Tips For Planning a Road Trip Without Hotels

Stay out of hotels and try these other overnight options to get more out of your road trip

Road trips can be one of the most fun and most enlightening travel experiences. Whether you've decided to take the long way to your planned destination, or you've mapped out a scenic route from state to state, or you've simply decided to drive west (or east, West-Coasters) and see what happens, you're sure to stumble upon amazing, humbling, annoying and fascinating surprises.

But gas is expensive and hotels are expensive and you want to be able to spend money on the experiences you find, not on the places in which you only spend eight hours sleeping. Are there other options? There are several, and they might make for an even better experience than a week of cross-country hotel hopping.

Bed on wheels

We're going to skip pretty quickly over this one because if you're reading this guide, you've probably already decided against sleeping in your car. However, it's certainly an option and we have tips on how to do it comfortably. Your first thought might be: can I sleep in that much space? It depends on your vehicle. But a less obvious but more important concern for someone sleeping in their car and avoiding hotels is washing. There's no shower in any car on the market, unless it's an RV, in which case you definitely don't need to read on.

Some of your stops might let you jump in a lake or stand under a waterfall with a bar of soap (both very fun ways to wash). But in a colder climate, bring baby wipes to freshen up in between opportunities to shower. Also bring a bin to store wet things in until you can dry them, and decide if you can build a bed of blankets or fit an air mattress on the folded seats of a larger vehicle if that's what you're driving.

Blanket of stars

Don't want to sleep in the car? Explore the campsites along your route. There are many options for car-camping, some free and some not, that let you spend the night and offer various amenities. State maps list campsites at state and national parks, and you can also look for private sites. You might not find one with bathrooms, but that's not really the point of camping, is it? So pack toiletries and toilet paper. Find a tent with enough room to sleep comfortably, either for yourself or for the people with whom you'll be sharing it.

Try to book a reservation for a spot. If that's not possible, arrive as early as possible to grab the best area. Invest in campfire cooking equipment so you can start the day with a delicious breakfast, hot coffee and hot water to wash dishes. Of course, pack flashlights and batteries—it's going to make any problem much worse if you can't see how to fix it.

Bed & breakfast

If you're looking for homestyle comfort instead of a night under the moon, try a local Bed & Breakfast. They're usually a private home offering overnight accommodations plus a morning meal. Plus-plus: showers! Enjoy a night on a real bed, in a cozy home environment, for less money than a towering hotel. The key to staying at a B&B is to communicate with the innkeepers. They're not hosting hundreds of guests, so the service will partly be tailored to you. Let them know if you don't eat meat, if you can't do stairs or if you'd prefer to try a restaurant in the morning.

One of the best perks of a B&B is the ability to talk with the owners and the other guests. They'll have local information, travel tips and fun stories that you can take with you or share on that blog you're keeping about your adventures.

Airbnb

A B&B in the air? No, it's the online version of a B&B, where you can find thousands of rooms, apartments and homes available to stay in. The website lets you search easily through the listings of people offering vacant spaces to guests and you probably won't have to spend a lot of time before you've found options. It has all the perks and potential downsides of a regular Bed & Breakfast but with the convenience of the internet and all the latest, simplest online tools. While booking last minute isn't recommended, Airbnb can also be a valuable tool for an unexpected stopover without breaking the bank on the nearest hotel.

F&F

Family and friends—it's like a B&B, except (probably) free and (probably) more comfortable. Have family near your route? Stop in along the way. Warn them, of course, unless it's your parents, and even then, probably give them a heads up. It's also a great opportunity to catch up with an aunt, a grandparent, a sibling, and to enjoy surprise time together, relaxing comfortably in the home of someone you know.

Maybe you don't have family in the area but you noticed an old college roommate and Facebook friend lives there. Even if you were the best of roommates, call them. #1: they might not have room. #2: they might not want a visitor. #3–100: a plethora of other reasons to, first, ask how they're doing, and second, ask for permission well ahead of time. It could be a wonderful experience, rekindling an old, valuable friendship.

Whatever option you choose, each one offers excellent opportunities to experience the world outside of the easy and expensive hotel system. Check out Roadtrippers, a website dedicated to planning the best road trip possible. Explore, experience, make friends and share your travels with people who are interested.

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Destinations

How to Visit New Orleans During a Pandemic

What can you do when you're wearing a mask and social distancing? Plenty.

Ask most people what they conjure when they hear the words "New Orleans," and they'll come up with the usual suspects: Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, young drunk people, costumes and beads and debauchery.

Oh, and there will probably be some great food in there, too: those weird French doughnuts covered in powdered sugar; some sort of thick dark soup called something-or-other; and "what's the difference again between jambalaya and gumbo?"

Regardless of whether people have actually made a trip down to the Big Easy or not, they'll have some preconceived notions about the city–and we residents say that's fine. It's cool. Sometime, maybe, you'll see more than the inside of a Hurricane drink cup.

But here's the thing. Not only is a visit to New Orleans in autumn the perfect time to check out America's most unique city, but it's an ideal getaway in the middle of these COVID days. The weather breaks in the Gulf South in October. While Minneapolis dips into the twenties, New Orleans luxuriates in the balmy 70s in the day, inky sweet nights in the 60s.

What can you do when you're wearing a mask and social distancing? Plenty. It will be a slower and more gentle visit than one to Bourbon Street, but if you feel absolutely compelled to walk the French Quarter, go for it. While you're nearby, visit the art galleries in the Central Business District. The gallery owners and artists would appreciate your business. And wherever you land for a place to lay your head—all hotels and local temp rentals are beyond clean and ready—you should head out for a bit of nightlife. Yes, even in these COVID times.

But a good wander away from the usual traps will give you a much better understanding of the city. And in most places, you can even take off your mask.

Ride The Streetcar

Sure, this is a bit of a touristy thing to do, but in autumn–in a pandemic, no less–it's infinitely safer and more beautiful than riding in an Uber. The streetcars are nearly always empty at the end of their lines. They have real wooden seats and open windows, and except for a short stint after Katrina, they have been in service since they were very first installed to travel the neutral grounds, the grassy medians of our boulevards.

The last stop in the Carrollton streetcar line will land you at The New Orleans Art Museum. Don't go in it–not to start, at least. Your time might well be better spent walking the adjacent sculpture garden, newly expanded, free, and with that invaluable open-air factor. To round the bend and take your first look at "Karma" is to experience something much bigger than your average landscape painting, although the Rodin sculptures put up their dukes too.

Go for Barbecue and Snowballs

You can just walk down lovely Carrollton Boulevard, traipse beneath the ancient live oak trees and past the stately old homes for a couple blocks until you arrive at Blue Oak BBQ. Your nose will guide you. Again, considering COVID restrictions, you can't get better than Blue Oak's huge outdoor dining areas, multiple shaded and tented spots with plenty of room to properly socially distance. Their staff is as friendly in their masks as it comes, and the food? The ribs are luscious, arguably the best BBQ in the city, but their Happy Hour specials make for the perfect fit after a walk-around in the sculpture garden.

Save room for dessert just across the road. Head to Pandora's Sno-balls. There's a walk-up window, and you only need to stay the requisite six feet away from the other eager patrons lined up at this iconic locale. Flavor recommendations are unnecessary, because every one is divine. Choose your own, but if you want to act like a local, try the wedding cake or pink lady. Shaved ice is a far cry away from a typical snow cone, and you might well be spoiled for life with the soft texture and New Orleans' unique flavors.

Bacchanal in the Ninth Ward

Yes, the word is out about Bacchanal. It's no longer a secret. But it's still a destination worth experiencing, in no small part because it does a much much better job of representing New Orleans than some daiquiri hut with neon green icy drinks. Bacchanal has a massive outdoor seating area, extraordinary wine selections, and incredible nibbles. They support local musicians, and you'll find live music here that will always knock your socks off. You can't visit New Orleans without hearing music, and Bacchanal is a great place to start.

​Find the River

New Orleans river

Of course you can find the river by walking across the street from the Cathedral in the French Quarter. You can stand and watch its roiling waters, but it's not so easy to experience the majesty of one of America's grandest rivers watching shoulder-to-shoulder with others in their masks in a pandemic. Consider a couple of other options: Go to one of two places—both of which are local secrets, so you're going to have to do a little research. Head across the industrial canal and into Holy Cross. Take a right at the first opportunity and drive straight towards the Mississippi River. Try it at sunset. Park and walk up onto the levee. You will not be disappointed. It will tell you everything about this old and wise city that words can't say.

Visit The Fly

The Fly Orleans

Across the literal way and around the bend of the big loop of river, you can find The Fly. A local favorite hangout, it's adjacent to the zoo. Don't go into the zoo either—at least not right away. Save it for another day when the pandemic has abated. Bring lemonade or a couple locally brewed beers to The Fly and make sure to clean up before you leave. Take a seat at one of many spots with a clear view. Consider what it means to see water passing that originates in a tiny creek in Minnesota. Melted snow, tributary waters, it all ends up right here. Watch passing tankers from Russia, tugboats pushing flats of one thing or another, sip your beverage, and enjoy the fresh autumn air.

The River Shack

Follow the wobbly straight line of River Road upriver. You'll probably drive past The River Shack the first time. Just double-back. The place has been around longer than most of us, its exterior old signage now preserved for its historical treat. Try their gumbo. You won't be disappointed. You can sit outside, of course, but you can also take a gander at the dozens and dozens of framed photos on the walls that bring context to the locale.

It's nothing new to say that New Orleans is steeped in history. But that's sort of the point these days, to "go back" and experience a place that's stood the test of time. We have carved out a place unique to this country. Find the unbeaten path and walk our cobbled lanes. There is wide-open breathing room in a beautiful autumn in one of America's oldest cities.

Amanda Boyden is an American author and recipient of Nerve.com's Henry Miller Award for Best Literary Sex Scene in Pretty Little Dirty. Her latest work, I Got the Dog: A Memoir of Rising was released on September 15th, 2020 and is available for purchase here.


7. Low Prices (vs. other Airbnb lodging options and flexible cancellation policy)

Before I found out about Getaway, I thought, gosh. Travel can be expensive, even with everything that is going on. Cabin rentals on Airbnb are so pricey, not to mention their no exceptions cancellation policy—which is totally a turn-off. Even the discounted all-inclusive lodging vacation I've been daydreaming about was out of the picture with my work schedule, sigh.

I was almost at my wits end, then, my friend Kiara brought up this cool new Getaway experience she recently got back from at a beautiful tiny cabin outpost nestled nearby in Hill Country, Wimberley, Texas for $99 a night! I immediately told my boyfriend, and we decided why not go ahead and try it for the weekend!

6. Facilities and Amenities (What's included)

So we went online to Getaway's website and chose the Cabin for Two, which actually had everything we wanted for a weekend escape in nature—giant windows with beautiful views and great amenities including: a comfy queen bed that sleeps two, warm shower, bath products, AC and heat, plus a mini-kitchen stocked with cooking supplies and light meal provisions available for less than $10 each. And, with self-check-in and check-out, booking was as simple and easy! That next weekend we set off into the auburn sunset, next stop—Getaway Hill County!

When we got to our tiny hand-crafted hideaway we instantly fell in love.

5. The Blue Hole Experience

The next morning after my boyfriend cooked us breakfast (yes, he's house-trained), our first stop was the Blue Hole Park Trail Loop with one of the most beautiful natural swimming holes in Texas. We made sure to make a reservation in advanced, and boy can I still smell the oak, cypress and cedar trees surrounding the crystal blue water and canopied trails, I didn't hesitate for a second and jumped in body-first. After a dip, we spent the rest of the afternoon in leisure completing the 1.6-mile hike around the Blue Hole Trail, can you say unplug and unwind, I couldn't recommend visiting this magical place enough.

4. The Wimberley Valley Driftwood Estates Winery Experience

Later in the evening, we headed to the Driftwood Estates Winery which had a great wine varietal, and the winery hostesses were very friendly and helpful in explaining the various wines. The building garden areas and facilities were set perfectly on lush rolling acres of surrounding vineyards with the cutest donkeys and little ponies—and the passing burros, longhorns, double decker English buses which added to the atmosphere, just perfect. Plan your to make a reservation in advanced and soak up the experience of tasting and exploring, a must-go winery!

3. The Wimberly Zipline Adventures Experience

After a sound sleep under the moon and stars, we woke up the next morning with one thing on our mind, the last and final stop on our Getaway weekend-adventure (and arguably most favorite) which included soaring over 10-miles of breathtaking views of Wimberley Valley creeks and canyons, absolutely a thrilling and unforgettable experience. Another must-go, you'll learn about the local ecosystem of plants and wildlife, local history, and other interesting Wimberley area facts. By the end of our tour, I was bursting with adrenaline and excitement. We had so much fun, and I must say I can't wait for our next weekend escape!

2. Disconnect to Reconnect

We got back home late after a late dinner following the ziplining, we were so exhausted but honestly I would not trade a great experience for anything else in the world. It's nice to disconnect from the daily grind and reconnect with nature. I was so happy with my stay and how clean and cozy the cabins were. If you haven't had the chance to Getaway, then what are you waiting for!

1. Experience Your First Getaway

If you're looking for a safe, clean, and rejuvenating place to both relax and have an adventure, whether with your partner or friends, I'd highly recommend Getaway.

Plan Your Escape With Getaway! Book One Month In Advance And Take $20 Off Your Fall Adventure With The Code FALL20!