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  1. Default Leaving August First (I hope)

    First post so be nice. I have spent a lot of time the last few months scanning this site and coming across some incredibly useful and inspiring information and stories that have allowed me to solidify the confidence to embark on a nine week, solo road trip across the western United States. I am 21 years old and fresh out of college and will be pinching pennies as tight as possible. I plan on hiking/backwoods camping in national parks and national forests along the way, staying a couple nights at hostels in the below-mentioned cities, and staying with relatives/friends in a couple of places.

    My general route plan:

    Start in Kansas City – Denver – Boulder – Rocky Mountain National Park – Steamboat Springs - Grand Teton – Yellowstone – Glacier – North Cascades – Seattle – Mount Rainier - Portland – Redwood – San Francisco – Lake Tahoe - Yosemite – Los Angeles – Phoenix – Grand Canyon – End in Austin

    I basically have from August 1st when I can leave Kansas City until around October 5-7 when I need to be in Austin for a concert and would ideally like to hit all of these places but realize that sacrifices will be necessary along the way. I have made all types of hypothetical schedules, but I am still in the process of deciding how long I want to be at each place and other important factors (i.e. budget and familial constraints). Moreover, my personality tends to place me more on the "let things unfold as they will" side of the spectrum but with my lack of experience in this type of venture, a solid plan will be extremely helpful and with regard to my parents somewhat of a necessity. When I think about the 60+ nights that I will need to sleep somewhere, backwoods camping at the national parks as well as camping at national forest campgrounds along the way will hopefully account for a big chunk of those nights. Also, I will likely have places to stay in Boulder, Steamboat Springs, Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, and Phoenix for a couple of nights with family and friends. In Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, I will probably need to find some hostels to make base at while I explore those towns for a few days.

    Questions/ Areas of Needed Advice:

    1. Do you think that this is doable given my time frame of just over two months? Would I have a more enjoyable trip if I cut back on the number of parks/cities I am planning on visiting and spending more time at fewer places? Im sure that I am underestimating the amount of driving days that will require me to get from park to park, city to city, so advice on the best ways to account for the distances between these locales, the best way to plan for each driving day (400-500 miles per day of driving seems to be a rule 0f thumb), and finding places to stop for the night would be incredibly helpful.

    2. For a trip like this does it make more sense to stick to major highways/interstates since I will be spending a lot of time in nature anyways, or should I try to find more scenic byways? Obviously, I want as scenic a route as possible, but time and safety are also primary concerns. For example, once I am through Portland I would like to try and drive along the coast as much as possible but still want to hit up Yosemite and Tahoe without missing out on the splendor of Big Sur on my way down to LA (something to keep in mind I guess). In terms of route-planning, is google maps and the directions that they provide a safe-bet or will I be better off using a simple road atlas (right now I am planning on printing out google maps directions but also keeping some "actual" maps and road atlases on hand)?

    3. My dad is helping to pay for this trip as a sort of graduation gift, so I have been working on trying to come up with a pretty detailed budget (definitely not a strong-suit of mine). Any suggestions on the best way to come up with the costs of gas, food and lodging that I will come across, so that I know precisely how much money I will need to sustain me through the trip. Obviously prices will vary, but if you haven't already noticed I would like to aim for the cheapest possible way to maximize the number of places on my list that I can visit. Will already have tent, sleeping bag, national parks pass and other equipment, but could use advice on the daily costs that I will encounter once I actually hit the road.

    4. Any specific advice for solo-roadtripers would also be appreciated. I am pretty sure that I have read all of the articles on here about solo roadtrips as well as a great deal of the threads related to this, but suggestions/advice on things I might have overlooked or some of the biggest challenges that a first-timer like me might encounter would surely go a long way.

    Thanks in advance for your response, and I am really excited to hear what you guys have to say.
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 06-20-2010 at 07:33 AM. Reason: Sorry, New Members May Not Post Off-Site Links

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default We are all different.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    It sounds like a great adventure, oh how I wish I could find a couple of Months ! [sigh]

    I think you have a nice amount of time to complete your trip but some of your questions, only you can really answer, but let's see. 5-600 miles is roughly 10 hours of driving on main Highways with time for food, bathroom and stretching breaks and to top the car up with gas, no sight seeing. Using that as a guide, it can help you to keep on track or catch up when needed, but there might be many days when you "only" cover 100-200 miles due to sight seeing and interests. In other words I would be mapping out places of interest and how they would fit in rather than trying to cover a daily average.

    I try and avoid Interstates, but they are useful for getting from A to B if you are "pushing on" but I would certainly try and explore the by-ways as much as possible, again it's all about balancing your trip to meet your goals. Printing of maps is fine, as is a GPS for back up use, but to explore areas and understand what is around you I always carry detailed State maps. Google maps, as other mapping programs do, give over optimistic travel times, add at least 20% to there estimates.

    The fuel cost calculator will help you work out fuel costs, here are some budgeting tips and here.

    As for "winging it" or knowing where your staying is another one that both have there pros and cons. On a trip I tend to book places that will keep me on track time wise and "wing it" in between those main spots, allowing time for exploration. Basically, I mean to break the trip into 3 or 4 parts and then have a start and finish time for each segment. National parks do get busy and book up early although they do have some non reservable sites on a first come first serve basis but they can go early morning. Even if you are camping in the back country you will need permits which have limited numbers and there will be campground fees, you can't set up any old where.

    Keep looking around the site for info [I have been around a while and keep finding new stuff] and if you have other quetions just ask, enjoy the planning !

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default We Don't Have All the Answers

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    Trips such as those you describe are almost a rite of passage in our society, and the main point of them is for you to be on your own, making all the decisions, making mistakes, and learning - both about the country and yourself. There are, therefore, no set of rules, answers, or guidelines, but we can maybe help you sort a few things out.

    First of all, I think that two months on a very limited budget and relying on the kindness of 'strangers', or even friends and family, is a less than ideal way to go about this. Visiting them is all well and good if you really want to, but doing so to score a free night's sleep, a shower, some laundry facilities, and a couple of meals will not build self reliance or self awareness. It also ties you to their schedules and works directly against your stated "let things unfold as they will" attitude. I think you'd get a lot more out of the trip if it was shorter, less expensive, and more self-reliant. think of this as a reconnaissance trip, where you're just going to cruise through some beautiful areas and get a feel for them, not explore them in depth, and not spend weeks or even days in one place. 400-500 miles a day is a good rule of thumb for days on which you're mostly concentrating on driving but still taking a couple of 1 hour breaks for hiking and navel contemplating.

    Secondly, simply don't worry about which roads to take. Rather, think about where you want to go and what you want to see and the roads will pretty much take care of themselves. You can always adjust (to a certain extent) depending on what's available, what you feel like on any given day, and how much ground you have to cover, But worrying about finding enough scenic roads when you're going to be driving through some of the most scenic country on the planet is a waste of time.

    No trip of this magnitude is going to be cheap. You can keep costs down, and you can occasionally score a free bed or even a free meal. But for planning and budgeting purposes you should count on none of that. Assume that you're going to need about $25-40 a day for food, $25 a night for a campsite (National Parks passes cover entrance fees only, not camping or other fees), $10-20 a day for various admissions and souvenirs, plus a tank or so of gas. So a decent rule of thumb: $100 a day. You can probably save on that, but you can't count on it and having enough to cover worst case and even an unforeseen emergency or two will go a long way to alleviating your parents' worries.

    Your biggest challenge is really just taking on the responsibilities of planning and executing such a trip. Try to be as realistic as you can.


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