Road trips are one of the great ways to see a country. You can go where you want, when you want, and can get into places that public transportation doesn’t go. You can get into the backcountry landscapes, interact with locals in small towns, and really get to know a place.
But you can also try to do way too much and get burned out.
On solo road trips, not only do you want to experience everything, you also are responsible for driving. So unlike traveling by plane, bus, or train, when on a solo road trip, you can’t rest when moving from one place to another. The journey itself can be fun, but if you make too many plans, and try to see too much stuff while also getting yourself to ‘the stuff’, you will quickly experience ‘traveler burn out’.
Which is exactly what I did on my recent road trip around the northwest USA.
The USA is huge, but no matter what size country, you want to do it all. I researched tons of places to see in the NW, but attempted to take on 8 states in 3 weeks – and see as much of those 8 states as I could. While I had some definite must-sees (like Mono Lake in California and Crater Lake in Oregon), I tried to also visit multiple spots in Napa and the California coast (which involved lots of criss-crossing over hilly land). This caused me to miss many places and cancel the second half of my journey. Partly because I got sick, but part of the sickness was caused by stress and overdoing myself – trying to drive and see each day, more than one can realistically do in the 24 allotted hours per day (and my plans hadn’t really taken resting or eating time into consideration)
When creating a roadtrip, or any trip, you have to realize – YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL.
Unless you have unlimited time and money, it’s just not feasible. Driving is usually more expensive than flying or busing. I planned on camping the whole way, but didn’t properly research just where you can and cannot camp (turns out, you can’t just camp anywhere you want).
Plus not properly resting or eating (I was trying to drive too far each day, so I wasn’t stopping to eat properly – just grabbing snacks on the fly and going) caused me to do stupid things – like spend $100 on a hotel (but it was a football field distance from the beach) in Monterey because I was just too exhausted from driving 10 hours to go any further).
I spent most of my time just trying to get to the next place.
By the time I reached the Friends of BootsnAll Un-Conference in Washington State, I knew I wasn’t going to finish my trip. I was so tired, now sick, and realizing that I had completely disregarded one of the most important Indie Travel Manifesto Values – “Slow down and enjoy the experience”.
It was then that I decided the best thing I could do for my health and sanity was to scrap the rest of my trip, head home and just relax.
There is a reason why we value slowing down and enjoying the experience.
When you try to plan too much at once, you stop enjoying your journey and start always worrying about getting to the next place. Then once you get somewhere, you are too busy thinking about how little time you have if you want to get to the next place in time. Eventually you’re going place to place just to get there. You stop taking pleasure in the simple things and don’t make meaningful engagements with people, nature, and the local culture.
However, it wasn’t all stressful and unenjoyable. I learned a lot:
- Slow travel really is better. I already knew I liked to travel slow, but sometimes you just need to test it. And yes, traveling slow is still much better.
- Local’s really do have the best advice. I was lucky enough to finally meet in person, my long time friend who owns Blue Danube Wine. He lives close to San Francisco, and although I originally was going to skip this city, he passionately told me about all the amazing places to see. I am so glad I listened to him. Originally planning to go for 2 hours, just to be polite and not seem ungrateful, once there I spent the whole day in awe of the amazing micro-cultures San Francisco offers.
- When in San Francisco- take the trolley car that goes up California Ave instead of the super touristy one that just crosses over it. Not only does the California Ave ride have better views, you don’t have to wait an hour and a half in line to get on it. Also, get the unlimited trolley pass. It’s totally worth it.
- Agave plants grow as big as houses. I had no idea.
- You can’t camp everywhere.
- Don’t just drive through Yosemite. If I were to do this trip again, I would skip the coast and spend 3 days or more exploring Yosemite. It’s gorgeous.
- The California coast is it’s own road trip.
- Just because you are in the USA, doesn’t mean you’re going to find cell service everywhere. You will also lose GPS service a lot. Especially when you are coming to forks in the highway. Maps.me is a great app where you can pre-load offline-use routing maps, so even if your GPS goes out or you have no cell service, you can load maps and routes so you know where to go.
- It’s illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon.
- Oregon has a road called the “Oregon Outback” which run through the eastern side of the state. It is astounding. Drive it. I wish I had more time to spend on it, and time to camp (you can camp on most of it – but there are wolves and bears, so be careful).
- Don’t trust Google maps to give you proper travel times. It doesn’t take into account many factors. Like food, bathroom breaks, or actual, livable speed of driving on 16 ¾% downgrade roads, that do repeated 180 degree switchbacks, up and down 27 miles of mountain terrain.
- Locals know best! The best parts of my trip (and most helpful parts) came from talking with people who lived there. I learned about cool, kitschy neighbourhoods in San Francisco from the owner of Blue Danube Wine, where to find desperately needed gas in the middle of night in northern California, that the trek down to the water of Crater Lake is something you must do, and is best done early in the morning before the boat trips start, and Sean, our CEO, showed us a hidden waterfall, located only a 5 minutes walk from the side of the road, near White Salmon, WA. It was also my first time seeing or going into a waterfall.
So when planning a road trip, or any travel for that matter, slow down.
I know you want to do as much as possible when you are somewhere new, but you can’t. Instead of seeing as much as possible, too much planning, causes you to actually see less. And it takes the enjoyment out of the most important part of the trip – the journey itself.