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  1. Default Novice Planning Road Trip New Jersey to San Francisco, leaving this Friday!

    Hi Everyone,

    First of all this is a great community! The forums on this site have helped me a lot, and I definitely appreciate it!

    I'm planning a road trip with my family form New Jersey to SFO, and could really use some advice. Even links to older forums I may have missed would also be greatly appreciated! We plan on leaving this Friday, and there's so many problems/concerns to address!

    1. What do you think of the route? Feasible? Too much time in one place/too little in another? We are renting the car for exactly 14 days, so while we may not be able to extend the amount of time on the road, we will be able to cancel some destinations (perhaps Sequoia National Park) and lengthen our time in others.
    2. HOTELS!?? As of now, we haven't reserved many hotels (with the exception of 2 nights at Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone. Should we reserve ahead of time or wing it depending on when we arrive where? Is it stressful to end up somewhere not have a place to stay arranged? But if I reserve ahead of time, what will we do if we aren't perfectly according to plan?
    3. WHAT TO BRING!? I'm clueless about a lot of the must have tools/necessities of the trip, so please advise me on things I shouldn't forget for the kind of trip we're undertaking...? Links would be great as well.
    4. Are there any scenic drives you suggest we take along our route?
    5. Do you guys know anything about white water rafting in Jackson, WY?
    6. As of now I've picked Salt Lake City as a place to stay pretty randomly, because it's on the way. Are there more beautiful places or perhaps less expensive areas near the city where you recommend staying instead?
    7. We can either spend most of the day in Grand Canyon and leave for Vegas around 5 or 6pm, and enjoy some shows in Vegas, or we can spend the night in Grand Canyon (if half a day is not enough) and leave for Vegas in the morning, what do you guys think?
    8. Is there something important that I'm completely neglecting/forgetting?? Because I'm so new at this, I'm afraid there may be quite a few such things.

    Here's the route. And below is a day by day timeline of our plans...

    Day 1 6AM leave New Jersey (9 hours)
    Day 1 5PM Arrive in Sylvania, OH, pick up rental car (5 hour drive)
    Day 1 11PM Arrive in Bloomingdale, IL at family friends' house
    Day 2 Spend the day w/ family friends
    Day 3 1PM Drive to Warren Dunes State Park (spend 3-4 hours there, drive back to Bloomingdale along Michigan River)
    Day 3 8PM arrive in Bloomingdale, IL
    Day 4 6AM leave for Kadoka, SD (our longest drive, 14 hours)
    Day 4 10PM arrive in Kadoka, SD, stay in random hotel...
    Day 5 7AM leave, enter Badlands National Park, view pretty sights, and then Black Hills National Forest, view some pretty sights (6 hour drive, allotting 8 hours for viewing random sights)
    Day 5 9PM arrive in Sundance, WY, spend the night in random hotel that has an empty room?
    Day 6 7AM leave Sundance, go to Devil's Tower (40 mins away) and spend about 1.5 hours there.
    Day 6 8:30-9PM arrive at Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone
    Day 7 Spend the day at Yellowstone, perhaps White Water Rafting in Jackson, WY
    Day 8 7AM leave Yellowstone, and drive through Grand Teton National Park (stopping and looking at pretty things along the way)
    Day 8 9PM arrive in Salt Lake City and stay at a random Hotel...see question 6
    Day 9 use morning to see some Salt Lake City, leave around 1 or 2PM for Arches National Park
    Day 9 5-6PM Arrive at Arches National Park, see sunset
    Day 9 10PM Go to Monticello, UT and spend the night there?
    Day 10 5-6AM Leave for the Grand Canyon, then, either spend the day there and leave around 5-6pm to go to Vegas or spend the night there and leave for Vegas in the morning???...see question
    Day 10 Las Vegas (either get there that day, or wake up there in the morning). During the day, go see Hoover Dam.
    Day 10 evening, spend night in Vegas
    Day 11 8AM Leave for Sequoia National Park, drive through Death Vallye
    Day 11 8PM Arrive in Sequoia National Park, stay at hotel near the entry...
    Day 12 6AM go see Sequoia National Park, then around 2PM set off for Lake Tahoe (6 hours away...adding 3 hours or so for sights we'll see along the way...Yosemite?)
    Day 12 11PM Arrive in Carson City, NV and spend the night there
    Day 13 morning, hang around Lake Tahoe, picnic etc.
    Day 13 5pm leave for SF, CA
    Day 13 11PM arrive in San Francisco
    Day 14 Return Rental
    Day 15 Fly home…

    Again, THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH IN ADVANCE! I'm really new at this and your help will be really awesome. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to post this sooner and get even more advice before we leave Friday.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default major problems

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I'm sorry, but you've really extended yourself far beyond what is safe or reasonable in several instances.

    First, I don't understand why you aren't picking up your rental car until you get to Ohio, but in any case, the city you listed is 500 miles away from New Jersey (assuming Newark), which is a full day of driving before you've even started.

    Your plan to then spend time an pick up a rental car, then continue on another 275 miles - through the teeth of Chicago no less - means you're driving way way too far in one day. You'll be exhausted before your trip even begins.

    Your daytrip out to the Dunes in Michigan is certainly possible as a daytrip, but you're looking at driving through Chicago Traffic - Twice. I think you're going to have to leave much earlier than 1pm if you want to spend a few hours there.

    Your "longest day" to South Dakota, at 800 miles is also way way too far to be driving in one day. Even with multiple drivers, you really need to scale things back.

    I'm not going to keep going line by line, but you're just being way too optimistic with how much ground you can cover, and your hour by hour plan has no margin of error. You will have no time for any detours, or even enjoy yourself, because you're going to need to spend every minute of your trip watching the clock, or you're going to get so far behind that you'll never "catch up."

    I'd strongly recommend scaling things back significant, with your longest days on the road being a maximum of about 600 miles, and any day where you want to do any sightseeing at all should be 500 or less.

  3. Default

    I completely agree with the first poster. You have a 2 week trip planned down by the hour. This alone is a recipe for disaster and no fun, plus you have unreasonable and unsafe driving plans. Just get in your car with an idea of where you want to go and just drive. To plan this trip by the hour is allowing for no fun and no time for breaks, sightseeing (the kind where you are relaxed and have time to enjoy), or traffic which Chicago will really slow you down.

    To expect to arrive at a hotel at 9pm check in, unwind (shower, change, etc) and fall asleep then wake up, eat and be in the car by 7am is just horrible sounding. It also makes for an unsafe driving day of driving for you and everyone else on the road. I can guarantee you will have no fun on your trip if you keep your plans. Just relax and remember road trips are all about the journey not just racing to the next stop for a few minutes then racing to the next.

  4. Default Second Attempt...

    Thanks so much, I think I needed that to make a more realistic plan! I decided to cut Grand Canyon and Sequoia National Park out of the picture and be more lax about the timing. I also made sure I fit the rule that Midwest Michael suggested with no more than 500 miles a day with sightseeing and no more than 600 otherwise.

    The reason we're picking up the rental in Ohio is because it's about $1000 cheaper than picking it up in New Jersey. We're going to drive our own SUV out to Ohio, pick up the rental minivan, drive both cars to our family friends' place in Bloomingdale, IL and then move on with just the rental minivan. We'll basically drop off our SUV at their house for the entirety of the trip. Also, I think doing a long, harsh drive to Chicago is alright at the beginning because we'll really get a chance to sleep in and relax at our family friends' house for at last 1 day perhaps even two before we set off again, so I kept those two things the same....

    Here's the map now, and below is the timeline:

    Day 1 6AM leave New Jersey (9 hours, 576 miles)
    Day 1 5PM Arrive in Sylvania, OH, pick up rental car (5 hour drive, 185 miles)
    Day 1 11PM Arrive in Bloomingdale, IL at family friends' house
    Day 2 Spend the day w/ family friends
    Day 3 morning Drive to Warren Dunes State Park..(2-3 hours, perhaps more b/c of traffic...106 miles) (spend 3-4 hours there, drive back to Bloomingdale along Michigan River)
    Day 3 night arrive in Bloomingdale, IL
    Day 4 after lunch leave for Des Moines, IA (6 hours, 335 miles) and stay the night
    Day 5 10AM leave for Kadoka, SD (8 hours 30 minutes, 526 miles)
    Day 5 9PMish arrive in Kadoka, SD and stay the night
    Day 6 8AM go see Devil's Tower (40 minutes, 26 miles) and spend some time there
    Day 6 11AM-12PM leave for Sundance, WY and stop by pretty sights every once in a while (6 hours or so, 223 miles)
    Day 7 9AM leave for Old Faithful at Yellowstone (7 hours or so, 425 miles) and stop along the way
    Day 8 Spend the day at Yellowstone
    Day 9 7AM leave Yellowstone for Jackson, WY through Grand Tetons (2 hours, 97.2 miles) but allotting more time for this drive due to some sight seeing along the way
    Day 9 3:30PM Whitewater Rafting in Jackson, WY!!
    Day 9 evening, sleep at some hotel in Jackson, WY
    Day 10 9AMish, leave for Maob, UT, right outside of Arches National Park (8.5 hours, 491 miles)
    Day 11 Arches National Park, then drive towards Vegas viewing sights along the way, see how far we get and stop there for the night
    Day 12 finish drive to vegas seeing views along the way, spend night in Vegas
    Day 13 day trip to Hoover Dam, spend night in Vegas
    Day 14 morning, drive to Lake Tahoe, viewing along the way (10 hours, 483 miles)
    Day 15 morning, sleep in, hang out around Lake Tahoe, and go to SF to return rental
    Day 16 Fly home...

    Also, we're going to be very open to cutting Lake Tahoe or a day in Vegas or even the whitewater rafting if parts of the trip take longer than we expect. Those will be game time decisions. I think we're going to book the hotels only a couple of days ahead of time while on the road through our Verizon USB Internet thingie, and see how it goes. The only exception will be Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone, which is generally hard to get last minute, I believe. Do you guys think that's an okay strategy?

    Furthermore, I'd really appreciate advice on...
    3. WHAT TO BRING!? I'm clueless about a lot of the must have tools/necessities of the trip, so please advise me on things I shouldn't forget for the kind of trip we're undertaking...? Links would be great as well.
    4. Are there any scenic drives you suggest we take along our route?

    Thanks once again for all the help!!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I think you may be getting your driving time estimates from a computer mapping program - you need to add 20% to those figures. Computers never have to stop for anything - fuel, food, bathroom, traffic delays, etc.

    I would highly recommend that you NOT try to drive from NJ to Chicago in one day even WITHOUT stopping to pick up a rental. I also don't understand why you would rent a vehicle when you have your own SUV.

    I'd spend the first night in Ohio, then visit Warren Dunes on the way to Chicago.

    Another option I'd seriously consider is flying to Chicago and renting a vehicle there for a round trip. This will save you the substantial dropoff charge. You could also do that with a dropoff in SF and fly all the way home from there.

  6. Default

    Again, thanks so much for taking the time to give us advice!!

    Alright. It's actually not that difficult for us to stay near Warren Dunes State Park one night and then spend one less day in Chicago. We can definitely do that.

    Also, I have used Google Maps for driving times and I've allotted about 25% extra time in general, sometimes much more if I think we'll want to stop and go look at things along the way. For example, the drive from our house to Ohio for the rental is supposed to be 9 hours but I've allotted 11 hours (22% extra). Also, the drive from Chicago to Des Moines can take however long, since we're just going to go there and sleep for the night. For the drive from Des Moines to Kadoka, SD, Google Maps says it's supposed to take 8.5 hours and I've allotted 11 hours or so (an extra 30%). Yellowstone to Jackson is supposed to take 2 hours but I've allotted at least 6 hours, etc. etc. And EVEN if it takes 50% or more extra, I think we're still safe according to these plans, because if one drive takes too long ,we can just cancel white water rafting or Lake Tahoe.

    I just wrote what Google Map said were the distances and approximate driving times to give an idea of how much we'll be driving that particular day.

    Lastly, we'd rather take a Rental because 1. we don't want to have to worry about bringing our SUV back all the way from San Francisco, 2. it's actually NOT that expensive for this one-way rental ($600 for 2 weeks), and 3. if anything happens to the car, we'll be able to just go to Hertz and get it replaced. Plus our SUV is kind of old and less reliable. Flying to Chicago is certainly an option, but since there's 5 of us, it'll add up to quite a big chunk of money, and we'd rather use that money elsewhere (i.e. white water rafting).

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    I've got to say I'm curious, how on did you decide that of all the thousands of places you could rent a car between NJ and Chicago that Sylvania, OH offered the best deal?

    I think your new plan is a big improvement, however I really would take to heart the suggestion offered earlier by pancakesx that you stop thinking in terms of an hour-by-hour schedule. Even though the plans you've now laid out are reasonable to achieve, when you start trying to break a 2 week trip down into hours, its very very easy to fall into the trap of worrying more about staying on schedule than having fun.

    I also think your plan to stop before Chicago and then hit the Dunes on your way is a much smarter one. Your original idea of traveling nearly 600 miles (a very full day on the road all by itself) and then splitting up into two cars and driving another 260 miles to Western Chicagoland would be a very bad idea, even if you have a full day to recover.

    As far as what to pack: Here's a great list of lists contributed here over the years.

  8. Default

    I've got to say I'm curious, how on did you decide that of all the thousands of places you could rent a car between NJ and Chicago that Sylvania, OH offered the best deal?
    I had read that generally renting cars from regional locations is cheaper than cities/airports. So at first I checked around Jersey where I lived. Upon finding that there were basically no minivans available, I checked random locations in Pennsylvania and New York. As I kept expanding my geographical search area (I basically tested all of the Hertz locations I could find on the way to Chicag), I found that Sylvania, OHIO was by far the cheapest rental I could find (and by a lot, too).

    Also, I needed to do the hour by hour breakdown to make sure that it's doable to get to SFO in time to return the rental (and the flights). I feel like at this point it is doable and if it turns out it isn't we'll cut down even more. I'm not married to the plan, and I think had you guys not warned me, I probably would have been, so thank you so much for that.

    Thanks for the link to the list thread, I'll definitely read up....

  9. Default

    Also, any suggestions on where to look for good road food options? Any books/link references would be great. Thanksss!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Sylvania appears to be a suburb of Toledo, and I'd plan on spending the first night somewhere around there.

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