To be honest, planning my road trip to the West Coast of America was intensive and very time consuming and much more difficult than my previous road trips. It took me about two months to make a good plan. I was happy to have a lot of help from my best friend, named Google Maps. Without him I would never have succeeded. Normally I don’t plan too much in advance because I don’t want my travels to be a race against the clock but soon I found out that it’s not an option to go to the West Coast without a plan. Why? Because you don’t have a lot of (affordable) accommodations near or in the national parks and they’re fully booked most of the time! I booked my hotels 2 months in advance and my choice was already very limited.
Step 1: Determine your start and ending point and book your flight tickets
How do you choose your start en ending point? You have three choices:
1. You compare the prices of the flights (like I did). Flying to San Francisco and ending in Los Angeles was the cheapest option for me.
2. You use someone else’s itinerary.
3. You’re just winging it (depending on the length of your stay and your budget).
Step 2: Book your rental car
After booking your flights, you book your rental car. Keep in mind that drivers younger than 25 have to pay a (huge) additional fee in America. So take your time to choose a good company and to read the conditions. I prefer EasyTerra to rent my cars.
Step 3: Places you really want to see
Which places do you really want to see? List them up. No idea? Read blogs from other travelers and read travel guides. After listing up my must sees I put these places in Google maps to have a good overview of the different spots. Afterwards I put them in a Word document in the right order and this list forms the base of my route. You will notice that some places will not fit in your route because they’re too far away. You can skip these places (unless you really want to see them or you have plenty of time of course).
Step 4: How long to stay at a particular place?
How long to stay at a place depends on your interests and the time you have. This is definitely the most difficult part of the planning. Read other travel blogs to discover how long other people stay and do some research about what else to do in the environment. You’ll be surprised by how much secret places you’ll discover by reading travel blogs. Another great app is Pinterest. Just give in the name of your destination and you’ll find dozens of cool tips and spots. Also self-knowledge is very helpful by deciding how long to stay in one place. I found out that some people stay in a national park for 3 days because they love hiking. I know 3 days would be too long for me as I’m not a hiker, so I decided to spend only one day in the national parks.
So, in your Word document you now have a list of all the things you want to see and do during your trip and how long you want to spend there.
Step 5: The distance between the different stops
Use Google maps to know how long you have to drive to go from one place to the next and calculate it in. Also write it down in your doc. Sometimes you’ll have to drive for over 5 hours. Decide if you want to make an overnight stop or not.
Normally you’ll have a clear document by now that says how long you’ll stay in one place and how many time you’ll need to go from stop to stop.
Step 6: Book your ho(s)tels
I use booking.com because it is extremely easy and they have an app that gives you a clear summary of the hotels you’ve booked. But again always check the location of your hotel on Google maps in combination with the rest of your route. In some places, especially near the national parks, it can be a real challenge to find a hotel that’s on your route as there are multiple entries.
Step 7: Print your document and keep it close to you
Keep your document close to you in the car. It’s very easy to take a quick look at where to next.
Keep in mind, a good plan and a lot of research doesn’t guarantee everything will go as planned. Life happens. So keep your ways open and enjoy the ride!