I caught the travel bug before I actually started traveling. I always knew that I wanted to visit as many places as possible, but one day the realization struck me that all I had to do to see the world was to make a plan and go. From that day forward I planned and took as many trips as I could, both abroad and within the U.S. However, this next particular adventure is by far my most extreme.
Here’s how it started: A very good friend of mine and I decided about six months ago that we wanted to see as much of the beauty in our home country as possible. We decided that to do this, a road trip would be the best option. Originally, the plan was to drive down the Pacific Coast from Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA. Our infatuation with this particular journey began after attending a family wedding in Sacramento, CA. However, my friend received a summer internship in Colorado, which changed our trajectory a bit. So, we would be starting our trip later in the summer, and because it was later, we would be able to make it much longer.
My adventure will begin in Massachusetts and will take me all the way to Aspen, Colorado, where I will pick up my friend. Together we will make our way through Wyoming, Montana and Idaho… all the way to Washington, where we will pick up Highway 101 from the Washington coast all the way to southern California. Originally, this was where the trip was going to end, but instead we are now planning on driving northeast to Death Valley, passing through Las Vegas and entering Utah, where we will visit four national parks before cruising back through Colorado on our way home.
On the map, our trip route makes one large circle through the United States, which is fitting because this will neither be the beginning nor the end of our travels. As soon as we cooked up this plan, I was gripped with excitement; I couldn’t wait to start planning the details and get on the road. My friend and I promised each other that no matter what, we would meet up at the end of August to start our two month trek across the United States of America.
I knew before this trip that a lot of planning would be involved, but it still surprised me to discover all the things that need to be considered. We’re not simply getting in a car, stepping on the gas and seeing where we end up, although that would be nice. No, we’ve spent weeks pre-planning and months finalizing everything. We decided that we wanted to camp as much as possible on this trip to save money and to really immerse ourselves in nature. This meant that sites had to be reserved, and a time frame and route had to be determined.
Funnily enough we turned to Instagram to find places that we wanted to see along the way. A shout out to @travisburkephotography for being a huge source of inspiration and information. From there, we made an exhaustingly long list of all the places we wanted to experience and we sat down together and figured out which ones we could realistically see. We used Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: California, Oregon, & Washington, published by Mooney and compiled by Victoriah Arsenian as our rough guide. We learned that September through October was the best time to travel along the Pacific and that the weather would be favorable. The book suggested itineraries in each major city along the way, as well as places to eat and sleep.
After mapping out the main itinerary of our trip, we turned back to the internet and researched all of the national parks we would be driving by along the way. We will be passing by nearly 15 parks. On the way to Washington, we will see Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. On the Pacific Coast, we will be stopping in Olympia, Redwoods, Yosemite and Channel Islands national parks. On the way back east, we will see Death Valley, Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes national parks.
The task of planning out each visit seemed a bit daunting, but after spending hundreds of hours pouring over maps, talking to rangers and experts, and double checking my own work, I learned that the best thing to do to get a handle on the project was to get a guide book; one that is very thorough and easy to flip through to find information. For planning side journeys, I bought Stone Road Press’ Your Guide to the National Parks, by Michael Joseph Oswald. The book listed everything we would need to know about all the parks in the U.S. Camping areas, hiking trails, closures, must see sites; it was all at our fingertips and definitely worth the investment.
This year happens to also be the 100th anniversary of our Nation’s parks, so we prepared ourselves for busy trails and crowded campsites. Our new guidebook gave us up-to-date information for every park with phone numbers to call for reservations and questions. Another really great thing I learned to do was order a National Park Pass off of the National Park website. It was $80 and it gave a car with up to three people free entrance into all of the National Parks and Monuments. It was also valid for a full year from the date of purchase. Needless to say, the pass is already hanging from the rearview mirror in my car.
With a time frame and reservations, it was time to buy equipment. Since the majority of the time would be spent camping, we bought a tent and sleeping bags through North Face because of their reliability and durability. I suggest borrowing camping equipment if you can, items for cooking and general comfort (unless you know you will be camping more often after your trip, you can save a lot of money by borrowing equipment from a friend). Make sure to have plenty of batteries, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The best way to ensure that you haven’t forgotten anything is to make a list and go over it with someone who has camped before.
A lot of people have asked me what we plan on doing about food. The easiest option for us is to bring a small camp stove with a pot, a pan and a cooler, and stop at grocery stores along the way, storing what we buy in the cooler and cooking as we go. For the times that we won’t be near the car, and we can’t carry all of the weight, we will buy pre-packaged camping meals. Here we come dehydrated mac n’ cheese and blackberry cobbler!
The most important thing that we have had to consider for our road trip is the car that will be carrying us through it all. Apart from the obvious good care and maintenance that the car should be used to, it should also be fuel efficient. We are making sure the tires are durable and rotated, and we have a set of jumper cables in the trunk, as well as a spare tire, blankets and flashlights.
Another thing we had to consider being on the road was the cost of tolls. To minimize time spent stopping to pay, we bought an EZ Pass, which allows cars to stay in the fast lane through tolls on the northeastern part of the country.
For those of you who are reading this and thinking, “this is a crazy amount of stuff to consider,” I hear you. My best advice is not to get too stressed out. Make the planning process fun, and when things get hectic, take a step back and remember why you are doing it in the first place. Don’t try to over plan and don’t schedule more than three things for each day. There is too much that is out of your control, so remember that often the best times in life happen unexpectedly. So have a route, but leave room for detours, days to rest and time to enjoy. If you spend all of your journey scurrying from place to place, you’ll miss the beauty that can only be appreciated when standing still.
When we told our friends and family about taking this trip, most were supportive, but of course with the support came some doubt. Was this responsible? Should we really be doing this instead of working 40+ hours a week? What would we do when we came home to no jobs? I would be lying if I said that thinking about these questions didn’t make me anxious; in fact sometimes they make me question everything about this trip.
I think that the biggest question I received was, “Why now, Tava?” Everyone would say, maybe you should work for a few years, save up more money, pay back some of your college loans and then go. Well, the way I see it is there’s no better time than right now. If I keep putting this trip off for years down the road, I might never get to it, because let’s face it, life gets in the way regardless of plans. Right now, I am in a place where my dream to see some of this world is reachable.
I just graduated after three years of college. I have worked hard and saved money for this. I am ready. Does the future intimidate me a little? Absolutely! I’ll be coming home to loan payments, and no job, yet I have faith that I am meant to do this. After all, the experience of traveling and doing something I love far outweighs the cost. It’s going to be very difficult, but “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and I believe that I’ll figure it all out in the end.
For now, I have planned my trip and I am getting packed up to head out. I’ll keep you posted.