Trip planning: go forth and be flexible

So much for rock climbing…

In 2011, I made a brilliant plan to head into Yosemite for some epic rock climbing with a friend. We went through all the steps of the trip planning process and left town psyched to hit the rock. But then, nature threw every curveball she had and we were forced to make lots of decisions on the fly to get the most fun out of our spoiled adventure. It was a very real reminder that the best made plans can…sometimes not work out.

That leads us to the last step of the trip planning process. This is more of a state of mind than an actual step. Go forward with your plan, but remain flexible. Not only to deal with unexpected situations, but also to allow yourself time to explore things that you learn about while you’re out on your trip. Let’s dig deeper.

Rolling with the obstacles

What are some of the factors that can derail even the most meticulously planned trip? Here are the big ones:

  • weather
  • illness
  • car trouble
  • road closures
  • full campgrounds
  • activity/location did not live up to expectations
  • weather
  • did I mention weather?

When planning a trip months or even weeks in advance, you can’t really predict the weather on any given day. Checking climate data and familiarizing yourself with normal weather patterns is helpful but only to a point. Freak snowstorms can blow in. Wildfires can rage through. Hurricanes. Landslides. You get the picture. Sometimes you can deal with a little more rain, snow or heat than you anticipated. But sometimes adverse weather can make certain activities not fun or even dangerous. Knowing when to cancel and redirect your adventure is key to being safe and enjoying your trip.

I have experienced all of the other factors on various roadtrips. I got really sick on the second to last day of a solo trip to California. I’ve had to take half the day to fix leaking hoses in the car, stopping in tiny, remote towns to ask for help. I’ve had to change camping plans due to all the spots at my desired rest stop being taken. And I’ve pulled in and immediately right out of parks that were not what I thought they would be (hiking in an off-road vehicle playground, yeah no thanks).

Being open to new ideas

Capitol Reef National Park. Have you ever heard of it? Most people I talk to have not. I had not heard about it until just a few hours before we arrived there. I was leafing through my Zion/Bryce guidebook while sitting in the passengers seat on a drive through Utah. I just happened to notice that there was a section in the back on Capitol Reef. After reading a little bit about the park and looking at some of the photos, I opened up the map book to see where it was. Holy cow, we weren’t that far from it. I asked my partner, who was driving, if he’d be interested in a detour. “There’s this amazing hike!” I said. “And canyons, arches, fruit trees and more!”

Well, this was a pleasant surprise.

Since I built in some flex time to our roadtrip plan, it was no big  deal to divert off our path for a couple of days and check out this park. It was one of the best decisions we’d made on this trip.

Often, locals are excellent sources of information that you won’t even find in any guide books. Park rangers, too. So once you’re in an area and have the lay of the land, start asking people where they like to go. What would they recommend? If you’ve got the flexibility to check something else out, you might discover your next favorite place.

I hope this series of articles helps you plan your next roadtrip, big or small. Always start with a plan, but don’t be afraid to shift gears. Hey, what’s that around the corner? There’s only one way to find out…

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