Back we May we went on a 3 week cross country road trip, two days after we moved into our house. It was perfect timing because we were exhausted and burned out from renovating our house, so it was SO NICE to escape from our
nightmare house for 3 weeks.
People were very shocked when they found out that we were taking 3 weeks off work. The reason we took such a long trip is because we wanted to bring our dog with us, which meant driving.
1. Decide where to go
Sometime in the winter, maybe January 2015, Sam had a dream that we drove a RV all over California. After some Googling, the RV turned into a VW camper van. After deciding that we wanted to go to California and that we wanted to bring our dog, our trip plan quickly evolved into a cross country road trip from Alabama to California.
Leg One stops:
- Huntsville, AL to Fort Smith, AK (hotel stay)
- Fort Smith, AK to Amarillo, TX (hotel stay)
- Amarillo, TX to Flagstaff, AZ (hotel stay)
- Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon (camp ground for 2 nights)
- Grand Canyon to LA (hotel stay)
Leg 2 (California) stops:
- LA to pick up the camper van
- LA to Sequoia
- Sequoia to Yosemite
- Yosemite to Napa Valley
- Napa Valley to Sonoma Coast
- Sonoma Coast to San Fransicso
- San Fransicso to Big Sur
- Big Sur to Cambria (hotel stay)
- Cambria to Gaviota State Park
- Gaviota to LA (dropped off the camper van) to Joshua Tree
Leg 3 (going home) stops
- Joshua Tree to Flagstaff, AZ
- Flagstaff to Petrified Forest
- Petrified Forest to Amarillo, TX
- Amarillo to Ft Smith, AK
- Ft Smith to Huntsville, AL
Sam found a company in LA that rents VW vans, Vintage Surfari Wagons. Our plan was to drive a car to LA and then bring up the camper van. We spent several weeks going back and forth about renting a car or driving our own car. Here's what helped us make up our mind:
- calculate number of miles from Alabama to LA
- use a gas calculator
- think about the number of overnight stops we'll be making (we debated between 2 or 3 overnight stops to the Grand Canyon)
- research the cost of hotels
- research the cost of round trip car rentals vs. one way car rentals
- consider the wear and tear on your car
Ultimately we decided to rent a round trip car. The one way car rental was more expensive. During the time that we had the camper van, we left the rental car in a parking lot in LA (this sounds sketchy, but it was actually very safe).
By this point, we knew the cost of the rental VW, the rental car, and cost of gas by using a gas calculator. We did some research on hotel costs and ended up getting hotels in Ft Smith, Arkansas, Amarillo, TX, Flagstaff, AZ, and LA. During our time in California, we slept in the camper van and stayed at campgrounds. We also planned to pack our own lunches to eat on the road from Alabama to the Grand Canyon. In California, we usually ate out for lunch and cooked our own food for dinner. We did all our grocery shopping at Trader Joes.
Things to consider for a budget:
- hotel accommodations
- And/Or campground fees
- rental car or personal car
To be honest, we were horrible in our packing. Learn from our mistakes. Whenever I think of California and the Grand Canyon, I think of it being really hot. It wasn't. At all. When we were at the Grand Canyon it snowed and hailed. In Sequoia, snow was on the ground. Everywhere we went it was cold. And I only brought one pair of paints. Of course.
Thankfully my sister met us at the Grand Canyon and she brought me some pants and gloves. We also made a shopping trip to Kohl's and I bought more pants. Even Finn was freezing! He was wearing a sweater but still shivering, so I swaddled him.
Morale of the story: check the average weather temperatures, pack more than one pair of pants, and keep a blanket in the car for when your dog starts shivering uncontrollably.
More packing tips
- bring a small cooler of snacks that's easy accessible in the car. We had one large cooler and one small cooler
- pre-make sandwiches and put them in the small cooler
- first aid kit
- download movies or shows before you leave home. We watched the entire season of Outlander and Gamer of Thrones at the camp grounds when it got dark.
- external battery cell phone charger. Several camp grounds didn't have power.
- spare toilet paper. This was already provided in our camper van, and I thought it was very useful.
- small size/easily transportable washing machine detergent. We washed clothes twice on the trip. Several camp grounds had laundry facilities.
- sweater and jacket
- dry bag for dog food
- poop bags
- one toy for comfort (he slept with his Moosie every night)
- lots of treats
- retractable leash and leather leash
- new exciting food*
If your have any questions about road trip planning, let me know in the comments.