How do you plan an epic trip over dinner?

Step One: Fill your plate.
Step Two: Begin Planning.
Contrary to what you hear or read, it is possible to plan a trip over dinner.  Trip planning does not need to be a month or year-long process.
Once you know the answer to a few questions, you can make an epic trip a reality.

1. Where do you want to go and what do you want to see?  (This can be a general idea or area, or it could be a specific place.)
2. How much time do you have…realistically?
3. Do you prefer to drive or fly?
4. Where will you be sleeping at night?  (Camping, RV’ing, hotels, Airbnb, etc.)
Once you have come up with general answers to these four questions, you can begin putting the plan together.

Question #1 - Where do you want to go?

For example, our last trip started only with an answer to question number one.  The destination was The Redwood National Park.  Our daughter had been talking about the Redwoods for a few years and our son, well, he was coming along for the ride.

Question #2 - How long will you stay?

Question number two was defined by our work schedules.  Fortunately, both of our jobs allowed us to take six weeks off and our children were out of school for the summer.  Your timeline might be shorter or longer, but it doesn’t change the steps.

Question #3 - Will you fly or drive?

This brought us to question number three.  Since we live in Pennsylvania this trip included covering a bit of distance.  We prefer to drive because of all of the crazy stuff you get to see along the way.

It’s about the journey, right?!

Once these three questions were answered, we could start looking at a map.  Although we prefer not to have electronics at the table, google maps is a huge advantage when planning a trip.  We started by mapping from our home directly to The Redwoods.  Then we broke the drive into 8-12 hour chunks.  This step depends on your comfort level.  Some people only prefer to drive in four or five hour chunks.  Completely up to you, but we are fine with a few 8-12 hour days if it means we get to spend more time in the places we want to see.
After the drive from PA to Redwood NP was quickly broken into a few 8-12 hour drives, we started looking at the stops.  What was nearby? Could we “make” another National Park or interesting landmark fit into our trip?  This process is simple and can be accomplished in a few minutes.  We actually used two windows while breaking this trip down because we wanted to see a few more National Parks along the way. One window showed a map of all of the National Parks in the US and the other window showed our route across the country.

The great part about driving is you can take different routes to and from the destination.  You get to look at options for the way out and the way home.  It is helpful to think about the weather and what might be open or closed while planning your trip out and back.

Question #4 - Where will you sleep?

The next part is coming up with places to stay.  This is where you need to answer question number four.  We like to camp and we have a little camper so we answered that question pretty quickly.  If you like to stay in hotels or AirBNB’s, the process is still the same.  We take the stop and look for the highest reviewed campground nearby.  If the stay will be after a long day of driving, the highest reviewed campground nearby AND closest to the route.  You can use the same method with hotels and AirBNB’s.  I don’t like to spend tons of time on this step.  I find the stop, quick search, select highest reviewed campground, read a few reviews, and book a spot.  If they don’t have any spots, I go to the next one on the list.  Done.

At this point, you have selected the destination, mapped your drive or flight, and booked your places to stay.  You can finish up the meat, potatoes, and your vegetables and start on the dishes.  As far as planning goes, all that is left is picking out some outstanding activities to do at your destination and stops along the way.

If you’re in the groove, over dessert you can search your destination and “things to see” or “best things to do in the Redwoods”.  This takes all of the extensive research part out of your trip planning.  All kinds of online articles and forums have reviews and “must see” lists.  You can effectively cherry pick your location without much effort.  You can find the best and, if you’re interested, most out of the way places for every stop.

Trip Planning Doesn't Need To Be A Long Process

It doesn’t need to be a multi-year, month, or even a week long process. We planned our six week road trip in about two and a half to three hours from start to finish. (It was a long dinner).  In addition to spending a week in Redwood National Park, we saw 19 other National Parks, 17 states, and covered 10,750 miles.  We saw some of the most beautiful places and critters in the United States.

Moral of the Story:

Please do not put off the trip of a lifetime you have been dreaming about for years because the planning seems overwhelming.  Take a dinner this week and plan your next trip.  If you don’t finish the trip planning by the time the dishes are drying or in the dishwasher, finish it over dinner the next night.….and, most importantly, enjoy it.