Are we officially those “old married people” now?! September 17, 2011 seems like SUCH a long time ago (in the best way). Rob and I occasionally exchange gifts for our anniversary, but we prefer to plan a trip to celebrate. Sometimes it’s a long weekend in Traverse City, and one year it coincided with a group trip down to Kentucky. This year the combination of a DECADE anniversary plus the overall wanting to go somewhere outside of Michigan (thanks, Rona) had us wanting to do something new and memorable.
In total, over 16 days we drove 5800 miles including 13 states and 6 National Parks. We listened to 4.5 audiobooks and only managed to only miss one exit! We hope sharing our travel here will help you plan your adventure out west – or at least provide some amusement for you. 🙂 To sum it up: we’d totally do it again, but we learned some things for our next road trip!
Adventure Out West: The Planning Stage
Early July it came up as a whim – hey, wouldn’t it be awesome to see Yellowstone National Park and do some real hiking? We had both gone out west when we were younger, but never together, and Rob had never been to Yellowstone. The idea quickly started to blossom, and I told Rob, “Are we doing this? Are we really going to do this?!” EEEEeee!!!
We agreed to some “ground rules,” and then I got to work on my spreadsheet 😉 (If you know me at all, you know I’m a total spreadsheet / organization nerd. I just like to know what’s going to happen, OK? 😀 )
Pinterest was a huge help (big surprise, right?) as I started to research and save ideas. I used my spreadsheet for a central place to save all ideas based on the states we planned to drive. It’s so easy to pin so many things to a board and then not remember which one I wanted to reference for what later on, so I also copied URLs into the spreadsheet as you can see above.
Another main resource I used was the Dirt in My Shoes website. The author, Ash, is a former park ranger and had lots of helpful tips and tricks for planning for all skill levels.
Our overall goals were to hit as many National Parks as reasonably possible and to see something different each day. I also tried to plan our route so we didn’t have too many long stretches of driving.
Planning Our Trip Out West: Budgeting
LODGING: While we are both vaccinated, one of the things that was really important to us was making sure all the just in case things were covered. Lodging was an area we could have spent less, but we were really happy to have the peace of mind while traveling. I reserved our hotels first thing as we began to plan our trip. Then, at the beginning of September I went back through and researched each one again, sorting the reviews by “Newest” to see if there had been any recent changes. Only one hotel night needed to be changed, but this was another perk of not just reserving the cheapest, nonrefundable options everywhere.
We also looked into Cruise America RV Rentals as a way to consolidate. Between the rental rate plus the additional mileage fees we realized driving our CR-V and staying in hotels was going to be a better option for this trip. I still love the idea of always having a kitchen available though! Maybe for a future off-season trip – the nightly fees more than double from off season to high season.
While AirBnBs often weren’t the cheapest option once we added in the service and cleaning fees, we did plan a two-night stay for halfway through our trip. I specifically chose one that had a washer/dryer in the unit and that ended up being SO nice. (More on that later.)
FOOD: We stocked up at grocery stores for driving snacks and planned to eat dinner as our big meal of the day. This helped keep our food costs low. I love KIND bars! These KIND bar minis were the perfect quick snack for a boost of energy, and I ate these nut butter bars a lot for an easy pre-hike breakfast.*
OTHER: America the Beautiful National Park pass $79.99: You can also purchase this pass at any national park entrance. We opted to order ours through REI for two reasons. First, we weren’t sure what time of day we would arrive at our first park and didn’t want to run the risk of the ranger station being closed. Second, REI donates 10% of the purchase price back to the National Park Foundation! One note – if you have an REI membership this will not count toward your dividend.
Planning Our Westward Adventure: Timing
We were really happy with the timing of our trip. Of course, we selected it to occur during our actual anniversary, but the weather was pretty much perfect! Traveling after Labor Day meant somewhat less crowds and lower lodging costs, but still early enough in the season that everything was still open. If anything it was still much warmer than we anticipated other than just a couple of days at high elevation. Mid to late September is the perfect time to travel out west without freezing or burning to a crisp.
Read More From Our Road Trip Out West:
As I blog our travels, I will add links below to the different travel days for quick viewing!
Do you have a specific question about our trip? Leave a comment below so I can answer it!
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