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The Alt-Nomad Guide to Road Trip Planning: Shortcuts, Hazards, and Pit Stops

Great planning leads to great road trips.   We always leave plenty of room in our travel plans for the unexpected, but we do schedule the majority of our time.  It’s really the only way we’ve been able to balance work with exploring.

At Alt-Nomad we believe that travel is all about immersing yourself in local culture wherever you go.  Anyone can stop at a tourist spot and get a gorgeous Instagram photo, but it’s the people that visit these places and have real stories to tell when they leave that truly get the most out of the experience.  The ones that take a piece of their visit with them, and leave a little bit of their soul with the people and places they meet. Maybe that sounds a bit too profound, but it’s how we feel!

We wrote this road trip planning guide to help you connect the dots of your travel plans– whether it be for 3 days, 3 months, or a lifetime.

Getting To Your Starting Point

If you’re traveling to another location first you will have to get there. One of our family members likes to fly to a place, rent a car, and drive in a big circle hundred of miles around that area and end up back where he started.  It’s simple and effective.

For flights, we always check Google flights first. This tool is especially great if you are open to different travel destinations and/or have flexible dates.  Just pick your home airport, any destination, and some dates you have in mind. Search and then click at the 3 bars in the top left menu and select “explore map”.  This will give you prices for all the destination airports you can fly to for those dates. You can find some amazing deals to places you didn’t expect and might have a great excuse to visit somewhere new.  

Create a Goal For Your Trip

We’ve been traveling for almost two years now full-time and we find it best to break up our schedule into shorter routes for each region we drive through.   For example, right now we are in the middle of a route starting in Ithaca, NY and ending in Connecticut with a route up through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine over the course of 3 months.  We set a goal for each route and choose the big experiences we want to get out of that trip. Having this plan is a great way to keep you motivated to get out there and explore when things get tiring.  Maybe you plan to hit all the state parks in Idaho, or visit family and friends while passing through New York, or stop at some great music venues and concerts on a summer drive. 

Photo by Fabian Quintero on Unsplash

Setting A Route From Point A to B

Our first step in planning our driving route is selecting any major attractions or area we must see based on our goal. We use the Roadtrippers app to piece together our itinerary and it’s a nice and quick way to get your ideas down.    With the basics in place, we usually look at the map and start to pick out some other towns or cities that are relatively close and look interesting.  We especially love vibrant small towns and college areas where there is always great, cheap food and lots of art and culture.

Knowing Where You Are Going to Stay

With your route mapped out you can determine the drive time between each place and settle on the dates you will travel. To pick out where you will stay along your route, Airbnb is great anytime and our go-to source for booking the majority of our stays.  It’s been a great option for us and always offers unique, convenient places to stay and the ability to meet some wonderful local people along the way.  

We also stay with family and friends when we can and use hotel points to book last minute stays when we need to.  There are also great options for camping on public land, pet sitting, working on farms, and volunteering that can add a unique angle to your travels.

Filling In the Rest of the Trip

After we have all those basics figured out we try to explore other options to meet people along the way. Meetup is great for finding activities in big cities and we also take a look at local community event and concert listings before we arrive.   We also make it a habit to just mention our travel plans to everyone we come across.  We’ve gotten some amazing recommendations in the most random of places.

Some of our other favorite events are factory tours, open mics, yoga and fitness classes, camping, fishing, and hiking.  For us, any reason to be outside is a good one.  

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

What and Where to Eat

“You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”  – Anthony Bourdain

Our biggest recommendation here is to just avoid all chain restaurants all together as much as possible.  It’s so convenient to stop at chains it can become a habit. There are so many great local restaurants and you just can’t beat the variety and flavors.  They will leave you with a greater appreciation for it.

Long-term travel can be lonely but meeting new friends and finding ways to keep in touch long distance is so worth it.  Share some of your tips with us! And if you haven’t gotten out there in a while, go for it.  Plan a weekend trip, follow these tips, and collect some new experiences. It’s never about the destination it’s about the journey.

Mike Mulcey

Mike is a self-taught photographer, singer/songwriter, and writer.   He currently lives on the road full-time in North America and contributes to the bulk of articles for Alt-Nomad with Deanna.

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