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  1. Default Dream Drive - Northern VA to Phoenix, then San Diego and maybe back?

    Hello road trippers,

    I've been dreaming of driving across the states from the East to the West since I migrated here about 20 years ago but I have really not planned anything well enough to have the courage and the will to come to a fruition. With my 4th child coming out in a weeks time, and having realized that my 3 other kids are growing up, I told my wife that this trip must be done no later than next summer. This will at least give me some time research, plan, and save. Plus, by that time, our 4th child will be about a year old. I am a teacher by profession so I get summer off so basically I do have some time on hand.

    With that being said, I wanted to know if there's a logical order on how to approach this big endeavor. What I know is that I need some proper guidance so I can get a better sense on how I can pull this off. To give you a vague idea on what I currently envision:

    Goal: Round trip from Leesburg, VA to San Diego, CA
    Timeline: Whole of Summer 2022 (give or take about 8/9 weeks)
    Vehicle of Choice: Family Van (2012 Odyssey)
    Wishlist:
    1. Only drive during the day (or at least not past 8pm)
    2. Stop at family friendly spots/cities/attractions
    3. Safe route with ample stops when needed (gas, RR, food)
    4. See/stay with relatives and friends along the way (Atlanta GA, Houston TX, Phoenix AZ)
    5. See as much places we can without sacrificing too much time on the road/driving so we can spend as much time with relatives in San Diego.

    List of questions/concerns:
    1. How do I figure out a good stopping point for the day?
    2. Should I book a hotel/motel room in advance and reference that place as my designated stop point for the day?
    3. Is having 8/9 weeks realistic for this trip?
    4. What is a good number of days to cover one way trip?
    5. Will it be preferable to use a rental instead of my personal vehicle?
    6. Budget; what is a realistic number for me to budget for this trip? 2adults, 3 kids under 12, and a barely 1yo.
    7. Route? - I initially though I-10 all the way but obviously, it is not the best/preferred way.

    Thank you!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    11,665

    Default Lots to consider as you move forward with planning.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !!

    You have a nice amount of time to do plenty of exploring. Technically you could drive straight across country in 5 or 6 days but that wouldn't be much fun !

    So you have a start and end point and some places/people you want to visit along the way so thats a start. You should plan on travelling no more than 500 miles a day for a family road trip, but again it's not going to be a lot of fun, just mainly covering ground.

    1) So what I would do is start studying the maps and see what appeals to you between each of the segments of the trip you already have, the more stops the longer it takes. That will give you some indication as to how many miles to cover and where a reasonable place to stop might be, but as you get intop the finer detail we can help more with that.

    2) Thats a personal choice, I prefer not to have to worry where I will be sleeping and just enjoy my day. Others like the freedom to be able to stay longer in one place and shorter in another.

    3) I would certainly say so. You could drive your route with those destinations in 6 days (one way)leaving plenty of time to enjoy.

    4) Thats going to be where you need to start putting your trip into sections and decide how much time you want to stay at each of your destinations, then you can start to fill in the gaps and decide what amount of time would work for you. 2 weeks ? 5 weeks? Either could work.

    5) Budget is something you would need to work out. What type of Motels, eating out a lot or packing a cooler and so on, plus fuel etc. No need to rent a car if you are planning on driving back and your vehicle is reliable.

    6) I couldn't think of anything worse than following a generic route off a mapping program. You have plenty of time to research so give yourself time to create your own routes and get off the Interstates.

    It probably looks a bit daunting at the moment but once you start picking away at it it will come together slowly. The trip will likely switch and change through the planning process but thats perfectly normal. So to start look at home to Atlanta, you could do it with one overnight stop, you could take 6 or 8 nights and venture into the Smokey mountains and lots more, or anywhere in between. Once you have that sorted start on step two. Again you could get from Atlanta to Houston in 2 days but do you want to ? How long will you stay in each place and at your destination ? This will help you to understand how much time you have for travelling. We are here to answer any questions you have as you move forward but you just need to research at the moment and it will start to take more shape and give a better understanding of how your time works for you. Involve the family and get them looking at maps etc so they have a vested interest in where you are going, it will make it more fun for all! You will find many links on the site packed with info and you can search the forums for inspiration.

    Enjoy the planning ! (And look for a different route on the way back to experience new sights !)

  3. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Southwest Dave View Post
    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !!

    You have a nice amount of time to do plenty of exploring. Technically you could drive straight across country in 5 or 6 days but that wouldn't be much fun !

    So you have a start and end point and some places/people you want to visit along the way so thats a start. You should plan on travelling no more than 500 miles a day for a family road trip, but again it's not going to be a lot of fun, just mainly covering ground.

    1) So what I would do is start studying the maps and see what appeals to you between each of the segments of the trip you already have, the more stops the longer it takes. That will give you some indication as to how many miles to cover and where a reasonable place to stop might be, but as you get intop the finer detail we can help more with that.

    2) Thats a personal choice, I prefer not to have to worry where I will be sleeping and just enjoy my day. Others like the freedom to be able to stay longer in one place and shorter in another.

    3) I would certainly say so. You could drive your route with those destinations in 6 days (one way)leaving plenty of time to enjoy.

    4) Thats going to be where you need to start putting your trip into sections and decide how much time you want to stay at each of your destinations, then you can start to fill in the gaps and decide what amount of time would work for you. 2 weeks ? 5 weeks? Either could work.

    5) Budget is something you would need to work out. What type of Motels, eating out a lot or packing a cooler and so on, plus fuel etc. No need to rent a car if you are planning on driving back and your vehicle is reliable.

    6) I couldn't think of anything worse than following a generic route off a mapping program. You have plenty of time to research so give yourself time to create your own routes and get off the Interstates.

    It probably looks a bit daunting at the moment but once you start picking away at it it will come together slowly. The trip will likely switch and change through the planning process but thats perfectly normal. So to start look at home to Atlanta, you could do it with one overnight stop, you could take 6 or 8 nights and venture into the Smokey mountains and lots more, or anywhere in between. Once you have that sorted start on step two. Again you could get from Atlanta to Houston in 2 days but do you want to ? How long will you stay in each place and at your destination ? This will help you to understand how much time you have for travelling. We are here to answer any questions you have as you move forward but you just need to research at the moment and it will start to take more shape and give a better understanding of how your time works for you. Involve the family and get them looking at maps etc so they have a vested interest in where you are going, it will make it more fun for all! You will find many links on the site packed with info and you can search the forums for inspiration.

    Enjoy the planning ! (And look for a different route on the way back to experience new sights !)
    Thank you.
    Would you recommend a booklet or map guide that is a good reference? Or a road atlas that contains POIs? I know there is a MapWizard on RTA's webpage but it would also be nice (maybe easier) to plot the routes on an actual map...

    It's probably best if I start with an excel sheet as well...

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    10,109

    Default One Step at a Time

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    This could literally be the trip of a lifetime for you and especially for your children. You're doing exactly the right thing by starting to plan very early and by having plenty of time to spend appreciating all the marvelous places you'll be driving by rather than just spending all day in the van to get 'there' wherever there might be. So at this point, and given the flexibility you have, I'd suggest that you just get the big picture more-or-less squared away, and then fill in the details later.

    So my first suggestions on the big picture would be the following:

    First: Using your own vehicle for this probably makes the most sense. Not only will it be cheaper, but the kids will be familiar with it. You'll also have the 'extra' time to load/unload at your convenience rather than wasting a day or so of rental time on that necessary activity. And perhaps just as importantly with 4 kids, you'll have time at the end to find everything that got 'lost' in the cushions or under the seats.

    Second: Look at taking two completely different routes, one to San Diego and another one back to Virginia. Yes the basic route of dropping down to Atlanta first and then heading west through Houston and Phoenix is one way. Another good route would be using I-70 through Indianapolis, St. Louis, etc. to central Utah and then I-15 down to San Diego. Of course, either route could be driven in either direction, while using both of them lets you see far more of the country and means that you won't be covering the same ground twice. Every day will be a new adventure.

    Third: Pick a few major stops along whichever route(s) you choose to start defining the course and timing of that route. e.g. on the 'southern' route outlined above, clearly the family stops will be anchors as will, perhaps, Great Smoky Mountain NP, some time on the Gulf Coast, maybe the Alamo and some time in the deserts of the southwest. On the 'northern' route you've got a chance for some history (don't tell the kids they'll be learning something) with possible stops in Dayton (Wright brothers), Springfield IL (Lincoln), Hannibal MO (Mark Twain), and even possibly a drive along the Platte River/Oregon Trail in Nebraska before dropping down through Colorado (Rocky Mountain NP) and the 'Mighty Five' NPs in Utah.

    Fourth: With the basic plan in hand, start getting the kids involved. There are plenty of smaller national, state and local parks and historic sites all along whatever route(s) you choose, so maybe let each child that's old enough pick a site or two in each direction and have them be the 'tour guide' for that site. That will help get them invested in the trip and it won't be such a top down endeavor.

    Finally, some general comments. You've got plenty of time; use it. 300 miles on a nominal driving day is plenty. That leaves loads of time for stops at which the kids get to run around and blow off steam. The parents can get out from behind the wheel and take care of any mundane details. (FYI I used to make semi-annual pilgrimages from the east coast to Wisconsin, six kids in an old woody station wagon, and the stops are what I remember most.)

    At the beginning of your journey, when you hit your first national park, buy an annual pass. This will be good for entry to most (all?) national parks for everyone in the car. It will pay for itself around the third park you visit. And while we're on the topic of national (and other) parks, be sure to make maximum use of the info available at ranger stations, ranger-led talks and souvenirs (simple patches are a relatively cheap option). etc.

    Since people are now starting to travel more and will be making up for 'lost' 2020, I'd highly recommend determining where you'll be stopping each night and making reservations beforehand. You don't have to do this right away, late next winter or early spring of 2022 will be fine, but with 6 people including tired children you simply don't want to arrive in a town to find no room at the inn.

    Total time to spend on the trip is clearly up to you. Go through the above items once or twice (it's an iterative process) and the total time span will sort itself out. Three weeks would be sufficient. You have the luxury of much more time than that.

    AZBuck

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    11,665

    Default Plan with flexibility

    Quote Originally Posted by CP13 View Post
    Thank you.
    Would you recommend a booklet or map guide that is a good reference? Or a road atlas that contains POIs? I know there is a MapWizard on RTA's webpage but it would also be nice (maybe easier) to plot the routes on an actual map...

    It's probably best if I start with an excel sheet as well...
    If you have somewhere to pin a wall map that would be a good way to get started using pins to plot and sticky notes to highlight facts. I use RTA maps, Google, paper maps and a jotter to take notes of places of interest. For a 2 week trip I can end up with over 100 possibilities and then its a case of breaking it down to fit into my timeline. I also look for overnight lodgings near a beauty spot, or a town with a riverside walk, some history so we can reelax and enjoy an evening stroll. Although I never stick hard and fast to a plan as you have to expect the unexpected surprise, you may really enjoy one place and stay longer and have to skip another to accomodate, or not 'feel' a certain place and move on quicker than expected to something else. As long as I reach my nights destination it's all good, you will never see it all and you don't want to be constantly clock watching to ensure you get to the next place. Basically I gain as much knowledge as I can but it doesn't mean I have to achieve everything at any cost. Have a plan and be flexible with it, and always allow for more time than you think it will take, it always takes longer!!
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 06-02-2021 at 11:52 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    812

    Default

    As noted above, one of the questions you'll need to ask yourself is what type of lodging (at what price point).

    As you are traveling as a party of 6, including a 1-year-old, you may need two rooms in most places... unless you can snag a double queen with a pullout couch (a 'suites' hotel like Fairfield).

    This may mean more pre-planning (and reserving) of where you're going to stop, or just go with an approach where you sleep with 2 kids in one double-double and your wife sleeps with the other two in another double-double.

    Just something to consider as you weigh the take-it-as-it-comes to the book-rooms-ahead-of-time approach. You're likely going to need a junior suite, or two rooms, wherever you decide to check in.

    Sounds like a great trip: I want to go!

    P.S. When I travelled with a kid that young, one of the things that went into the car was a portable crib.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    10,109

    Default Or Split the Difference

    There might be a happy medium between booking everything ahead of time and keeping some flexibility. As Cal points out, there are major motel change that specialize in suites, and others that are at a price point where two rooms with two double beds each works out. If you were to pick two or three such chains and try to stick to them, there are a couple of benefits. First, you can sign up for any rewards program they might have, maybe even earning a free night's stay during your trip. Second, by limiting the number of chains you deal with, you can more easily get and organize info about those chains: locations, prices, contact numbers, etc. If you carry a few chain's national directories (typically pamphlet size) then you might only need to book a couple of nights ahead at a time and can adjust your stops a bit more easily. Remember, too, that most motels have policies that only require a 24 hour notice to cancel a reservation, perhaps even less to change the date by a day or two, assuming availability on the new dates.

    AZBuck

  8. #8

    Default

    One other thought on rooms is to see if any of the places you may look at offer rooms with interior connecting doors. That way, if that door is kept open you basically wind up with a 2 room (and 2 bathroom) suite, but in some cases it may be cheaper than the actual larger room would be.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Central Missouri
    Posts
    5,670

    Default

    You might want to check out Six Suitcase Travel, which talks about big family travels and accommodations to fit.

    My husband and I have the Rand McNally atlases -- several of them, as we rarely throw one away when we buy a new one! One favorite is a laminated one for truckers, and the other favorite (now that we're getting older) is the large print. You can buy these locally or through an online vendor, including RTA.

    The other thing we use is AAA. Not only do they have a good emergency road service plan, they also will give you the maps you need - state and Canadian province maps are included with the membership. Honestly, our travel vehicle is usually a 1999 pickup, so AAA is a nice peace-of-mind. This year, we're going in a 7-year-old sedan, but it's still a nice POM!

    We also stop at the state visitor center, usually at the first exit on an interstate when you enter a new state or in one of the first towns if you are using US or state highways. These state visitor centers will give you loads of information, free, including state maps. (Oklahoma and Missouri's state maps are better than the AAA maps, IMHO.)

    My husband and I prefer to make reservations for overnights, for the main reason that it makes us stop even if we "think we're not tired", and we can find one that has a room at the price we want to pay. Our mantra is to only take those that can be easily canceled or modified -- no "non-refundable" rooms for us! Though we prefer the type where you can cancel up to 4 pm the day of intended arrival, we will accept one that must be canceled 24 hours in advance. (Even those can be canceled if you explain the circumstances, such as the reservations we had to cancel after a family member died and we had to head in another direction.)

    I totally agree with getting the kids involved. It's good for their map skills (I turned into a map fiend at age 9) and they can research a place online.

    Routes between Phoenix and San Diego are one of my specialties. I used to have to travel between the two at least 6 times a year. My favorite route was I-10 "east" to AZ-347, to I-8 west. If you are staying in western Phoenix, the other "favorite" is I-10 west to AZ-85 south, to I-8 west in Gila (hee-lah) Bend. AZ-347 is mostly 4 lane, though there are about a dozen stop lights between I-10 and I-8. Still, it seems to be faster and shorter than just taking I-10 to I-8 at Casa Grande. AZ-85 is mostly 2-lane, but it's good road.

    Warning: Phoenix is HOT in the summer....usually 105+. The desert along I-10 and I-8 will be the same until just west of El Centro, when the highway starts to climb into the mountains. Once you are up to about 4000 ft, it should cool off unless we are in the midst of a heat-wave.


    Donna

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    11,665

    Default Home rentals ?

    Another option regarding lodgings. If you were thinking of staying in one spot for a few nights you could consider renting a home or cabin for the family with companies such as Airbnb.

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