Grand Canyon view
It is almost spring, and time to plan and book your summer road trip! Whether it is an annual trip to visit relatives, or a trip to explore a different area of the country, there are some road trip basics that will take the stress and worry out of your vacation. I grew up on family road trips. My parents took four children to southern California to visit relatives. They took us to South Dakota, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, the Oregon coast, and all over southern Utah. I watched my mother send away for information, and meticulously plan our trips. She mailed deposits to hold reservations, and did almost all the trip planning through mail and a limited number of long distance phone calls. With so much information available on the internet, planning a road trip is a far simpler task today!
1) Choose a destination. It may seem obvious, but decide where you want to go, and what style of trip you are taking.
Are you planning to visit relatives or staying in a hotel/motel/condo/cabin?
Are you driving to one location and then spending your vacation there?
Are you going to be on the road the entire time, with occasional stops along the way?
Do you have specific places you wish to visit, or a particular city you wish to explore?
Are you flying to your destination and then taking a rental car on a road trip?
How many days do you have available for your trip? Adjust your trip to fit the time you have available. You cannot possibly do everything in one trip, so choose your priorities.
Lower Falls at Yellowstone National Park
2) Calculate your driving time. It is a good idea at this point to look at maps, and figure out where you want to stop for the night on your trip. Many trip calculators are available online. I find it helpful to be able to calculate both driving distances and driving timesl. You might want to try a trip calculator like travelmath.com.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Are you driving straight through to your destination?
Will your travel companions tolerate a long day or two in the car?
How many days do you have for your trip?
Could you spread a long drive over two days?
Are there things along the way that are important for you to see?
Make a rough plan of your route, and where you might stop. Now you are ready to research accommodations and things to do along the way.
3) Research accommodations along the way and book your trip.
Start by searching the internet for "accommodations" or "lodging" in the places you wish to stop. Popular locations can fill up fast, so you may want to reserve crucial parts of your trip well in advance. Also, consider staying near a popular destination rather than right in it (a hotel outside Disneyland instead of one on the property can save you quite a bit of money, for example. Likewise, you may find a deal in West Yellowstone that is less expensive than staying at a lodge in the national park).
Internet research is a mixed blessing. While travel sites can help you pinpoint accommodations, reading the reviews from fellow travelers can be confusing! Some people love the hotel/motel you are looking at, and others would never stay there again! Sift through the reviews with an eye to what you are looking for in accommodations. If you just need a place to sleep for the night, it may not matter that someone didn't like the pool. But if you are staying for a few days, the comfort of the beds and helpfulness of the staff is important.
Early Morning at Capitol Reef National Park
Consider signing up for a membership with a hotel or motel chain. Usually memberships are free, and if you can stay in lodgings run by the same company throughout your vacation, you can earn points toward a future stay. Check the actual hotel/motel websites as well as trip sites like Expedia or Travelocity. Sometimes you can find a great rate through the hotel website itself. Internet rates are sometimes lower than rates you get actually phoning the hotel, but not always. Sometimes a motel will have a special offer available, so it is worth it to call and talk to the front desk. Also, do you qualify for any discounts (senior discount, AAA membership, etc.)? These can also add up to savings on your trip.
Most travel sites recommend you actually phone the location before traveling to confirm the details of your reservation and discuss any particular needs. Not all internet sites will tell you if a motel can accommodate more than four people in a room. Calling the front desk can help you determine if you can get a rollaway bed or fit a child into the room on an air mattress. Some states are very strict about how many people can be in a room, while others don't mind if you put three or four kids in your room, so if you are traveling with children, call and ask about accommodations for families.
Niagara Falls - American side
Some questions to consider when booking hotels/motels:
Do they serve breakfast? You can save a considerable amount of money eating breakfast at the motel, especially if you are traveling with your family.
Do they have a pool or playground? This is a lifesaver when traveling with children.
If you have a large family, do they have suites available? Rollaways? Cribs? (be aware that these usually have extra charges)
What about smoking/non-smoking rooms?
Do they have a kitchenette? Refrigerator? Microwave?
Most motel and hotel rooms have hair dryers and coffee makers.
Can they accommodate a different check-in or check-out time if you need it?
Do they have laundry facilities? (important on a long trip)
4) Always check the cancellation policy. If you think you may need to make changes before or even during your trip, read the fine print carefully. Some places offer a non-refundable rate at a big discount. If your plans are concrete, this may be the way to go. However, if you think you may need to alter your plans, look for places with a 24-hour free cancellation. It could save you money in the long run.
Summer in the Rocky Mountains
5) Check maps. Yes, GPS navigation has grown immensely in accessibility and popularity, but a good map can help you out if your GPS system isn't up to date on the recent road construction and you need to make a few detours. Maps can also show you points of interest along the way. Knowing which exits you need from the interstate, or having a good city map of your destination can be invaluable. Besides, you can let your children follow the route and see how far you have gone, and where you will be stopping for the night. If you are an AAA member, you can utilize their trip planning services to get driving directions and maps for your journey.
For additional trip planning tips, try RoadTripAmerica or AAA.
Stay tuned for:
Road Trip Planning - Step 2 - Enjoying the Road
Road Trip Planning - Step 3 - Traveling with Children
Road Trip Planning - Step 4 - Food for the Trip