I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day about our California adventure, and she asked why I described it as a “once in a lifetime” trip. It was a fair question, especially since I said in the same breath that I hoped we would have a chance to experience a similar trip again! I think I describe it as once in a lifetime because if our recent trip was the only time we’ll have that experience, I’ll have no regrets – we saw everything we wanted to, ate exactly where we wanted to, stayed where we wanted to, and had the weather we wanted. Needless to say, we are grateful. Aside from the weather, our lack of regrets was not by chance, but through a lot of careful planning. So before I get into a full recap, I thought I’d offer a few tips we picked up along the way!
Surveying from the top of Nevada Falls in Yosemite
1. Plan in two chunks. This was our first time planning a point-to-point trip, as opposed to a stay-in-one-place-all-week trip, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, it was a bit stressful! In order to keep the process enjoyable and not get overwhelmed, we found it was best to plan in two chunks:
— 5-6 months out: We opened Google Maps and started a new Google doc, then plotted every town we could possibly visit between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in order. Then, using our initial research, we streamlined our route, chose the towns we wanted to stay in each night, and made our “big” reservations – hotels, flights, rental car. We also brainstormed possible places to eat, things to do, and sites to see in each location. We were pretty wiped out once we had completed this step, so we waited a few months for the next one…
— 1 month-2 weeks out: One day at a time, we filled in each day’s itinerary. We did tons of additional research on each town we were visiting, pored over reviews, narrowed down restaurant options, made restaurant reservations, bought tickets, researched hike trail heads, etc. This all got filed into the Google Doc, too.
2. Gather research. As you may have surmised, we did a lot of research before this trip. I wanted to pass on a few of the resources we used:
— Knowledgeable friends or bloggers. Before any big trip, I always like to check in with my friend Meredith Perdue of Map & Menu! She’s one of the most well-traveled people I know, she’s a great researcher, and she has discriminating taste! Hopefully there’s someone in your life who has a similar skill set :) If not, there is a WEALTH of information on personal blogs – if a blogger you admire lives in the area you’re visiting, search their blog to see if they’ve written about it, or email them if not! Some of my favorite folks who take lots of trips include Meredith, Joanna, Jamie, Jamie, and Jordan.
— Magazines. We like national magazines, particularly Travel + Leisure, and also like to ferret out great regional magazines, like Sunset in the West or Our State for North Carolina. The NY Times 36 Hours series and Design*Sponge’s City Guides are also great resources.
— Pinterest. While a lot of pins of beautiful places lead nowhere, searching the location you’re interested in on Pinterest can turn up great blog posts, articles, and sites to see.
— TripAdvisor and Yelp. John uses TripAdvisor for hotel and activity recommendations and I prefer Yelp for restaurant reviews. Jetsetter is also a great place to find hotels.
3. Bring a dirty clothes suitcase. For our 8 day, 7 night trip, we brought one large checked bag and two carry-on roller bags. Obviously all of the clothes started out clean, but over the course of the trip we converted one roller bag into the laundry hamper, which worked out well to keep things organized.
4. Buy a car charger. For a trip like this, you’re traveling in a car a lot (we drove more than 1,000 miles) and using your Maps app a lot, which drains battery. A car charger is essential.
5. Bring a map. Speaking of your Maps app – a lot of the California coast is very remote, and the cell signal is not always great. If you’re a AAA member, I’d recommend picking up a free CA map from an office before you go for backup.
6. Pack a zip up sweatshirt. The temperature, sun, and wind varied greatly even from stops a few miles apart. We found keeping a zip-up hoodie sweatshirt in the backseat made it easy to adapt to changing conditions on our frequent stops and explorations!
7. Ignore San Francisco weather predictions except in a very general sense. We traveled all over SF in a few days, and experienced many of the something like 36 microclimates known to exist on the peninsula. Plan to wear many layers, as conditions can vary greatly from street to street.
8. Monitor rental car prices. We initially booked our rental car through Priceline in January for about $500 for the week. John checked pricing periodically for the next few months, and we were able to rebook for $270 about a month out! Definitely worth keeping an eye out.
9. Bring socks for the plane. We took a direct flight from RDU to LAX, which was about five hours. I don’t know about you, but when I’m wearing sandals on a plane my feet always get uncomfortably cold, so I brought a warm pair of fuzzy socks in my tote bag. I may have looked ridiculous, but I was very comfortable! :)
First travel post coming up later this week!