Where Do I Start?
It’s a big undertaking to plan a vacation. It’s even bigger to go somewhere you’ve never been and do something you’ve never done. There are so many factors that for some people it’s too intimidating to even make the attempt. It’s a lot easier to just go to that tried and true beach condo or mountain cabin that your family has been going to since you were a kid. And believe me, I am not knocking the comfort of familiar territory. You know which restaurants you like; you know the quickest route to get places; and you can’t wait to sit in your favorite chair on the back porch and read a book. It’s relaxing. It’s safe. And most of the time, it’s just what you need.
But sometimes you need a little more. Sometimes you need some adventure to make the familiar that much sweeter. If you don’t mix it up once in a while, tradition can become routine and boring. So, it’s good to branch out and take some risks in unknown territory. You never know, you may find a new place to be your favorite getaway.
So, where to begin? First, start slow. If this is going to be your first big road trip, then I would suggest finding a destination kind of close to home, no more than a few states away. You don’t want to jump from driving a few hours to the beach to being in the car for three days straight. Also, if your family has never been that big on camping, get some practice in before you go. Go to a nearby state park or pitch a tent in your back yard. It may be better (though pricier) to rent a cabin or motel room near your destination. That way you aren’t dealing with too many new experiences at once. The main thing is to ease yourself and your family into this new adventure, so you can be sure there will be more.
Once you’ve picked a place, decide on a when. Do some research about how the weather and conditions change throughout the months. When is the rainy season? When is it too hot? When are the bugs the worst? When do the leaves change? What’s the best time to avoid crowds? When is the wildlife most active? Focus on individual months, rather than seasons. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean there won’t be road closures due to snow. In some places, winter is the busy season. Decide what time of year sounds the most enjoyable for your family and plan accordingly.
One of the most important tips I can give you is if there is anything you can make a reservation for, do it as soon as possible. It’s a no-brainer. The sooner you book a campsite, tour, rafting trip, etc. the better your chances of getting a spot. If you wait a few weeks before your trip, you could be out of luck, especially with the more popular destinations. Plus, in some cases, you have more choices if you book earlier. Also, If you can pay in advance, that’s less money that you have to spend during the actual trip. Spread the expenses out over time.
Finally, make learning about this place your new hobby. Instead of browsing social media during your breaks, read about your destination. Most places have some sort of official website, and that is a good place to start. It will give you a broad overview of a place. It will point out popular hikes, list the different campgrounds, show you where the central hubs are, which are sometimes based around visitor centers or museums or lodges. It will mention all the “must-see” places. But dig deeper. Look at TripAdvisor and other similar sites. Ask specific questions in a search engine like “What are the kid friendly hikes in ________?” “Where is the best spot to see the sunset?” “Which campground is the least crowded?” The information is out there. Get prepared. Have a plan. You don’t have to set up a strict itinerary or anything, but it is pretty foolish to drive all that way, use all those vacation days and then just hope you figure it out when you get there. I am not saying you should never be impulsive. Some of the best adventures are when you just take off into the unknown with no real plan, but you need to get your sea legs before you try that. If you haven't done too much traveling or camping with your family, it's not the best idea to be flying blind.
So, it can be done. People look at photos of The Grand Canyon or hear stories about Alaska and say, “I wish I could do something like that.” You can! What’s stopping you? Money? Start saving. Knowledge? It’s right there at your fingertips. Experience? Start building it now. Plan a small trip and then make the next one bigger, and so on. I promise you, this is not that hard. I’m not good at anything and I got really good at this in a fairly short amount of time. And I’m still learning! Fear? “What if we have a terrible time?” “What if it’s just a big waste of money?” “What if I get eaten by a bear and wolf at the same time?” I’ll be honest, sometimes things go wrong and sometimes trips are duds, but just try again later. There is no law anywhere that says you only get one shot at having a great vacation.
Well, except the bear/wolf eating you law. That one is pretty final.