As part of our three year hiatus, we dedicated the first 9 months to camping full time to really explore our amazing and diverse country. Planning for this kind of trip was overwhelming at first, but we developed a system that worked very well for us to maximize our use of time so we could enjoy every. single. minute!
Our itineraries prioritized a combination of physical pursuits (hiking, kayaking, biking, etc.) while also embedding historical and quirky cultural sites. In the step-by-step process outlined below, we try to include a little something for everyone! Feel free to peruse our blog posts for ideas and details!
Step One: Plan Your Big Picture
First and foremost, figure out which states and regions you can reasonably get to in the amount of time you have available. Then, decide generally how many days, weeks, or months you can spend in each area so you can create a big picture schedule.
You should also consider how “on the move” you want to be. We changed locations almost every day, but only drove about 100 miles a day. However, many live by the “Rule of 2” (Arrive by 2pm, Stay 2 nights, Drive No More than 2 Hours a Day).
For example, we had 8-9 months and were starting August 1st. Because we wanted to get across the northern states, we knew we needed to start heading west sooner than later to get through before the snows came! This is what our original big picture plan looked like:
Step Two: Set Up a Wish List
As an extreme planner, at first I wanted to plan EVERYTHING before we left. However, no matter how organized or “type A” one is, it is imperative to remain flexible when planning camperlife. For one, you never know what’s going to happen. For two, you often can’t arrange for campgrounds or Boondockers Welcome hosts more than a month (or less) in advance. Some of the best places are even first come-first served!
What you can do to take the edge of your planning anxiety is start putting together a wish list! I LOVE Google’s My Maps for wish lists. We easily created a map for our travels and then started to add places we knew we wanted to go on the map (more on where to find places to add to the map below)! Here is an image of our final map!
You can edit each icon to represent the different kinds of places like campground, biking, hiking, etc. It was also great because when we actually started living the itineraries, we could just pull this up on our Google Maps phone app and easily get directions to the next place!
Step Three: Add To Your Wish List
Now, this is the fun part! For each state or region we visited, we used a plethora of resources to identify any and all places we wanted to visit and just slapped them on our map! Here are our favorite sources to find places to visit:
- Alltrails.com: This site includes hiking, biking, and kayaking opportunities across the country! You can also filter for length, rating, and difficulty.
- Paddling.com: We’re kayakers, so it was critical for us to find information on the best places to paddle. This site not only includes a map of great sites, but usually has great first hand accounts with critical safety information.
- National Park Service Map: We are National Park Pass holders, so we definitely went to as many sites as possible to stretch our dollar. Don’t just focus on the National Parks; the historical sites, refuges, and national forests are incredible too!
- State Parks.com: Here is a great site for finding links to all the different state park systems. We tried to visit as many as possible to get a real feel for states!
- Atlas Obscura: If you like quirky, this is the site for you! This incredible map has information on various cool/weird/creepy places to visit all over the globe!
- Road Side America: This site is similar to Atlas Obscura, but it usually includes even MORE quirky road side sites. However, we actually prefer Atlas Obscura because we feel it is a bit more discerning. Road Side America just throws er’thing on there and it can be overwhelming!
- Sleeping Resources: Don’t forget to map out the potential places to stay by checking these amazing camping resources!
Pro Tip: Don’t worry about getting this all done at once! We usually stayed about 3 weeks ahead of our agenda for mapping our wish lists.
Step Four: Hone Your Route
Once you have all your wish list places mapped, you should be able to start seeing a pattern or route that makes sense given the amount of time you have to spend in an area.
The hardest part is deciding which places, if any, don’t fit into a sensible route. Sometimes you have to make tough choices! For example, when we were in New Mexico, it just didn’t make sense to drive all the way to Roswell to see Area 51 even though we think that would have been a cool visit!
Step Five: Flesh Out Logistics
We used a Google Drive document to keep up with our itinerary for each day. It was useful that we could both contribute and have access to the document.
After we used the Google Map to find a sensible route, we began to divide activities and sleeping options for each day we planned to be in a region. This step was usually as easy as just plopping the links or names of places into the Google Doc for each day. At this stage, these items were options not definites until the final stage of the planning process.
However, it is critical to make sure that you give yourself enough time to drive from place to place, especially between camping locations. One easy way to quick check this is the measuring tool on My Maps.
Step Six: Make Arrangements
After you have a route established, we found that it generally always worked out to make camping arrangements about two weeks out. This is enough time to get a spot easily in most places but not so far in advance that you can’t be flexible.
There are of course exceptions to this rule. For example, some campgrounds or boondocking locations are first-come, first-served. So, you just have to cross your fingers! Others are in higher demand, like campgrounds near national parks, so you may want to book those further in advance.
While making camping arrangements, check to see if any of your potential activities require reservations as well! For example, popular national park tours sell out quickly.
Step Seven: Finalize Details
At first, we tried to have our itineraries finalized a week out, but towards the end we were finalizing them a day or two before! You will generally get the hang of your flexibility tolerance levels towards uncertainty each day. We found it imperative to have a detailed, time-based agenda for each day to ensure we remained focused. Without a timetable, we were liable to laze away the day!
To create your daily time tables, begin by researching each wish list item. Some will have set hours for visiting. Some may turn out to be cost prohibitive. In some instances, we ruled places out because parking would be too hard with a camper! Pro Tip: Google Maps has satellite imagery so you can see exactly how much parking space there is in places!
As you plan, begin with time-specific items on the agenda while considering distance between locations. Also, be sure to consider how long you need for each activity. Your itinerary should get fleshed out pretty quickly!
We hope you find this step-by-step camperlife itinerary planning guide useful!