•AAA membership for maps and guides
•Fodor's Guide to the National Parks
We probably spent a year planning our cross-country trip between idea and departure. Our initial timeframe was one year. Once we got out the maps and truly understood how many park sites there were, we lengthened the trip.
What We Did:
Set an objective - In our case, the goal was to see all National Park sites in the Continental United States. That's over 350 can't miss destinations.
Set a course - Just because you plan a route doesn't mean you will end up taking it. But that bright yellow line on your original map sure feels like a savior on days you are too tired to think or make any decisions. Plotting a course will also help you budget for gas, food and lodging.
Set can't miss destinations - Some stops are negotiable; others aren't. While we debated stopping at Wall Drug (we did) and Disney World (we didn't), all National Park units were mandatory. If you have a travel partner [link to Getting Along], agreeing upon can't miss destinations before the trip begins is probably a good idea.
Create a budget - Once again, just because you have a budget doesn't mean you are going to stick to it all the time. But knowing, for example, that spending more than $40 a day on food will quickly put you in the red will help you adjust your spending (and eating) habits on the road.
Spread the word - Tell your friends and family how long you will be gone so they'll know to miss you if you aren't back by then. We promised to contact our families by phone at least once a week to let them know we were just fine. Getting in touch with friends and family before the trip also led us to find more friends and family en route.
What We Should Have Done:
Consulted www.nps.gov more thoroughly while planning our route - If we had, we'd have known that several NPS sites in New England don't open until Memorial Day. We were so obsessed with road closures and assumed weather woes in the northwest; we overlooked avoidable snags in the first few months.
Budgeted for more than $1.55/gallon for gas - in January 2004, we thought we were giving ourselves quite a cushion. We were so wrong.
What Our Readers Recommend:
Karin from Pennsylvania says: “Check both 'shortest time' and 'shortest distance' THEN compare with a real map. Going through a swamp after dark is not pleasant!”
Jeremy from Tennessee advises: “Consult www.NPS.gov for park entry cost vs. [the cost of a]park pass. We visited some parks out west this summer and it was far cheaper to buy the $80 pass than shell out $20 a piece for the parks we visited.”
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