Travel Plan – Route Planning for a Long Trip

The most frequently asked question we get about our travel year is “Where are you going?”, often followed by “How did you plan that?”  A travel plan seems to be on the top of everyone’s mind.

Other questions, such as “What in the world were you thinking doing this?” and “Are you crazy?” also seem to come up.  We’ll let you draw your own conclusions for those.   

Travel Plan – Our Route

Our route consists of two parts: Half a year RV’ing the US and half a year exploring South America and Europe.

The US portion essentially follows a horseshoe around the US, moving up the West Coast from Los Angeles to Yosemite and then Washington State, crossing over the northern US through Montana and the Great Lakes, and then down the East Coast from Maine to Florida.  We’ve chosen about a dozen or so main places to stop along the way. 

The international portion of our trip consists of two legs.  The first is South America, where we will visit Machu Picchu before moving down to Chile for an extended stay.  The second is Europe, where we will make our way south from Scotland, through a handful of Western European countries before ending up in the Greek Isles.

Nice and simple.  (Or so we thought.)

If you ever dream about taking extended travel, here are some considerations and how they impacted our trip.

Choose a Region (Travel Beyond Home’s Reach)

A big trip needs a regional frame into which everything else can be set. 

Our itinerary was long in the making, as we were dreaming about the possibilities.  It has been revised countless times with countries added and removed, schedules contracted and expanded.  I had always leaned toward traveling the US in an RV.  And my wife, being the more adventurous traveler, wanted to go international.  So, we compromised, and our half-and-half itinerary was born. 

We live in Colorado, so the US “horseshoe” portion of our trip is basically a route excluding everything in the center of the US within a hard, two-day drive of our home.  We love to travel on regular vacations, and we figure we will hit all these closer-to-home areas over the next twenty years.

Once we had this frame set, other elements of the planning begun to fall into place.  It allowed us to make an RV purchase and begin planning the finer details.

Set a Time Frame

This planning element goes hand-in-hand with choosing a regional destination.  Do you have a couple months to travel?  Do you have a year?  Settling on a time frame is critical for the planning stage for a longer trip. 

We decided to go for a year, as it was an ambitious but not unattainable goal.  (More on this to come in future posts.)  The time frame fit in nicely with our daughters’ school calendar.  And it also fit in well with our timeline for work.  It seemed like a long trip, but not forever; and we like to have a home base to come back to at the end of our journey. 

Think About What You Want to Learn

Narrowing the scope of a trip can be one of the most difficult parts.  One way to do this is to focus on personal growth.  What do you want to learn?  What do you want your kids to learn?   

We tried to fully embrace this aspect of trip planning by focusing on a couple of themes, namely history and nature.  We plan to split our time between natural sites, such as national and state parks, and larger cities with historical activities.  And in each location we stop, we are seeking out these opportunities… visiting old growth Redwood groves in northern California, exploring Machu Picchu in Peru, walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, learning the history of Rome by visiting the sites, visiting tide pools on both coasts. 

We used these themes to focus our trip, but we aren’t limiting ourselves.  The kids are excited to explore castles in France, learn how to make pasta in Italy, speak Spanish in Chile, see extended family and friends in many locations.  The list goes on and on and so…

Make a Wish List and Prioritize

Even with a trip narrowed to a region and a time frame, it is not possible to see and do everything.   One of our mottos for the trip is – we can do a lot, but we can’t do it all. 

So make a wish list of things you would love to see and those that you would like to see.  Prioritize your list and see what realistically fits into your schedule.  This has been one of the most painful aspects of our planning, namely whittling down the travel list.  But the hours spent refining your prioritization list are time well spent.

Follow the Weather

We pay attention to the weather wherever we want to go.  What will it be like with the leaves on the trees versus trees bare.  What will it be like on a 85 degree day at the beach versus a 68 degree day.  Weather matters, so make sure you take it into consideration as you set your plan.

We are following the summer up the West Coast and across the northern part of the US.  Then we are roughly following the changing leaves down the East Coast.  We will be south of the equator for the South American summer, and then come up to Europe for spring. 

It won’t be perfect, as it’s difficult to hit good weather everywhere, but at least we won’t be stuck in a snow storm in our RV (hopefully).

Decide on Fast Travel Versus Slow Travel

I have always tended toward traveling fast.  I like to go and see as much as possible in the limited amount of time we have, whether that be for a couple weeks or now for a year.

But…we have children and we are homeschooling.  A longer trip means that there is normal life stuff to do, such as laundry and bill paying.  And as a family, we need down time.  A little slower means a little more relaxing.  People often refer to this as slow travel, staying in one place longer periods and getting to know the area.  We decided to compromise on this too with plans to stay from one week to four weeks in each destination… enough time to relax but enough destinations to be exciting.

Think about your natural travel speed preferences.  Do you want to see as much as possible in a day?  Or do you want to take the time to relax at a café and live the local life for a bit?  Then on a long trip, also consider all the pesky normal life things.  Everyone has a different speed, so make sure to build yours into your travel plan.

Add in Flexibility!

You can’t predict everything.  Even barring major events, like a broken-down truck or an injury, the journey itself may present challenges or new insights that result the need to change plans. 

Our route has changed in increments even over the past two months.  Did I mention that my tendency toward fast travel?  Well, I’ve (mostly) gotten over this.  We’ve practiced periods of slower travel on our trip with a good outcome. 

This was made possible by the flexibility we built into our larger travel plan.  We do have hard bookends for certain travel dates due to flights.  Travel days from one continent to another, for example, are not easily adjusted.  But much of our time in a specific country or region is very flexible.  We have made sure to book places with flexible cancellation policies and avoided other hard stop or start dates.  We already made many changes, and I expect we will make more as we move along with the trip.

And Enjoy the Planning…

… But make sure to go!  We could have dreamed and planned forever.  We had to make it a reality. 

These were some of our main considerations when planning our year-long adventure.  We set our outline using these ideas, took a deep breath, and made the leap!   We needed this planning framework to go out of our created box, explore, and raise world-schooled children. 


4 thoughts on “Travel Plan – Route Planning for a Long Trip

  1. Blake, love your trip strategy. The horseshoe makes tons of sense. The ability to take this kind of trip in your prime is great. Plus, this will live with your girls for the rest of their lives. Good for you. If you get close to Virginia Beach or Columbia SC, give my girls a call.
    Your planning has a certain flair that reminds me of your Dad, except better…


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