How I Trip Plan
First off, though I have done the atlas and AAA maps in the past, now days having a decent GPS is a must for the traveling that I do. I use the Garmin Drive 50 GPS currently.
- Open Microsoft Word, type in all the days you will be traveling. This will become the itinerary blueprint for the trip. Figure out your starting and ending, in my case it is often the same airport. I personally like to fly SouthWest when possible.
- Google search, Google Maps, Google Earth: Google is your friend, assume you are going to Los
Angeles. I would google “Los Angeles things to do” if a lot of results come in then I go to “Los Angeles things to do in a day trip” or if it a less common location. I would google things like “Yosemite photography locations” or “LA skyline photography locations”. Also, Google point of interest, see what the Wikipedia page lists. Check out the Convention & Visitors Center for that location.
- Research takes the longest time, I’ve spent at least 3 weeks with all my spare time in research for my Alaska trip. In my case, I want to see as much as fast as possible so I need to compile what there is to do first. Wikipedia is a favorite tool of mine to understand the place in better detail.1. Photography: I will use the Explore function in Google Maps to see photos taken in the area, I also use Flickr advance search to see what photos have been taken in the time period from previous years for when I will be in there. If I can’t find the location on Google Maps but it doesn’t have an address I will click that location and Google Maps will give me the GPS Coordinates for that location. GPS Coordinates is very helpful for rural areas and National Parks where a waterfall doesn’t have an address for the GPS unit.
- Historical: During the noon/early afternoon sun where photos aren’t as good I like to find a local Pioneer Village or a historical museum. Were there any battles or monuments in the area?
- Paranormal: Has Ghost Adventures or some other TV group investigated a place nearby? Does any place offer Ghost Tours? Since I’m often done with photography, a ghost tour can be a fun way to end the day.
- Culinary: What is the place known for having in the foods category? Say New England, I love Clam Chowder so I look for places online that are highly rated for that. I eat a big breakfast if I can, a light lunch and then dinner is my moment of peace and relaxation. I try to at least once on a trip go to a nice expensive place to indulge, like having a salmon dinner in Alaska or a steak by the Grand Canyon or a Walleye meal. After a day of driving around and taking photos, this the chance to slow down and relax.
- Figure out what days I’ll be where and buy the hotel rooms for them. I tend to use Priceline or booking.com (Yes I know they are the same company but sometimes one has a better deal). In cities, I will often look at Hostels as a budget option. Also, like looking at Airbnb but if I’m going to arrive late and leave early I try to do a hotel out of respect for the host.There are many travel sites out there to use like Kayak, Expedia and I will look at them to compare but tend to use Booking / Priceline.com the most. I also put on Flight / Car Rental / Tour Confirmation codes in the document.
- Sometimes I reverse step 4/5. With knowing what exist and now having each day’s hotel laid out, you now have the puzzle started and it is time to fill in the puzzle. Sometimes though I fill in the puzzle and find a hotel room near where I plan to be that night. It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there.
- With the start and end of the day known, I google or use an iPhone app called Darkness the sunrise and sunset times. (When I’m on site I use an app called Magic Hour to get the more detailed time on my exact GPS Coordinates. I want to have a location for sunrise and sunset in mind unless I’m in a location where I’m not planning on photos for that. I know around day 5 or 6 I’m starting to get tired so I tend to not focus on sunrise and just plan on sleeping in on certain days.
- I ‘try’ to avoid backtracking on trips, my goal is to make a circle if possible. I will use Microsoft Street and Trips or Google Maps to place my starting point for the day.
Then place the next location on the way with the 3rd location somewhere near the 2nd and try to make it a loop, whether it is a state or a region. Due to growing up in Ohio, I’ve become accustomed to the 6.5-hour drive from Nashville so anything less than 6.5 hours is just down the street to me. Plus I do onsite computer repair for my business so driving all day around town feels normal.
- About a day or two before the trip I will go and get the weather information for each day’s destination and put that on there. Sometimes I will even make alternative plans if the day ends up raining then check out these places instead. So even if one doesn’t work, you will always have a reason to return to see what was missed.
- When the itinerary feels solid. I will often enter in many of the addresses or GPS Coordinates in my Garmin Drive 50 GPS in order to save time. Often in a city, I’m on the move so it is much easier to find something already in the GPS, then it is to enter all that info in. Also on trips, I will save my current location in my GPS if I got a nice photo from that location or it is the parking lot for something with no address, so the next trip I can easily get back to that location.
I print out the trip plans and put it in a file folder so I keep track of receipts, maps, various admission tickets, hotel, car rental agreement and other trip related details while on the trip which I keep in my camera backpack. I also email a close friend a copy of my trip plans and CC myself an attachment and a copy and paste a copy of my plans in an email so I can look it up on my phone if needed.
- It is important to go with the flow, even with all the planning, sometimes you see a brochure or something on the way that throws the days schedule away. It is ok. Enjoy yourself, if it ends up raining, explore something else. You have to an open mind. Some days due to weather I had flights canceled or flat tires and such but ended up doing other things that were just a blast. I firmly believe in planning but also believe the planning keeps me from being overwhelmed but no matter what happens you have to roll with the punches.
- I use my iPhone to take photos while on the adventure, I try to take Facebook / Instagram photos. It is amazing how many people are trippin’ along with you albeit remotely.
- I also take a dash camera with me, it is sometimes neat to relieve the drive somewhere, also like in Alaska animals would walk out on the road and then I can take a screenshot from the video. Also in case of an accident the video could come in handy.
- Stay Safe, be aware of your surroundings and stay smart. I try to research the area, if I’m going to be out at night. I try to hang out with any facebook buddies I have in the area or take a tour so I’m with people. I went to New Orleans at a time one of my clients was going to be there and got a hotel nearby so for the first day I had a travel friend. If I’m going to be in a rural area, I try to not be too far from the car. Often for photos, I can shoot from the car or just outside with the tripod. I refuse to live in fear but also choose to be realistic about it too.
- Meet people, one of the most exciting things is meeting other people with a similar sense of adventure while you travel. In a bar in Savannah, Georgia I met a couple who sold everything they own and are traveling the country until they find a place that feels like home. In Fairbanks, Alaska meeting a single college lady from Los Angeles who wanted to travel for 2 months before starting work in Seattle. A german girl I met on the “Top of the Rock” in New York City who has seen more of America than even I did at the time. Talk about upping my game after that. There are fun people traveling everywhere. I may be an introvert but it is healthy and enjoyable to meet with people while on the adventure.
- Enjoy the local food scene but be moderate with the drinking. Avoid drinks from strangers. Having a fake ring or a “boyfriend” nearby is an additional layer of safety.
- Know the area you are going too to a reasonable extent, know the laws or customs and dress accordingly. It is good to have some phrases learned in that local language. USA Travelers often expect other cultures to bow to ours, be nice, keep an open mind and show an interest in their culture.Pardon, parlez-vous Anglais or Excusez-moi, parlez-vous Anglais? (Excuse me, do you speak English?) One thing that stood out in Quebec, Canada which is French, American visitors went up to locals and spoke English from the start in often a frustrated I can’t read these signs kind of way. Knowing the back story is helpful, Quebec is French and they were taken over by the British and in time it became Canada. They feel they are a conquered people and due to business, many people spoke and wrote English and then went home and had little reason to switch to French. In an effort to save their French identity, Quebec passed a law that all business and outside menus had to be in French. They also have tried to secede from Canada and form their own Country. There is a lot of tension between English and French Canadians. Unfortunately, the standard American tourist can be quite self-absorbed. So you can rub locals the wrong way just by your first impressions. I found by being attempting French, being nice to locals, I was shown nothing but respect and many of them found it interesting why someone from Nashville, TN would be alone in such a place. I’ve made friends and now have people I can hang out with when I’m in Quebec City or Monteral. Befriending locals comes in really helpful for translations too. 🙂
Don’t Be Upset With Me
I developed a method of planning that has worked for me so far over the years. The following techniques go against some travel experts and most people’s concept of a vacation. This has upset some people and it is a large reason why I travel solo.
- I try to see /photograph/ experience as much as possible and therefore have little time to relax or stay in a single spot. Stop and smell the roses for me is more like stop, take photos of the roses and smell them as I’m leaving. I’m always on the move. An average 9 day trip is typically 2,000-3,000 miles on the car rental and that is with flying into the destination to save travel time.
- Solo Traveling means complete freedom, you do what you want. The larger the group the less you can see and less everyone is happy. I can take photos as long or short as I want solo. There are no yesterdays on the road, which means you are who you are, no one knows your past and can hold it against you. You can create your reality in many ways.
- It builds problem-solving and self-reliance to travel solo, when things go wrong, it is hard to pass responsibility of that.
- When people have come on trips with me they tend to have little interest in the photography aspect and just want to lounge around. Nothing wrong with that but I’m a woman on a mission to see / capture and experience a lot. Since many don’t share the same goal I find traveling solo is the best option for me.
I’ve met enough people when traveling or sharing my adventures who have actually gotten upset with me over my style. These types of people will spend 1-3 weeks in one National Park taking it all in at a relaxing pace. My take is do what makes you happy, nothing wrong with fly fishing for a week at the same place, or sitting at a beach watching the waves.
Some people have said some of my plans are too strict. In my business, every day is chaos, I’m either free or slammed for the day with every call, text or email that comes in. So free for all actually causes me stress so having a well-planned vacation actually takes stress off of me and for these 9 days I have control over my schedule. Your life may differ, you may be sick of being in boring repeat mode so that a total free for all vacation might be perfect for you. Find what makes you happy and do it.
I look at my travel as previewing what is out there, or a travel sampler, perhaps in a 10 or 20 years I will go back to places and take it all end at a relaxing pace. I’m currently 33 years old and have been heavy on traveling since 2011 and feel at this stage in my life that I am catching up for years I never took vacations due to the budget. Now that my business has afforded me this chance I run with it totally immerse to see it all in what is a whirl wind. I have a blast on my trips though. Thanks to a zoom lens, sometimes I don’t even get out of the car to take photos to save time, I call this a’ drive-by shooting’, if I also take a photo with my iPhone for social media then I committed a ‘double drive-by shooting’.