach out!