Well, here it is! The end of my seven week road trip through the Western United States. I’m a little bit funny in that I love adventure, but I’m also very much a homebody. I’ve been half way across the world and been content to come home after two weeks.
When I lived in Australia for six months, having a “home base” filled with friends and family made it seem like I wasn’t far from home at all. Although many told me they weren’t surprised I was about to take an seven-week hiking adventure, for me deciding to quit my job and spend seven weeks on the road seemed like such a “Steph thing” to do, but also a not-so “Steph thing” to do all at the same time. Truth be told, I’ve loved every second of it. Living out of a vehicle doesn’t have me craving my bed like I thought it would, or missing the sweet comfort of a stove and oven.
While on the road, I’ve come to realize eight things about traveling for seven weeks. Some of them may seem obvious, but I think some may surprise you. So, if you’re feeling inspired to take your own road trip in the future, hopefully you’ll find some wisdom, comfort and support in these tips:
1. Make “alone time” for yourself - but be prepared to never be alone
Traveling with a partner is great! Someone to chat with, sing along to songs with, share the driving and experiences with someone you (presumably) like a lot! But being with one person for an extended amount of time can also be frustrating. Their every habit and mannerism may start to annoy you...if you’re anything like me. Put aside time for yourself during your trip, whether it be time for reading, journaling, or an extended shower (when you can find one!), and trust me, you’ll like your partner as much as you did at the start of the trip.
Now, to explain the confusing title of this first point - my trip revolved around visiting as many of the national parks as possible. These parks are busy, and for good reason. They are filled with some of the most spectacular sights the U.S.A. has to hold. Consequently, if you go during the “peak season” (approx. April - October), there will be hordes of tour buses, RVs, and their occupants all trying to see the same sights as you. You need to be prepared to be shoulder to shoulder with others if you want to enjoy. Try not to get hung up on how busy it is, but rather how spectacular the sights to see are instead.
Pro Tip: If you are capable and comfortable, the back country can be a great way to see the parks and find yourself surrounded by a little more nature, and a few less tourists.
Kolob Canyon, Zion Wilderness (one night back country trip)
2. Be Flexible
My trip was seven weeks long. And the first three weeks were scheduled meticulously - down to the hike that we would be doing in each park. However, bad weather and outside circumstances caused us to change our schedule up a lot. It also meant that I had two overnight trips cancelled, had to skip out on some of the most scenic and famous hikes in some parks, and meant that I had to drive three extra hours just to see Old Faithful in Yellowstone NP. Don’t sweat the small stuff - or, I guess, not so small stuff. You can plan all you want, but your schedule is probably (most definitely) going to change. It doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy it any less.
Pro Tip: I used a spreadsheet on my computer to make a schedule because it meant I could easily change dates, add or delete, etc.
3. Embrace the stink
When you look back on this trip years from now, you aren’t going to remember how you icky you felt. You’re going to remember all of the cool stuff you got to do.
Pro Tip: Deodorant will be an asset, and if you and your partner are both stinky enough, you won’t even notice at all.
4. BLM is your new best friend
I can’t stress this point enough. BLM or the Bureau of Land Management is a federal agency that manages vast tracts of public land in (mainly the western) United States. Many BLM lands offer “dispersed camping” where one can camp for free with no amenities (FREE. CAMPING). The dispersed campsites are sometimes a small pullout on a dirt road or a vast open space to park your vehicle and your tent. Some National Forests also offer dispersed camping. Be sure to do your research before you go and follow all posted rules. Practice Leave No Trace principles, and try to leave the space better than you found it for others to enjoy.
Pro Tip: Dispersed camping is usually farther away from towns and cities, making for some great star gazing on a clear night.
5. Be smart with your money and spend it where it matters
If you are able to find free camping like I was on my trip, this means that you may have some extra funds for fun stuff. See? Free camping is smart! We also saved money by buying discounted food knowing we would be eating it quickly (coolers are NOT the same as a refrigerator). However, don’t not spend money just for the sake of saving. You probably saved for this trip for months. Money put aside specifically for this period of time. Spend that money on experiences and memories. I almost gave up a canyoneering trip because it was $150 USD (more in CDN!) but in the end, I know I would have regretted it had I not gone. You’ve worked hard for this trip. Enjoy it.
Pro Tip: Walmart has pretty cheap and decent groceries. And wifi. And did I mention more free RV/van camping**? **check online or with the manager!
6. Find balance in the moment
I think social media is great. It’s a way to connect with others and to discover places to visit and explore. Social media can also be a great way to share with family and friends what you’ve been up to while on the road. While hiking through a national park or exploring some hidden natural treasure, you’ll probably want to snap some pics - and you should! Don’t let picture taking become your only focus though. The pictures will be a great memory looking back, but if you don’t have the in-moment memories of the little things you can’t capture on film, it won’t quite be the same. Find what works for you to create your ultimate experience.
Pro Tip: I usually snap a TON of pictures but I won’t look at them until after the hike/walk/trip is done. That way I’m not holding up others in my group by saying “just one more picture!” Chances are, you take enough, one of them will turn out to be a real gem.
7. Take care of yourself
While on vacation, it can be really easy to get caught up in the moment and forget to take care of yourself. A happy, healthy you is going to enjoy your trip to the max. Do what you need to do to best nourish yourself. For me, it’s at least one meal consisting of copious amounts of veggies per day, early to bed, and a good face scrub. And probably a square of chocolate too.
Pro Tip: If you find that you’re snapping at your travel partner more or feeling grumpy, chances are something is off. Do a quick internal check list, and if all else fails, have a snack. Everyone loves snacks.
8. HAVE FUN
The day is finally here! GO! Embrace, enjoy, experience! You’re doing something AMAZING. Live it up, and don’t have a single regret.
Pro Tip: YOU ROCK!
This blog was written by Steph Wood, Mtn Chicks Canada Ambassador
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Dani is the Founder of Mountain Chicks and the primary author of the Mtn Chicks Blog. Here you'll find outdoor tips, travel experiences, gear reviews and more.