10 Tips for Planning a Camping Road Trip

Four weeks ago, my boyfriend and I took off on a last minute three-week roadtrip, camping and couch-surfing our way down from Vancouver, Canada, to Death Valley, California. Here, I’ve rounded up some of the biggest lessons we learned – I hope they’ll help and inspire anyone thinking about getting away from the rat race and experiencing nature and new places, even if just for a little bit.

sideview mirror reflection photo on roadtrip

1. Bring more money than you think you’ll need

The best piece of advice I got for the trip (thanks Huckberry!) was to take my budget and double it. It didn’t cost me quite that much, but there were definitely things I didn’t account for in my initial plan, like propane tanks, drinks at every gas station I wanted to use the bathroom at, and a night at a motel when it was dark and cold and there appeared to be no campsites on the upcoming road for hours.

redwood national park, california

2. Be flexible with your route

I should caveat my lack of proper budgeting in the initial plan with: because I didn’t really have a plan, or at least not a set in stone plan – mostly because we decided to go less than a week prior to leaving. A couple days before we left, I plotted a general route, but I didn’t pick out any campsites or look at park fees ahead of time. On the way back we changed our route entirely, and then ventured hours out of the way of that route in search of a campground. There we stumbled upon Crater Lake, which was my favourite place of the whole trip.

crater lake national park, oregon

3. Bring warm clothes

Not having camped in about ten years (and even that was a only for a couple nights, and the last time I went camping before that was another ten years prior with my mom), I wasn’t prepared for how cold nights and mornings would be. We left in mid-August when it was hot and sunny every day, and returned in a much cooler mid-September. I was able to layer sweatpants over leggings and multiple shirts under a hoodie, but my boyfriend wasn’t so lucky. There were a few nights where we woke up to the dogs’ bowl of water frozen solid – there wasn’t a lot we wouldn’t have done for cabin socks, gloves, toques, and some of those hand warmer packets.

misty mountains in yosemite from controlled forest fire smoke

4. Get an audiobook or two for the car

I listen to a lot of pop and country music, and my boyfriend listens to mostly rock and hip hop. Before we left, I went to the library and borrowed two audiobooks (I had to pay a couple days of late fees because of how long we were gone, but it was still cheaper than buying them). The books were often a welcome change from music (though the Agatha Christie novel read in a British accent faking an Afghani accent was at times a little hard to take).

coyote in death valley national park, california

5. Don’t be afraid to bring the dogs

We had initially planned to leave our dogs with my mom while we were away, but she was traveling for part of it and couldn’t take them so we brought them along. Having them with us was great- while we couldn’t do some of the hikes that we could have without them, they were allowed at every campsite, were great company, forced us to stop and get out of the car every couple hours, and were additional sources of warmth at night (see number 3).

I’d like to say they also deterred bears, but that’s probably not true.

running through sand dunes with dogs in Florence Oregon

6. Don’t stress about how much time you have (or don’t have)

A lot of the roadtrip / camping blogs I read before we left were by people who were traveling all over the U.S. for months at a time. Because we spent a few days in certain cities with friends, we only actually spent 12 days on the road. Though I wouldn’t have minded an extra day or two (an extra night in Crater Lake would have been nice, and I can never get enough of Portland), we still saw a lot and were more than ready to get back to life with a real bed and a real shower.

roadtrip map

7. Stop often to take photos

At the beginning of the trip, I was too excited to get where we were going to want to stop at any lookouts and take photos. As soon as we got to Cannon Beach, I regretted not stopping to photograph the Washington coast, especially since we wouldn’t be returning the same way. Towards the end of the trip, tired and exhausted and unable to find a campsite, I didn’t ask to stop the car to take a photo of the neon Hawthorne sign in downtown Hawthorne, Nevada. I may never end up back there. Photos are free, and, with digital cameras these days, there is no excuse not to take as many as possible. The 528 photos from this trip that I did take will be sources of happy memories for a long time.

half dome, yosemite, california

8. Bigger is better

Buy the jumbo marshmallows, not just the usual large ones.

So. Much. Better.

s'more in front of campfire

9. Always have snacks on hand

Speaking of food…

I’m not the only person to get incredibly grouchy when I’m hungry (there’s a reason “hangry” is a thing). When you’re in a car for days on end with only one other person for company (and they’re around you 24/7 whether you like it or not), sometimes little things (like how soon you really need to get gas) can become a big deal. I found that often when we would start to get slightly snippy with each other, it was mostly because we were tired or hungry. We swapped out driving duty a couple times for naps, and I made sure to always have snacks (such as these homemade granola bars) in the front seat.

golden gate bridge fog, san francisco, california

10. Pick a good travel buddy

Despite one or two small hiccups, we traveled well together – there’s nothing like a camping roadtrip for finding out whether or not you can make it as a couple. We saw each other tired, hungry, freezing cold, and covered in dirt – day after day after day. But we both put in the work to get the tent set up and taken down, meals cooked, dishes washed, and dogs walked. And throughout it all, we kept each other laughing.


Still looking for more? Next week I’ll be posting specific recommendations (campsites and restaurants) from our route, along with more photos (in case you’re like me and have a weird obsession with other people’s vacation photos). Subscribe at the top right of the page so you don’t miss it!

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