Every year our kid’s Public Montessori Charter School has a one week break in the middle of October when most other local schools are still in session. For the past three years it was our tradition to use the time to visit Yosemite, when there are few crowds and the snow hasn’t yet arrived to make the whole experience unbearably cold. We loved biking around Yosemite in the cool, but not cold Fall weather.
However, this year with the pandemic we had the unusual combination of having a month off from work and kids doing distance learning. What else to do but take the entire family on the road to explore some of the best natural areas our country has to offer. With minimal planning and preparation, we decided to use the one week the kids had off from school and add another three weeks home schooling curriculum before returning to distance learning. While it may have been possible to continue distance learning while on the road, this would limit where we could sleep and when we had to stop, not to mention likely stress our kids out past their breaking point. Already, each of them were having days of anguish over having to log into their classes and sit on seemingly endless zoom calls. To have to continue that in a cramped van across the country would have been really tough on them, and we were hoping this trip could be a good escape for all of us from the drudgery and confines of e-learning. Hopefully we could get some hands on experiences that the kids can remember for the rest of their lives.
So, that is the who, the when, and the why of the trip, next we had to determine the where and the how. Initially, we were thinking to start in the four corners area of Arizona, possibly re-visiting Zion (never seen the park in the fall with the change of colors). However, in early October it appeared that the Arizona area was going through a heavy surge in COVID cases, so we thought it might be a good time to see the first and possibly the most famous national park, Yellowstone. This became the focus of the plan, head to Yellowstone before it closes for winter and before the snowfall makes traveling and site-seeing too dangerous or difficult (we partially succeeded in this).
How I Plan
Determine the when
With most trips, the when is the first step. A trip many years in advance with no set season would be the most broad starting point of a trip, however most of the time the when is closer at hand and is the logical starting point of planning. It is obvious that summer trips have different requirements than winter, etc.
Determine the why
The why should come before the where in most cases. For example, if you want to relax versus be active, or to learn vs. explore etc.
Determine the where
The when and the why lead naturally into the where. E.g., knowing you will be traveling off season this year and want to relax on the beach narrows down your planning considerably.
Determine the how
Put the pieces together and the plan comes together.
Tools for planning
For free camp sites the go to resource is FreeCampsites.Net
For hotel research we found that tripadvisor and also yelp is a good way to verify that the hotel is decent. Don’t forget to use travel rewards for free hotel stays.