The questions I am asked most often regarding our travels is how do you decide where to go and how do you decide what you are going to do once you arrive? Neither are easy to answer in writing, but here's the short version.
Where we decide to go is generally based on my research into places appropriate for the months we will be traveling. Until Bill retires, our long trip each year will be in May/June, so we will travel to places where weather conditions are favorable then. I have a long list and we just work out way through that list until we settle on an area. Once the overall destination is decided, I take over from there with lodging decisions as well as plans for what we'll do.
Lodging decisions take up a LOT of time because I am very picky. That is where we save the dollars that allow us to do this, yet it isn't necessarily "cheap" lodging I seek out. These places are "home" for at least a week and need to be comfortable with a good kitchen. We choose to cook our own meals to save money and maintain our healthy eating habits plus Bill just enjoys cooking, so only on rare occasions or one-night stopovers will we choose lodging that doesn't have a FULL kitchen.
Once the lodging is settled, I start spending hours on the websites of the states, cities, national parks, etc in the areas we will visit. I order visitor guides, state tourist information, attraction specific guides, etc and just start making lists. The "A" list are those things we must see and do, the non-negotiables. The "B" list are important things we need to make time to do if at all possible. The "C" list is other things that sound interesting or fun. Things that might substitute when for whatever reason, we are unable to do what we'd planned from the other lists. The "C" list usually grows after we arrive at a destination and get recommendations at local Visitor Centers.
The BIG thing here that makes this doable for us is that I LOVE doing this. I'm a researcher and an information junkie. And I love all things travel related. For me, planning is half the fun. I truly believe that for folks to travel wisely and successfully, at least ONE of the people involved has to relish in the planning of it. It also helps if the OTHER person is an easy going "I'll love it no matter what we do" kind of personality. It always amazes me how Bill just goes with the flow. I know his limits (no hikes over 8 miles, no more than one museum a day, if one day involves lots of driving, the next needs to be out of the car, etc.) and as long as I consider those, he just gets up every morning and says, "what are we doing today?"
This Colorado Trip Wrap-Up might help give a better understanding of my favorite "go-to" places for information.
TOTAL TIME GONE: 6 weeks, 2 days (left May 9, returned June 22)
TOTAL Miles Driven: Unfortunately, I do not have this figure. One of us tripped the TripMeter at some point along the way. Google Maps tells me we traveled 3,490 miles from home to home, but that would not include any mileage except travel from point A to point B.
GAS Expense: We truly believed we'd have to bite the bullet and pay over $4.00/gallon, but we didn't. The most expensive was $3.89 in Durango, Colorado and the least expensive was $3.21 in Manhattan, Kansas. These figures are a bit skewed because gas prices actually DROPPED approximately $.20/gallon while we were gone.
Magnolia House Bed & Breakfast (1 night)
Gray Stone Guest House (3 nights)
Source: www.hermannmo.com (under lodging)
Residence Inn by Marriott (1 night)
Overland Park, KS
The Tuscan Bungalow (7 nights)
Colorado Springs, CO
Source: www.vrbo.com (VRBO listing #274302)
Riverfront Loft (14 nights)
Source: www.vrbo.com (VRBO listing #139148)
The Victorian Inn (1 night)
RiverBend Retreat (15 nights)
Estes Park, CO
Source: www.vrbo.com (VRBO listing #77548)
Morning Star Bed & Breakfast (1 night)
Amber House Bed & Breakfast (1 night)
Candlewood Suites (1 night)
These sources are pretty typical of my "go-to" places for travel planning. We have been using VRBO.com for well over a decade and have never had a bad experience. We are HUGE fans of any Marriott property because ALL of their facilities are totally smoke-free. For the second time, we had an issue with Candlewood over this very thing as they tried to put us in a smoking room even though we had a guaranteed non-smoking reservation. Candlewood Suites are excellent, low priced, no-frills hotels that are always clean and perfect for a short stay, but a smoke-free room is a non-negotiable for us and having that happen twice was a deal-breaker. We will not use them again.
All of the other places, we would highly recommend.
Lesson Learned from this trip: Really, only one!! We've learned some painful lessons in the past, but we didn't forget them and each time, we seem to have our routine set a little better. But I did plan two travel days that were just too long and should have been divided up into two days. Since we avoid interstate travel if at all possible, our travel days need to be no longer than 400 miles. After that, Bill reaches "not nice" and let's just say it's no longer fun!! I knew that and I should'nt have pushed the envelope, but I did. Lesson learned.
What went wrong: For the first time in any of our trips, we actually did have four things happen that weren't pleasant and caused some stress.
1) The night before we were to leave Hermann, MO, Bill went out to start loading the car and discovered a totally flat tire. AAA could find nothing in the tire, so they put on the tiny little spare. With a 250 mile drive the next day and a fully loaded car, we didn't feel comfortable on the spare, so we had to figure out what to do.
2) I was stopped by a Kansas State Trooper for speeding. He was very kind and only issued me a warning.
3) Just outside of Colorado Springs on our long travel day to Durango, a construction truck coming towards us threw a rock and cracked our windshield. It scared us to death - we thought we'd been shot at. Thankfully, the crack was at the bottom of the windshield and although it is quite large, it didn't hinder our trip. The people from whom we were renting in Estes Park own a construction company and we knew they'd be able to recommend someone who could look at it. That person said it was safe and no longer spreading so we chose to deal with it after we returned home.
4) When we arrived at our condo in Durango, we could not get the code for the lockbox to work so we could retrieve the key. We were very tired and this was extremely aggravating. When it became obvious it wasn't going to work, we called the owner and thankfully, she answered. Within 5 minutes, she was there with another key. As it turned out, the lockbox had not been reset from the previous renter, so it wasn't our fault. As a token of appreciation for our patience, she gave us a gift card to a local restaurant. These are the kinds of folks you are dealing with when you use VRBO.com!
In each case, we worked together to find the best solution and got it done without a lot of drama. It's pretty cool to have been married 34 years and realize that when one of you is stressed to the max, the other usually remains cool and that's exactly what happened in each of these cases.
I'm in the process of planning our next adventure. It won't be nearly as exciting as Colorado, but I'll write about it anyway.
Until then, the journal will be quiet!!
Monday, September 26, 2011
Colorado Trip Wrap-Up
Originally published in My Trip Journal on July 17, 2011