After completing a 7 day road trip from San Marcos, Texas to San Diego, California with my two roommates, Alisa and Kelsey, I want to share some important tips and cool discoveries we found along the way. Long road trips with friends can definitely affect your relationship, and living together for a year has brought us pretty close together, but we were not fully aware of the challenges we would face on this trip. We are not your typical hardcore adventurers or campers, so if you are newbies like us then you might learn a thing or two from our experiences. If you’re already a pro adventurer, then feel free to laugh at our rookie mistakes!
Things won’t always go your way.
Our first destination on our trip was White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. We drove all day to get there, and I had my heart set on camping in the sand under the bright stars. I read a lot of blog posts about how beautiful it is at night with a big clear sky, but they only have 10 camping sites and don't do reservations. We were hoping to get there in time before the all of the spots were taken, but we were about an hour too late. This was quite a bummer because we spent the entire drive getting hyped about camping there, (I even got all new kinds of camping gear for the sands) but we found a cool campsite nearby to stay at instead. We still got to explore the White Sands the next day and failed epically at trying to sled down the sand hills. Even though we didn’t get to camp where we wanted, it was still a beautiful experience. On any adventure, it is always important to remember that things may not always go the way you want them to, but for the sake of the people with you, and the experience itself, you have to find the beauty in the unexpected.
Don’t always trust Google reviews
The second day of our trip we headed to Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, which was beyond amazing. Before the hot springs, we stopped at a local restaurant, which had great reviews on Google, but did not hold up to the Google hype. Yes, I am one of those people that check every place’s reviews on Google or Yelp. Unfortunately this time my habit didn’t really help me out. Despite the questionable food stop, we still had a wonderful experience in the hot springs. It probably would have been better if it wasn’t 100 degrees outside already, but the hot springs are still incredible and the mountains in the background were just a cherry on top. If you’re ever passing through this part of New Mexico, be sure to make a stop there and relax in the hot springs – but pack a lunch.
Be on the lookout for cool stops to break up long drives.
Somewhere on our 7-hour drive to Flagstaff, Arizona from the hot springs, we spotted a sign for an area called “The Box”. We had been in the car for a while, and I was looking to explore a little so I convinced Kelsey to turn back around and head down a winding dirt road to see what “The Box” was all about. It turned out to be a small recreation area where people rock climb and explore small caves. We were not prepared or skilled enough to scale the big rocks, but we did climb up into a cave and enjoyed the tranquility of the area. There was a little sign in sheet where people wrote their names and where they were visiting from, and people had come from all over – even Alaska! It was a pretty neat place, and definitely helped us get our minds off the long drive. After about an hour of exploring, we jotted our names down on the sign in sheet and decided to head back to the car to continue our drive to Flagstaff. While going down a random dirt road in the middle of nowhere with no cell service may have been a little sketchy, it left us with another great discovery and had me feeling pretty brave for climbing up into a dark cave.
Test out your cooking equipment before you go on the trip.
Okay, that may seem like an obvious thing to do for some, but I totally forgot until we needed to use it to cook dinner. We just set up camp at our site in Flagstaff, and before the trip, I had just bought a cool new cooking set with mini pots/pans. It ended up working pretty great; it just took me a bit to get it right. After several burnt pancakes and a pan of spilled potatoes, we figured out how to cook a pretty decent camp dinner. Getting the hang my cooking equipment beforehand would have saved me the extra frustration, but it did lead to an interesting memory of my questionable camp cooking skills and Alisa’s general klutziness with potatoes.
Find a common ground on how your group likes to camp.
Another thing I learned that night in Flagstaff was that, despite their cleanliness and convenience, I don't really enjoy camping at KOA’s. Kampgrounds of America (KOA) are nice campground facilities with restrooms, laundry mats, a store, etc. but they also are very close to other people and families with children and/or pets. Personally, I like to camp far away from other people. However, my travel buddies like the comfort of not being entirely alone in a place and having real restrooms nearby. I also enjoy those camping luxuries, but not as much as I enjoy being away from screaming children and curious dogs sniffing my face while I’m sleeping. So be sure that your camping crew is on the same page about expectations of where you plan to sleep throughout the trip.
Be vocal about what you want, but also open to change.
The next day, we drove to the Grand Canyon for a quick view and some nice pictures because the heat was not our friend. Then, we spent a good amount of money on some Grand Canyon pizza and made our way to Willow Beach for our campsite of the night. Now, something I learned on the trip was that when road tripping with other people, there is always going to be a difference of opinion on certain things - both big and small. No matter how close you are with your friends, there is always going to be disagreements, and it is important that you can be open and discuss those things before tensions get too high.
This became an issue when we set up camp in 107-degree weather in Arizona and realized that we could not sleep in the excruciating heat (despite Kelsey’s efforts of soaking our sleeping bags in cold water). So, we had to make the decision of whether or not to go to a hotel 30 minutes away. Who cares, just go to the hotel, right? Well, we already paid for the site and planned to wake up the next morning and canoe up the Colorado River at Willow Beach Marina right next to our site. Was it worth it to go all the way to a hotel just to get up earlier to come back to the same spot we were at and go canoeing? After some back and forth, we decided we could not stand the heat any longer and got a hotel, and just came back the next morning to canoe. On the way to the hotel, we ended up missing an exit and almost running out of gas in the middle of the desert. We went way past the “0 miles left” mark in my car, which sent us all into a frustrated panic, but we made it through and celebrated with some drinks and delicious food at a cool local bar – Maxx’s Food & Drink in Boulder City, Nevada.
Do your own research.
Before the trip started, I had found this cool little place called Emerald Cove on Pinterest, and it's only accessible from the Colorado River. Reviews on Google raved about how amazing it was, truly a “hidden gem” and even had tons of gorgeous pictures so I convinced Kelsey and Alisa that it would be totally worth it to go. Well, I let the amazing Google photography fool me because when we got there it was so small that we didn’t even think that was really it. We kept going upstream until a kayaker came by and we asked him about it and he told us that was it. We went back, and it is just a tiny cove with an emerald glow. Don’t get me wrong; it is still beautiful but just not what I was expecting from all the raving reviews. We spent some time exploring around there and climbed up to see the manmade “catwalk”. Canoeing back was the worst part. They told us it would be easy since it was downstream, but they didn’t account for the horrible winds pushing us back the entire time. The views of the river and hills were stunning, but the ride was a struggle, and the cove was not what we had hoped. Depsite it all, our canoeing adventure was an exciting new experience for all of us.
It’s all worth it.
After all our struggles along the way, we finally made it to our final destination – California. The next few days were spent in Las Vegas, San Diego, Coronado Beach and La Jolla. I have to rave about how beautiful and absolutely breathtaking Coronado Beach and La Jolla are. We only happened upon Coronado because a friend lives there, but I am forever grateful to have accidentally discovered such an amazing island. Everything is within walking distance, and the weather is phenomenal. We enjoyed great food, including gigantic pancakes at a local restaurant called Night and Day, and later had some amazing coffee and brunch at Clayton’s Coffee Shop. Expect to wait a little bit if you try to eat there, but it’s definitely worth it.
Just up the road, La Jolla shocked us again with more gorgeous views, and we even got to be in touching distance of sea lions! We weren't brave enough to actually touch them, but it was still amazing how close we were. Better than any zoo experience, for sure. We had brought our snorkels because La Jolla is known for its’ beautiful clear water, but the waves were too harsh for us, plus the water was extremely cold.
The trip was such an amazing, eye-opening experience, and I am beyond grateful that we were able to do it. Planning and executing a long trip can be hard, but remembering to go with the flow and enjoy every moment is key to having a great and memorable adventure.