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Deciding to take a 50 state tour across America was the most exhilarating and daunting decision of my life. (Don’t worry Heath, deciding to marry you was still the best decision I’ve made!) I had no idea how to start to plan a road trip across the US and I really had no clue what I should do in each state. I mean, North Dakota? What on earth am I going to do in North Dakota?
So like any 23-year-old girl, I hopped on Pinterest and found my board where I pinned all of my travel inspiration. [For travel inspiration, you can view my Pinterest board “Travel Things” here.] I know when it comes to planning a road trip, Pinterest isn’t the number one source that comes to mind. But most of the awesome places I’ve visited in the past two years of RVing full-time I’ve found because of Pinterest, like this awesome sight on the coast of Oregon:
Nanoseconds after this shot, I turned and clamored up the rocks to try to avoid the splash. And while my shoes are completely ruined and I reek of salt water, I’m reminded that the best moments in life only happen when you venture out of your comfort zone. #nofilter #oregon #roadtrip #hourlyamerica #rvlife
Totally gorgeous, right? The more we’ve traveled, the more we’ve uncovered little treasures across the country that we never heard of before. Searching with Pinterest and utilizing Google Maps helps us plan all our road trips and maximize what we see while we travel.
How to Pick Your Destinations
Looking at my past pins helped me kickstart my travel list with all the typical I’ve-always-wanted-to-go-there places like the Grand Canyon, Disneyworld, the Pacific Coast Highway, Yellowstone, Niagara Falls, etc. You know what you like. I love the mountains and the ocean, so my route is more focused on nature. You might have a tour of cities or want to follow the old Route 66. Whatever your interests, if you’ve been on Pinterest for any amount of time in the past, you probably have a good list going.
Now that I’ve started my list of stops, I need to see them all on a map to plot my route and find out if visiting all of these places will even be possible in a single road trip.
This is where Google comes in. If you have gmail account, which you probably do, you have access to Google Drive. I use Drive all the time to create and share documents, but the best feature of Drive is lesser known. It’s called Google My Maps. This is not Google Maps, but an app that allows you to create your own routes using Google Maps for free.
To create your map, visit your Google Drive. Click the big red “New” button on the left-hand menu and then click “More” at the bottom. The menu that pops up will include Google My Maps (Or you can go straight to My Maps here). Once you create your map, My Maps will open the typical map view that you see when visiting Google Maps, but instead of a box where you enter locations for directions, you have options to create layers.
I named my first layer “Pinteresting,” since this is where I’m gathering my travel info. (I usually create another layer later titled “Recommendations” since once you say you’re traveling, everyone has recommendations.) Now I’ll start adding to my map all the stops I already listed from my Pinterest. If you already have a travel bucket list, you can start adding these to the map too.
To drop my first pin, I pick one of the stops I saw on Pinterest and type into the search bar. Google will drop a lime green pin on the exact location you searched. Then you can add your own marker to remember that spot on the map. I like to add notes based on what I know about the area, like places to visit, things to do, costs, busy season, etc. You can also drop pins by eyeballing locations where you want to stop, like Las Vegas or San Francisco, which are clearly marked on the map.
After I’ve marked all the places from my Pinterest (Note: I haven’t actually searched anything yet) on the map, I look to see which areas of the country or bare, or which ones I missed completely. For me planning our fifty state tour in 2014, this was imperative because I needed to visit each state. For you, this may mean you’re looking for attractions and things to do while driving across South Dakota on your way to the Grand Tetons (If this is you, I highly recommend Oh My Cupcake! in Sioux Falls, Wall Drug, the Badlands, Mt Rushmore, and Crazy Horse).
This is when Pinterest becomes especially helpful. The best part about researching a trip on Pinterest is that the photos help you easily see if the place you’re looking at is the type of place you’d like to visit. I’ve found that Pinterest is typically more reliable than Google Images when it comes to showing you photos of the actual place you’re considering visiting.
For example, if I’m driving through Iowa and, for the record, I’m pretty certain there’s nothing to do in Iowa, I simply Pinterest search “Iowa”. Not even “things to do in Iowa” or “places to visit”, just the name of the state. Pinterest does a great job of curating relevant content whereas Google can give you an overwhelming number of articles to consider. Here’s the response I got from just the state’s name:
I’m already pumped to visit Iowa! Look at these caves and waterfalls! When I think of Iowa, I think of corn and thunderstorms. Most Americans probably wouldn’t be able to spot Iowa on the map, let alone tell you of anything to do there. Pinterest has given me lots of options to consider, plus the buttons at the top can help me filter based on my interests.
Completely unrelated story about Iowa: When Heath and I visited Iowa the first time, we were having severe issues with the RV and had to get down to Texas for RV repairs. It was the end of August, super hot, and we were in terrible moods because of our RV trouble! So our opinion of Iowa has been pretty low ever since. We are visiting the great state again this July to speak at the Grand National Rally for Winnebago and to be honest, I’ve been pretty bummed about it. Iowa in the summer? Been there, done that, it was hot and humid. Now that I’m checking out the state on Pinterest, I’m legitimately excited to go back and explore! (And praying that it isn’t too steamy!) Anyway, back to how you can plan your awesome route!
Now I have pictures and lists of all the best places to visit in Iowa, so I can start pinning them to my travel board. Then I’ll repeat the search process with any other states I’ll be visiting or passing through. The great thing about this is that Pinterest will store your pins indefinitely, so if you miss something on the road or want to remember stops for your next road trip, they will all be stored on your Pinterest board.
This is easily the most fun part of planning a road trip. You get to sit on Pinterest, look at pretty pictures, and daydream about all the awesome stuff you’ll see one you hit the road.
I went ahead and added a few pins based on my Iowa search to my 2016 travel map. For reference, here is our travel map for the entire year of 2016.
The different colors on my map relate to seasons: blue for winter, green for spring and summer, and red for the fall. The non-pin shapes indicate flights and our home base of Austin, Texas.
The Actual Road Trip Part
You’ll see on my map above that in addition to lots of pins, I’ve got blue lines connecting many of them. With Google My Maps, you can connect up to 10 destinations with directions. This will do two awesome things for you:
A) It will tell you the exact step-by-step directions for your road trip and
B) It will help you find detours and places to visit along the way.
For example, here’s the step-by-step directions for our summer road trip from Texas, to Colorado, to Canada, to Iowa, across to Oregon. I love how this also tells you the number of miles you’ll travel and how long it will take. We travel no more than six Google Maps hours a day, so now I know this road trip will call for at least two weeks of drive days.
When we initially made our map, our destinations for our summer trip were Texas to “somewhere where it isn’t hot” to Iowa to Oregon. Now, as you can see, we’ve added stops in a few different places in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Canada. After finding Banff National Park, Google My Maps showed me that we had to drive along the Rockies to get to Alberta. Then I was able to find minor but beautiful detours like La Veta, Colorado (pictured below), the Grand Tetons, and Glacier National Park using Pinterest.
We’re currently camping in Colorado for a few days before continuing on to Wyoming to visit the National Parks there. These little stops wouldn’t have made it on our route if we hadn’t been able to plot it so easily with Google My Maps and Pinterest.
This method of using Pinterest + Google My Maps is how I’ve been planning all of our road trips for the past two years. How do you typically plan your road trips? Was this helpful? Comment below and let me know.