I have been reading and enjoying many different threads and trip reports on this site and have already done quite a lot of trip planning for our family gap year (well, not quite a year) with our teenage girls. We are moving from Australia to New Zealand and are taking the once in a lifetime opportunity to do some long term travel with our kids.
We have done a few 5-6 week trips in the US with our girls and just love the variety, history, scenery, culture and people we have met in the US during our trips.
I will outline briefly where we have been already so that it explains some perhaps notable absences in the planning for this trip;
. Winter 2011
Skiing in Colorado (Winter Park), Moab (Arches & Canyonlands), Monument Valley, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Page, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas, LA (Disney) & Oahu.
. Winter 2013
Las Vegas, Route 66, Durango, Taos & Santa Fe, Washington DC, Charleston, Savannah (very briefly), Orlando (Disney), San Francisco & Kauai.
. Two weeks in New York City then Bahamas cruise.
It was during our first trip when our girls were 10 & 8 and we were travelling with my 60ish parents that we realised the incredible natural beauty and variety that the US offers which isn't something that is widely acknowledged in Australia. After that first trip we were well and truly hooked :-)
So, with our 6 month US extended holiday visas sorted but on the assumption that we will NOT necessarily get an extension to these we are planning to spend Feb - July 2017 in the US and then 3 months in Canada on a standard tourist visa before returning to begin our new life in New Zealand.
Also of note is the fact that my husband's sister is married to an American and they live in Gig Harbor, just outside of Seattle. They will be purchasing a vehicle on our behalf and registering it in Washington and we will then use an auto shipper to transport the car down to our start point which is Dallas. I know we're really lucky in having these guys in Washington because all of my research led me to the conclusion that buying a vehicle for non-residents was almost impossible and renting a car for 9 months practically blows our road trip budget out of the water.
Some other information of note is;
. Whilst not big hikers as such we are happy to walk and explore and we were incredibly impressed with the state and national parks in the areas we have already visited.
. We love driving minor roads (but are happy to take interstates for expediency when required) but particularly enjoy discovering the small towns and local sights mixed in of course with major tourist areas but don't like overly developed areas.
. Having said this I'll now contradict myself and confess to happily spending time in Orlando (obviously extremely commercial) where we all enjoy the Disney parks (particularly our kids) and we are in fact Disney Vacation Club members and will be spending almost a month in Orlando on DVC points.
. We will be trying to base ourselves in each place for anywhere between 3 and 7 nights depending on how far we have to push through and what is of particular interest to us around the area.
. There will be quite a few long drives to just get from Point A to Point B but we will try and limit driving on any one day to about 5-6 hours maximum.
. Where we've got a long distance to cover we will simply stay in a chain motel for one night and will probably sign up to a loyalty plan for a particular chain (thinking perhaps Holiday Inn).
. The remainder of our accommodation will be self catering places booked either via Airbnb or VRBO. Where possible we will always stay in places with at least basic kitchen facilities (preferably full kitchens) as cooking "at home" and preparing lunches to take on the road will be a big part of staying on budget for this trip.
. Budget. This is a biggie. We are budgeting on USD900 on AVERAGE per week with the realisation that we can get can away with spending less in some places but will need to spend more in others (like DC & NYC). As long as it evens out over our time away we're fine with that.
. Our budget overall for gas / food / activities will also be around USD900/week but things like theme park tickets etc will not come out of this money, they will be bought separately.
. We will buy a National Park annual pass.
. State Parks are probably a bit trickier but can you buy a pass for particular states if we think we will visit quite a few parks in that state or do you have to pay individually for each one?
. We will try and have at least one day per week where we don't spend anything (other than feeding ourselves)!
. We will transport pantry and fridge basics from place to place and would be curious to know if there is an easy way to hook up a basic fridge in the back of our car (likely to be a Dodge Grand Caravan) so we don't have a lot of food being spoilt while we are on the road.
OK, and now to our actual basic itinerary and this is where I would really welcome your thoughts and comments because with all the research in the world there is nothing like hearing from people who have literally already been there and done that!
1st Feb 2017
Land in Dallas and spend a few days taking delivery of the car, organising basic supplies (set-up) and checking out Dallas & Fort Worth.
10 nights here which may seem a little extreme but we'll be a bit jet lagged (direct flight from Sydney) and there will be lots of basic things to sort out. Didn't want to rush this part.
Waco - big Fixer Upper fans so we'll be dropping into Waco for a night :-)
Texas Hill Country & San Antonio - 4 nights (staying in Boerne, Tx)
Avery Island, LA. Stopping in at the home of Tabasco sauce - a favourite of my hubby & good stop on the road trip over to NOLA.
NOLA - 3 days. Would like to visit Oak Alley Plantation and just take in NOLA.
Pensacola (town) - 4 days. Hubby is a big aviation fan so will visit Aviation Museum & if he's lucky will see the Blue Angels practise.
Crystal River, FL - 4 days. Weeki Wachee (see manatees), Rainbow Springs. Explore the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida.
POSSIBLY we'll have time to go down to Anna Maria Island for a couple of nights. Looks like charming old-Florida which appeals.
Orlando - end Feb to 19th March - theme parks, Discovery Cove, Disney cruise (4 nights). Meeting with my parents to celebrate my Mum's 70th birthday.
Hilton Head Island (Disney resort on DVC points) - 5 nights. Hire bikes, explore the island, relax, visit Savannah & Beaufort.
Charleston, SC - 3 nights. Loved Charleston last visit and although budget won't extend to charming old district B&B this time we'll still love it!
Atlanta - stay near airport. 25th wedding anniversary gift to my husband will be doing the Porsche Experience at the new centre near Atlanta airport :-)
Nashville - 4 nights. Visit Franklin (on way there). Just enjoy everything Nashville has to offer.
Great Smoky Mountains (Asheville) - 3 nights.
Raleigh (Wake Forest, NC) - 2 nights. Visiting friends.
Richmond, VA - 5 nights. Explore historical sites and Richmond itself.
Washington, DC - 5 nights. Perhaps a little late for blossoms :-( but loved DC on previous visit and keen to be there when it isn't quite so cold!
Lancaster, PA. Amish Country - 5 nights.
NYC (Brooklyn) - 7 nights.
Boston / Harvard / Salem - 2 nights.
Cape Cod (Falmouth) - 7 nights. Day trip to Martha's Vineyard.
8th - 14th May - we'll take our time during this week to drive across PA (Wellsboro, PA Grand Canyon), Pittsburg (girls are major Dance Moms fans), Ohio Amish country to Ann Arbor, MI. Need some advice on this part of the trip. Could add a bit of time in here if warranted. Not sure of what to see / do in these areas.
Ludington, MI - 3 nights. Silver Lake Sand Dunes.
Mackinaw City / Mackinac Island, MI. Visit historic parks in the area. Day trip to Mackinac Island (staying there is too expensive).
Munising, MI. 2 nights. Painted Rocks National Lakeshore.
Bayfield, WI. 5 nights. Apostle Islands - kayaking etc. May take a night out before getting to Bayfield to explore the Porcupine Mountains.
Duluth, MN. 2 nights. Attend the air show (aviation fan) for guaranteed sighting on the Blue Angels & other displays. Early June.
O/N Minneapolis. Visit Mall of America. This will be a "necessity" for our teenage girls after all the nature they'll be "subjected" to in Michigan etc ;-) They are good and interested travellers but they are, after all, 13 & 15 year old girls!
Sioux Falls, SD. 2 nights. Looks interesting and breaks up the drive.
South Dakota - Custer NP, Mt Rushmore, Badlands. 7 nights. This area looks great. Any hot tips much appreciated incl. reasonable accommodation as everything is very expensive and beyond our budget!
O/N Cheyenne, WY on our way to Colorado.
Colorado - Rocky Mountain National Park (best place to stay)? Really like Denver (major Broncos fans) and would love to see the Rockies when not covered in snow!
Moab - 2 nights. Will really be too hot for us by this stage (3rd week of June) in Moab BUT we love Arches NP and would look to do a rafting trip.
SLC & surrounds. Family in the area. 4 nights.
Jackson Hole, WY. 4 nights. Grand Teton NP.
End June to approx. 10th July - Yellowstone NP incl. Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP.
Northern Montana via Spokane & Leavenworth to Washington (to stay with family) until the end of July at which time our 6 month visa for the US (if no extension is granted) will be up and we will then go into Canada.
I really haven't done any research into Canada at this stage but think we should be able to happily spend three months exploring British Columbia & Alberta incl. Vancouver Island.
If we get a US Visa extension (and they let us back in) we'll head back into Seattle to spend some more time with family but either way we'll be flying home to NZ from Vancouver.
So, that's the grand plan! It has changed about 1000 times already and I know we're missing huge chunks out (like all of Utah, Arizona, California & Oregon) but we just can't do everything and whilst we'll never do a trip like this again we will come back and we have also done quite a bit through Utah etc on previous trips. It kills me to miss Zion NP (my absolute all-time favourite place) but we just can't do it all!
I would REALLY appreciate your thoughts and advice on our basic itinerary. There are a few dates that we "need" to be in particular places (Orlando for example is not negotiable as we've booked accommodation with DVC points) and the Duluth air show is high on my husbands list as he won't get to see Fleet Week in SF as previously hoped!
I hope I've given you enough info to give me some valid opinions and I'll look forward to hearing back!
Thanks for your help, really appreciate it :-)