It’s so exciting planning a trip to a foreign place–foreign in the context that you’ve just never been before. Exciting, but a bit challenging. Even though we strived to maintain the feeling of being free to go wherever the wind blows while out on the open road, there was no doubt A LOT of planning that went in to the trip. I definitely had an itinerary with dates and addresses and specific things I wanted to do/see. We definitely had a timeline. We made reservations at popular places like Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks a couple months in advance, as well as hostels we planned to stay at while visiting cities. I definitely over-reserved a little bit, and learned that it’s really only the above mentioned places you need reservations for–the most popular destinations. Most of the National Parks have a multitude of campgrounds, some of which you aren’t even allowed to reserve–it’s a first-come, first-serve basis–which stressed me out when I was sitting at home planning this massive trip, but once we were out on the open road I found it’s kinda nice to not always have a specific destination you have to arrive at by the end of the day. How are you supposed to explore and follow intriguing roads and discover secret destinations when you always have a plan? Better to have a rough outline for the most part! (And for the record, we were informed that you are free to camp anywhere in National Forests…FOR FREE. It’s about as primitive as camping gets, but pretty awesome to stake out a campsite in the middle of nowhere and make it home for a while. Also, most National Parks are surrounded by National Forests, a little fact I wish I knew going in to this journey.)
The heart of the journey we wanted to make was inspired by Mother Nature. And boy, did she put on a show. The West coast is overwhelmed with National Parks, Forests and Monuments–special, natural treasures that are reserved solely for OUR enjoyment by nature-lovers within the government. Isn’t that amazing? The government isn’t totally against us after all!! All we knew were stories we’d heard and seemingly myths of these natural, yet magnificent creations that awaited us on the west coast. I purchased National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks in the United States
, which was our most valuable resource while planning and out on the road. It offers helpful information, such as: when to visit, what to do, how to plan, where to stay, pictures, trails, history, important numbers and dates and resources, etc. It’s a tell-all. That was our base.
I had also comprised a collection of destinations I’d dreamed of visiting using the fun little site Pinterest and other interest pages that advertised amazing worldly destinations to feed your daydreams. Facebook pages like Green Renaissance and Amazing World provided a lot of inspiration for me, personally, and revealed places I could hardly even believe were real! But they are!! We sprinkled many in to our itinerary! From there we researched more deeply the places we were drawn to, using Trip Advisor and Yelp and travel blogs such as this, and created a sequence using the parks we chose. We looked at an Atlas (which you need to make sure you have while on the road, especially if you plan on going to these forests and natural destinations–you’re smart phone will most likely rarely have service. Which is more or less all part of the experience.) and marked all our chosen destinations.
From there we were able to plot our trip depending on what cities lied in between, what other surrounding natural beauty we wanted to explore, and people we knew and wanted to visit along the way. Doing so successfully drafted our potential route and we map-quested the distance between each destination to make sure most drives were doable, and added all that information to the itinerary as well. Some drives were longer than others, especially when getting out to the west coast and getting back home from the west coast, but doable. (I must mention that my boyfriend & I are seriously road warriors–which is what made this whole trip possible. We’d had many adventures to far-out destinations prior to this journey, so we knew we could do it. Find someone that makes time seem timeless when you are with them–that is the kind of buddy you need for this type of journey. A best friend, a family member, a significant other. You will grow very close and create a life-long bond, and it’s so so beautiful when you can share this kind of journey with someone else. Buddy system is the way to go!)
Once we drafted a list of all the destinations, which you can find in my previous post, we estimated about how much time we would like to have in those places. Before we knew it, our trip extended to a two and a half month time frame. Which was okay, since we had the whole summer to play with. After a bit of tinkering, we had our base itinerary.
I made contact with anyone necessary regarding lodging–either a family member, friend, park or hostel–and reserved what I could. As I mentioned before, only the cities and the more popular National Parks really required a reservation. For those places, the sooner you reserve, the better, but for the most part it’s easier and funner to be in the moment and decide where to stay when you can see for yourself how it is all laid out and what makes the most sense and where you end up at the end of the day. Plus, when reserving, you have to reserve a specific campsite–and how are you supposed to know which ones are the coolest without doing a drive-thru first! For our National Park reservations, I used http://www.recreation.gov
, which is VERY helpful and easy to use. Plug in your potential dates and it will offer you all the campsites available to reserve, along with a map and sometimes even pictures of the actual sites. I usually chose the sites by rivers or tucked away from the rest of the campground, which served us well.
As for visiting cities, staying in a Hostel is probably the best and most affordable way to experience them. First of all, there are people from all over the country, and even the world, that stay in these places and you all share common spaces like kitchen, lounges and bathrooms, so there is a lot of inter-mingling. I was pleasantly surprised by most of the hostels we stayed in. Trip Advisor and Yelp (once again) aided in weeding out the good from the bad, which both were very reliable resources for doing so and I usually got what I expected. Hostels are geared towards travelers like us: on a budget, looking for new experiences, and new to the area. They all had bulletin boards with cool spaces and places to be found within the city and fun destinations dusted around the skirts of these cities. Also, everyone there is down to adventure and learn and act as an open book–looking for like-minded people to connect with and share new experiences. I met backpackers from everywhere and it was interesting to share our journey with them and learn about theirs. It’s a mecca for shakers and dreamers–people that aren’t scared to get out there and make these seemingly crazy journeys most people only dream about. It was inspiring. As crazy as I thought our journey seemed, ours was maybe the least crazy out of most of them. Life does not have to be as stubborn as you think. Dare to dream–and challenge yourself to chase after even your craziest dreams. That’s living. Anyway, highly recommend experiencing the American hostel life!! In future blog posts I plan to include specifics on where we stayed, what we would have done differently, and where we would plan to stay, so just look for the post geared toward your chosen destinations and there should be helpful hints for you.
Your planning period should be extensive so that you know what to expect, what you feel you must see, as well as what you feel you could do without–everyone is different–but don’t plan so rigorously that you aren’t able to feel free. Make a pot of coffee, sit down with your resources, and just bust it out! It may take a few planning sessions to surmise a true itinerary, but it is so necessary to keep things on track.
I hope this helps without overwhelming or intimidating you. I also hope all this makes sense. Please, feel free to comment with questions or confusions. I’m an open book. 🙂
Can’t wait to start getting to the nitty-gritty details, where the rubber meets the road–that’s where all the true magic is. Til then, best of luck planning.