(the true love of my life)
*In this post I cover route, finances, reservations, spotify playlists (the important things) etc.*
8 months ago when Michaela Emerson and I decided to take this trip, I was happily surprised to find she is just as anal about the preparation process for a trip as I am. The first step was creating a folder on Google Drive (the true love of my life) entitled, "Yosemite, Portland, Bears oh my!".
We spent the next 4 months slowly but surely filling that folder with ideas and plans. There was a budgeting excel spreadsheet, an outline of our whole schedule (and I mean the WHOLE schedule), a packing list, and another sheet filled with specific information on activities to do in Portland since that would be our longest stay.
Ok. So first step before ANYTHING ELSE can get done is a route. We needed to map out the best way to get to Portland, where we wanted to stop and explore, how many hours we wanted to drive in a day etc. We essentially created a wish-list.
Besides Portland the only thing we had agreed on was camping in Yosemite. We needed to fill the rest of our schedule. The only way to do that is to pull out a good old-fashioned map and see what was on the way. We looked up pictures of all the National Parks on the way to see what excited us the most. Sequoia National Forest looked decent, Joshua Tree wasn't that far from us so we could stop there first, Death Valley is intriguing for sure etc. We added all those to our route and then filled the wholes with classic and convenient destinations such as Sacramento and San Francisco.
I feel like the two most important aspects of this folder was the budget and the schedule. Now we are not rich ladies - so looking at the finances so far ahead was key (and you best believe I still had to put some things on my credit card - but it was worth it).
After lots of math and lots of estimations, we came up with this approximate budget. In order to come up with this number we did all of the research on airbnbs, campground reservations, gas prices + miles going to be traveled, food + lots of eating out, etc.
Let me break down how we got this total. *keep in mind this does not include spending like our train ticket to San Fran, thrift shop spending etc* We knew a big part of our costs was going to be places to stay - whether that be a hotel or airbnb. In comparison, the campground reservations are fairly inexpensive so we weren't too worried about that.
Ok, so with finances in mind we did some research. We very quickly realized hotels are *in general* crappy deals. Specifically for our scenario at least. Airbnb was the way to go, for sure. Hotels were almost across the board more expensive even though airbnbs clearly offer more amenities. We could shower with some real shampoo and conditioner that wasn't in one-inch bottles and brew some free coffee afterward without having to worry about our upstair neighbors stomping around - it was a no-brainer. I HIGHLY recommend using airbnb. We had nothing but wonderful experiences with each homeowner and we got the privacy and relaxation we needed. Each listing gives you specifics on the amenities, location, safety etc. Plus some of them are so goshdarn cute.
We booked with airbnb in Sacramento, Portland, & Concord. The rest were campground reservations - which I will go over in case anyone has been fearful of the National Parks website and how to use it!
Here is what our schedule looked like! We included all our travel time, latitude & longitude of our campsites (pro-tip: it helps when you are trying to map to a specific campsite to use lat/long), and links to our airbnbs with any specific notes we would need.
Here are some pics from our airbnbs in Sacramento and Portland! So affordable for the areas they were in, and the owners definitely made them feel homey. The Portland one (with the blue bed and couch) had an adorable book for all the guests to write in. It was actually super fun to read everyone's experience.
USDA.gov has all the info you need, but physically making the reservation may re-route you to a different site. For example, when we went to find a campground to reserve in Sequoia National Forest it had a wonderful page with a map that laid out three different areas in Sequoia National Forest that we could camp. Once we clicked on the area we wanted to camp in (Kern River Ranger District), then when we scrolled down there was a section that listed links for info on different activities: fishing, biking, camping & cabins, horse-back riding etc. We clicked on Camping & Cabins and it took a us to a page with info on all the different campgrounds.
This is essentially how we did most of our decision-making on the campground location and size that we wanted. We spent a lot of time on this site and ended up finding a few campground we would like. BUT THEN! When we went to book it the site sent us to this site:
Recreation.gov is where you will physically make the reservation for your campground after having you input specific things like arrival/departure date, amount of occupants, pets or no pets etc. It lets you know what's available and when. Because we were booking only a month in advance during the spring, a lot of campgrounds in Sequoia National Forest were already taken. We ended up paying $50 for a group campground reservation (Halfway Group Campground) meant for ten people when it was just going to be the two of us! Honestly, that was actually such a great perk. We had all this space and places to explore because there was so much distance between us and our camping neighbors due to having a group campsite. 10/10 would recommend.
a few pics from our campground in Sequoia National Forest
So next was booking our campground in Yosemite which is the same process! Once you play around with Recreation.gov and get an idea for how that site works, making a reservation should be fairly simple - it just seems overwhelming at first!
In Yosemite, we booked a campground in the Lower Pines which I would 100% do again. We happened to get one that was right next to the river and we were also camping in close-ish proximity with maybe 25 other groups of campers. Which when out in the wild like that after the Park Ranger has warned you about all the bears, it somehow makes you feel safer to have that many neighbors.
The photos of us by our tent, on our car, and by the river are all directly at our campsite.
So the one thing I want touch on for Yosemite is this incredible hike that we went on. We knew going into this trip that we were going to want to do some exploring. There is this wonderful app that I am sure you have already hear of called "AllTrails: Hike, Bike, & Run."
Since there are 500 different trails in Yosemite, finding one reasonably near our campsite that we could handle, and with all the views we wanted was going to be a challenge without a resource like this. AllTrails is sort of like Yelp for hiking, but on steroids. It has all trails listed, with a map, photos, reviews, and challenge level. We ended up going on the hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls which was labeled "moderate" and had a 5 star rating. It was a 6.4 mile loop and would take us up to some incredible waterfall views. Which was no lie.
The Vernal and Nevada Falls Trail can be a bit challenging because there are several different types of terrain. Be ready for some steep, wet hikes and bring lots and lots of water. Definitely bring a windbreaker to tie around your waist because you will get warm and then very wet and cold.
So our next stop after our adventures in Sequoia and Yosemite was Portland! We didn't really have any specific planning to do for Portland. We had a list of thrift shops and bars and touristy things we wanted to visit, but other than that there wasn't really anything we needed to plan for in advance since we were giving ourselves ample time to hang out there.
In terms of touristy places we visited: Voodoo, the Keep Portland Weird wall, Powells book store, and we tried to see some Cherry Blossom trees but they weren't in bloom.
In terms of thrifting we visited: Red Light, House of Vintage, Buffalo Exchange, and the Goodwill Bins.
In terms of bars we visited: White Owl, and two different Mcmenamins (LOVED Mcmeanamins btw)
After that was San Francisco. Because we were trying to be tight on our budget, we didn't want to stay directly in San Fran (the prices are BONKERS). We ended up getting an airbnb in Concord that was in walking distance to the BART station. It took a little research to make sure we were in a safe enough area to trust the walk to the station, but after we were sure of that we just needed to learn the train system there.
I would definitely recommend doing a day in San Fran the way we did. We saved a lot of money by staying somewhere else, taking the train, and walking everywhere in San Fran. We ended up having a lovely one day trip at Pier 39 and walking around.
So next would be Death Valley. Unfortunately this is where I will fail you all. We thought we could just drive into Death Valley and find a campground that evening, because everything online had made it seem like it was fairly easy to find a place to campout without having to make reservations. If you read my earlier blog post about this trip, Michaela and I ended up just watching the sunset there and then driving back into LA to crash at a friend's place.
That's all I have got for you on the budgeting, scheduling, reserving etc etc etc of my West Coast road trip! I thought I would leave you with something fun, our 10/10 Spotify playlist from our trip. I promise it's filled with only absolute bops (Michaela and I are weirdos so keep that in mind). It really is the ultimate road trip playlist (: Thank you all so much! If this was helpful or if you have any other specific questions for me PLEASE comment below! I wanna know your thoughts.