How to Plan a Detailed Road Trip


Sebastian Simsch made me do it. Well, he didn’t really make me do anything but he definitely lured me onto the open road. While I was catching up with the Seattle Coffee Works owner at his then just-opened Ballard store a couple of years ago, he started telling me about a road trip he had taken with his family to various small towns in eastern Washington. The engaging way Simsch tells stories—his incredible recall for the most minute detail, punctuated with his German accent and dry humor—had me mentally scanning our family calendar to figure out when we could fit this trip in.

My husband and I took my parents to Walla Walla on Thanksgiving weekend after that conversation, and we made many Simsch-recommended detours, including one to Dayton—a community oozing with small-town charm, huge, affordable historic houses and ladies who get together weekly for coffee. I started to calculate what a commute from Dayton would look like.

Last summer, we planned our first major road trip, inspired by the road trips oft taken by our friend, Tom Uniack, Washington Wild conservation director, and his family. Tom’s skill and passion for planning (and taking) road trips can perhaps best be likened to Mozart’s gift for writing layered symphonies. His incredibly detailed itineraries (see the May 2014 issue) are down to the minute and don’t ignore a single quirky/cool roadside attraction (or, as you will read, Dairy Queen). I seriously think he should start selling his itineraries as e-book singles; he’d make a killing.

Though we didn’t have three weeks to replicate Tom’s trip to San Diego, we made it to San Francisco and back in 10 days, and followed quite a bit of his advice. We wouldn’t have known about half of the stops had it not been for him—and now I want to take you along for the ride.

Whether you’re toting a minivan full of kids, having a Thelma and Louise/Hangovers–style adventure with some pals or carving out alone time with your significant other, there’s a journey road tested by a local travel enthusiast ready to be taken.

Road trips today look a lot different from the ones I took in my childhood, when my family would drive from Wisconsin through Tornado Alley to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the blazing heat of summer every July. Five people in an unair-conditioned Dodge Dart, AM talk radio blaring nonstop as our only entertainment. (Paul Harvey’s signature “Page 2” on-air “page turn” is forever burned in my aural archives.) On our recent California road trip, the modern distractions available inside the car, along with knowing what kooky roadside attraction our kids should look for, made the hours more bearable for them. But I was most grateful for the many unexpected adventures—despite having a well-planned trip—such as that “museum” we stumbled upon in Yreka, California. But, alas, we’ve reached the end of the road—read more about our trip here.

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