The Bottling Process: Route Planning

Over the past several months, several of you have asked me for more details about the logistics of our travels.  This is the first post in an ongoing series about how we travel.  If there’s something you want to know more about, feel free to leave me a comment and perhaps it will be a topic for a future Bottling Process post. 

We spent months and months and months planning before we ever packed up our van and left our former home.  Much of that planning was related to the logistics associated with quitting a job (yikes!), packing and storing all of our belongings, financing a trip of this magnitude, and transitioning to a nomadic lifestyle.  Though I’m trying to be more spontaneous, we did have to start thinking about route planning.  While we did not leave Maryland with a fully developed route, we did have a general sense of our route and a fairly detailed list of places we wanted to check out in the first few states we planned to visit.  While this was partly due to the fact that we just didn’t have the time to do more, we also wanted the trip to develop naturally – to spend a little more time in places we really loved and to spend less in places that didn’t call to us.  Since we are camping, our travels are very weather dependent.  By remaining flexible, we can reroute ourselves to meet better camping weather and circumvent places that might be better visited at a warmer or cooler time of year.  Given our van predicament (the fact that we no longer own one), lack of detailed plan was a good plan!  Without further ado, here is how we approach the planning process.

  • Long before we left, we spent hours and days looking at the map, talking about places we’d like to visit, and coming up with the regions we’d like to visit and the best times of year to visit them.  We made a loose route for ourselves through certain states and regions, estimating when we’d be there given our likely speed of travel.  Unfortunately, this did not allow us to visit all of the regions and states that we’re interested in visiting.  Given that we both like cold weather climates, there were a number of northern states we wanted to visit, but only so much warmish weather in which to do it.  Should we be up for living on the road again next summer, then we’ll have the chance to hit some of the additional places we’d like to visit (northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, to name a few).
  • Once we had a general sense of our route for the first six months, we divided it into two legs.  Pre-Colorado and Post-Colorado.  The pre-Colorado portion was also supposed to include Oklahoma and New Mexico, but those will be saved for a later day.  Once we had a list of our Pre-Colorado states, we went to our local library and checked out tons of travel books on those states (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico).  We both pored through the books, tabbing the towns and sites that looked interesting.  We then went through and compiled lists for each state in a word document.  We divided each state into regions and listed the towns, parks, and sites that looked most interesting to us.  We also added recommendations from friends and any other recommendations we came cross.  Before we left Maryland, this was the extent of our planning.  The only travel books we took were the free AAA books, which are not really great travel  planners but helped us when we’d come across towns we knew nothing about, and Road Food, a great book given to us be even better friends.
  • Now that we are on the road, we have a mapping session just before we enter a new state.  We sit down with the list, our National Geographic atlas, a highlighter, post-it notes, and a pen.  We highlight every town and site that is listed on the map.  We then write down on post-its more detailed lists of information for the towns or cities with several places we’d like to visit.  Once we have a good picture of where everything is located, we start figuring out a general route through the state.  Not every highlighted place makes the cut, but we’re able to use the map to prioritize the areas that have a higher concentration of places we want to visit.
  • Once we have a sense of our route and the places we want to visit, we then look up addresses and directions, if necessary.  We do not travel with a GPS and we only use the data on my phone (our only phone) when we have access to wi-fi or in emergency situations, which is not all that often.  This means that we travel using old-fashioned maps with ample time to get lost and found again.  More on this in a future post.
  • Now that we’re in Colorado, we’re busy reading library books on the second leg of our journey.  My goal is to do most of the mapping that we used to do just before we entered a new state before we leave Colorado.  This should make our travels a little easier down the road.  This type of mapping is best done with an internet connection and a lot of time.  We don’t usually have both at the same time, so my goal is to take the opportunity to do this in the evenings while we’re staying with family.  We just finished mapping out the parts of Colorado that we haven’t yet visited on our recent day trips.  Now I suppose it’s time for me to move on to the other stack of library books I have in front of me for Montana, Idaho, and the Pacific Northwest!