The Trip Planner

I’ve been asked what my process is for putting together a trip so I thought I would put together a quick reference guide to how I go about it and what resources I find myself using time and time again.

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It all starts with a main destination. My husband and I had a conversation years ago: “Wouldn’t it be cool to show our kids all 50 states?” And then it became something we talked about more and more. We pressed it further. Could we do it in 10 years? How about 5 years? We bought a sticker map from Amazon and then made the decision that we could only put stickers on the states that we all traveled together in our rv. And we couldn’t count a state unless we actually spent some time there. Driving through the tiny corner of one en route somewhere else does not count!

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Suddenly we looked at every trip we took as an opportunity to see more…to do more! States that weren’t previously on our radar suddenly came into view because they were on the way to our big destination. And then I put more time and effort into learning about those states. What national parks are in that state? National monuments? Museums? Natural wonders? Are there any fun festivals or events taking place that we can attend? We’ve learned so much more about this beautiful country of ours by taking the time to do a little extra research before a trip and seek out new and different things to do.

So I always start by opening Mapquest or Google maps on my laptop so I can put in the directions from our home to that main destination point. Then I look to see all the states we go through from point A to point B. If it maps us through a bunch of states that we have already done, I will look at alternate routes, even if they are DAYS longer, just so we can see and do something new and different than we’ve done before. I like to mix some national park days in the middle there because it offers a good break from the long driving days to stay in nature for a few days. Hiking and outdoor activities get the kids moving so they don’t get on each other’s nerves too much being confined for too long. Our kids also collect badges by participating in the junior ranger program that each national park and monument has. I made each of them display boards that they could hang up in their rooms to proudly display all of their achievements.

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Avery is a few years behind the other kids on badges since a lot of the first trips were done when she was still a baby, but she is catching up quick!

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Another huge consideration in picking our destinations is the time we have allotted. We travel around the kid’s school schedule first, and then Adam adjusts his work load to fit into that time frame. We do the bulk of our big travel during the summer when we know we have at least two months to work with, but we also love that they have one week breaks in October, November, December (two weeks), and March. However, we’ve gotten to a point now where we’ve seen everything within a one week trip of our home state, and now the majority of what we want to do requires much more travel time. This leads us to the desire to pull them from school for one year and “road school” them, while we complete everything else we want to see and do. But would we really be able to return to normal scheduled life after living like that for a year? Something tells me when we’ve seen all there is to see in the US and Canada we will have the desire to then start checking countries off a new list!! But I’m getting off topic…here’s a break down of planning a fun road trip:

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  1. Decide how much time you have for your trip.
  2. Pick your furthest destination and map it.
  3. See what is between your starting and ending points and fill in the days based on how much time you have allotted.
  4. Mileage is important! If it’s a full driving day, I try to keep our mileage between 350 and 450 miles and no more. We have done as much as 650 in a day but It. Was. Exhausting. Don’t recommend doing that much unless you are really crunched on time or you and your partner want to drive in shifts.
  5. Find an alternate route home. You don’t want to retrace your exact steps home unless you have to. This makes the entire trip new and exciting!

I like to print out a calendar and pen in where we will be each day. I’m a paper and pen girl at heart (I blame Lisa Frank from when I was a kid!). Then I look at each of those days and decide where we will stay. If I know it is just a night stopping point we will “dry camp” which just means we find somewhere to park and don’t have any power or water hookups. We can only do 2-3 days of this before we must dump our tanks. Also, if it is hot outside, running the generator to power the AC can get expensive, so we prefer to find power hookups if we know we will be running the generator non-stop.

When I know we will need an rv park, I always use RV Park Reviews first to look over the options for our location. This is such a great resource because it is purely build on customer reviews of the parks. So while a particular park may have a great, appealing website, if I read 10 reviews that state the sites are too close together and it’s located in a crime riddled area of town, I will know to steer clear of that park. I typically pick the top three reviewed parks for the area we want to be in, open the website for each of those parks, and then make a decision based on our budget or the amenities that each park has.

Other options to consider if you will be traveling a lot are memberships to places such as Passport America or Thousand Trails. These places offer discounting camping at the RV Parks on their lists. We have done Passport America before because it is really inexpensive, under $50 for a 12 month membership at the time we did it, and we then received 50% off each RV Park off of their directory. There are a few restrictions from park to park (some don’t allow the discount on their premium spaces or they only honor the discount for 2 days at at time), but it paid for itself after just a few stays and was a huge savings to us on our 2013 trip up to Canada.

So whether you have a goal to see and do IT ALL or you just want to go park somewhere beautiful and kick your heels up for a week, I hope this is a good start with plenty of resources to help you plan the ultimate road trip with your family!!

And if you want one of those cool state to state stickers maps, we bought ours off of Amazon:


If there are other resources that you use and want to share, leave a comment for me- I would love to hear them! Happy Friday friends! Hope everyone has a great weekend and I’ll be back next week with our week 5 recap of Alaska and all we did on the gorgeous Kenai Peninsula!

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