Two weeks to travel across the country! – A road trip planning Q&A

As much as I love to share the stories of my adventures, my best satisfaction comes from hearing about my reader’s own excursions into the outdoors. When reader Jordan Blair e-mailed me with a few questions to help him prepare for his upcoming road trip from Virginia to California, I thought answering his inquiries would make for a great post to help others plan their own trips.

Check out this road trip Q&A, and let me know if there’s anything I missed! Jordan is heading out in a few days, and is open to pretty much anything along the way – so leave him a few comments with your favorite destinations, eateries, and travel advice! He’s planning a stop in Salt Lake City, but other than that has a very open two-week agenda.

1. Is there anything you wish you had brought on some of your travels that you didn’t have at the time?

Packing is always a learning process during my trips. I feel like I learn lessons on what I wish I had brought, and what was totally excessive, every time I travel.

Over the past few big trips, I’ve learned that there are a few items I didn’t initially think I needed, but now prefer to have on hand. A big beach towel is one of those things. It acts as a picnic blanket, shower towel, spare blanket, pillow when rolled up – you name it. I recently started traveling with a hammock, and I love it. I’ve got a simple, easy to set-up hammock that creates an instant nap haven anywhere I can find two trees.

Niko and I make most of our own meals while on-the-go, so supplying yourself with a nice kitchen set-up is a great idea. Car camping really makes it easy to haul along a good arsenal of cooking tools. I always bring my favorite knife, a quality frying pan and pot, plenty of cookware, spices, and a little scrubber to wash the dishes. Eating well will make your adventure ten times more enjoyable.

I always end up over-packing when it comes to clothes. Let’s face it, climbers are dirtbags by nature. Ain’t no shame! Packing ten tank tops when I’m probably just going to wear the same three for a week straight is just plain silly. Plus, you can always make a pit stop at a local laundromat – makes for a great rest day, and always promises to expose you to the ‘local culture,’ ha!

2. Any specific skills that might be good that aren’t necessarily considered common sense?

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been spending too much time in Miami these past few weeks – but the top ‘skill’ I’m wishing more people had at the moment is patience. Especially while out adventuring in new places, being patient is a key factor to enjoying your trip. Things will never go as fast or smooth as you’d prefer, but getting worked up over little details will ultimately ruin your road trip. Waitress taking a little too long to refill your coffee? It’s okay, you’ve got two minutes to spare. Getting lost won’t totally kill the day; instead of getting irritated about your unexpected detour, learn to love the misadventure!

Being patient also really helps when dealing with people you encounter while traveling. Folks in the south tend to move at a very leisurely pace – roll with it. I’ve also found that the people you run into in smaller towns are always eager to share their stories; so instead of rushing on to the next destination, take a moment to listen – you’ll likely come away with one hell of a tale. During my seven-week solo trip around the country, I met an older woman in North Carolina who wound up telling me all about her own cross-country adventure – and she took nearly the same exact route that I was on (in the late 1940s)! It really added a great vibe to the rest of my trip.

Along with practicing patience, a good smile is key. You can get so far with a good smile.

3. Any ways to get free food that you have found?

I haven’t yet ventured into the realm of snaggin’ free food while on the road – but it’s definitely doable. Ever heard of dumpster diving? I haven’t tried it, but I know plenty of people who have made a tasty hobby out of it. Check out this video from The Perennial Plate:


When it comes to getting food on the cheap, I’m a really big fan of the Yelp app for iPhones. I always scope out local eateries with the “$” rating – and tacos tend to be pretty affordable eats. I also use the LivingSocial and Groupon apps to keep an eye out for 50%+ discounts on tempting restaurants. Definitely not an everyday option for my budget, but when I’m hankering for a ‘fancy’ meal, I can always justify my cravings when I have a voucher for a meal at half the regular price!

4. Would an annual National Park entry pass be worth it? Do you visit many national parks yourself?

GET A NATIONAL PARKS PASS. Do it. Seriously. It will end up being one of the best investments for your trip. My dad gifted me with one before my big trip last summer, and it ended up paying for itself within the first few weeks. I think I visited nearly a dozen National Parks from the Everglades to Yosemite, and it was one of my favorite elements of my trip. Getting into a National Park can cost up to $20 a pop, and when you’re traveling on a shoestring budget, those numbers really add up.

Splurge on the pass, and make the most out of your annual access to some of the most gorgeous spots around the country. I think Niko and I wound up visiting 5 National Parks in four days once.

While you’re at it, start a collection of all the National Park stamps too. At nearly every visitor center or ranger station in every park, there will be a little stamp and inkpad stand, free for anyone to use. I collect the stamps in my Moleskine agenda book, but you can also buy a National Parks passport to make it more official. Makes for a great, and free, way to remember your adventure.

5. Do you have a specific climbing equipment checklist?

It all depends on the climbing trip. A bouldering trip to Rocktown requires a different set of equipment than a big sport climbing adventure out to Red River Gorge – and if you’re planning on a big trip that involves both, you’ve got quite a checklist!

My standard climbing gear includes:

  1. Shoes. I’m all about my LaSportiva Katana lace-ups, but I also usually bring a backup pair, like my Testarossas. Having an aggressive pair and a comfy pair creates a good balance – you never know when your feet are going to be killin’ ya.
  2. Chalk bag. Call me superstitious, but I feel like my mojo is totally out of whack when I’m climbing without my trusty Kendal Jackson chalk bag. It’s almost like a security blanket. Also make sure you bring plenty of chalk. An empty bag clipped to your harness doesn’t to much good on a sweaty, slick day.
  3. Tape and nail clippers. I feel like way too many people overlook these two easy-to-bring items, and they make such a difference. I always feel more apt to really commit to finger-shredding moves when I know I have a roll of tape to bandage me up. Nothing squashes my confidence like the threat of climbing all day on a giant, unprotected flapper.
  4. A brush. In the south, things tend to get really moist, really fast. Having a brush around helps to keep holds pleasant. Note: Some areas are very delicate about brush use, and you should always be gentle with your brushing. Don’t use metal brushes or anything that will have a negative impact on the rock.

If you’re going on a bouldering trip, you’ll need to tot along a few crash pads. For sport climbing excursions, you’ll have quite a few more things added to the checklist: harness, quick draws, rope, extra runners, belay devices, etc.

Do you have a guidebook for the crags you’ll be visiting? I have a few favorite climbing destinations that I could navigate blindfolded, but it’s always great to be prepared with a guidebook. If you don’t want to dish out the cash for a proper paper copy, the Mountain Project app is a great way to get around climbing areas.

6. What is a good amount to plan on spending aside from gas? Just in terms of food, emergencies, or other activities?

The amount you spend on your trip is totally up to you. During my six-week trip with Niko, I spent a total of $1400 – he only spent about $800.

I’m a big fan of eating out. I can only survive on canned corn beef hash for so long – eventually, I need to indulge in a big ‘ole burrito. So naturally, my budget is a bit bulkier than Niko’s. Figure out how you like to eat, especially how often you’d like to enjoy a meal that doesn’t come out of a can or straight off a campfire. Making your own food is always the cheapest option.

As far as extra activities, planning ahead is the best bet for eliminating unexpected costs. Check out the recreational options you have at your trip destinations, and scope out the prices. Alternatively, you can set aside a specific amount of money that’s fair game for anything that might catch your eye. Put aside $100, and spend it guilt-free when you see that $30 kayak rental on the side of a scenic river, or splurge on the $15 admission to a local music event.

Frankly, Niko and I rarely spend money on activities. We spend most of our trips climbing, which is usually free, and rarely feel compelled to do anything else that requires a fee. Hiking is a great way to spend a day without spending money, and if you can bring your bikes along, the possibilities for adventure are endless!

7. What items should be brought for any quick car repair emergencies?

My lady friend Jillian made a very good point about making sure to mention how incredibly important bungee cords and duct tape are.

But really.

I was driving out to Flagstaff, AZ in May, and during a very long and lonesome stretch of Texas nothingness, I struck a small black bear while traveling at 75 MPH. There were no lights around for miles, no people around for miles, and the closest town, Childress, was 30 miles away. The impact snapped my front bumper in half, and there were all sorts of plastic and metal parts dragging along the road. I had literally just unloaded my supply of bungee cords from my trunk right before the trip, so I had to rig up my car with just a single cord and a few strings from my tent. It was a mess. As soon as I was able to get a roll of duct tape and a few more bungee cords, I was golden.

So get yourself some bungee cords and duct tape! Those are truly the most valuable staples you can have, but there are a few more items I always travel with. Always keep a flashlight in your glovebox, and stash a knife somewhere safe. Aside from the obvious protective nature of a strong blade, it’s always useful to have a tool with a sharp edge. I’ve used mine for everything from sawing through a thick rope to slicing a birthday cake.

Do you have anything you would add to these answers? Any must-see destinations from Virginia to California? How about some favorite crag suggestions? Sound off in the comments, and help Jordan make his adventure truly epic. 

Safe travels, Jordan! Can’t wait to hear all about your adventures.

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3 thoughts on “Two weeks to travel across the country! – A road trip planning Q&A

  1. Beth (@3UpAdventures) says:

    Just about everyone has a smart phone now so this might not be all that applicable to anyone but people like us that rock the very basic pay as you go phones but we eat breakfast at McDonalds. We order three $1 sausage mcmuffins and share a large coffee while we use the free WiFi that almost all McDonald’s nationwide have. (The only exception I’ve found since 2010 was a McDonalds in Palm Beach, FL.) It’s certainly cheaper than a lot of the hip coffee shops you might visit for internet/coffee if not quite as yummy.)

    • Katie Boué says:

      Even with a smart phone, McDonalds is a really great idea for getting your hands on wi-fi! I am usually still on deadline when I travel, so I’m always stopping at McDonalds to do work for a few hours. Great suggestion, Beth!

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