Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Road Trip Questions: Prep, Planning and Perserverence

Folks in colder climes must already be getting that cabin fever. They're planning next summer's big adventures, and several have contacted me lately for more details about how, why and what we do. I thought I'd post one of my responses here to make the information more readily available to others interested in hitting the road in a fiberglass trailer, or, really, any other portable housing situation:

Traveling with the girls has been SO fun, and certainly educational for us all! I'm happy to share my details and answer ANY questions you have. Just be warned - I'm wordy! ;)

I'm sure you'll have a WONDERFUL trip as long as you keep this single, most-important thing in mind:
"Blessed are the flexible, for they shall keep their sanity."

First of all, I noticed you'd asked about the Sienna tow capacity. OUR 2000 has a top rated capacity of 2850 (a seemingly random number, but sobeit), so our 1700 pound (fully loaded with water and more stuff than we EVER used) trailer was well under that. Our 2000 had the tow package offered that year (oil cooler and larger radiator). Strangely, the tow package did NOT include a hitch receptacle, or any trailer wiring. Go figure. Point is, if you go well under the weight prescribed by YOUR year (and keep in mind you're going to put in some 500 pounds of clothes, blankets, pots, pans, and water even if you go lightly), you should be fine. (It sounds like you've camped a time or dozen before, but just in case you need it, here's our basic camping list

Our 2008 trip was the third BIG trip I'd done with the girls. (The first was to the PacNW in 2005, then Utah in 2006 - though I cheated there because I've lived there and already knew my way around.) Besides rule number one (see above), probably the most important thing I learned about traveling that kind of distance with kids was to plan kid-focused stops EVERY SINGLE DAY. Here are some other pointers ( And these ( And finally these (

For me, an ideal TRAVEL day involves 100-150 miles of driving split up by a midday break that could be a picnic in a good park, junior ranger program at a national park, museum that would spark their interests (in my girls' cases, any history museum works, or doll museums).
I'm very easily entertained, and as long as my kids are happy, I am (in general) happy. While I can drive for HOURS on end joyfully, it's tough to be a passenger for very long drives, so the stops really help make the day more enjoyable for everyone involved. This mileage equates to about an hour's drive in the morning, a good multi-hour stop midday, then an hour's drive to camp with the goal of being set up and eating before dark sets in. With your girls' age differences, you'll probably have to juggle interest that differ from each other. Perhaps alternate the days, or, better yet, once you have a list of options, let THEM chose! ( - note: this blog entry was written BEFORE we knew we'd have a trailer - I thought we were going to TENT the whole thing!) My girls were SO ready to go home by the time we hit Arizona that they really didn't want to stop for another national park. But when I handed back the map of the park and told them THEY got to chose the activities and trails, they were all over it - and we were there most of the day!

How did I find these locations? While I'd like to "just wing it," I'm a planner. I think this stems from the year I spent traveling in Europe. While it was fantastic, I had done NO studying before I went and missed a lot because I just didn't know about so many of the popular stops. (Then again, I camped at the base of a waterfall in Ireland's backcountry - an odd, off-the-beaten path spot I learned about from an ANCIENT local.) Plus, with the responsibility of kid, I feel beholden to know know GENERALLY where we'll be sleeping, but I'm flexible if I have a good plan as back-up for when "winging it" doesn't pan out. In this trip's case, I knew the general route we wanted to follow (Lewis & Clark Trail) so I mapped that first. Then I read a LOT about the areas we'd be traveling through (as in that HALF of the state). If I saw a large park on the map, I looked it up for details, then looked AROUND it for national forestland or BLM land or Corps of Engineer sites, all of which are generally less crowded and equally breathtaking as the neighboring "official park."

It also helps that I have no problem diverting from our intended route. (This all REALLY started with a trip to Washington. Once we were there, at ONE end of the L&C trail, "might as well" follow it east. And once to Montana "might as well" see Glacier, which led to Canada, etc., etc.) So as I'd read about, say, Glacier Park (not on Lewis & Clark's route, but SO close we couldn't miss it), I'd figure out how to work it in. (In the case of Glacier, it was our most heinous diversion from our intended route - but well worth it.) I read online, I used the AAA guides (are you a AAA member?), guides I found in our local library. Then I went to the best source of all - perfect strangers! Locals know the best places, the places travel guides don't bother telling anyone about (thank HEAVENS...after all, this secrecy is what keeps the places wonderful). The biggest problem, really, is winnowing it down to fit your schedule. There's just SO much to see and do in this country! Also, since the girls didn't know what each day held, if we just relaxed and remained in one spot for awhile longer than EYE had planned, it was ok! Sure, we missed something else, but I'm the only one who knew what we missed, and if it was REALLY important, then I knocked something less interesting out later in the trip. (Does that sentence even make sense?)

After you've mapped your BASIC route, post your intended route online and share it with EVERYONE you know and ASK for input. In my case, I said, hey, this is our initial plan (, but we're open to anything. What is it we shouldn't miss? What are your suggestions? And I made it super clear that I wasn't set in my plans or my routes. I also specified, when asking about camping, certain things like, for instance, my interest in rural camping and complete disinterest in city camping. I wasn't interested in paved RV parks, though state parks with RV parking were OK. Etc. I posted to various message boards (Fiberglass RV, for instance), plus e-mailed requests to EVERY family member and friend I had online! You will get SO much feedback! Some of it you can use, some of it won't be useful. If you respond to those irrelevant requests with "Thank you, what else have you got," you'll probably get a lot more details than if you say, "not up my alley; got anything better?" ;) Catch my drift? You'll learn about friends' and relatives' past travels, and may even find that that house-bound senior you know around the corner or the homebody mom you know actually had a past full of traveling - at least one great trip that they're HAPPY to share IN DETAIL if given this opportunity.

After they tell you about spots, STILL read up on them. Their tastes and yours may not be at all the same. By using the internet, you may also be able to discover the latest about a "great park" they visited three decades ago (like it's now closed, or overdeveloped, or recently encountered swarms of killer bees - whatever).

I love the whole planning process. I should do it for a living or something. Just the idea of all these new places to explore, or old favorites to visit again, is really exciting to me. I'm at least a fourth-generation explorer, so I suppose it's understandable! ;)

Well, your eyes are probably bleeding by now with all this info in such small type. If you have more questions, drop me a line.

Best of luck in your planning AND your travels. OH! And we're looking toward an East Coast trip in a couple of's my VERY initial FIRST map...which will change a LOT before we're done with it. Have any pointers?

View East Coast Adventure in a larger map

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