How Do You Plan Your Route?

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.

Now what?

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
  • Themes
  • People

Points of Interest

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Points of Interest (POI) are one-off, unrelated spots scattered across the country.

The Cathedral of Junk in Austin, the Presidental Statues in Rapid City, SD, and Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Escondido, CA are all examples of great POI for roadtripping families to experience.

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.

Themes

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.

People

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.

You can:

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.

Final Tips

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:

Where to Next?

How do you route plan? And where are you off to next?

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4 Comments How Do You Plan Your Route?

  1. Picture of JenniJenniApril 18, 2016

    We also kept the huge laminated USA wall map and added to our route with a dry erase marker every time we moved.  We keep it on the wall in a central spot in the house even now and it is a terrific conversation piece.  Everyone who comes in looks to see if we visited their favorites or home town and from that we have learned places we need to visit on future outings.

  2. Picture of Brent BrowningBrent BrowningFebruary 22, 2018

    Thank you Mike and Crissa for all your help with our transition to living our dream. I read much of what you both wrote this last 3 years as we planned our new way of life. What you and your family did helped us, and so many others make the jump, and feel good about it.  One impetcular article you wrote was about stuff, and how we can handle it. How we are so tied to it till we make a decision to give, sell, Chuck it. This I would rate as best article for me as to really make a break, this has to be felt with. Looking forward you two will do just fine. We have a pension when we made our break, you on the other hand have to create what you need as you go. I don’t pray, but will put you in our thoughts as hoping the best for you. Thanks again, chin up and forward hoe.

  3. Picture of Zack FlodeenZack FlodeenFebruary 23, 2018

    Wonderful article and great information!  I find myself lamenting about the places we’d like to see and how we want to do more, but I also have to remember we have 3 small kids and it’s not that easy to see everything.  I like the mindset of “we’re just leaving it for a future visit”.  Thanks for sharing, as always!

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