Tomorrow we take off on our 45 day journey! Here are a couple travel tips we’ve learned over the years and some we’re trying out for the first time.

1. Free State Maps & Travel Guides

Did you know that every state has a tourism department with a web site where you can request free maps & guides? Just Google the state name followed by “official tourism” (e.g. Texas official tourism). Look through their tourism department web site for “Free Travel Guide” or something similar. They’ll have you fill out a form with your address, your tourism interests, and estimated travel dates. Then in 5-10 days you’ll get a nice package in the mail with a nice guide & some free maps! Check out our collection for this trip!

2. Organize & Declutter with Plastic Bins

This isn’t that big of a deal on short camping trips, but when you are gone for 6 weeks the trunk & back seat of your car can quickly turn into a chaotic mess. We use cheap plastic bins (the short in height kind with snap on lids) to organize things in the car. We have a blankets bin, a cooking bin, a cold weather clothes bin, and a camera gear bin. They are stackable and make it really easy to pull things in & out of the car.

3. DIY Car Seat Back Pockets

Heidi gets credit for this brilliant idea! She bought a cheap shoe organizer that hangs on the back of a door (like this one). Then she cut it in two and tied each half to the back of the front car seats. What a great way to reduce clutter on a long trip! It also makes it easy for me to grab things while driving (like snacks!)

4. Pack a Bag Full of Goodie Bags

This is for road trips with kids and is a nice move Heidi learned from her mom (who had to entertain 4 kids during the many family trips the Jensens took to Iowa.) For each day of our trip Heidi has packed a single toy, book, or activity in a brown paper bag. Four-year-olds have short attention spans and Trey will be thrilled to play with a new toy each day. Usually after a couple days the excitement wears off so he’ll have a new one to replace it. The goal is each day when we get in the car for 4-5 hours he’ll get to pick a bag to open and discover a new treat.

These toys aren’t anything fancy or expensive. Some are actually toys we pulled from the bottom of this toy box that he had forgotten about. Others are things like sketch books, army men, hand puppets, and fast food kid’s meal toys we’ve been given. It doesn’t take much to entertain Trey.

5. Add Tourism Sites to your Phone’s Contacts List

I’ve learned this one the hard way. There’s nothing worse than needing to call the visitor center of the state park to find out when they close or to cancel a reservation and not having their phone number. This time I took the time to add all the visitor center info of every park, campground, and tourist destination we might visit to my laptop’s address book. Then I synced it with my iPhone’s contacts. If I need to call a park or get directions to one, it’ll all be a couple clicks away on my phone. (Bonus – if you have the time, add notes to the entries with fee info & operating hours).

6. Use Dropbox

This one is a bit smartphone specific (iPhone, Android, or Blackberry) but can be used if you just carry a laptop on your trip. is a free service that gives you 2GB of file space that you can sync between computers & mobile devices.

We’re using it on this trip to store hiking trail & park PDF maps on my laptop & iPhone. However, it can be used to sync just about any file type. While Trey and I are on the road, Heidi can drop a file in the folder on our computer at home and it will automatically be downloaded to my phone. If I’m offline I can still browse through all the files that were previously downloaded.

7. Buy a National Parks Pass

Out West a lot of the National Parks and Monuments have some steep entrance fees (some as high as $25). It made perfect sense for us to pay $80 for a pass that will last us an entire year and get 4 adults into any park for free.

If you are a Senior Citizen (55+) the pass only costs $10 and it is free for persons with permanent disabilities.

Head over to the National Park Service site to get one.

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