When Life Gives You Lemons… Take a Road Trip!

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When Life Gives You Lemons… Take a Road Trip!

As we’re sitting here in Ohio wondering when (or if) we’ll be able to get back to Panama, we decided why not take a road trip?

The iconic road trip is something that used to be the standard of almost every family vacation. With the pandemic raging stronger than ever, these types of trips have been making a big comeback this summer since not many folks are ready to jump on a plane right now.

We’re in that same boat and decided that a road trip might be something fun to do. Not only could we see different sites around the country, but we could visit with out-of-state family and friends we rarely get to see anymore.

If you’re a loyal reader of this blog, you know that I tend to throw out my thoughts here before things are finalized. Our road trip plans are no different.

But I thought this would be a great opportunity to get some feedback from you on some of our ideas. The closest we’ve come to a huge road trip was our July adventure last year but that involved staying in hotels almost every night. This trip will be different… a lot different.

Why a road trip?

Right now, we’re in Ohio living in my in-laws’ basement. Our condo in Panama is sitting there waiting for us to get back. We left Panama almost a month ago on a humanitarian flight knowing that we might not be able to get back anytime soon. Currently, the borders there are closed and when they re-open, it’s highly unlikely they’ll allow in U.S. passport holders anytime soon.

That means we’re here for an indefinite amount of time. While that’s both good and bad, it also means we’ve got a little time on our hands – especially with needing to be so careful with socialization during these times.

So why not change things up, take these lemons, and make lemonade? A road trip will be a chance to visit a lot of places we’ve never been to before and see sites we’ve never checked out. It’ll be a great opportunity for Faith to experience more of the country as well.

I’d say that it also provides some rare quality time together but we’ve been spending all our time together (24×7) for the past 4 months now! No complaints about that, but a road trip will give us something unique to do.

I’m normally someone who just wants to get from point A to point B, but this trip will be different. We’re going to stop and smell the roses along the way. Hopefully, the fun along the way will keep me from getting antsy about not just getting right to each destination! 🙂

How long will this trip be?

Here’s the beauty of this trip… we don’t have a deadline. Right now, both Lisa and I are early-retired and Faith doesn’t have school. And because we made a pretty easy decision of homeschooling Faith again this year in light of the pandemic, we can do that wherever we’re at each day if we’re still floating around at that time.

In other words, we don’t have a set amount of time for the duration of our road trip. However, we’re ball-parking around 4 weeks.

As of now, we’re thinking we’ll head out around August 10th. That means we should return around the first week of September… I’m sure we’ll be more than ready at that point!

Where are you going?

We don’t fully know yet.

All we know so far is that we plan to spend a week or so with my brother and sister-in-law in mid-August. They have a week off and we’ll be doing some day trips to different places near their house outside of Austin, Texas… kind of like the One Tank Trips in Ohio Neil Zurcher used to do back in the day! We also decided that we’ll probably do an Airbnb on a lake for a few days during that time.

Essentially, we have that week of our time covered except for the precise details. We’ll probably stay another week after that, too. Now we just need to figure out our path from Ohio to Texas and then our path back after that.

We’ll likely try to make our way to the Vegas area as well. My godfather who might as well be called my uncle lives there and we haven’t been able to see him in many years… Faith hasn’t even met him yet.

When Life Gives You Lemons… Take a Road Trip! - Road Trip Map
Boring so far, right?! We better fill in something more exciting in here soon!

Other than that, once we have some kind of draft of our road trip plan in place, we’ll probably contact other friends or family along the way. That would give us a chance to do some social-distanced visits with people we haven’t seen in a while.

But here’s the thing, we’re thinking that we don’t want to have too detailed of a trip. Keeping an open plan gives us more flexibility. Maybe we want to stay longer at one place or shift gears and head somewhere else instead.

One idea that I pitched to the girls was that each night before bed we take a look at the map and decide where to head to the next day. That gives us that flexibility but it also gives us something fun to look forward to each evening (particularly Faith). If we’re tired of driving, maybe we stay in the area longer or pick a destination that’s not too far. Or, if we’re eager to keep moving, we find someplace further along on the map.

Um, you don’t have a car – don’t you need one for a road trip?

That’s correct, we don’t have a car. That’s probably a pretty important part of a road trip. And boy oh boy, we’ve been all over the map on this one (pun intended!) in deciding what we want to do for a vehicle.

In a way, it’s a good thing because it gives us some choice. We don’t have to try to stuff everything we can into an existing owned vehicle. We can decide what’s best for our trip.

But it also means we have to figure out what will be best for our trip.

Our initial brainstorming had us in a full Class A motorhome before we realized that was too much. Between the driving and handling, the vehicle and fuel costs, the setup and maintenance, and needing another vehicle to use once we were set up each day, that didn’t stay part of our discussion for long.

We kept moving down further and further on the totem pole of choices to smaller RVs, camping pop-ups, etc. Each vehicle has it’s own pros and cons but one of the most prominent issues is that everyone and their brother are buying these things up right now. The law of supply and demand tells us that even getting our hands on one would be timely and expensive.

After weighing in on everything and realizing that this was only for one trip, we decided that a better choice would probably be some type of van or minivan.

We don’t have a lot of stuff, we don’t need a lot of room, and it just is what it is. It’s simple and we can drive it around just like a car. We could add a cargo carrier to the back (maybe something like this one) if it’s got a trailer hitch or we could look at a rooftop carrier.

So that’s what we’re considering right now for the road trip. The next question is: should we rent or buy? We could buy a used minivan and then resell when done and probably come out ahead or close to it. But you have all the headaches and time involved with both the buying and selling.

Or we could rent one. For the amount of time we’re thinking of for the road trip, it would probably run us a couple of thousand dollars. That’s a good chunk of change. But no muss, no fuss. We get back, turn it in and call it a day. And we’ve saved a lot more than that on our expenses this year because the pandemic has limited the fun we’ve been able to have.

Tough call. Renting is probably an easier path. We could even rent a minivan to go from Ohio to Texas and then return it. Then we could rent another one when we continue on the road trip after Texas – no need to have a vehicle sit while we’re with my brother and sister-in-law. That would save us some decent money, too.

But buying a minivan puts us in a great position of having a vehicle of our own. If we don’t make it back to Panama anytime soon, we’d still have a car to use – that would obviously be pretty convenient. Right now, we’re just borrowing cars when we need to make a run somewhere.

Of course, we’d also have the cost of a vehicle, insurance, maintenance, and all that sort of good stuff. However, we could also sell it later on whenever we’re ready.

This is only about two weeks away and we still haven’t decided exactly what we’re going to do… nothing like waiting until the last minute! What would you do?

What about sleeping, showering, and all that stuff?

A big fat RV would have wrapped up the answer to this question. But since we’re not going that route, we need to think this out a little more.

Let’s start with sleeping. We think that we should be able to sleep in the car for most nights. We could look at something like a backseat air mattress like this one and a back-of-the-car air mattress like this one. With those combined, we’d be able to sleep all three of us. It wouldn’t be paradise, but it would be sufficient for the road trip.

Now, that would be easy enough, but I don’t think we’d be able to fit both mattresses in it at the same time. We haven’t dug into specific vehicles yet, but it would take a really long van to make this work. And if those exist and aren’t crazy expensive (I’m not a car guy), that might be exactly what we’re after.

Other than that, we might spend a night here and there at a hotel. That’ll give us a chance to regroup, take a hot shower, and get a fresh start again.

Speaking of showering, those stray nights at a hotel ain’t gonna cut it for the entire road trip. We’ll need to shower a little more often than that – hopefully, almost every day!

Lisa and I have talked about different ideas on that. I’ve heard that a lot of the rest areas or truck stops actually have nice, clean showers. Do you know if that’s the case?

We’ll probably also spend plenty of nights at various campgrounds, particularly KOA campgrounds. If the showers are clean and we wear some flip-flops, that might be a good place to set up shop as well. The added benefit is that we could sit around the fire in the evening and who doesn’t love doing that?!

And we might spend a night here or there in a Walmart parking lot. Everything I’ve read points to this being a good place to park overnight. Most allow overnight parking there, they’re everywhere, they’re well-lit, they usually have cameras throughout, and you have access to the restrooms there.

Although I’m sure we’ll eat at some restaurants, our game plan is to do plenty of grocery shopping. We’ll keep a regular cooler and maybe even this electric cooler I didn’t know existed on hand.

Between all these ideas, we’ll probably be grocery shopping at Walmart and cooking over the open fire while at the various campgrounds. That sounds good to me!

That’s the plan, folks – although this pandemic has made life different for all of us, we’re still trying to roll with things and not let life pass us by.

As you can see, this rough draft of our road trip plans is… well… rough. But I’m hoping you might have something good to add to help us prepare.

What do you think? Do you have any feedback, thoughts, or ideas for our road trip?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

If you enjoyed reading this, here are all the posts from this road trip:

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36 thoughts on “When Life Gives You Lemons… Take a Road Trip!”

  1. I think that if you ask your Mom and Dad, most of these questions could be answered easily, since we have traveled most of the US by motorhome. We have all the tour books you need to find places of interest and KOA’s galore since be belong…

  2. Amazing minds, Jim. I’ve got a post coming out tomorrow announcing “The Great Escape”, our plans for a month-long RV trip. Hmmmm…are you spying on my computer while I’m writing my posts? I’d go with a mini-van, and would seriously consider a low-cost pop-up camper. I think the addition of the pop-up would make for a more enjoyable trip than trying to sleep in the back of a van. It’s only $, right? 🙂

    Have a great trip. I’m going offline until September to fully enjoy our road trip. We’ll catch up with you then.

  3. Pamela Trebour hill

    I see a number of popup towable campers with small kitchens and propane stoves on Facebook Marketplace, local Letgo.com and other local oriented sale sites. I’ve seen decent looking ones I would consider ( and I don’t camp!) ranging from under $2000 to as much as $30,000. The resale value of these types are pretty good, so you would probably recoup most of your investment.
    Whatever you choose, safe travels!

    1. Thanks, Pamela – I started checking these out a little more. We just talked about another option of getting a pop-up when we’re getting ready to leave from Texas. That way we wouldn’t have to figure out what to do with it until then (my brother’s HOA won’t allow them at his house) but we’d still have it for the bulk of the trip. Decisions, decisions! 🙂

  4. I would look into buying a older minivan that has good tires and suspension. Make sure it is checked out by an independent mechanic. I was just looking on cars.com and there are plenty of Toyota’s and Honda’s. You can drive it all around and when you are done sell it. The insurance should be pretty cheap. Make sure it has capability to tow if you want to haul anything.

    1. Thanks for the advice, Scott – we just went and actually looked at 2011 Suburban a little bit ago. The deal was too good to be true, but it was a start. We’re still not sure about minivans or SUVs since they both have pros and cons, but we’ll definitely aim for a hitch if possible.

  5. Hi Jim, This sounds like a great adventure. Some thoughts..
    1. Buy used vehicle, with some lightweight trailer capabilities. With an open end-date, you might need to rent longer than you expect.
    2. Rent small travel trailer; the supply of these seems better than the motor coaches.
    3. Camp along the way. However, book a couple of days ahead of your arrival because it is crowded this summer.

    1. I think you nailed a lot of what we’re leaning toward lately. We’re now thinking that buying an SUV or minivan is the way to go and we’re probably going to be doing some camping along the way. Thanks for the tip about booking ahead of time. I also like your idea of renting a travel trailer. We talked about buying one, but I didn’t even think about the idea of renting one – I’ll have to dig into that!

  6. Sounds like an adventure of a lifetime Jim!

    Back in my early 20’s, I did a six week coast-to-coast road trip in a van with my mother and sister. It truly was an amazing experience! Logistically we stayed at a KOA every second night and back in the day, would park on a residential street on other nights. The Walmart parking lots would definitely be a better option.

    Just a thought, if you were to purchase a van, could you later drive it to Panama? That would save on airfare and provide a vehicle.

    1. That sounds like a cool trip, Shannon! I like how you parked on city streets – creative! Yeah, I think the Walmart parking lots might be a better option now. 🙂

      I like the thinking on being able to take a vehicle down to Panama later but we wouldn’t do that for a couple of reasons. The first is that driving through Mexico isn’t high on my list of things to do – I’ve heard some stories that make me want to take a pass on that. But even if we did, they aren’t very familiar with working on U.S. vehicles in Panama. It can end up being really costly and take a long time for them to get replacement parts, too. It’s usually much better to just buy cars there than to bring one there.

  7. On our road trip to Alaska we slept in the back of the minivan. We’d rock up to the local river or lake for a dip to clean off. You’d have the advantage that your bodies of water won’t be glacier-fed!

    1. That’s awesome, Caro, even though I could only imagine how cold that water would have been! When we visit my cousin up at Kelleys Island, every day or so, he grabs some shampoo and heads over to Lake Erie to take a “lake bath.” Somehow I don’t think that Lake Erie water is helping him get any cleaner but to each their own, right?! 🙂 Maybe we’ll find some good spots along the way while camping for some of our own cool-offs though.

  8. Hi Jim:
    Wow..car camping in the car. We did that stuff when we were 25 and just the two of us! 🙂
    Although I would probably try to rent a Type B (or C?), I understand your desire for a van/mini-van. But I can tell you that with the 3 of you, it’s going to be a tight squeeze. Perhaps a tent would be better?
    The real thing I wanted to chat about was the “road trip” idea. I think it’s great, but given my (very) recent experiences, it may not be all you think it is cracked up to be. In the last 3 months, my wife and I have taken 3 road trips ranging from 3 days to 5 days.

    The most recent was in Wyoming and South Dakota. We’ve also covered Colorado and New Mexico. Most recently what we found was a pretty large disregard for masks, a lot of folks not doing any type of social distancing, and -massive- crowds of people! We’ve stopped at a lot of rest stops on Interstates and highways and found them to be either mobbed with people or closed. Yes, closed. No services. And no indication of that until you get there.

    There have been a few “OMG I can’t believe that person is doing that!” in these Covid-19 times, but mostly we found that it was difficult to “go” to any place, venue, monument, national park, etc., without running into a LOT of people. And most of these hoards of people generally haven’t been doing a great job of masking or keeping distance. Maybe we are more paranoid that you (or others!) but we really did feel uncomfortable, enough times that we cancelled a 2-week road trip we had planned.

    Our plan was driving (Prius Prime) and hotel’ing. Colorado to Sioux Falls, SD, to Minneapolis, MN, to Milwaukee, WI, and back home again. From our other shorter road trips we realized that many of the places we would want to stop and see/visit would be mobbed and a lot unmasked. The trails at most national forests and parks, at least those that are easily accessible are packed with folks. We have found that a lot of hotels do a good job of talking about safety and cleaning, etc., but a lot are only giving lip service. Enough so that, given the recent large up-ticks in cases, we decided not to take the trip. 🙁

    So I know I sound like a wet blanket, and I’m really not trying to be. I just want to make sure you realize that unless you are comfortable around a lot of people, some masked and some not, and a lot that can’t tell the difference between 1 foot and 6 feet, you may not have a pleasant time. We have spent a lot of time reading Google reviews of venues, parks, forests, trails, etc., specifically looking at RECENT reviews to see what people are saying about how crowed a place is.

    Personally, a think a road trip is a great idea! Seriously! But perhaps its more driving around than visiting places. Or consider a Class-B you can grocery shop and cook at your whim.

    And of course, just so I can be hypocritical, we are ourselves driving from Denver to Milwaukee and then to Sioux Falls at the end of this month. But the drive is not to explore or “get out”, but rather to visit our son/daughter-in-law and then drop our car off at a friend’s house right before we move to Spain for a year or so.

    Whatever you decide, have fun! 🙂

    1. Thanks for all the good info, Jim. Yeah, all the people and disregard of masks can be a real put-off for things like overnight camping. Hopefully, we won’t have as much of that during the week (we’ll definitely avoid it on the weekends though!), but with so many people doing road trips right now, my expectations are low.

      All we can do is give it a shot and see how it goes. If we’re not feeling comfortable with things, we’ll cut it short or figure out other options along the way instead.

      Have fun on your trip from Denver to Milwaukee to Sioux Falls! And of course, good luck on your move to Spain!

    1. Haha, that could have been one of your great stock picks!

      One day we’ll get up to the Pacific Northwest – it’s not on our agenda for this trip, but I’ve heard that’s a great area of the country. Keep your couch ready for me!

  9. please visit new mexico, great state parks and white sands is out of this world. We had the opportunity fly in and take a road trip up to santa fe and down to white sands.

  10. Make sure you understand state COVID-19 restrictions. Example: New Mexico requires self-quarantining for 14 days or the duration of your stay if it’s less than 14 days. So you won’t get a chance to explore any of the beauty unless you are planning more than two weeks there.

    That being said – sounds like a good solution in these crazy times. Will look forward to learning from your experiences.

    1. That’s good to know, JB. I didn’t realize that there were quarantine rules in place for states just from traveling through. Thanks for the link – I’ll be sure to pull up links for any states we’re planning on visiting. What a mess this pandemic is from start to finish!

  11. Jim-
    Sounds like fun. Our family rented an RV a few years ago and we had a blast. We’ve also road tripped around in a car for a few weeks. The key is keeping the driving hours down to 4-8 hours a day…better on the 4 hr side if you’re not in an RV. It’s much more relaxing that way. If you have an RV it’s easy to go 10+ hrs of driving at a time.

    Have you considered a pickup with a camper shell? They’re more expensive but they are waaay easier to pack up if you’re frequently camping and you can sleep in the back if need be.


    1. Great advice! We’ll probably push things on some days to do 8 hours a day during the first leg, but for most of the trip, we’ll definitely be stopping to smell the roses. 4-6 hours might be the sweet spot for us.

      That’s funny you mention the pickup truck. I’m now noticing that I stare at every vehicle on the road while we’re out and about trying to figure out if their vehicle would work for us. Just yesterday, I threw out the idea of a pickup truck with a cap. Then I dismissed it because the bed might be too small for me to sleep in. I never knew they made camper shells though. I just Googled that and that could be something that might work for us. We’ll have to throw that into the hopper of choices – thanks for the recommendation!

  12. Have fun! Our road trips were great because it wasn’t very busy. We had plenty of space for distancing. Even the restaurants were pretty good. We ordered takeout most of the time.
    Sleeping in the car sounds good to me. We haven’t tried that, but I’m thinking about it. Maybe we can squeeze in one more trip in August. 🙂 Enjoy!

    1. That’s great it wasn’t too busy – that’s the part of things that I’ll be really attentive to. If it’s too busy, I have a feeling we’ll bow out of a lot of things. Takeout’s the way to go on restaurants – I’m sure we’d only dine-in if things are well-spaced out outside at a place.

      I’ll let you know how sleeping in the car goes for us. I’m sure it won’t be anywhere near sleeping at a hotel, but is it doable? Guess we’ll find out! 🙂

  13. Do you anticipate running into problems with the individual state quarantine rules? Ohio is on a number of 14 day lists and Texas is on Ohio’s list. I recently moved from Cleveland to to Texas and to go back technical I have to quarantine for 14 days when arriving.

    1. I’m glad to hear from a number of readers that have mentioned this because it wasn’t something I had actually considered. We shouldn’t have much of a problem, particularly if we’re planning on spending most of our days and nights in the car, but we’ll need to be aware of the rules regardless. I mentioned it to Lisa a little bit ago and she’s making it her mission to map out the rules for each state we’ll be visiting. Good luck on your quarantine – we did that when we got back to the U.S. and that drags on after a while! 🙂

  14. I’ve done weekend camping in a minivan, with the rear seats taken out. There are lots of van modifications out there. Consider setting the mattress (es) on a platform to have storage underneath. Consider looking into camp showers, a black bag that heats in the sun and then just gravity drains.
    For me being anti-people in the pandemic, an RV seems an ideal solution. Bathroom and food contained. A bit of space to get away from each other for a few minutes. They can be rented, and some people keep theirs parked so much of the year, maybe you can find one for a decent rental price??

  15. Stephanie Chin

    Just did a Washington to California road trip and tons of people were sleeping at rest stops. And the cars were parked every other stall. Car social distancing? The farther from big cities we went the Les there was mask wearing. But overall it was less crowded than past trips. I’d suggest a teardrop trailer! Super light for towing behind regular cars and suvs. Also I roadtripped in a Lexus sedan Once and was so much more comfortable to drive.

    1. Haha, car social distancing – I love it! I’ll have to dig into the teardrop trailers to see if that’ll make sense for us for this trip. It’s crazy how many different options there are. I’m sure we’ll have some “shoulda, coulda, woulda” moments, but it’ll be fun regardless! 🙂

    1. Awesome! Thanks for the link, Aaron – I just bookmarked to check out a little later. I’ll add Carlsbad Caverns to our list of possible places to visit, too – hopefully, I can talk my brother and sister-in-law into that one!

  16. Neil Fradenburgh

    Hi Jim,
    I stumbled over here from a search I did regarding Google Voice. You gave some GREAT information that will help me with my situation. I have only skimmed your blog, but we may be able to share some knowledge regarding your road-trip. First of all: “iOverlander” App & web site. Invaluable resource for camping, roadside parking, boondocking, fuel, border crossings, etc.

    We are in a 24’ Class-C RV currently in Mexico. We started from U.S. last fall with the intention of reaching Panama, then returning within a year. Life had different ideas. We re-thunk our plans in El Salvador and went back to Guatemala for a long Covid layover. Now in beautiful Sayulita, Mexico until we figure out what’s next. All the best Neil & Victoria & la perra Zappa.

    1. Thanks for the tip – I actually just downloaded iOverlander a couple of days ago… seems pretty interesting. I also liked RV Parky which seems to be right up our alley.

      That sounds like one awesome road trip you’re making! Enjoy your time in Mexico – it looks like a beautiful area!

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