Road Trip Hacks and Recommendations

These are some of the hacks and tricks we employed on our 53 night,  long road trip that really worked out well and made a big difference, sometimes to the overall cost and sometimes to the ease of travelling from one place to another.  We stayed in well over 30 places, many for just 1 or 2 nights, on our trip and travelled around 6000 miles.  We had to adopt these strategies in order to survive.

  •  Packing Cubes really work.  We bought 2 sets of packing cubes from Amazon before we set off and they made moving from accommodation to accommodation super easy.  I would never travel without them now.  It meant that our suitcase stayed very tidy because we didn’t have to rummage through the contents to find “that one thing”.  Up to you how you use them, but I had 1 for dresses/trousers/blouses, 1 for underwear and swimwear, 1 for t shirts, 1 for bathroom items, 1 for makeup and daily creams and cosmetics, 1 for medications and duplications of cosmetics.  I folded the dress/blouse contents into their square and I rolled things in all the other ones. packing cubes  Try them.  I promise you will never look back.  You don’t need to unpack the cubes, just leave them in the case or put them into drawers unopened and access them from there.  If you have dresses that crease (why??) you will need to hang them…. but….. don’t….
  •  Try and organise the packing so you are just opening 1 suitcase per stay.
  • Plan activities for each day.  You may well not do them, but if you’ve thought them through in advance, then you won’t be caught out.  Roadtrippers.com and Tripadvisor forums are great for pre-planning.
  •  Self Catering: we saved a lot of money by booking rooms or cabins where we could cook in.  At the very least, look for a room with a fridge/freezer and microwave.
  • We either made breakfast – microwave meal or cereal or yoghurt – or we utilised the hotel free breakfast.  We never bought breakfast.
  •  We took along an Igloo on Wheels which acted as our travelling fridge/freezer.  We put ziploc bags of ice in this every morning and it kept our travelling larder fresh and frozen.  Ice was available free everywhere we stayed.  The travelling refrigerator on wheels was an absolute lifesaver.
  • We took along a smaller thermal bag that was our daily lunch box.  We would make lunch every morning, put it into this bag and put an ice bag in that too.  Drinks would be ice cold and our lunch food fresh.  We always ate our own lunch.  We made it into a picnic occasion.  Lovely.
  •  Shop at cheaper supermarkets if you can: Walmart; LIDL, Family Dollar.  City Market, Wholefoods, Albertsons are very pretty with all their displays of food, but much more expensive.
  • Most lodging types give you packs of fresh coffee  to use in in-room coffee makers.  Use them.  Take packets of sugar, creamer, tea, salt, pepper, sweetener from the room along with you.  Ditto paper plates, kitchen towel, paper cups.  Invaluable for packed lunches etc.
  • Buy or bring thermal coffee flasks and water bottles.  Fill them before leaving the hotel in the morning and use them along the way.  Often you can fill them again at coffee shops at a cheaper price than if you use the outlet’s cups.
  •  Budget was a big issue for us, so we also self catered dinner 5 nights out of 7 wherever possible.  You can’t cook in the National Parks’ accommodation, so we factored that in.  We ate really well, with little effort.  And always chilled out with cocktails and wine.  We didn’t feel deprived of fun and in fact it made the dining out occasions more special.  Put it another way, unless you are eating in fast food outlets, you are not going to get out of a restaurant for less than $80 for two including a drink and service.  Probably more.  Multiply that by the length of your holiday and you can see the savings you can make – $4000 in our case.
  •  Many accommodation options have laundries.  We used these weekly in order to reduce the amount of clothing we needed to bring.
  •  National Park Accommodation:  It is really worth it, to stay inside the national parks if the journey time is more than 10 miles.  Yes, the accommodation will be well over priced for what you get, but on the other hand, you will save valuable travel time.  Journey times from outside say Yellowstone Park, can be an hour or more.  It’s better to be spending that time IN the park.
  •  On the other hand, don’t bother shelling out for the most expensive room types if budget is a concern.  We regretted paying for a balcony lakeside room at Many Glacier.  We could have had a much cheaper room (same size) and enjoyed the view in lots of other convenient ways.  It is better to book a cabin without a private bathroom IN the park, than a luxury room 50 miles from where you want to be.  All cabins have wash basins and the bathroom blocks are generally within about 50 yards, heated and well maintained.
  • Remember that many NP accommodations book out a year in advance. Book early to avoid disappointment and have maximum choice.
  •  If you are travelling from the UK, get a fee free credit/debit card before you set off.  We used a Starling Bank debit card for all our spend as it has no fees or interest on cash deductions or spend.  We used our Halifax Clarity card for credit card spend (but not cash withdrawals).
  • When you check into a hotel, they generally want to swipe a card as an insurance against incidentals. This can put a hold of as much as $100 per night on your card.  Use the cc for this, not the debit card.  When you check out, pick the card you want to use to actually pay.
  •  Don’t rent a bigger car than you actually need.  We had a Ford Focus (Compact) for our 7 weeks and it was more than fine for our 2 large cases, 1 small case, igloo on wheels and other soft bags, plus a couple of adults.  You don’t need a 4wd unless you are planning to go seriously off road in which case the rental company probably rule that out.  We drove on gravel roads and dirt roads that were rated as fine for 2wd cars without problem.  We never needed a 4wd.
  • We put the suitcases into the trunk/boot so they were always out of sight.  The igloo went on the back seat.
  •  Take a variety of map/guidance systems.  Your phone is great for finding points of interest, shops, restaurants etc.  Your car gps is great for point to point routes.  You MUST have a large scale atlas like Delorme for each state with you so that you can plan interesting routes.  The GPS is useless for this.  Know that your phone may well be useless for large areas of the trip, so you must have a backup.  If you have to do without one of the three guidance systems, make it the phone, not the map books.
  •  Look out for Scenic Byways in each area you visit.  We drove loads of these and they were always very worthwhile.  A scenic byway may be a single road or it could be a collection of several different roads put together to form a scenic route.
  • Get off the Interstate or any large road as much as possible unless timings make it necessary to travel that way.  The smaller roads are far more rewarding.  We found some amazing routes using county roads and even forest roads although they are more variable in quality.
  • If you are visiting more than one National Park, buy a National Parks Pass.  This covers the car and all passengers for entry at all the national parks and monuments.  Our pass was $80 and valid for a year.  We got our money’s worth very quickly.
  • In the National Parks,  utilise the free Ranger programmes which are generally informative, fun and excellent.   Everything from guided walks, stargazing, animal spotting…..
  • If you are keen on wildlife spotting, invest in some excellent binoculars or a spotter lens before arriving.  It will revolutionise your spotting.  You can sometimes rent them near the National Parks and if this is convenient for you, it can be worthwhile.
  •  It is best to see wildlife early in the morning and at dusk.  You may well see them at other times, but there’s no escaping the early morning trip to maximise the opportunities.
  • There are specialist wildlife tours in all the National Parks.  They are not cheap but they are experts and you have a great chance of seeing a lot of creatures.  If this is beyond your budget (like us), research game  spotting locations online, look out for people by the roadside with binoculars or….. follow the wildlife tour minibuses…..

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