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Thursday, March 15, 2012

How I Plan a Trip

I have had a ton of fun planning our upcoming Spring Break.  We're going to fly into San Francisco and fly home from Salt Lake City.  We thought we were going to visit Yosemite and Yellowstone in between, but we had to rethink the plan this week because of weather constraints in the Yellowstone area, so 2/3 of our trip has changed.  Nothing like re-planning a trip days before you leave!

I absolutely love road trips. 
The boys are great road trip travelers, but David does all the driving so I like to balance the number of hours in the car each day with what all we can see.

We've had some great road trips over the years with the boys including a few in Mexico when we lived there, a big one in Southern California in 2010, a Cirlce Tour of Lakes Michigan/Superior/Huron with the my mom and the boys in 2011, many trips around Mississippi to visit family and add-on visits like our Christmas trip to New Orleans and a visit in Birmingham last summer, our Fall Break flying/driving trip to Orlando, a 6 day walking trip in New York last summer.  I love a fun trip!

As I was talking with local friends about the planning, several asked for my resources on planning a big trip like this one, where I don't know much about what we're going to see.  I thought I'd put together a post on the subject.

Flying or Driving

If I know we are flying, then I start with online searches.  I look at all the great sites, including the airline websites themselves.  I have the best luck with Travelocity.  I'm certainly not brand-loyal - I've just found that I usually end up using them because they have the best deals when $$ and schedules are critical.  If I can't get a good deal on the flights, then we scrap the trip - like we did with the London trip I had hoped to do last summer.  There is no way we were going to spend $700/person on a trip.  So we went to New York instead with non-stop tickets for under $150 each.  That's better.

Main Stops

We decide on the main stops for our trip right away and I use Mapquest to start plotting out our stops.
I know that Google Maps is also a great tool, I just like Mapquest.
Each time I go in and adjust our trip on Mapquest I email it to myself and delete the old version out of my email.  This is a great tool and keeps it all organized.  Perfect for a big road trip.
Then as I determine our hotels I turn "Yosemite National Park" into "Yosemite View Lodge" on my mapquest schedule so that my driving directions are to the actual hotel versus the general location we're heading.  It's a critical piece of my road trip planning!


I have been using Hotels.com for a couple of years now and have had great success.  I used to compare their prices with other sites, and I always saw that theirs were either the same or better than other places, so I don't bother comparing anymore.  And once you stay 10 nights, you get a free night, which is great.
Once I know where we are going to be spending our nights, I look on hotels.com at $$ and customer ratings.  Customers are great about sharing their likes/dislikes about each hotel on the website. 
I like to see which ones have indoor pools, fitness facilities, and laundry services, because these are critical on a road trip for me.
Hotels.com has fantastic customer service as well.

What to See
Once I know the main stops, I use Tripadvisor.com to determine what are the must see places along the way.  I have found a ton of great off-the-beaten-path places to see on our visits. 
I start by typing in the location where we're going and then click on Things to Do.
All the things to do are rated from #1 on, so I find out a lot about places to see that I didn't already know about.  I also read up on good restaurants in the area if I know we'll be there for a special meal.

Keeping the Boys Occupied
We have some rather strict rules about the boys and their electronics in the car on a long road trip.
They both have Nintendo DS's which are fantastic, but I want them to look out the windows!! from time to time!  They know our mean parent policies after years of traveling with us, so it actually works well. 
We usually try to limit electronics to an hour or so a day.  Ha.  This doesn't always work, but we try.  The rest of the time they read books, talk to us, argue about whose books are on whose side, play games, listen to music, and get silly/drive Dad crazy.

Because we are going to see so many cool places on this trip, I decided to give everyone a chance to earn some extra electronics time on our trip - and get excited about the trip at the same time.  They've taken it very seriously and it's been a great experience that I'll repeat next trip too.

I checked out books from our local library in the kids section on some of the places we're going to see.
They're short and highlight some of the cool things and can be easily read in half an hour.
Then I made up questions from the books and quiz everyone at supper time. 
Right answers earn extra electronics time.
It's been a great competition and learning for Thomas and Brennan.
David's learned a lot about what we're going to see too since he hasn't been as involved in the planning.
And the books have been helpful to me in the planning.

just a few of the books we've prepped from

Prepping the House

I always forget to hold the mail and the newspaper until it's very close to the day we're leaving!
We let our neighbors know, put a hold on the newspaper, and go online to usps.com to place a hold on our mail.  It's so quick - I love not having to make a trip to the post office to take care of this.

And those are my major steps in planning a big road trip!
For me, planning is half the fun.
Now I'm just looking forward to lots of quality family time and seeing some really cool places!

Disclaimer:  I have not been compensated or rewarded by any of the businesses mentioned.


Anna said...

Bonnie, that sounds like a fun trip. We are planning something similar for this summer, I think we are going to fly to San Francisco and then drive up to Seattle, so we'll get to see Northern California, Oregon and Washington state.
It is our spring break this week, we are away for a few days at Corpus Christi and Padre Island

Ricki Jill Treleaven said...

I hope y'all have a great time! We are not going anywhere because the girls each have different spring breaks this year. Shanley is just finishing up hers, and Shelley's is next week. *sadface*

Interesting blog post. The internet has made travel agents obsolete!


~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

I'm marking this post in my favs! I LOVE to travel and you've given so many great sources. It's so much fun to plan! When my boys were growing up, we would send off to the Chamber of Commerce and they would send us a big packet of stuff! Trips create so many happy family memories! ♥