How to Plan an Epic Weekend Adventure

Think 2 days instead enough time to have an awesome adventure?  Think again! (dun dun dun!)

It's easy to feel like you can't be adventurous when you're bogged down by the Monday - Friday work life.  I totally get it - I've been there.  Heck, sometimes I'm still there.  But today I want to help you make the most of your weekends by planning ahead and creating an epic weekend adventure.

*(Important Note: This can be used for a weekend getaway to a city, a camping trip, or any kind of adventure)*

1. Make a list of places that are 1-3hrs from you.

Where could you be if you drove 1-4hrs from your house?  Or if you took a train / bus?  Or if you hopped on a quick flight?  Do some Googling, hop on Google Maps, jump on Pinterest: research the living daylights out of your region. 

Make a list of all of the places you could be.  Then order then based on interest and note the duration of travel necessary.  You can come back to this list at any point to plan future adventures - yay!

2. Pick your #1 and begin your research

After you've made your list, pick the place you're most interested in and begin researching about that place.  Things to consider:

  • Is it expensive?
  • What's the weather like there?
  • What will be my mode of transportation (how will I get there and how will I get around once I am there?)
  • How long does it take to get there?
  • What are my accommodation options?
  • What are some of the most popular things to see or do?
  • Are there specific spots I should see the sunrise or the sunset?
  • Is there a seasonal event or activity taking place?

3. Think about your budget

Are you looking to do this on a shoestring budget or can you afford to splurge?  Keep in mind that this is a 48-hour trip.

If you're on a shoestring budget, you may want to consider camping, packing pre-made meals (make these at home the night before you leave), and doing free activities.  If you're visiting a city, you may want to stay in a hostel and/or do some grocery shopping instead of dining out.

If you're in the mood to splurge, consider your hotel / rental options (or Airbnb if that's your thing), research places to eat, and consider any extra expenses that may incur from activities you're interested in.

Tally up an estimate of what you think the trip will cost.  If it's financially too much for you, consider another location on your list from #1.  If you think it's something you can swing, then great!  Keep chugging along!

4. How will you get there?

Consider how you will get to your destination and what the cost will be.  Do you need to book a plane, train, or bus?  Research fares and keep an eye on them as you plan.

If you're driving, will you need to rent a car?  Or will you take a personal car?  If you plan on taking a personal car, make sure the car is in good shape before hitting the road (ie: oil change, tire rotation, etc).

5. Pick your activities

Spend time on travel sites, Pinterest, and blogs reading about the top activities at your destination.  I usually keep tabs on each activity by creating a Word Document with any info that may serve me later - IE: cost, location, hours of operation, average duration of visit, etc.  It doesn't have to be super organized at first - just get started!

Another good idea is to start collecting potential places to eat (if you plan on dining out), coffee shops, etc.

Once you've got a good list going and you feel like you've done enough research, order the activities from top to lowest priority.  

Now you can work on plotting them on a map.

6. Plot them on a map

My go-to for planning trips is Google Maps.  If you've never used Google Maps in this way, follow these instructions:

Google Maps » Menu » Your Places » Maps » Create a map

This will allow you to plot points on a personal map based on your points of interest.  (Note: You can see an example of a map toward the end of this post)  The best part about this is that you can visually see how close or far different activities are from each other.  Make sure to also plot restaurants and eateries on your map.

Take note of activities that are close together - could they potentially be scheduled on the same day?  Are there places you're interested in eating at near the activities you want to do?

7. Schedule a timeline

If you haven't already researched how much time each activity will take, you should do that now.  Sometimes I google "average length of visit" for a specific place if I can't seem to find info on how long I can expect spend at a museum or tourist location.  Usually you can find this kind of information in a Tripadvisor or Yelp review if it's not readily available.

Once you gather all of that information, start figuring out how long it will take to get to each point of interest.  Start working this, along with the length of the activity, into your timeline.  Open up a new Word Document and start planning out each day (Saturday & Sunday).  Think about how early you want to leave your house on Saturday and how late you want to arrive back home on Sunday.  Factor those times in.

Make sure to account for mealtime - schedule in time for restaurants or making food (if you decide to go that route).

If there's a specific spot you want to be at for sunset, make sure you plan to be there in time on Saturday evening.  If there's a specific spot you want to be at for sunrise, make sure you plan enough time to wake up and drive there on Sunday morning.

An important thing to remember is not to over plan.  You will want to do spur of the moment activities or spend way more time than you thought at a specific place.  So make sure not to jam your schedule too tight.  I usually buffer in extra time for each activity for this exact reason.

8. Time permitting activities

For each trip, I always make a list of what I call "Time Permitting activities" (or TP).  Since I always buffer extra time into my trips, I occasionally end up with extra time and a curiosity to see more.  That's when the TP activities come in.

Make a list of activities you'd be interested in doing if you end up with extra time on your hands.  That way, if you're ahead of schedule you won't be scrambling to surf the internet for fun things to do because you'll already have a great list!

9. Pick your accommodations

If you haven't already come across information on places to stay, start racking up a list now.  Collect a list of campgrounds, hostels, Airbnb's, hotels, etc that interest you.  Plot them on your personalized Google Map from #6 and take note of their proximity to your activities.  Weigh your pros and cons for each place (location, price, comfortability, etc).  This may help sway you to choose one accommodation over another if you're struggling.

If needed, go back to your timeline and factor in travel time to your hotel on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Now go ahead and book your accommodation!

10. Book transportation tickets (if needed)

If you haven't already booked your plane, train, bus, or car... do this now!

11. Plan your meals (if needed)

If you're working under a shoestring budget, you may want to plan ahead with your meals to save time and frustration (read: being hangry!).  Plan some easy meals you can pack or make along the way.  Here's some ideas that are especially good for camping:

  • Tuna / salmon sandwiches (canned tuna or salmon, mayo packs)
  • Chicken salad sandwiches (canned chicken)
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Oatmeal
  • Canned soup
  • Instant noodles
  • Freeze-dried food

If you plan on doing some grocery shopping at your destination, make sure you make a plan of what your meals will be and what you will need to purchase.  I'm telling you from experience that this will help soooo much and save you from supermarket arguments with your travel companion.

12. Make a packing list

At least a week before the trip, I like to put together a packing list.  This is in case I need to pick anything up during the week, wash any clothes, or prep anything before we leave.  You can make a checklist Word Document to cross off the night of your packing.

If you need some help getting started, download this basic packing list I created that you can add to. (This list was created with a camping trip in mind, but feel free to tailor it to your needs!)

Now go on your adventure!

Be sure to take any necessary info (ie: meal plans, directions, etc) with you on paper in case you lose cell reception or your phone dies - both of which have totally happened to me and left me stuck!

 

field test: a sample trip

In order to show you exactly how I plan an epic weekend adventure, I decided to do a little field test and plan a spontaneous trip to Joshua Tree National Park.  It might come as a total shocker that I've never actually been to Joshua Tree National Park (Gasp!  I know, right?).  I've been to the area, but never actually inside the park.  So based on a trip Jesse and I wanted to take this spring, I've laid out a breakdown of my planning process.

Initial Research

  • Is it expensive? - No.  $15 entrance fee.
  • What's the weather like there? - If we go in April, the weather will be hot (80s-90s), sunny, very little wind, very dry.  Cooler temps (50s-60s) in the evening.
  • What will be my mode of transportation? - We will drive one of our cars.
  • How long does it take to get there? - 2.5hrs without traffic.
  • What are my accommodation options? - We are want to camp.  There are 8 campgrounds in the park.  There is also ample BLM land surrounding the park that we can camp on for free.
  • What are some of the most popular things to see or do?
    • Keys View
    • Skull Rock
    • Cholla Cactus Garden
    • Stargaze
    • Drive the main road
  • Are there specific spots I should see the sunrise or the sunset? - Keys View, Cholla Cactus Garden, Baker Dam.
  • Is there a seasonal event or activity taking place? - Wildflowers may be out and about!

Budget

We will be on a shoestring budget, since we're currently saving up for an international trip later this year.  Here's a rough budget based on this:

  • Accommodations: $15-$20
  • Food: $20
  • Gas: $35 (use Fueleconomy.gov to calculate)
  • Other: $15 (entrance fee)

Since there will be 2 of us taking the trip together, all of these expenses get divided in half.

Total Cost: $90 /2 = $45

Activities

  • Keys View (0.25mi, allow 30mins)
  • Hidden Valley Nature Trail (1mi, allow 1hr)
  • Skull Rock (1.7mi, allow 1-2hrs)
  • Arch Rock (0.5mi)
  • 49 Palms Oasis Trail (3mi, allow 2-3hrs)
  • Barker Dam (1.1mi, allow 1hr)
  • Ryan Mountain (3mi, allow 2hrs)
  • Cholla Cactus Garden (0.25mi, allow 30min)
  • Stargaze
  • Drive the main road (3-4hrs)

Additional helpful links: NPS Hiking, NPS Nature Trails

(these links have useful info for when I create my map)

Creating a Map

I've taken all of my activities and all of the possible campgrounds and dropped them on the map.  Take a look:

If you'd like to view the interactive version of this map you can check it out here.

Scheduling a Timeline

The first thing I do is put things in order based on how I see them on the map.  Then I start factoring in how much time it will take to travel to each place (use Google Maps to figure this out and get directions), the time allotted there, and so on.  Then I start buffering in time throughout in case I get behind schedule at any point.

Tip: use SunriseSunset.com to figure out what time you need to be at your sunrise or sunset destination.

Saturday:

  • 6:00AM - Wake up, pack the car (it takes forever to pack the car for camping)
  • 8:00AM - Hit the road, eat breakfast as we drive
  • 10:30AM - Arrive at Joshua Tree Visitor's Center
  • 11:30AM - Leave the Visitor's Center, enter the park and start driving the main road toward Hidden Valley Nature Trail (26min drive) - buffered in time to make stops and take photos
  • 12:15pm - Arrive at Hidden Valley Nature Trail, eat lunch
  • 12:30pm - Begin the Hidden Valley Nature Trail
  • 1:30pm - Leave Hidden Valley Nature Trail for Barker Dam (7min drive)
  • 1:40pm - Arrive at Barker Dam
  • 2:40pm - Leave Barker Dam for Skull Rock (18min drive)
  • 3:00pm - Arrive at Skull Rock
  • 4:20pm - Leave Skull Rock for White Tank Campground (10min drive)
  • 4:30pm - Check in at White Tank Campground
  • 4:45pm - Drive the main road from White Tank Campground to Cottonwood Visitor's Center (42min drive)
  • 5:50pm - Leave Cottonwood Visitor's Center and drive to Keys View (1hr 10min drive)
  • 7:00pm - Arrive at Keys View for sunset at 7:19pm
  • 7:30pm - Leave Keys View for White Tank Campground (30min drive)
  • 8:00pm - Arrive back to White Tank Campground
  • Dinner & Stargazing

Sunday:

  • 5:00am - Wake up
  • 5:30am - Leave for Cholla Cactus Garden (12min drive)
  • 5:45am - Arrive at Cholla Cactus Garden for sunrise at 6:10am
  • 6:30am - Eat breakfast (make breakfast in the Cholla Cactus Garden parking lot)
  • 7:00am - Leave Cholla Cactus Garden for Ryan Mountain (27min drive)
  • 7:30am - Arrive at Ryan Mountain
  • 9:30am - Finish Ryan Mountain hike, drive back to White Tank Campground to pack up and check out (18min drive)
  • 10am - Arrive back to White Tank Campground
  • 11am - Check out of White Tank Campground and hike Arch Rock
  • 11:30am - Leave Arch Rock and head to 49 Palms Oasis Trail (30min drive)
  • 12:00am - Arrive at 49 Palms Oasis Trail, pack a lunch and eat it on the trail
  • 3:00pm - Finish 49 Palms Oasis Trail
  • 3:00pm - 4:00pm - TP activities
  • 4:00pm - Leave the park and head for home
  • 6:30pm - Arrive back home, time to unpack!

TP Activities

  • Visit Keys View a second time
  • Cap Rock (0.4mi)
  • Oasis of Mara (0.5mi)
  • Drive around some more and take fun photos

Accommodation

As you can see from my timeline, I felt that White Tank Campground was the most centrally located campground, so I went with that one.  Since I can't book a reservation ahead of time, I'll have to hope I can snag a spot when I arrive.

My backup plan is another campground or BLM land to the south of the park.

Meal Plan

Saturday:

  • Breakfast - grab something from home
  • Lunch - tuna sandwich
  • Dinner - canned soup & spam masubis (a camping favorite!)
  • Snacks - clif bars, granola bars, beef jerky, nuts, veggie chips

Sunday:

  • Breakfast - oatmeal, tea
  • Lunch - peanut butter & jelly sandwich
  • Snacks - clif bars, granola bars, beef jerky, nuts, veggie chips

Packing List

Using this packing list I created, I added food items, cooking items, and additional camping items we enjoy using.

and that's it!

This seems like a lot of information initially, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature and is super easy to plan a weekend trip.  Don't let the length of this post dissuade you!  

If you have any questions, please let me know!