Travel Tips: Inside The Planning of Our Summer Road Trip

2013 GMC Yukon SLT

Follow our 2013 Road Trip Adventure on Twitter! Hashtag #gAdvRoadTrip

We are finally here! Road trip time!

My family and I are so excited about this trip, which has been two years  in the making. We had planned for summer of 2011, but then had to use all our saved-up funds to move from NYC to NJ, a short move, but also surprisingly expensive.

We reset our goals for summer of 2013 and what followed was a year of planning and saving and tight budgets and taking on extra freelancing jobs to pay for it all.

Planning a road trip, especially with a family of 5  can be expensive, but still one of the best values in family travel. You get to see much more than if you just flew to one destination and the opportunities for adventures are endless. Here are some of the things to keep in mind when planning your own road trip.FamVacay.RoadtripSlide.


This particular trip was a bit more pricey than other road trips we have taken because we are going to fly out West from Newark Airport before we hit the road. When we fly with our children, we try to avoid connecting flights as much as possible, but because we also wanted to travel from the nearest airport to our house, and because Seattle is not a major hub, we are making one connection in LA. We are, however, taking a direct flight from LA to Newark. The sacrifice? A red-eye back. We’re not sure how that will go over with two kids 6 and 7 years old, so stay tuned!

Take note that all these details can add up: Do you want a direct flight? Are you willing to travel with a different airline than what you normally choose (We paid a little bit more to fly with a specific airline)? Do you want a flight out of your local airport (is it a major hub?)? Are you willing to take earlier/later flights?

Also note that if you fly with your children often, it doesn’t hurt to sign them up for airline miles as well. Never too soon to start accumulating those benefits!

Hotels/Camp Sites

We have set up our lodging experience to be as diverse as the places we will be visiting. We will be on campsites as well as staying in hotels. We booked our campsites very early on because these tend to book very quickly. Both the camp areas required a non-refundable deposit, equivalent to a one-night stay (we booked cabins). We’re glad we did so, as there is no available vacancy at either of the sites now.

We will be traveling during 4th of July, which made it hard to find a hotel in major cities (we will be around San Francisco then). We booked outside of San Francisco to save money, but also to get more room. Be flexible when booking your hotels. If you stay right outside city limits you increase your chances of finding more affordable options and better deals.

We also decided to dish a little extra on hotels that offer us more space, free breakfast, and laundry whenever possible. Residence Inn by Marriott (not a sponsor) is our primary hotel of choice throughout our road trip. The larger suites were a bit pricier than some other options, but not at all the most expensive option. I am always pretty impressed with the value offered through this brand for the level of quality, space, and service they offer. (It’s another reason why I always work with them when I can).

We chose to pay more than we probably needed to for our hotel stays, but spending a lot of money on hotels is not necessary. If you have a tighter budget and would rather splurge more on activities, there are many nice hotel options out there to meet your basic lodging needs and where you would feel comfortable staying with your family. Research each location carefully, as individual hotels, even within the same brands, can sometimes shift in quality levels.

Many resorts offer vacation packages that include excursions and other experiences as part of the deal. I am excited to check out some smaller hotels along the way as well, as it not only contributes to supporting small business, but also because these were often easier to find in smaller towns along the Pacific Coast. We researched them online and booked all our stays through the hotel website directly as they offered the best deals. Some of these smaller hotels can’t afford to be listed on deal sites, so it’s always a good idea to check the destination tourism sites, where they are often listed. We found that these smaller hotels often offered better selections and better prices than the options listed on deal sites. (Our only complimentary hotel stay is with Omni Hotels for our night in LA).

Car Rentals

When you are taking a road trip you must consider whether or not you will be taking your own vehicle or rent a car. When we did our road trip from NYC to Austin, TX in 2010 we had to rent a car last-minute because after taking it in for an inspection  – which you should always do before a trip like this – we were told that our car would probably not make it. The rental was pricey, but worth it because it spared us the pain of dealing with car problems while traveling.

This particular car rental, which required a pick up in one city and drop off in another, was also expensive, but unavoidable. Thus, we searched early and reserved early. A good call, as prices almost doubled as we got closer to date.


Always, always, always connect with the local tourism group and/or visitors center of the destination you are visiting. They are happy to help with information that fit what you are looking for. Planning a date night while on the road? Need a sitter service? Any local events to check out? Deals, coupons, discount passes? They’ve got you covered. I never travel without connecting with them because they are so helpful in helping plan our visit.

The Total Cost

Our out-of-pocket costs (and estimated budget) total for this 2 and a half week road trip, for a family of five, along the West Coast is $8,000.00.

It took us a year to save up for it. We reserved the car and hotels early, and purchased our airline tickets a couple of months before the trip.


We really pulled in a lot of our resources for this one and I freelanced a lot of hours to make it happen. My husband stayed up late digging through websites in search of good prices and scouting hotel locations. It wasn’t always the most fun trip to prepare for, but now that we are so close to leaving and everything is in place, I feel it was so worth it. All the planning beforehand allows us to relax during the trip.

We hope this insight helps you if there is a trip that you have in mind.  Just remember that with patience and careful budgeting and planning, you can make it happen. It might take you longer, it might not. It might cost you more, it might not, but it can happen.

Our Partners

After we had paid for things, reserved things, and had all the money we would need saved up, I thought about people I wanted to work with to promote the message of travel, and I really just wanted to work with one (that’s a tip for my travel blogging friends – if you really want a trip, just set yourself up and pay for it before deciding what would be a great brand to partner with).

2013 Road Trip Adventure: G Adventures

I am super excited to announce that G Adventures, the leader in adventure tours around the world, is the sponsor of our 2013 Summer Road Trip Adventure!

I wanted to work with G Adventures because I love what they do as a brand in travel, encouraging travelers to take on destinations, with or without kids in tow, that offer once in a lifetime experiences and connects them in very personal ways to the culture around them. These experiences can be close to home or far away to exotic lands. Their product portfolio is my bucket list and my family represents the adventurous travel-loving souls whom they cater to – making this the perfect partnership.


But beyond what they sell, I am especially fond of the ways in which they give back. Their G Project is, in a nutshell, everything we believe the purpose of travel should be. The G Project aims to celebrate the visionary travelers who “are passionate about the places they love and often involve themselves in causes that affect the places they’ve visited.” Along with The Planeterra Foundation, G Adventures has selected 4 such visionaries as finalists for their very first G Project. It’s an exciting venture, from a great brand that I love supporting and am honored to have support me.

Vehicle Sponsor: OnStar

When it comes to road trips, there is a lot to take into account. As I mentioned before, making sure your vehicle is up to the task of taking you on whatever adventure you have set for yourself is a part of it, but making sure you will be OK while on the road even beyond these basic measures is something you want to be confident about.

We wanted to highlight not just the fun of road trips, but also the value in having the trust of vehicle safety, and all the assistance and convenience you could ever need while on the road. We are excited to announce our partnership with Onstar, who is our official Vehicle Sponsor. What this means is that we get to check out and share with you the Onstar services as we make our way along the West Coast, as well as drive a GMC Yukon Denali – a much, much nicer vehicle than what we had rented! In addition to turn-by-turn navigation assistance, road side assistance should we need it, hands-free calling, and vehicle diagnostic, I will be testing out their Remote Link App, which does everything from unlocking/locking the vehicle remotely to checking the fuel levels before we hit the road again – all from my iPhone.


Yukon Denali

We fly out this Thursday, June 27 to our first destination: Seattle! As always, I will be sharing photos on Instagram, videos on Vine, and updates on Twitter (@CarolACain) and Facebook (Girl Gone Travel). Feel free to share local tips and recommendations and follow our trip via hashtag #gAdvRoadTrip!

This is not a sponsored post.


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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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24 Responses to Travel Tips: Inside The Planning of Our Summer Road Trip

  1. Carol, I'm so excited for you. I'm a Seattle mom, so it's going to be fun seeing what you think of our emerald city! I saw your post on Pinterest, but I'm going to be adding you on my other profiles too, so I can follow along. Best wishes & safe travels!
    My recent post Packing List for Families

    • caincarol says:

      Thanks so much Kim! I've never been so am super excited to visit : ) Please feel free to share local tips!

      • I'd love to share some tips. How much time will you have and what are some of your favorite types of experiences?
        My recent post Packing List for Families

        • caincarol says:

          Awesome! We will be in Seattle from tomorrow till the 30th…and we LOVE local favorites and unique spots : ) Thank you!

          • Kim StuffedSuitcase says:

            Well, the Chihuly Glass Exhibit is a big tourist spot, but gorgeous. Kerry Park has great views but Discovery Park has views & more. Take a ferry to Bainbridge or Bremerton. Buy flowers in Pikes Place Market if you like flowers. See if you can get in to the theo chocolate factory tour if you have chocolate lovers. And of course visit a drive thru espresso booth (we're the home of Starbucks, but everyone has those :)). Breweries are big in Seattle, but I don't have a specific one to recommend. The Ballard locks are kind of a tourist spot, but very unique. The salmon should be swimming the ladder too. If you like libraries, check out the Seattle Library. :)
            My recent post Packing List for Families

          • caincarol says:

            Kim, you are a rock star!! THANK YOU! xoxo These ALL sound so awesome!

          • Kim StuffedSuitcase says:

            You're very welcome! Hope you have safe & smooth travels tomorrow!
            My recent post Packing List for Families

  2. Sandra Foyt says:

    Looking forward to following your road trip adventures! I've been driving across the US almost every summer for the last few years, and each time it's a completely different and amazing experience. Happy trails!
    My recent post Lincoln Highway Begins In New York City

  3. HarlemLoveBirds says:

    Wow! I can't wait to follow along. I've always wanted to do a big trip out West someday perhaps in an RV!

  4. Amy Whitley says:

    Great route! It will take you right by our house, actually, but we'll be in Alaska! We especially love the CA coast, and I'm glad to see Yosemite on the itinerary. Also want to second your tip about checking for local lodging on CVB or tourism sites instead of just the 'big box' listing sites. We find great boutique hotels this way.
    My recent post International travel: Adventures in China’s Middle Kingdom for kids

    • caincarol says:

      Oh! Enjoy Alaska Amy! How great! And, yes, thank you! People underestimate the value of the tourism boards for great local finds : ) Thanks for sharing!

  5. Dee says:

    Nice ride! Sounds like you will need a vacation from your vacation. Assuming you will be watching the fireworks from Crissy Field (do they still do fireworks at Crissy Field?)
    My recent post Blink Fitness celebrates its Harlem grand opening

    • caincarol says:

      Haha! Road trips are tons of fun, but yeah, can be exhausting! We have made sure to add some relax time for sure : )) Crissy Fields still has fireworks, but we haven't decided where to go yet!

  6. Carol, I am so excited to read along and travel with you. The Pacific Northwest is a destination that my husband and I have always wanted to take the girls so I'll be "Liking" and "Favorite-ing" a lot of your tweets and pictures.
    Very excited to see and read all about it! Safe travels!
    My recent post Johnson & Johnson Celebrates the 125th Anniversary of the First Aid Kit

  7. Dariela says:

    Wow! Looks great! I imagine the amount of work for planning that takes. I would love to do a rod trip with the family one day. Looking forward to your updates! Oh and I love love the map :)

  8. Anna says:

    Congrats on making a big trip happen, have a great trip!

  9. Some of the most unique climates to get a trip with the road. The options and activity levels are endless.

  10. Where in Big Sur did y'all stay? A few buddies of mine and I went camping right on the beach.. it an amazing experience!!

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