This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to go on a 12 day road trip with my mom and little sister. My sister and I had previously booked a trip to Santa Monica with some friends and coincidentally my mom had a work conference in Idaho two weeks prior. I also had a work conference that same week in Chicago which added a bit of an additional challenge to planning but overall the trip was an absolute success. You can read all about the different places we visited on the travel guides here. But for now I am going to give you all the info you need to know in order to book your own once-in-a-lifetime roadtrip.
(Pictured our lovely Kia Soul rental along the coast of Big Sur – this post is not sponsored by Kia!)
1. Research Your Route
You can ask anyone in my family – I am the itinerary-printed-does-everyone-have-their-ticket-here-are-all-the-confirmation-numbers mega travel planner when it comes to trips. I love researching new places and finding out all the great spots to eat, stay, and play. While planning any road trip it is important to figure out the route you plan on taking and find all the great stops and sites along the way. On our specific trip, a little research paid off big time. The Pacific Coast Highway was closed south of Big Sur so we had to plan for a 2 hour detour and thankfully stayed in a more ideal location which saved us money and time.
When you combine a newlywed budget and a college grad budget you have to make sure you have a solid game plan. My sister had a specific number in mind that she wanted to spend so I multiplied that by three and made sure our total costs stayed below that. We ended up booking two rental cars, 1 set of train tickets, 2 sets of plane tickets, 6 nights of hotels, gas and day passes to Disneyland. We also left quite a bit of wiggle room for food and eating out. Overall we stayed right on budget. It helped to have Venmo downloaded on all our phones so we could easily split a gas bill or snacks at a quick roadside stop.
Did I mention I like to plan? Scheduling out how much time you have is super important. You don’t want to over extend yourself but you also want to pack in as much as possible before heading home. Since we had a set starting and ending point (Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho > Los Angeles) with a set amount of days we tried to divide up as much as we could without having to drive more than 4-6 hours in a day. There was one day (Spokane > Seattle > Port Angeles) where we should have left a bit earlier and ended up driving pretty late into the night. I would make sure you plan to get to your next hotel by no later than 8 p.m. each evening. That way you have time to settle in, grab a bite to eat, and get a good night’s rest so you can wake up early and drive while it’s light out.
Lodging can be one of the biggest expenses on a roadtrip. If you like to camp (which ironically I am not a giant fan of) this can be a huge money saver. When going the non-camping route I would set your schedule and then decide when you want to splurge. There were a few areas where it was hard to find an affordable hotel (Monterey, CA) and there was a hotel that was more of a site to see that was worth every extra penny (the Madonna Inn!) We saved money by staying at simple cheaper hotels in Port Angeles, Portland, and Anaheim. I would also suggest splurging toward the middle or end of the trip. Driving all day and staying in different places can take a toll and nothing says get me the heck home like staying at a divey motel seven nights into your trip.
5. Rental Cars
We made one of our biggest mistakes in Seattle by booking a rental car that was too small. If everyone had followed my strict one suitcase packing procedure (I’m sort of joking lol) we possibly could have made it fit. We ended up having to wait an extra hour to book an upgrade. Make sure all your travel companions decide how many suitcases they are packing before booking your rental car and be sure to book a car with the correct suitcase storage amount. Also account for comfort – you don’t want to be cramped in the back of a Chevy Spark while winding around the cliffs of Big Sur. Yikes!
You are going to want to do your research when it comes to sites to see and where to stop. Ideally you picture yourself driving along and stopping whenever adventure hits you to sneak off on a hidden path or a giant ball of yarn. My sister researched a place called Rialto Beach on the Washington coast and WOW was it a site to see. We would have never happened upon this place had we not planned ahead. Trust me, we saw lots of unplanned surprises, but it was great to have a big exciting stop planned each day.
6. Random Detours
As noted above we saw lots of random exciting places. We drove past the house and the beach featured on the Goonies, stopped in a grocery store in Forks, WA for Twilight themed deli sandwiches, hiked to a beautiful waterfall, ate roadside cherries and apricots on the Big Sur coast, surfed in Santa Barbara, met Jen Gotch and so much more. My best advice would be to not over schedule your driving each day. Keep it to 4-6 hours maximum. That way you have plenty of time to stop and enjoy every little surprise on your adventure.
The best advice is to not pass up an opportunity for a trip like this. It was amazing to be able to spend 2 weeks winding our my way down the West Coast with my mom and sister. We had an unbelievable time. If you find yourself planning a similar trip and need more help be sure to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!