How do we decide where we are going? I’m not going to lie, it is pretty random. We don’t have a method, or a certain system we use to choose where to go. Sometimes we get lucky (Mugu State Park!) other times not so much (Lake Manawa). There are a few things we do though, so I thought I’d list those out in no particular order:
Follow the Weather
South in the winter, north in the summer. Pretty simple. Not having to use our A/C (which only runs if we are plugged into at least 30 amp hook ups), or the heater (uses ridiculous amounts of propane) is ideal. Generally that’s the nicest weather for doing things outside anyway. We started down south over the winter and we are gradually headed north as spring starts poking its head out. That’s also our general plan for the next year: Oregon/Washington in the Fall and then as it gets cold we head down California to hunker down in Arizona and New Mexico for the colder months.
This gives us a general idea of where we want to go, and we plan the specifics only a week or so in advance.
Add Stars to Google Maps
We’d be so lost without Google Maps. Its just so, darn, convenient. If we hear of someplace interesting from a blog or other resource we add a star to our map. Unfortunately the map is tied to a specific Google Account so Sam has his and I have mine. Most often we star the same places though so we could look at either one. Adding a star is super easy, just find the place you are looking for, click on it, and the info box will show up. In the top right hand corner there’s the little “saved” button that turns yellow when you click on it.
Stalk Follow Friends on Instagram
This is probably our biggest resource for cool places to go. We follow at least a dozen other full-timers on Instagram and watch where they go. I’ll use Malimish as an example because they have been traveling for years and they are some of our favorite people.
If you click on an Instagram user you get their profile that looks like the first image on the left. If you click the little map pin looking icon, you’ll see a screen that has all their geo tagged photos laid out on a map. As you zoom in, the photos kind of spread out an the map becomes more accurate. If you click on an individual photo, you’ll see the little “i” button beneath it.
Clicking the little “i” info button will bring up that photo in the user’s Instagram feed and you can see where they geo tagged it. In this example, Malimish was at “Vista Point” in San Francisco. Clicking on the location will bring up a small map and any other images on Instagram that have been tagged with that location. Kind of nice if you want to see another point of view for someplace you want to visit. If you click on the map, you’ll get a prompt screen to “open in maps?”
This is where my lovely system breaks down a bit. On a good day, my phone would open Google Maps and zoom right to Vista Point where I could then click on it and add a star. Sometimes Google Maps just opens and sits there staring at me. In that case, I’ll just type the location into the Search bar and look for it that way. Other times it’ll zoom to the location and put a pin in an awkward spot that I can’t save. If I hunt around a bit and find the location and then click on THAT I can usually get to the star. This also breaks down for boondocking (or dry camping) spots. Google won’t let you just save a star in the middle of nowhere anymore. More often than not, it has to be on a road or other significant spot. I’ll try and save a location close by, or if all else fails, I’ll write it down in a Google spreadsheet.
This is a big one too. We have a lot of casual friends from our days as students at BYU. Our ward was pretty close, and we’ve kept in loose contact with a lot of our friends. After leaving BYU in Provo, they’ve scattered all over the country. We try to be aware if there’s anyone we know in the area and offer to stop by and visit, or most times we courtesy park so we can stay up all night talking while the kids are asleep. 🙂
Don’t Plan Too Far in Advance
Our plans change frequently enough that we try not to plan too far in advance. Especially if we are going to see someone. I hate to tell them “Hey! We’re coming!” and then something changes and we don’t. On the other hand, its nice to give notice that we are coming in case they have something going on. Its a balancing act. The only problem with not planning in advance is sometimes campgrounds are full and we can’t get in to places we want to go. We’ve been warned that some of the more popular National Parks (Yosemite, Black Hills, Zion) fill up and you have to plan a couple months in advance. Accordingly, we already have reservations in Snow Canyon State Park and Zion National Park in Utah for the end of May. I just hope it works out that we can actually be there for our reservations. Not having a super tight, reserved out schedule also gives us the flexibility to stop if we find something unexpectedly awesome, or if we just decide to stay longer at a particular location.
There you go! Stars on a map, generally follow the weather, take a look at the stars in an area and decide where exactly we want to go and plan a route about a week in advance. Planning the route involves a lot of Google Map directions, looking at reserveamerica.com to see where the campgrounds are (lots of “find a campground near Mountain View, CA” type searches), and then picking one we like.We like to only travel 2-3 hours when we move so we’ll hunt for stops in between if there’s nothing obvious between us and a particular location. Often the out of the way, hidden locations turn out to be some of our favorite places.