TRIP PLANNING PART 2: THE NITTY GRITTY DETAILS
Planning the epic fulltime family adventure of a lifetime involves creativity, flexibilty and the ability to be calm under pressure. There are so many wonderful things to see and never enough time to see it all. There are so many decisions about where to go and where to stay and what to do once you arrive, it can easily become overwhelming. The first step; however, is to START.
We started online just looking at a map of the U.S. The first decision was whether to head west or east or straight north through the middle. We looked at our location in Texas, which is thankfully centrally located and we looked at what tickled our fancy first, which was the west. I wanted to see the Grand Canyon and Seattle and Vancouver, and Tom wanted to see California and the Redwoods. So, we put those items on the top of the list and worked our way around that. We knew a couple of fixed points on our route, specifically Tom had a conference in June in Las Vegas, so we just added that to the route.
From there, we went to our calendar. Knowing that we could only stay in a Coast to Coast Park for 14 days, we planned out our route leaving on Fridays and Saturdays based on Tom's work schedule and arriving on a weekend so that we could test the wifi and make sure Tom could work during the week. That also gave us at least one day to get groceries and supplies and have one small adventure. It also allowed for one adventure weekend in the middle and then we would leave the Friday or Saturday following. So, I went to my calendar and just started blocking out states and stays in 14 day intervals. Now, because we have to stay outside our Coast to Coast member parks for a week, there are some stays that were 3 weeks and we just paid out of pocket for those. We will go into the budgeting aspect a little later, but there were a couple of places we broke our 14 day rule.
Our maximum travel mileage is about 350 miles and about 7 hours per day. If we're traveling a longer distance, we typically stay at a WalMart in between. We look these up in advance and we look at Allstays.com to see if the WalMart in the area we are going offers overnight RV parking. If it is going to be a 2 day trip and there is not a WalMart then I go ahead and book an intermediate RV park. Because we travel with kids and we are not yet comfortable with full boondocking, we have not ventured into other methods of boondocking, like BLM land. They are perfectly fine, it's just not something we're comfortable with at this point.
Tom will also double check the routes using flattestroute.com and googlemaps to ensure we are not taking any steep grades. We keep the routes simple and try to stay on main routes. I know there are other methods, but this has worked for us so far so we will continue to keep this part as simple as possible.
Once we blocked out the length of stay, we looked at our Coast to Coast site to book as many of these parks as possible. We can book these stays online up to 120 days in advance so I made as many of these reservations as possible first. If there wasn't a Coast to Coast park near where we wanted to stay, we just booked off the Good Sam website or looked for RV parks near such and such place and looked up the reveiws, especially for wifi. Again, we choose RV parks with wifi as much as possible so we don't have to use up all of our backup data on our phone plan, jetpack and Mobley device.
Once a place was booked, I added it to our spreadsheet. In the spreadsheet I include columns for the dates of stay, the name of the RV park, the phone number for the park, the name of the town, if it is in our Coast to Coast membership or if we have to pay out of pocket for it and the nightly or weekly rate and a column where I put suggested activities for that location.
Now, here's where my semi-photographic memory comes into place as well as my slightly non-rule following creative side kicks in. Once, I've got everything entered into the spreadsheet and I know where we're going, I put it on autopilot and only pull up the spreadsheet if I need it. I have the information written on a calendar, saved in a spreadsheet and engrained in my memory bank. I've had to refer back on a couple of occasions, but once I've got it, I'm good to go.
Or, so I think in my mind! There have been times when I've made changes and haven't updated the spreadsheet or the calendar or both and have made mistakes. I double booked us once and we had to eat the cost on a deposit. But, we live and learn and I try to do better each time. Now, if a change needs to be made, it needs to be updated on the calendar and the spreadsheet.
So here are the steps we take when planning out our trip route:
1- Draw out on a map of the U.S. that has the major cities listed. We did this through a Google search and just drew it out in our head. In the future, we will go a little more sophisticated and have an actual map drawn in, especially given the close nature of the eastern states.
2- We determine how far we can get in one day- which is typically around 350 miles maximum and a total of 7-8 hours with breaks included. We do stop for breaks because even though we're in a class A motorhome, when the motorhome is being driven, everyone remains in their seat belts. This is a non-negotiable for us. If it will be a 2 day trip or longer, we will plan a stay at a WalMart overnight or will book an intermediate stay.
3- Using the limitations given by Tom's job (internet connectivity needs), the length of stays allowed through our Ocean Canyon and Coast to Coast membership, we determine the specific location of each park. We use the Coast to Coast website as well as Good Sam and on occasion we simply Google and look for good reviews.
4- Once a park is booked, we fill in our spreadsheet and double check with our physical calendar. I prefer a physical calendar, so I don't have to be connected to my computer. But, Tom prefers to put it into his Google calendar. So I gave him my permissions and once it's updated on my end, he puts it all into Google.
5- Once the spreadsheet is completed and the routes are mapped out, we are ready to begin our journey!
Always remember that plans need to have some flexibility built in. Case in point, the kids were getting lonely and we knew we would be close enough to change our route to meet up with family in Utah and we knew decided a month ago that traveling to Ontario for the Fulltime Families Rally would be a little more of a challenge than we expected so we shifted our route back to Texas by two weeks. Having some "give" in the schedule will allow for making the journey a joy instead of a rigid and frustrating event.