There’s nothing quite like the excitement of knowing a big trip is on the horizon. For me, trip planning is just as much a part of that excitement. Remember that moment in Rocky Horror when Tim keeps us dangling in antici…………pation! That’s how it feels. So here are ten steps to help making the planning of that big trip as easy and as much fun as possible.
Define The Trip
We had set aside time last October for a Big Trip. We’d had a lot of fun individually looking at all the options and deciding which adventures we liked the most. Then we brought the options to the table one Sunday over breakfast. It was time to work our way through the respective merits of the Galapagos and a US trip focused on Tennessee and Mississippi.
You may have gathered from other blog posts here that we opted for the Delta Blues this time round. This was partly because we both preferred this option, and also because in reality, trips to the Galapagos need planning earlier than we had envisioned. It wouldn’t have been impossible, but it would have involved more compromises than we wanted to make.
Set The Rules: What’s non-negotiable for the trip
Having decided on a destination, we then started to thrash out exactly what the trip would look like. What did we want to see, and what things did we think were essential? We finalised our dates and got a rough budget in mind. We knew that the trip needed to cover Nashville, Memphis and Clarksdale. Plenty of live music was essential. We wanted to build in a road trip to reach Clarksdale and the Mississippi delta.
Our accommodation choices were flexible, but being self-catering for at least some parts of the trip would help with the budget. We were less willing to compromise on specific places we wanted to visit, like the Stax Museum, Sun Studios and the Civil Rights Museum.
Do Your Research and Formulate a plan
Some intensive clacking around the table found us suitable flights, going open jaw via Newark to Nashville, and back from Memphis via Chicago and Frankfurt to home*. We decided that we were going to rent apartments for the stays in Nashville and Memphis. Not only would this give us more local colour, but we could also avoid eating out constantly.
We’d use motels and hotels for the drive down to Mississippi, which would take in Brownsville as a stopover and two nights in Clarksdale, before the drive back up to Memphis. Car hire with a pickup at Nashville airport and a drop off at Memphis was easily sorted.
We looked at the distances between the various stopovers and decided that they were achievable without putting us under time pressure. As we’re both suckers for seeing something interesting and wanting to stop, we wanted an easy schedule. I saw that taxis were difficult to get, so signed up to Uber, as recommended by many of the local accommodation providers.
Break The Rules and live a Little Dangerously
Although we’d never done it before, we decided to book airbnb for the two apartment stays. The painful prices for hotel rooms in Nashville encouraged us, and also the opportunity to manage some dietary needs more easily.
It was a long time since we’d driven in the USA, but we needed to drive for this itinerary. So we opted to pick up and drop off at airports, thinking it would make our drive easier. And we made sure to book a car with SatNav. That turned out to be a really good decision.
Explore Your Options
Having sorted the beginning (Nashville) and the end (Memphis) of the trip, we explored some options for the time in Mississippi. This helped us identify a drive via I40 to Brownsville, where we could spend a night, and then onto Clarksville for two days to take in a night at Ground Zero blues club, and a trip to Dockery Farm, home of the Blues. We checked out I40 on YouTube, and found it a rather quiet dual carriageway. This didn’t quite prepare us for the six lane joy that was south Memphis.
We spent a lot of time, noses pressed to screen, looking at reviews for accommodation and things to do on our proposed route. Some things about our accommodation were non negotiable, such as a small kitchen, and wifi access. Other factors weren’t so critical. We knew we needed a car, but our only criteria was that we didn’t want anything so massive it needed its own zip code. We were helped in that there were few (if any) accommodation options in Brownsville and Clarksdale, which simplified that part of the trip.
We also had a list of the places we wanted to visit: the Ryman and Main Street in Nashville, Ground Zero in Clarksdale, Dockery Farm in Mississippi and a whole list of museums in Memphis: Rock and Soul, Stax, Sun Studios and the Human Rights Museum. This helped us work out the length of time we were going to stay in each place, and build in a bit of chillout time following the drive.
One memorable morning we cranked up the laptops, opened all the windows, and started booking. Flights first, then airbnb at both ends of the trip, then the motel in Brownsville, the hotel in Clarksdale, and the car hire. Then on to travel insurance, as we were both due our annual renewal in the month before the holiday.
It helped having the two of us sitting together to check dates and remind one another of the route and timescales we’d scribbled down. The order in which we booked made sense too, as we knew we could flex around everything except the flight dates.
Cover Your Bases
We had a Plan B in Nashville and Memphis if our airbnb choices hadn’t worked out. There was no other option of a place to stay in Brownsville, so we would have to drive elsewhere if the motel had been full on the night we planned to stay there. Clarksdale offered just two options, one of which was outside the city limits.
Get Ready And Go
We ended up having our house rewired while we were away, so there was a long list of extra work involved in planning this trip. Despite that, we managed to keep the anticipation high by reading more about the places we’d be visiting, and making trip playlists.
What did we learn for future Trip Planning
Most of what we did in our planning worked out really well. I loved Nashville more than I’d ever imagined, and Memphis was full of interesting places. But the surprise jewel in the crown for me was Mississippi. We visited during the hottest October in recent history. Cotton ball clouds floated in an endless blue sky and cotton was growing in the fields alongside empty roads. Definitely places for the ever-growing return list.
The only thing that I would have done differently would have been to read the reviews of our first airbnb with more thought. The reviews mentioned trains nearby. We live near a train line, so it didn’t seem important. But just as UK trains are settling down for the night in a cosy siding, the Great American Railroad is beginning to lurch into action. Nashville passed in a sleep-deprived haze. There was hooting and whistling and rumbling taking place seemingly in the next room and at soul-destroying intervals all night. That’s an assumption we won’t be making again.
*Then there was my rookie error. The original routing promised a 747, giving us a pair of seats rather than a three for the overnight home, and a chance to get some sleep. We ended up with a change of kit and three abreast, meaning that we could have cut out one of the legs and returned via Newark. Ah well…