Road Trip Series #1: Is a road trip right for you?
Tired of the same old vacation? Are you in search of adventure? Maybe airline tickets are too expensive and you are wondering what vacation options are affordable for your family. Then maybe you should consider a road trip. It is an exciting adventure around every turn. Plus they are a great way to see many different locations without the expense of airfare.
However, before you do, here are 10 things to think about before considering this vacation.
1. Where do you want to go?
This is indeed the most important question. Maybe you have always wanted to see the National Parks on the west coast but the thought of flying to all these different locations seems costly and daunting. It does not have to be on a road trip. But picking your destination is crucial. That is your starting point that will be the focus of your trip.
2. Length of your trip.
Are you restricted to taking only 1 week off of work at a time or do you have the flexibility to take a few weeks at once? This crucial factor will determine how much or little you can see or do. Or if you need to rethink your destination based on your availability.
I am not going to lie to you, researching a road trip is A LOT of work. But if done right, it can be so rewarding! Take the time to research your destination. Some of the things you want to ask yourself are what activities are available there that my family will enjoy? What are the hotel or accommodation options? How many days do I want to be there? What are the costs involved? Etc. There are so many details and many crucial ones that people often overlook like will you be traveling on toll roads? Do they use my state’s transponder or do I need to pay with cash? This is the most time involved step and often the reason many people get overwhelmed and nix the idea of a road trip. If organizing and details are not your thing, then that is when it is best to consult a travel agent like myself. We actually enjoy planning those details others mind monotonous! Just make sure you pick someone you trust. A good agent does not need to have traveled to your destination, but they do need to be thorough and understand the needs and wants of your family.
This has to be the most daunting part of planning a trip but it is the most important in my opinion. Overspending will just lead to stress and anxiety so it is best to determine what you can comfortably afford from the start and stay within the budget you plan. However, do not forget to build in a safety net for wiggle room. Unexpected expenses and things ALWAYS turn up on trips. Maybe someone gets sick, you lost a critical item, you have a roadside emergency etc. Make sure you allow some extra cash in that budget for the unforeseeable expenses.
5. Booking your vacation.
Again, I cannot stress the importance of a travel agent when planning a vacation. They handle all the details and know which sites offer the best deals. I know, I know you are going to tell me that you just book your travel on that third party website like Expedia and get the best deals. Really? Is it the best deal??? Let me tell you a secret about those 3rd party websites. One, they do not publish the full cost. Often things like resort fees, taxes and other surcharges are not listed until checkout, in very small fine print, or are estimated and you will get a costly surprise upon checkout. Two, these websites are not always the cheapest. I will give you a perfect example. On my recent road trip to Mount Rushmore with my family this summer, I looked at prices for 6 months on a variety of sites. Some of those 3rd party sites were advertising the “best” deal when in fact I found the hotel prices cheaper elsewhere. They say they offer the best deal but in fact all they are getting is a small portion of rooms, flights or cars that the vendor has put aside. Once upon a time, they offered great rates but that is no longer the case. Finally, did you know that if a hotel, flight or car rental place overbooks for your dates of travel, one of the FIRST clients to get bumped is those booked through 3rd party travel websites? Indeed, it is true! I have heard this sob story time and time again where someone gets to their end destination and they do not have a room for them because they are overbooked. Then they are stuck with less than ideal accommodations or finding something at the last minute themselves. If you are traveling during a busy time or for a specific event like a tournament, festival, etc. good luck finding a room at all. Having a travel agent book your trip is like having a fairy Godmother help you turn that pumpkin into a coach.
6. Things to see and do.
For my own vacation, I discovered that there was over a week’s worth of things we could enjoy while visiting South Dakota/badlands area. However, we also wanted to see other things along the way and wanted to relax during our trip and not go, go, go all the time. This meant making choices. I picked a bunch of activities in locations along the way and my family had a vote to determine what we wanted to do. We made sure everyone got to see and do things that were important to them and the others will be put aside for a future trip.
7. Have a contingency plan.
Road trips mean traffic, bad weather, construction, and other unforeseen delays. Do not pack in your travel so tight that if you get caught up in one of these it will not suck up your time and throw your schedule off track. Then you also need to build in time to take a break along the way. I often hear stories of people driving straight to Disney from their destination. They say things like “if we leave at night and drive straight through we can make it in one day.” Sure you can. But when you get there, you are going to be exhausted? And let me tell you, Disney is no place you want to start your vacation tired. Then think about the return home. Do you want to drive back a full day at the end of a tiring trip? Maybe you do, but my guess is most of us do not. So consider your vacation destination and the time it takes to get there. Maybe planned stops along the way or breaking up your travel time is a better idea. Then weigh the cost of travel versus the time you have available.
8. How will you get there?
Well, the obvious answer is by car. Duh, this is a road trip! Not necessarily. You may opt to fly to your first destination and rent a car. Maybe some leg of your trip involves bus or train travel. All great options to combine your journey on the road.
Ugh, this is simply the WORST part of any vacation for me. I HATE to pack! Seriously if someone offered a service to come in my home and pack my luggage for me they would be hired! But I digress. Before you just throw clothes in a bag, consider the weather of your location. It might be warm during the day but does it cool off at night? Will I need dressy clothes for this vacation? What toiletries should you pack? And what am I going to pack to entertain the kids? Tablet is probably the first choice of many parents but what do you do when that battery dies? Or maybe you do not want them using technology at all? This is a great time to reconnect with your family! Create a list of old school games you used to do when traveling in the car with our parents. Pack some small items to keep them busy like coloring or activity books, Mad Libs, car bingo or perhaps a book on the places you are visiting. As someone who always packs “in case of an emergency” you also have to consider what is necessary versus if I really need it I can get it at my location easily and cheaply.
10. Have fun!
This seems obvious but a road trip can be stressful if you do not plan ahead and do steps 1-9. This is a vacation after all and you should have fun. There is only so much you can control and then you just need to relax and go with the flow. And if nothing else, you will have some fun memories you can laugh about later. “Look kids there’s Big Ben!” Right, dad?!?!?
~ Richelle Bohm