How to plan a year-long road trip

Ah, the nomad life – a more carefree way of living, go where you want and figure it out as you go, right? Yeah, not so much. Turns out deciding to travel for an entire year while working full-time remote takes a lot of planning and even more preparation.

After the company I work for decided to become fully remote and allow us to work from anywhere, I decided to see if I could afford to travel for a year and live out of Airbnbs while visiting as many national parks as possible. I started to plan my route so I could look up rentals and see if I could keep my rent similar while also paying for campgrounds. I quickly realized just how much information I needed to get an accurate idea of the cost:

  1. What cities did I want to visit?
  2. How many pit stops would I need to make so I could break up long travel days and were there any Airbnbs in that city? Would it be cheaper to stay in a hotel?
  3. What national parks could I hit along the way?
  4. Would I need to take time off for any long drives?
  5. Was I following the best weather?
  6. Would the campgrounds be open while I was there?

Planning my trip became one giant puzzle, and I spent several weeks mapping it out to then realize I hadn’t accounted for something and have to redo it. I had to make sure I was staying in one place long enough to see all the sights while also making sure I made it up to Seattle on time for an Alaskan cruise and that I was near a major airport for my sister’s wedding shower and wedding. I also had to find the best places to stay near national parks I wanted to visit so I could 1) find an Airbnb 2) have someplace with Wifi to work Monday – Friday 3) Be close enough to the park that I could drive over on a Friday after work and not have to set up at 10pm.

After about 40 hours, I got it right. Once I knew where I was going, then the planning really began. I hunted for Airbnbs in every city – a preferred option and a backup. I researched 26 national parks to find the campground I wanted to stay at, and kept track of when I’d need to book (anywhere from 2 weeks to 12 months in advance) and how much it would cost. I tracked my route, rentals, campgrounds, booking dates and costs in an excel.

Because I’m SO “Type A”, one excel spreadsheet was not enough. I also made a copy of my yearly budget and made a mock budget with my new “rent,” campgrounds, activities, extra oil changes, etc. Once I discerned I could afford to travel this way while still putting away my ideal savings (trying to buy a house in California is no joke…), you’d think I could have relaxed. But no. It was time to figure out the other million things I needed to know/do:

  1. What camping gear do I need?
  2. What outdoor / multi-climate clothing do I need?
  3. How do I efficiently pack my Jeep?
  4. How much is a storage unit and what size do I need?
  5. How will I get mail?
  6. What will my permanent address be?
  7. Will I need to pay state taxes for any place other than California (home state)?
  8. What work should I get done on my car to make it ready?
  9. What car insurance should I switch to (was using pay-per-mile) and should I tell them what I’m doing?
  10. Will my renter’s insurance cover the items in my car while on a road trip?
  11. Where do I keep a spare car key?
  12. Do I need my own wifi hotspot?
  13. Do I need to change my health insurance?
  14. Do I have enough vacation days? What about emergency / sick days?
  15. What was the safest way to do this as a female solo traveler / hiker?
  16. How will I keep my car and belongings safe while I fly to Indiana for wedding activities and cruise to Alaska?

Six months in to planning this trip (life?) I am still thinking of things I need to do or buy or at least consider.

Here’s everything I’ve done and considered, so you can do it too, or talk yourself out of it!

How to plan for a year-long road trip

  1. Research and decide how you will live: Will you rent Airbnbs, or buy/rent a trailer? Can your car pull a trailer and how big of one? Will you rent/buy a van and sell or store your car? If you go the camper/van route, will you boondock on public lands or stay at campgrounds? Not all national parks allows RVs or have very limited spots with size restrictions. You’ll need RV insurance, too. If you’re choosing Airbnbs, can you afford it? Will you get private rooms or entire places to yourself? What amenities do you need (a kitchen)?
  2. Figure out all your permanent address issues: Can you use a friend or family member’s address? What are the implications of that for them? If not, what will your address be? Should you declare domicile in an income-tax-free state? Does this impact your job or insurance? How will you get mail?
  3. Plan your route: If you don’t care about staying inside national parks, or don’t have any planned events you need to accommodate, you can plan a lot less than I did. But if you want to camp inside NPs, you’ll need to know exactly when you’ll be there, or they will be full by the time you decide to roll in. Not all campgrounds take reservations and every park has a busy season. Some also close in the winter or during peak fire seasons. Plan and book accordingly! Don’t forget to think about the sight seeing you want to do in each location so you have enough time. I researched the major attractions and budgeted enough weekend time to see everything. Some places I stay in for a month or more!
  4. Research and buy what gear you need: Make sure you have all the proper clothing for different weather conditions. Purchase emergency and survival gear in case you are injured or lost while camping or hiking. Decide if you’ll spend any time in the backcountry or if you’ll use designated campgrounds. If you choose backcountry, you’ll need special permits and backpacking gear (list coming soon!). Get all your camping gear (list coming soon!) and everything you’ll need for hiking (GoPro? Trekking poles? Boots?). Will you be camping in bear country? Research how to store food and protect yourself. Speaking of protecting yourself…
  5. Research safety tips and gear: What can you do to make your trip safer for yourself? Consider getting a satellite phone for remote emergencies, a personal weapon you feel comfortable using, taking self-defense classes, and just generally knowing what to look out for when camping/hiking/stopping at gas stations and rest stops, using Airbnb, etc.
  6. Decide what you will do with your additional belongings: Are you going to store your stuff or sell it? Maybe a little of both? What will you take with you and what will you leave behind? If you need something while you’re out, will you buy it or have it shipped to you? What will you do with important documents – keep them with you or leave them with someone? If you take them, how will you keep them safe?
  7. Consider any comforts or special items you need: I bought a travel white noise machine because I can’t sleep without a fan on. I also bought a compact tripod and a camera remote so I could take pictures of myself while hiking alone, a travel safe for important documents, and I’m packing some of my workout equipment.
  8. Prep your vehicle (if driving your car): Is your current vehicle capable of taking a long road trip or does it need serviced? Are you going to take any seats out to make room for storage? If you’re going to sleep in your car you may want to build a platform for flat sleeping. Consider making/buying privacy covers for your windows to shield your stuff from thieves or give yourself privacy while sleeping.
  9. Book your stays: Book any Airbnbs you need far enough in advance that you don’t lose the best spots, but close enough to your stay that you can cancel if you need to. You’ll need to book most NPs 6 months in advance to get a reserved spot. If you’re boondocking, download apps to help you find safe and legal places to park your camper/van.
  10. Let the fun begin!

I start my trip in 2021 and am wrapping up my preparation. Stay tuned for more tips, gear lists, and blogs about my travels!

Have you ever done an extended road trip or solo camped?

Let me know!

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