Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes

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Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes

In 2020, we bought a 2012 Honda Pilot and took off across the country for over a month. Even though we were planning a road trip this big, we didn’t focus too much on every detail.

Instead, the goal was simple – take advantage of the less empty roads and sites during the pandemic and tour the country. Sometimes we’d sleep in the back of the Pilot, other times we’d do some tent camping, and periodically we could stay the night at a hotel.

And that was it. We only brought the essentials and our family of three headed out on an adventure.

It turned out to be an amazing time with a ton of great memories! We spent 40 days throughout this trip going to various places throughout the country and had a blast.

You can read more about that cross-country trip in my 2020 road trip series:

I don’t think we expected this whole thing to go as smoothly and wonderful as it did. But when you’re barely planning a road trip, there will always be some lessons to be learned.

In this case, we didn’t have too many items on our correction of errors list, but there were a few simple but important changes we wanted to make.

As I type this, we’re now on another month-long road trip that I’m excited to share with you. I’ll tell you where we’re headed and why we did a few things differently when planning a road trip this time around.

Planning a road trip… take 2! Our plans for this trip

First off, bear in mind that everyone has their own mindset on what’s “right and wrong” when planning a road trip. Some folks want to just pack a few things in the car and stay at hotels along the way. Others want either the full RV or a fifth-wheel RV trailer to bring their home with them. And then there are so many levels between those extremes.

In our case, we fell in the middle. Staying at 30 hotels just isn’t within our budget (though we will stay at many of them for free!). An RV is even more expensive with the initial cost, maintenance, and gas prices. We just wanted to get out there and enjoy what this beautiful country of ours has to offer without breaking the bank.

So we opted for buying a used car the three of us could sleep in knowing full well that it wouldn’t be extremely comfortable (we didn’t own a car since we were living in Panama at the time for the past few years). However, the plan was to do mostly tent camping and just to be able to sleep in the car periodically to catch a decent amount of sleep here and there.

Surprisingly, that served us extremely well for our 2020 road trip, so we decided to use the same strategy while planning a road trip again. Not having an RV or fifth-wheel is good with the current state of gas prices, too!

Plus, it’s nice to be nimble. It gives us more flexibility to get in and out of places we might not be able to otherwise.

Here’s the work in progress of this 2022 road trip route that began a few days ago…

Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes - Our 2022 Road Trip Plan

The first half of this trip is firmer than the second half, That’s because there are several places we already have in mind to see including:

We’ll be staying at some of these places for a few days or more and just move on when we’re ready. The points after Las Vegas are just some random sites we noted but our route may change quite a bit by the time that rolls around.

I’ll write some other posts about where we actually went, what we saw and did, and the good and bad of everything as the trip goes on.

But for now, let’s talk about what we’re doing differently on this cross-country road trip based on what we learned from our last time around…

1) We need a little more space

Remember my point earlier about being a lot more nimble in an SUV versus an RV? It’s absolutely true but it comes at a cost – we don’t have a lot of room for things.

And although we try to pack light, it’s still difficult to bring food, water, clothes, etc., and still have room for the three of us in the vehicle. Last time, we did use a cargo carrier similar to this one and that was extremely helpful.

Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes - 2012 Honda Pilot with cargo carrier

But the cooler was always in the sun so we were constantly needing to buy ice. And anytime we wanted anything out of the bin or cooler, we needed to dismantle (and then later reassemble) our bungee cord fun. And yes, we should have used rachet tie-downs regardless.

That wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a minor annoyance nonetheless.

And you can imagine how packed everything was in the car so finding what we were looking for routinely proved to be a fun mission.

Essentially, we wanted some more space… but just a little bit more! So while planning a road trip like this current one, we were also on the hunt to buy or rent a small trailer. That was no easy chore since they’ve all been stupidly pricey lately.

Luckily, my parents let me use one they had. I would have liked a low-profile trailer and this is slightly bigger than I wanted, but how can you argue with free? Well, sort of free. I bought new wheels for it and my stepdad and I spent the day working on getting the trailer cleaned up and usable and getting the wheels installed

We also set up the wiring harness on the car for the trailer. Yes, even though our 2012 Honda Pilot came with a hitch receiver, Honda didn’t include a pre-installed wiring harness needed for the trailer lights.

So I bought a CURT Custom 4-Pin Trailer Wiring Harness and a CURT 4-Way Flat Trailer Wiring Adapter, followed this installation video, and we were able to get it working. We now have a working trailer granting us some more room for the road trip.

We lost just a little bit of our nimbleness and pushed up our cost per mile in fuel somewhat, but I think it was worth it overall.

Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes - 2012 Honda Pilot and cargo trailer

That extra space also helped us solve the next two issues as well.

2) Sleeping on an air mattress is for the birds!

When planning a road trip the first time around, we made the mistake of getting a mattress that was 18″ tall just because we didn’t even think about it at the time. On our first use of it, I got claustrophobic, set off the car alarm, and we knew it was time to get a different one. So we got a much shorter air mattress.

However, an air mattress is an air mattress. They’re not regular beds and they’re tough to get comfortable on. Now picture three people crammed in the back of a Honda Pilot on one of these. Anytime someone would roll over to get comfortable, the air mattress would make a bunch of noise and send a wave of air floating across to the other side, and instantly, the other two people would wake up. Shortly after, the next person would do the same. And this would be all night.

The other issue that the air mattress caused was more work. There were a few times when we would arrive at a place like a Cracker Barrell where we just wanted to spend a quick night in the car. We’d usually get there in the evening and then need to rush to move everything from the back of the car to the front of the car since it would still need to be locked up. Then we’d have to get the mattress blown up, the bed made, and dinner ready. This would be a rush each time to try to get done before dark.

The small cargo trailer helped solve this problem. First, we’re able to simply keep most everything in it and that means not moving everything from the back to the front of the car each time.

Second, we have more room in the Pilot now. And with that extra room, we brought a regular mattress with us. That’s right, we took Faith’s old bedroom mattress (a full) and it fits snugly in the back to sleep on.

Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes - 2012 Honda Pilot bed... take 2!
So much nicer to sleep on a real mattress rather than the air mattress! Do you like the privacy curtains we made?

When it’s not in use, we can fold it in half longways and then use ratchet tie-down straps to save some room. We put one seat down next to Faith and the mattress goes from the back of the car right up to the back of the passenger seat.

So now, when we get to a place we want an overnight at, it’s easy to just unstrap the mattress, make the bed, and call it a day… literally. Most importantly, we can then get a much better night of sleep on a regular mattress versus an air mattress.

Again, we’re spending most nights camping in a tent as well as a handful of nights in hotels. However, this makes sleeping in the car here and there a much more appealing option as needed!

3) Bring the bathroom with you

The other minor problem we had also usually involved the quick one-nighters in the car. When planning a road trip like the kind we do, you might not think too much about the bathrooms and how that will work.

With our 2020 road trip, we envisioned sleeping in Walmart Supercenter parking lots here and there. Because they’re open 24 hours, if you’ve got to pee, you head inside whenever you need to and do your thing.

What we didn’t anticipate was that with the pandemic, Walmart shortened the hours of most – if not all – of their supercenter stores. That meant that from usually 11 pm until 6 or 7 am, you were on your own. We made it work though and would just pee right before the place we were staying was closing.

But when you gotta go, you gotta go. The same goes for when you’re camping or even on the road. Being a guy, it’s a little easier for me to stealthily do a #1 than it is for Lisa and Faith.

So this time around, we did a few things differently:

  1. Set up space in the trailer for our portable toilet
  2. Bought a privacy tent for camping
  3. Bought “herinals” for Lisa and Faith

Set up space in the trailer for our portable toilet

We’ve used a simple portable toilet similar to this one from Amazon while camping for years now. It’s great for the girls to take care of a #1 when the campground bathrooms are gross or if it’s just late at night and they don’t want to walk down to the bathrooms.

But when we’re doing an overnight at a store or restaurant parking lot that allows it, you still can’t just set up shop in the parking lot and do your thing. So, I loaded the trailer in a way that we can easily shift a couple of things around when we park, and voila, an instant enclosed bathroom (I have a portable LED light in it for nighttime). As a side note, we use tear-free bags that attach to it that we can then dispose of when done.

Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes - Portable toilet in the cargo trailer

Simple, easy, and effective.

Bought a privacy tent for camping

Let’s say that we’re camping on a hot day and the bathrooms at the campgrounds are disgusting or even non-existent. We now have a pop-up privacy tent we bought on Amazon to use along with our portable toilet.

It’s a little easier and hopefully not as hot as locking yourself into the back of a cargo trailer to do your business. It also folds down nicely and weighs next to nothing so it doesn’t add anything to bring it along on this trip.

Bought “herinals” for Lisa and Faith

They go “herinal”, “she-wee”, “she-pee”, and all sorts of other creative names! If you’re unfamiliar, it’s just a device to allow women to pee standing up like a guy. We can’t even have that uniqueness anymore! 😉

We bought a 2 Pack Reusable Silicone Portable Lady Urinal and, after trying it out, the girls are now able to pee just as freely as us guys can… what a country!

Whether we’re hiking or just sitting around a campfire, the girls are equipped to take care of a #1 now whenever needed.

4) Planning a road trip BONUS – get a dash cam!

This last one didn’t turn out to be a mistake from our previous trip, but it easily could have, so I’m sharing it with you as a bonus for when you’re planning a road trip.

If you don’t have a dash cam in your car, it’s time to consider fixing that problem. I used to just consider these a novelty but I’ve changed my opinion on them lately after learning just how critical they can be.

For your own protection, a dash cam can easily pay for itself many times over.

  • If you get hit by a car and the other driver claims it was your fault, you now have proof to show what really happened.
  • If you get a ticket for running a red light and you’re sure you didn’t, check the footage.
  • Someone hits your car while you’re not in it whether at the grocery store or on the street while you’re visiting a friend… you got it – check the camera for a plate number.

There are a million reasons why this can be important and you won’t realize you should have gotten one until after you would have already needed it.

I spent waaaaaay too much time researching the best one to get without breaking the bank as I always do on things. Finally, I settled on the Viofo A129 Plus Duo dash cam.

Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes - Viofo A129 Plus Duo dash cam
She’s so pretty, right? The screen doesn’t normally stay on to prevent distraction – I just turned it on for this photo.

I liked it because it’ll record in high def, it includes both a front and rear camera, it’s reasonably priced, and it’s highly recommended in the Reddit dash cam subreddit. I also like that it has an emergency type of button on the front you can easily press to lock the current video being recorded so it won’t overwrite it.

It’ll also automatically switch to parking mode to start recording once an event is detected with this additional hardware kit that was pretty easy to install. It can monitor your car battery, too, so if it notices that the battery level drops too much, it’ll shut itself off so it doesn’t drain it to the point you can’t start your car.

And then, I decided to go with a brand new higher-end SD card that Samsung just released for dash cams. It’s the Samsung PRO Endurance 256GB MicroSDXC Memory Card.

I’ve been very happy with this dash cam and it gives me a little more feeling of security knowing that I have it installed.

Whether you choose this one or another, I’d recommend considering getting one for peace of mind.

There you go, folks – a few lessons we’ve implemented based on what we learned from our last big trip. Planning a road trip can be a ton of fun – almost as much fun as the trip itself! Go out there and enjoy the world!

You can read our entire 2022 summer road trip series here:

Do you have any big road trip plans or other fun going on this summer?

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

12 thoughts on “Planning a Road Trip… Learning From 3 Simple Mistakes”

  1. I don’t have one but the way you are travelling, you might want to look into pop up campers. I guess used ones aren’t very expensive at all and you would have a lot more room. Just an idea….

    1. You and Lisa are on the same page – that’s something she was suggesting while we were planning this. We decided against it for a few reasons – the biggest being that they were actually a little hard to come by at a reasonable price lately for whatever reason. But we also liked that we could just sleep in the back of the car wherever without much hassle.

      That said, we were just joking about it the other day and said, “We’ll probably end up with a pop-up for the next trip, a fifth wheel following that, then end up with a monster RV down the road!” ?

  2. Sounds like a great road trip. Enjoy!
    We’re going on a road trip to California soon. Hotels are so expensive now! It’s pretty crazy.
    So we’re mostly staying with friends and families this time. Camping would be okay, but my wife doesn’t like to pack and pitch the tent too often. Just once per trip is enough. So we just camp when we go on a camping trip.

    1. You’re right about hotel prices… kinda out of hand in a lot of places! I’ve found that the Priceline app seems to beat almost all other sites and apps a good majority of the time – and usually by a pretty good amount, too.

      Have a fantastic trip to California!

  3. Heya Jim, these all sound like great improvements. I can’t wait to hear about your latest road trip!

    FYI: I bought the exact same dashcam. It’s worked great for us so far! No accidents, but I like the idea of having additional evidence if something happens.

    Good luck on the road trip! Drive safe!

    1. That’s cool on the same dash cam model – great minds, right?! ? 100% agree on having it just in case for the evidence. It’s the same as buying insurance – you hope you’ll never use it but you’ll be glad you have it if you need it!

  4. Sounds like a great road trip. A portable toilet? Now that’s some serious business!!!

    A dashcam is also a good idea! Can’t wait for your trip reports.

  5. I love a good adventure story and this was very good, with educational content to boot, thank you for sharing; great content

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