29 Jan
Posted in: projects, travel
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Planning an Epic Road Trip

Traveling is my favorite thing to do, followed closely by planning for trips, and I’m in full travel-planning mode these days. Summer 2015 has been talked about for years in our family. It’s finally the summer of our epic 5,400-mile round-trip adventure, which will land us as far away as Key West, Florida. We’re taking 20 days for the Great American Road Trip, our longest family vacation, both in days gone and miles covered. We’ll cross up to 18 states, numerous National Park Service-operated destinations, beaches, theme parks and several superlative places. We may need time away from each other after this trip.

Disney World travel information box

Countless well-meaning friends have attempted to convince us to fly to Orlando, visit Walt Disney World and call it good for summer vacation 2015. It won’t happen. The idea of the places we’ll visit that we’d never see if we chose to fly makes me giddy with excitement. I guarantee I won’t be sleeping the night before we leave. I’ll be wound far too tight. When I set my sight on something, I rarely change course. It’s an annoying or endearing trait, depending on who you ask.

Gathering information was one aspect of being a journalist I enjoyed. I like taking a question and finding an answer. I like the act of gaining knowledge about everything, really: products to purchase, restaurants, schools, food, sports programs, books, vacation destinations, etc. Our first priority was making a list of destinations we couldn’t miss on this vacation and solidifying our driving route around those places.

I find it thrilling to open our trusty driving atlas and see all the possible ways we could get to where we want to go. I see the words “scenic byway” and excitement builds. While driving the Interstate Highway System, generally, makes for fewer hours on the road, highways and byways are my preference. Middle of nowhere and small town USA make me happy.

Stack of three travel books for Florida

I have four primary sources for travel planning: the public library, Bing maps, travel blogs and websites. Travel books are expensive to purchase, so I choose to borrow books from our local public library. Most of the resources are for specific states or regions in the USA. Places like Walt Disney World have hundreds of pages in several books to sort through. My preferred Walt Disney World book is The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. It’s comprehensive and includes information on Universal Studios Florida as well. We used the Disneyland version for our two trips to the California theme park. For state information, I prefer the DK Eyewitness Travel books. Disney scored high marks with the personalized travel planning package we received. I have opened that package more times than I care to admit just to flip through the pages. The kids don’t need a countdown calendar for the trip, but I might.

I don’t follow any specific travel blogs. I do a lot of searching for specific information as I research. Pinterest helps to narrow down the field. I’m drawn to other traveler’s photos. I like to have a visual of what to expect at places we’ll be traveling to or through. I start family dinner conversations with, “Did you know?” I’ll share a fact and then show a photo to tease everyone.

I keep a notebook of pages filled with tips, possible destinations, distances from A to B, questions, facts, etc. It’s hours of work over months leading up to a big trip. This epic vacation is the most consuming of our vacations to date. I find the researching relaxing. I thrive on projects and deadlines. Vacation planning is my favorite project. I’ll stay up late into the night or forgo housekeeping duties to look up one more thing. The house may slide into complete disarray the closer we get to vacation, but it will be worth it.

Any suggestions from fellow travelers to the Southeast United States are appreciated.


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  • It’s been a few years since I hit Disney World with kids, but my top advice is always to make meal reservations. Without them you spend WAY to much time in lines with hungry and exhausted kids (and parents.)

    Not sure if they still have them, but we also liked dine-event packages, like dinner at a park restaurant plus better seating at the nighttime show that followed. Worth every penny.

    We did an epic family road trip from Florida to northwest Arkansas and back, and it was awesome to be able to stop and see so many special places. Took a lot of planning, but it paid off.

    • Thanks for the tips. I’ve only been to Disneyland, and it’s been decades since my husband visited Disney World. We’re looking forward to seeing more of the United States on the drive.

      • I took a quick look at possible trip routes in Google Maps. SO envious of the places you’ll go through, especially if you take a more southern route like through Memphis either going or returning. I’m @SheilaS on Twitter if you have questions.