Trip Planning

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The success of most trips usually always comes down to the planning. Even a road trip like this one, which is designed to accommodate all sorts of unplanned and spur-of-the-moment activities, will be more enjoyable if time and effort are spent up front in some form of planning.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was the goal itself. Really, John and I have wanted to visit Mt Rushmore for almost as long as we’ve known each other. We have looked at ways to do this in the past, but the time was not right and the level of effort to get to the attraction did not seem to meet the enjoyment factor we would have once we got there. We have known for a long time that we wanted to achieve this goal by taking a road trip. The road trip concept allowed us to also fill in the 25 days on either side of the 3 hour Mt Rushmore visit with all sorts of fun stops.

So, we started with the goal. Then we went with the idea that we did not want to have every day pre-planned but we wanted structure (that would be the program manager part of me speaking). Next, we created a list of “must-do” attractions. These included Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Crazy Horse, Denver (to visit one of my lifelong friends), and my parents.

Next, we found out that Jody had an interest in visiting some of the areas in Colorado that were either near or the same as where we wanted to go. So, we looked at our timetable and found a 4-day window that included a weekend so that Jody could join us. This set the first half of the trip with a hard end date to meet Jody in Denver on September 20th.

All along, we knew that we could ditch things at the Utah end of the trip because they are very accessible in subsequent trips via a fly / drive combination to either Salt Lake City or Las Vegas.

I primarily used the Internet as the source for my research into the various places to visit and locations to stay. I did also solicit information from friends and family who took similar trips or visited similar places. I picked up a couple of books from the bookstore and also got all the physical maps and tour books available through AAA (CSAA in California).

For trip planning software, I used Rand McNally’s online trip planning web site. I even paid the $35 fee so I could have access to all the goodies. About 5 years ago I used Rand McNally’s CD-ROM Windows software called Trip Planner and loved it. Unfortunately, the online web site had a number of shortcomings. In the end, I liked it better than all the other options I had available on a Mac (including AAA’s online Trip Tik and Google’s trip planner) and I just dealt with the shortcomings. Most of the map images seen on the blog pages came from the Rand McNally site. One of the biggest limitations to this software is the fact that you can only have 10 stops (including start point and destination) on a trip. This turned out to be a very big pain, even though I broke the trip up into four segments. But in the end, it was still the best and I would have had a harder time planning the trip without it. Here is a link to the Rand McNally site.

Hotel planning was another matter altogether. If anyone can figure out a good way to do this, I’m all ears. I found it cumbersome to use Expedia, Orbitz, and similar hotel pricing software because I wanted the software to tell me where to stay. The AAA tour books aren’t bad, but they aren’t online and that makes them harder to use. In the end, I used Googlemaps to find out what towns were close to the attractions. Then I favored Expedia to locate hotel possibilities because I could checkbox “high speed internet access” to narrow the search. In the end, I found that it is best to reserve the hotel rooms directly through the hotel’s web site in order to get the best rate (usually AAA) and in order to have an opportunity to provide survey feedback to the hotels if they inquired (and several did).

Finally, I used Trip Advisor to check out reviews of the hotels and I even submitted a couple of hotel reviews to them.

We used Priuscilla’s navigation system as much as possible to actually navigate us to each location. We learned how to use the POI (Point of Interest) name and category lookup to find hotels, parks, gas stations, and other useful information. This navigation system is complex and cannot easily be learned through intuitive use. I consider myself an expert on the interface now though. Special thanks to Susan Baur for sharing the Prius override instructions so that I could enter the destinations into the car while John was driving. We saved hours over the course of the month because without the override, the car must be stopped in order to enter any destination information into the navigation system.


© Karen Bell 2012