Google maps open on the laptop. Atlas laid out on the kitchen table. National Park names swimming before your eyes.
The entire country is literally at your fingertips and your home on wheels is waiting in the driveway.
How does your family plan their route? Obviously there are certain “don’t miss” things to see/places to go, but is there a good resource for finding those fun places that aren’t as well known? I realize there are lots of variables - just looking for some general info.Facebook User
First, Some Advice
During our first year of travel we kept lamenting about the things we were “missing”.
Weather, campground availability, work, school - between the demands of normal life and the demands of being on the road we had to drive past New Orleans, Joshua Tree National Park, Ouray, Colorado and other “must-see” places on our list.
Rather than get overwhelmed with the sense of loss we adopted a new mindset:
We weren’t missing anything. We were leaving it for a future visit.
The USA is a huge country with countless beautiful vistas, unique learning opportunites, and inspiring people.
You can’t see it all, learn it all, or meet all of them. Realizing this early on will free you from the angst of “missing out”.
By choosing to leave it for a future visit each area will still have something new to offer when you come back.
Approaches to Route Planning
We’ve seen four approaches to route planning:
- Points of Interest
- Paths and Trails
Points of Interest
Points of Interest (POI) are one-off, unrelated spots scattered across the country.
So how do you find them? Here are a few ways:
- Roadtrippers.com - register on the site to see what’s on your route. You can also subscribe to the Best of Roadtrippers Weekly email newsletter for a steady drip of POI ideas.
- Roadside America - buy the iPhone App and load it up to see what quirky attractions are around you or on your route.
- Follow other traveling family blogs and see where they go.
- Purchase a museum or zoo pass that has a good reciprocal arrangement.
- Research the lives of your heros. Find out where they were born, grew up, and made a name for themselves. Chances are there will be historical markers, exhibits, restored homes, etc. to tour.
- Let your camping choices lead. Camping memberships like Thousand Trails, KOA, or Harvest Hosts can provide a skeleton of a route to hang other visits from.
- Buy a State Park Pass, hop around different state parks, and explore the surrounding areas. Get your money’s worth while letting it lead your explorations!
- Share atlases around the campfire with the other travelers that you meet. We can’t count the number of places we’ve visited based on recommendations from other travelers.
Paths and Trails
The United States is criss-crossed with a number of paths and trails that you can choose to follow on your travels.
This approach provides an overall route plus stops for different attractions along the way. Here are a few to consider:
- The Lewis and Clark Trail is a popular choice for roadschooling families.
- The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River from one end to the other.
- Route 66 is always a good choice.
- The Lincoln Highway is a lesser-known early cross-continental road.
- The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444 mile long National Park with plenty of history and educational opportunities along the way.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway is another scenic drive maintained by the National Park Service.
- The Mormon Trail runs from the banks of the Mississippi River to Salt Lake City, UT.
- The Blues Highway runs from Memphis to New Orleans with historical markers along the way.
- The Trail of Tears follows the path of Native American nations in the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Many families adopt a theme for their travels. A theme gives purpose to the trip, direction on where to go, and makes for a good story.
We never landed on a theme, but here are some that we’ve seen:
- Visit all 50 state capitals.
- Visit all the major sports stadiums.
- Visit all the National Parks (and do the Junior Ranger programs to collect those cool badges!).
- Visit places mentioned in popular songs (stand on the corner of Winslow, AZ or at the corner of 12th and Vine in Kansas City).
- Do the “I’ve Been Everywhere Tour” - by visiting cities mentioned in the Johnny Cash song.
- Visit the locations featured in popular movies or TV shows (Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are popular choices).
- Choose a food-related theme - either sample the same food (like BBQ) across the country or find unique regional favorites.
- Visit the boyhood homes or libraries of all of the Presidents.
One concern suburbia-ditchers often hear is that they are going to miss out on friends and family time.
We’ve found quite the opposite to be true. Our travels have allowed us to visit friends and relatives that we wouldn’t see otherwise. We’ve also formed a number of new friendships while on the road.
- Visit childhood homes.
- Visit distant relatives.
- Visit past college roommates.
- Visit previous coworkers.
- Visit old military buddies.
- Schedule community time with other traveling families.
How to Track?
With an overwhelming number of ways to find ideas about where to go, how do you keep track of them?
You need a central, shared map. A paper atlas may work but there isn’t room to write details. We use (and suggest) a private Google map where you can add notes/links/phone numbers to the places that you save.
We log a point on the map when:
- Someone says “hey look me up when you are in town”.
- We see a cool place in the news or on another family blog.
- If I see a workcamping gig that looks interesting but the timing is wrong.
When we are deciding where to go next we’ll pull up the map and see what pins we have saved and use that to help determine our path. The image on this post is our private map showing a wolf rescue facility we have saved.
Route planning is the most exciting and exhausting part about traveling fulltime. Here are a few things we’ve learned in our years of doing it:
- Not all history is interesting.
- Decision fatigue is a thing.
- How to not miss anything while traveling.
- Make “jello plans” that can be changed based on weather, learning about a new place last-minute, or realizing it’s a holiday weekend and all the parks are full.
Where to Next?
How do you route plan? And where are you off to next?