TRIP PLANNING 101 Part 1: THE THOUGHTPROCESS
When planning an Epic Family Fulltime RV Adventure throughout the United States, where does one begin? There are 48 contiguous states, there's Canada and Mexico, there's Alaska that can technically be travelled by RV and then there's the question of How does one get to Hawaii? There's a lot of ground one can cover, and there is so much history within our beautiful country and the surrounding continent. How do you narrow it down and decide what to see and what not to see?
For us, we started with the goal of getting through the contiguous 48 states within an approximate time frame of 2 years. Our thought process was simple, stay South till its safe and move up as the weather becomes bearable. From Texas, we decided to head West first and cover as much of the Western half as possible in our first trip and then cover as much of the Eastern half in the second trip, stopping to celebrate Thanksgiving in between.
Each family's needs and comfort level needs to be taken into account. We discussed our plan with my parents in Texas and let them know we would be seeing them and we promised to Skype in between! It was not an easy decision since we have two little ones and Grandma and Grandpa are important people in our lives. But, at the same time, they are super supportive and understanding and encouraged us along the journey. So, we kept the aggressive schedule and planned to head West.
We started out moving the RV from the city to the outlying countryside where we could get an easier start to our travels once we were ready to leave. We purchased a camping membership through Ocean Canyon Properties and stayed 6 weeks at our member park, 3 weeks included and 3 weeks they call a "buyout." But that 6 weeks gave us plenty of time to plan and schedule the Western tour.
Once we were settled in our home base, we lightened our load in the RV, because like a home, you collect stuff. I must say, we can't collect as much stuff and we have to get rid of stuff quicker which helps keep the pack rat in me from coming out in full force. That's one of the benefits of this lifestyle. So, with a lighter load it was time to think through and plan our trip.
We planned to leave in March from Texas to New Mexico, and we kept an eye on the weather to ensure we were travelling in safe conditions. We looked at the best location in order to see as much as possible and yet stay on our route to our next destination. Choosing to stay too far south would cause issues, so we stayed just outside Albuquerque and decided we would just drive in the car to see things like Roswell and White Sands. We would have loved to see the Carlsbad Caverns too, but we just couldn't fit it in this trip.
Onward, we headed towards Arizona. We knew we wanted to see several things there too, so we chose a spot again, that kept us moving West and that would allow us to see as much as possible. We chose Meteor Crater RV Park which is just down the road from the Meteor Crater. This strategic location allowed us to see the Petrified Forest, Winslow and the Grand Canyon. We also made a trip to the Phoenix Arizona Science Center which allowed us to pick up an ASTC Membership for $65 for our family for the year; which also gives us reciprocal entrance to many other science museums throughout the country and internationally. Yay!
We try to create an "Adventure Radius" wherever we stay so that we can maximize our adventures and see as much of the state as possible. There is a method to the madness most of the time, but we are also limited by our park membership parks through Coast to Coast or by what is available and not booked solid. Due to our work from home status where Tom works fulltime for a corporate business, he must have connectivity at all times. So, all of that plays into our route plan as we travel.
From Arizona, we planned 3 stops in California from South to North, then on to Oregon and Washington, and because I taught for a year in B.C., I couldn't leave that out of our plan. I also have a cousin in Victoria that we wanted to see, so a ferry was a part of the plan. Once we came back to Washington, it was South from Idaho to Nevada before heading back north again. We had to zig-zag up and down because Tom had a conference in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, that put us seeing Nevada during the hot, hot summer. If it was all our planning, we would have stopped in Nevada before California in April/May before it got to 117 degrees.
But, after Nevada, we headed through Utah, stopping to see the Lavender Fields where our essential oils are distilled and then to Wyoming to see my brother and sister in law and our nephews at Yellowstone. This was a slight change in plans because we wanted to see family while they were on their vacation, and hindsight being 20/20 I don't know that we would have veered off the plan in such a busy place. Our initial plans took us through Yellowstone at the end of July, whereas, my brother and sister in law had planned to be in the park the weekend after the 4th of July. It was so crazy, it was hard to enjoy the park.
But, due to the craziness, we took the road less traveled and stayed in a sleepy little town about an hour and a half from the Grand Tetons. We visited there which was so amazing. Then we cancelled our West Yellowstone reservation, staying in Virginia City, Montana for 3 weeks which was actually one of our favorite places! From there we headed north to Glacier, staying in Columbia Falls, with a once in a lifetime trip up to the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park in Alberta Canada. It was a six hour trip by car from Columbia Falls, Montana to Banff, and the hotels and airbnbs were not cheap, but it was well worth the trip!
The remainder of our Western Tour will be taking us through the Dakotas to Winnipeg where I was born and where all of my extended family lives, followed by a stop on our way South through the Badlands and Mount Rushmore and Colorado and finally stopping in Oklahoma before heading home to Texas in October. Now, to be fair, we technically started our RV tour last August with Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas and so we are including those states in our grand total.
This trip will have given us an overview of 15 states and 3 provinces in Canada, with a grand total of 18 states and 3 provinces. We will head back out in late November after some much needed family time and a rush of doctor and dentist appointments and then, we'll be back out through the South before heading northeast for next year covering the rest of the country. For some of the states that are closer together, we will just stay in one RV park that's centrally located and created our "Adventure Radius" around that.
Our lifestyle at this point, does not allow for boondocking other than the odd WalMart parking lot on a quick stop for a 2 day driving trip. We cannot drive more than about 350 miles per day due to having kids a slow turtle Class A gas motorhome. So, for now, our trip planning has to include parks with wifi and parks that allow us easy access to our driving route.
I hope this gives you a little more of our thought process in planning our journey. In Part 2, I will go more into the how we plan our trip and the nitty gritty details as to how we use our calendars, spreadsheets and apps to hone in on how to make the most out of our route. In Part 3, I'll give you some insight in how we plan within our "Adventure Radius" to maximize the time we have for adventuring!