Lessons Learned: Vol 2

You might recall that when I was on my road trip through the Southwest, I wrote a post about things I learned along the way and said that I'd do a few more of those. I'm going to be doing posts soon about my favorite gear, the importance of music/movies/podcasts when you're solo for weeks on end, and gratitude for people who showed me kindness along the way. This post is about how I planned on not planning...but I had to plan a little...

Traditionally, I'm super Type A. All of my trips are planned a year in advance, Google Docs itineraries created with links and pictures, reservation numbers and addresses all neatly outlined with bullets. It's sick, I know. I wanted this trip to be different, however.


I booked a one-way ticket to San Diego and didn't book a return flight-I didn't know if I was going to drive back or fly but I figure I'd figure it out-a new approach for me altogether. I decided the night before I left that I had to book the rental car and in order to get a price, I'd need to lock in a final destination. I chose Las Vegas-the arm pit of America in my opinion, but it was also only six hours or so driving distance from pretty much everywhere I knew I had to see. So I booked the rental car for two-ish weeks, landing myself in Vegas.

**[I didn't bother with additional insurance because my personal car insurance covers a rental car with only a $100 deductible. Unfortunately when my window was smashed and all my stuff looted, my home owners policy had to cover that and with <$2000 deductible looted (barely under), it wasn't worth paying that to file the claim. Rough break. Figured this might be an informative point.]


Beyond the flight and rental car, I knew I wanted to spend every day outside. Museums and sites are great but it was my goal to hike/bike/climb at least five hours a day every.single.day. And I made that happen. I am pretty knowledgable about state/national parks and monuments so I knew which ones I wanted to see along the way and roughly where they were located. Google maps can help you if you're not so solid with geography. Drop pins, baby. I made a list going from west to east to create a trip chain. This gave me the order in which I'd hit the parks, allowing me to see them all and not have to backtrack. Win. Gas and time saved! I put dates in an itinerary to make sure I could book accommodations along the way and not mess up dates and end up somewhere without a place to stay.


I used Google Maps to check drive times-I didn't want any drives to be longer than five or six hours and wanted to drive during the middle of the day when the sun was strongest. I woke up by 7:30am every day, got outside for a while, whatever the activity, would drive around noon or 1pm and then usually be at my next destination in time for a little more time outside and then a late dinner. This schedule allowed me to fit everything in but definitely made my meal times flexible.


I looked at Airbnbs in each area just to get a rough idea of my options. I've found over the years that sometimes hotels are actually cheaper-hello, Monterey, California! If I could, I booked hotels and Airbnbs a few days in advance while I was on the road, late night from wherever I was staying. All of the logistics of this trip was done on the road mostly and very late at night because if the sun was up, I was out. There was adventure to be had! One thing to note is you can find some super cheap hotel rooms on Expedia the day of, especially after 5pm for the same day. That being said, you also run the risk of not having anywhere to stay. Proceed with caution.

^Two different and amazing Airbnbs I found (Joshua Tree/Sedona)


If you book non-refundable, it's typically cheaper but triple check your dates and the location of the hotel. You don't want to book a sketchy place and then not be able to get out of it...COUGH HOTEL NIPTON IN NIPTON, CALIFORNIA COUGH. I still haven't seen my money back from Airbnb from that incident. Not happy and really shocked by the lack of response from them so beware. If you ever feel unsafe, LEAVE! It's not worth the money lost to feel scared or uncomfortable.

In these situations, go find a chain hotel like Hilton or Marriott in a safe, clean area. Same goes for if you get sick in another country-a nice hotel can save you. They'll find you meds or even a doctor. Tierra Viva hotel chain in Peru-those people are saints. I showed up alone and with 70 lbs of gear and with dysentery. Ohhh yea, great times. I hadn't kept water or food down in almost four days and they got me a room, got my bags in, made sure I got a bath for the first time in days, toothpaste, and made sure I found the restaurant in the village with the best soup ever. I will never forget the folks at that hotel or the people in Peru in general. I'll be writing more about the kindness of other later but for now, you get my point.


I didn't plan any major activities for each day, just came up with a rough idea of what I wanted to do in that area(s) I was going to be in. For example, I wanted to hike in Zion but didn't know which trails-the rangers were able to point me in the right direction taking into account what I wanted to see and time constraints. Get local advice when you can. I would have never heard about Walnut Canyon (awesome cliff dwellings where you can actually go in the rooms) if I hadn't been talking to my waitress in Flagstaff, Montezuma's Castle (ranger advice), or Kasha-Katuwe (my Airbnb hosts told me about it)!

PS can we talk about how hysterical the original yellow and brown park service tile was at Petrified Forest National?

Some days I planned nothing at all and just stumbled across things and stopped when I wanted to see or do something. I ended up hugging a lot of random horses (and a mule) this way. Thankfully, having no plans allowed me the time to spend with them or the opportunity to go riding because nothing else was set in stone!

I would also emphasize how important it is to maximize your time spent exploring but slow down. One of my favorite mornings was one in Albuquerque. I woke up early and snuck out quietly of the most beautiful Airbnb ever to go for a walk around their neighborhood. I got to see hot air balloons, quail, llamas/alpacas, and a coyote even tracked me for a while. I love seeing places at dawn because nobody has had a chance to distort them from how they really are. I'd suggest a morning walk or run everywhere you go.

I got back and my hosts were up and had made me tea, scones and yogurt. I loved them-my Airbnb angels. They ended up giving me advice on so many places to see that they actually helped me plan the whole last week of my trip before I left! They'd given me advice on restaurants, we talked about life and real estate and politics. Heaven for me is really great, quality conversations. I was an hour later than I'd planned leaving their place but the conversations I had with them are some of my most treasured parts of this whole trip. I'm grateful that I've learned to let go enough to realize when time is no longer worth paying attention to, but what's in front of you can mean the world.

Overall, it was a rough plan but it was a plan because...Type A. Hopefully this gives you some idea of how I was able to hit over 20 parks and monuments in only 15 days! Let me know if you have any questions!

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