One year ago today, Steve and I left our apartment in Vancouver, moved into a 2003 Ford Windstar, and began the most amazing experience of my life so far. After we convinced the US border officer that yes, even though Steve was arriving with no job, no visa, no ties to his home country, all his belongings, and his American girlfriend, he really *would* be leaving on the flight to Ireland he had booked for 88 days in the future (a few days short of the 90-day maximum to account for any potential flight delays), we began our three-month road trip around the United States.
Now, I’ve talked plenty about this trip, here and to pretty much anyone who will listen, and I’ll probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. Mostly I’ll be sharing the highlights–the amazing moment when we saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, the beautiful sunset we watched from a BLM campsite on a hill in northern California, how surprisingly nice and clean truck stops actually are–with a few of the lows (how inevitable it is that you’ll fight on the road, for one). Today, with the benefit of a year’s hindsight, I’ve been thinking about a few things that I’d do differently if I ever had the chance to embark on such an amazing journey again (and since we’re planning to go on the road in New Zealand at some point, I’m hoping to get to use these tips in the future).
Plan Just a Little in Advance
For the most part, we loved having very minimal amounts of pre-planning in our trip. Apart from a scheduled stop in Las Vegas so I could fly to Orlando for Erin’s bachelorette party, the only fixed date on our calendar was to be back in Philly in time to go to her wedding. Because we were traveling before peak season for most of the national parks, we were able to find first-come first-serve campsites rather than needing to book months in advance at places like Yosemite, and friends and family we were staying with along the way were kind enough to let us give minimal notice as to when we were going to rock up and crash for a few nights.
While I wouldn’t want to be locked in to a strict schedule on this or future road trips, there were a few sites where a small amount of advanced planning would have made the experience that much better. We stopped in Page, Arizona to see the famous Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River, but by the time we knew that we would be there, the tours of picturesque Antelope Canyon were fully booked. Had we figured out our arrival date even a few days in advance, we may have been able to get in. Similarly, a little advanced planning could have made it possible for us to get hiking permits for the Fiery Furnace in Arches NP, which looked like a really cool and unique section of the park. I suppose it just means we’ll have to go back!
Utilize Girls Love Travel
Girls Love Travel is a community of women who, as the name suggests, love travel. Mainly centred on facebook, this half a million-strong group features daily discussions about every sort of travel from the basic (cruises and beach weekends) to the extreme (solo hikes and skydives). I only discovered GLT shortly after I moved to New Zealand, but it’s quickly became one of my favourite sources for friendship, fun, and wanderlust inspiration. Many regions have their own chapter dedicated to questions and meetups for visitors and residents, and the New Zealand chapter is particularly active with brunches, hikes, and more.
It’s honestly one of my biggest travel regrets that I didn’t discover this community sooner. While you occasionally have to wade through some absolutely mindless posts (“Has anyone ever heard of Airbnb?”) it’s an incredible resource for women to learn, connect, and share their love of travel. If I had been a part of GLT during our road trip I’m sure we would have found even more hidden gems, gone on even more adventures, and maybe even made some friends along the way. I’ve already saved quite a few GLT posts about New Zealand must-sees, and I’m definitely planning to make use of them soon.
Get The Car Checked by a Mechanic
Everything I read about buying an old van for a road trip made the same suggestion: get it checked by a mechanic to make sure that everything was in proper working order before you agreed to buy it. And yet Steve and I, smug know-it-alls that we are, had the mindset of “sure, it’ll be grand.” We bought an extremely cheap van and immediately paid several hundred dollars in repairs. Then more repairs. And that was before we even left Canada. Whilst we were on the road, we had to replace two tires. And the alternator. And then it got a flat that we wouldn’t be able to replace without having the whole wheel removed and replaced, so we ended up selling it for scrap (luckily this was after we arrived at my parents’ house and my dad was able to pump the tire up enough to get us to the junkyard).
In the end, we probably didn’t pay much more than if we had originally bought a more expensive car; we were able to get the parts we needed secondhand and replaced without too much effort so we didn’t waste tons of time in any place we had to stop to visit a mechanic. Still, it would’ve been beneficial to know about the potential for these problems beforehand so we could decide if they were something we wanted to deal with or if we’d pass in favour of another car. The cost of a pre-sale mechanic checkup is definitely something I’m going to factor in to our next van budget.
I almost can’t believe that it’s already been a year since we started that three-month drive, but it’s definitely something I will never forget (and probably never stop talking about). I’m also dreaming of future adventures, and I hope to use the things I’ve learned from that amazing road trip to make the next journey even better.
What’s the best holiday you have ever been on, and what have you learned from it to improve future vacations?