Rambling with a Plan

Have you ever been on your long anticipated vacation – a meander where you just wanted to navigate your vehicle in a general direction without a plan? I’ve tried it. It just doesn’t work for me anymore. It does work for some and I am envious of their fortitude. They boldly go forward with the confidence that at the end of the day there will be a bed to rest in. I’ve been too close to sleeping in the car to ever want to try driving into Pikeville, Kentucky on a Friday night where the local high school team is playing their arch rivals and every hotel room for miles has someone in it. Been there. I’ve also been in Richmond, Virginia on the very night NASCAR was running their cars in circles at the track. No room for a weary rambler (who could have guessed that NASCAR was a big thing in Virginia?).

From that Saturday in Virginia on, I check everything regarding where I am going to stay each day of the trip. Is NASCAR in town? Is there an important football game going on? Is it soap box derby day? We once fell victims to a foosball tournament (yes – FOOSBALL – not football). Maybe I do go a little overboard by booking accommodations for every day of the journey sitting in the comfort of my living room well in advance of the actual trip.

In years past, hotels were very forgiving. I could book a room and if I saw that I wasn’t going to be able to get there I could cancel the same day as my planned arrival (as long as it was by 4:00 PM local time). That is no longer true. Best case scenario is that cancellation without penalty is possible as long as it happens by 4:00 PM the day before arrival. A discomforting situation is that cancellation must occur a full 7 days prior to arrival. Who looks at their itinerary and says “I’m going to have car trouble 7 days from now”? That could only happen if you travel with someone with psychic ability. I put together the best plan that I can and hope for the best.

Is there a secret method to successfully planning a trip? If there is, I have no clue what it might be. I use the same method I have used for a lot of years. Many years ago I would raid the local gas station where they would hand over free road maps just for asking. I’ve also been known to use a Rand-McNally atlas (yes – they still publish those). Since road maps are no longer free locally, I joined AAA. I pay my dues every year just so I can get the latest road map from each state that I travel through.

Spreading these maps out on the kitchen table with a general idea of where I want to go, I grab the variety pack of highlighters and start marking. I know it sounds a little crazy but I enjoy this part. Try routing your next trip without backtracking on the map (highlighters do not erase – white-out is not an option either).

Once the route has a good general plan, I switch to a modern convenience – the computer. There are several route planning tools available but the one that works best for me is MyRouteApp. Once you figure out the nuances of its operation, routes can be laid out pretty quickly. Just remember don’t put a waypoint slightly off road or you’ll find yourself in that very spot, stuck in a ditch.

The general route is now on the computer but that does not solve the hotel dilemma. I try to consider the weather, the time of year, how many bio-breaks I’ll need, etc. and estimate a daily travel mileage. That distance used to be 450 to 500 miles per day but is now about half of that. (Never pass up a good restroom.) Using my estimated daily mileage and the developed trip route, I begin the motel search. I try to limit the daily distance to something I can do and still allow for some hiccups along the way. I tend to stick to motel brands that I know but once in a while I’ll research some local highly rated places.

Hotels identified, I now book on-line wherever possible. Do you remember the old days where you actually had to call each hotel and talk to a live person? That’s now only necessary when you need to ask for forgiveness and a change in itinerary.

Last but not least, I transfer the completed route (including hotels) to my trusty GPS. I can also send it to my co-ramblers. That way we can be guided (or mis-guided) by the same crazy voice from the electronic gadget world.

That’s my process. I use it on every trip. Why did I bring this up? Today was the day to get down to the real plan for an upcoming motorcycle trip for my wife and I. The planning software I mentioned has the ability to schedule the route down to the minute (hotel arrival at 8:47 PM). None of my trips ever work out exactly as I lay them out but it’s not for lack of trying.

It seems that during the summer every single person in the world is on the road. They all need a place to sleep each night. It’s like the world’s largest game of musical chairs. When the music and the rambling stop for the day, I don’t want to be the guy left without a chair. I’ll let you know how the next adventure works out compared to the plan.

Thanks for letting me ramble again. Happy journeys.

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