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May 13 2011

Planning the Route for a Road Trip

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You don’t want to plan the entirety of your route.  You don’t want to know right now where you’re going to stop each night, which hotels you’re going to stay at.  But there are some plans you have to make.

Take me, for example.  My road trip begins and ends in blighty.  We have to travel to and from the US, and that means flights.  Herself doesn’t like flying, and I like as much comfort as possible when it comes to long haul.  What this means is that we want to ensure we don’t go on a journey with a flight that requires multiple legs.  We’ve decided that our trip will involve the west coast – and the two obvious places to fly to or from are Seattle and LA.  So first we needed to considered the airlines that fly direct from london to Los Angeles and direct from London to Seattle.

London to LA

  • Continental
  • United
  • BMI
  • British Airways
  • Iberia
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Condor
  • American Airlines
  • Air New Zealand

London To Seattle (SEA-TAC)

  • British Airways
  • Condor

When it comes to flights, I’ve had bad experiences with Continental and American.  But more to the point, I’ve had my best experiences with BA and Virgin.  At the time I was making these plans, BA had some problems with the risk of strikes, which – as I wasn’t able to rely on a travel agent to take the fall – counted against them.  The risk of strikes seems to be diminished now, so BA or Virgin – the choice is yours.

In any event, I chose Virgin Atlantic.  Which means my flights in and out of the US will go to LAX.  This is gong to be important when it comes to planning the route.

Another thing to consider, when it comes to Virgin, is whether or not to upgrade.  Its a long flight, so its worth thinking about if you can afford it.  Something to consider:  on the way from London to LA, you tend to travel at quite reasonable hours – and when you reach the US, its still a reasonable time of day – so you can get yourself to a hotel easily enough.  But on the way back to the UK, you fly over night.  Which means trying to sleep on the plane.  While noise cancelling headphones help, a decent sized seat helps more.  So Premium Economy on the way home is good.

I also quite like to stay at a hotel in Heathrow when I get back from the west coast, rather than doing the drive straight home – to arrange this, getting a flight that leaves the US late and arrives in the UK mid-afternoon is best.  In fact, the whole airport hotel idea is good for first nights in general.  So I plan on booking an airport hotel in LA for my first night there too.

The next problem – since we were both arriving and leaving from LAX – this would affect the route.  I saw 3 possibilities

  • Take the same route there and back.  Not particularly attractive
  • Take a round trip
  • Do something a bit different

My original plan was to take a round trip, but as I researched this a better alternative came up – if we were doing planes and automobiles, we may as well do trains too.  And a little more research showed that the Amtrak Coast Starlight was a fantastic route.  We would let the train take the strain up to Seattle, then drive slowly on our way back.

This meant we knew the two ends of our road trip, and a quick trip to google maps suggested a 19 hour drive down the I5.  I figure that a relaxing day of road tripping shouldn’t involve more than 7 hours driving, so our shortest rout would take 3 days.  A bit of fiddling with the route planning, and it became clear we could get interesting rotes taking 5 to 6 days.  Which was more what we were looking for.

There wasn’t any need to plan the rout much beyond this – we knew we wanted a few days in LA before flying home, it was clear the whole trip would make for a good fortnight.

You can see more about this as I plan a road trip route from Seattle to Los Angeles

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