How to plan the perfect road trip

I have a love hate relationship with road trips. I love them because you get to see so much during a drive. You can stop when you want to and explore. See something that sparks your interest? Pull over and check it out. You are on your own time. I hate them, because sometimes I get a little car sick. In all honesty though, some of my most memorable experiences have been road trips.

Through the many road trips I have taken, I have created memories that will last a lifetime. I have seen world wonders like the Grand Canyon. I have taken in the views of the California oceanfront. I have dipped my toes in the turquoise waters of Lake Louise. The experiences have been truly special. 

I have had the chance to plan two very different kinds of road trips. Some had a very strict timeline. Hotels were booked in advance and the itinerary set in (almost) stone.  Others were a go with the flow kind of trip. I would see a town I liked and I would stop there for the night at the first 3 star hotel I could find on the map. It was carefree and adventurous. Deciding which type of road trip to do is completely up to you and your travel preferences. Today I just want to share with you some of my favourite road trips and how to make sure your road trip experience is enjoyable.

Favourite Road Trips

Toronto to Vancouver 

This road trip was particularly enjoyable for me because I got to explore the place I call home. I have lived in Canada for most of my life, but there are so many places in my own backyard I have yet to discover. This road trip gave me a chance to see more of the country. I got to see the lakes and parks of Northern Ontario. The flat farming lands of the Prairies. The unbelievable beautiful mountains of the Rockies. It truly was an incredible experience and one that I think every Canadian should try.

Nevada & Arizona 

I have written a lot about this road trip because it was spectacular. If you are at all interested in photography, this is the dream road trip. It included stops at the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Upper Antelope Canyon. Each stop unique and breathtaking. The great thing about this trip is every destination is  just a few hours apart so you can enjoy the views for longer. A little tip, make sure to have your camera nearby because there is so much beauty along the way.

 

Pacific Coast Highway 

This is the road trip of all road trips. Twisting your way along the coast of California you transition from hundred year old green forests to palm trees along the beach. I did a bit of a condensed version, a weekend from San Fransisco to San Diego. The views along this drive are magnificent.  Ocean on your right, rocky cliff on your left. Not for the faint of heart. Make sure to take the time to stop at secluded beaches along the way to stretch your legs. My personal favourite stop had to be Big Sur. 

North of Spain to South of France

This was the road trip that I left up to my GPS and chance and it was amazing. I started the drive in Barcelona and finished in Cannes. I didn’t have a single hotel booked along the way. I would stop in towns that looked appealing and beautiful, ones that had oceanfront views or interesting architecture. Once I decided where I wanted to stay overnight, I would search nearby hotels in my GPS. The trip included 5 star luxury stays, beach front motels, and even a hotel that doubled as an art gallery dedicated to Gaudi. It was the adventure of a life time.

Planning the Perfect Road Trip 

Again what type of road trip to take is completely up to you. Are you the kind of person that likes to have a plan in place or one that likes to go with the flow? Here are my top road trip tips to make sure that no matter what you chose, it is going to be an unforgettable vacation.

 

  1. Be safe: Driving in an unfamiliar country or on unfamiliar roads can be a little scary so make sure you have the right equipment to have a safe trip. Pay extra for road side assistance from the rental company. Make sure you have a map and compass in your car in case you enter a zone that has no cell reception. Have a blanket in the car in case it breaks done. Have proper tools in case of a flat. There is nothing worse then something going wrong in a foreign place and being unprepared to handle it.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the area you are traveling: I speak French fluently, so I felt comfortable driving around in France, however ahead of the trip I made sure to familiarize myself with the route I was taking. I tried to understand how far each city was from one another so even without a planned stop, I still knew I wasn’t going to be stranded in a small town after too many hours on the road. Make sure you feel confident that you know where you are heading.
  3. Try to avoid driving at night: When I drove the Pacific Coast I made a grave mistake. I started the drive too late in the day and had already booked my hotel for the following night. By doing so, I ended up driving one of the scariest roads in the pitch black. Not only did I miss out on the stunning views, but I also didn’t really feel safe. Try and time out the trip properly so you avoid driving in the dark. Plus how can you take insta worthy pictures of the views when you can’t even see them?
  4. Go hands free: Another huge safety aspect is making sure you are able to drive hands free. Driving in an unfamiliar place you are probably going to need a GPS. Ask the car company if they have ones for rent because they usually come with a proper mount. If you would rather use your phone or own device, make sure you have something to mount it in the car. I personally love the QLYX. It is small enough to travel with, super easy to use, and comes with some awesome features.
  5. Pack Snacks: You don’t really know when you might be able to eat from meal to meal so it is important to have snacks readily available. Have a cool bag to keep water, drinks, and snacks available for the long haul.
  6. Have gas: Gas is a good thing for a long road trip. The last thing you want to do is run out so make sure you are prepared or at least know where you can fuel up along the way.
  7. Factor in your must sees: Sure, it might just take a few hours to get from A to B, but don’t forget to factor in the places you want to stop along the way. If you are doing the road trip with someone else, make sure you are both clear on the stops you want to make along the way so that no one misses out and you can still leave yourself enough time to get from one spot to the next. Another important part of this is to make sure you plan your stops properly. During my cross Canada drive, I really wanted to see Moraine Lake in Banff. I didn’t take into consideration it was a long weekend and the park was packed. I didn’t get to see the lake because we didn’t arrive early enough and I was pretty disappointed. Lesson learned for next time.
  8. Music is everything: Alright, now that we have the safety tips out of the way it is time for the fun. Spending long hours on the road is so much more enjoyable when you have some great music to rock out to. I usually make a road trip playlist on Spotify before I start my journey. That way I know I won’t have to listen to commercials on the radio or deal with static from one city to the next. I can just jam and enjoy. Can’t agree on what music to listen too? Only fair that everyone gets a turn to play DJ in the car.
  9.  Plan some fun: Check out the site roadtrippers. It has a ton of quirky road sights to different accommodations from around the globe which can help make the trip a little more interesting.
  10. Be a local: The amazing thing about a road trip is you are driving alongside the locals, so why not really embrace the culture you are experiencing by staying away from chain restaurants and hotels.

Well now that I have shared with you some of my favourite road trips as well as how to make the trip safe and enjoyable, it is time for you to hit the open roads. Are you planning a road trip, or have done an awesome trip that isn’t on my list? I would love for you to share with me in the comments below.

Happy traveling my friends. I know I cannot wait to go M.I.A. again.

xo

Mia

Mia Goes M.I.A. Grand Canyon Road Trip

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I have always loved taking pictures, capturing a moment in time forever. Snapping the beauty of a place or an object. While I went to school for videography, I was never a professional photographer, so it was an honour when I had a chance to travel across Nevada, Arizona, and parts of Utah with my dad, who happens to be a true professional photographer.

A bit of background as to who my dad is, Steve Gordon. He is a director, cinematographer, and photographer whose work has appeared in the National Geographic and the Victoria Art Gallery. He has won international awards, and sells is snaps for thousands of dollars. He is a true pro, and to listen and learn from him was a dream come true. In this blog I will be sharing our photographic drive, as well as pictures from my dad, myself, and my partner.

Day 1

We started our road trip in Las Vegas. A quick pit stop before the adventure begun, but of course there is so much to see and do in Vegas. A walk down the strip we filmed the Bellagio fountain show, and captured some of the bright city lights.

Day 2 

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The very next morning we packed the car and made way for the Arizona boarder. Along the drive, we decided to take a little detour to the Hoover Dam. While my dad usually photographs landscapes, we were both impressed by the Dam and how it spews out water so powerfully. It is amazing to see what people are capable of creating with their own two hands. It took five years to build, thousands of workers, and hundreds of casualties to complete the Dam.The Dam generates power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California.

The drive then took us to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There are very few times in my life where I have been truly speechless, but walking up to the edge of the Grand Canyon was one of those moments. We arrived close to the end of the day as the sun was setting behind the rock. There was a rainbow in the distance and dark clouds above that was casting different light over the endless rock. The Canyon seemed to go on forever and ever switching from deep reds to browns. The sight is something you have to truly see to believe. I don’t think any picture in the world can do true justice, but we did your best.

We spent the night in Williams and I cannot recommend this town enough. A lot of people might miss it by choosing to stay in Flagstaff instead, but I feel like this town has a lot more character and history behind it. This charming little town right on Route 66  has an old West feel, a lot of wild west inspired restaurants,  a zipline through downtown, and even a “gun” fight every night.

We were exhausted from the days adventures, but stopped by the Historic Brewing Company for a bite to eat and for a drink. I loved this spot because it was right in the heart of the adorable city, and also had their own locally brewed beers and wine available. I tried a flight of the wines and then called it night.

Day 3 

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Day three of our trip started with a drive towards Page, Arizona. Along the way we stopped at Sunset Crater. This is the youngest in a string of volcanoes in the San Fransisco Volcanic field. Appropriately named due to the volcano’s rim that is a dusky red like a sunset. It was a pretty interesting spot particularly hiking the Lava Trail. It is a one mile trail through hardened lava. It is amazing to see the vegetation that has been able to grow in the area.

the drive then took us Wupatki National Monument. This monument is among the largest Pueblos non the Colorado Plateau. It was called home by around 100 people. Less than 800 years ago this was the tallest, largest, and richest pueblo. Home of famers and artists, it was quite the community.

Our last stop of the day was what we had been looking forward to the most, Horseshoe Bend. There is a bit of a hike to the Bend so make sure to wear running shoes. Again we made our way up close to the end of the day with the sun hiding behind this incredible rock formation. Horseshoe Bend overlooks the Colorado River. The rock walls of the bend contain a variety of minerals which is why it has such unique and rich colours. This is a photographers dream.

Day 4 

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Our fourth and final day of the road trip I started the morning cooling off from the heat since we did this drive in the middle of August. I decided to explore Lake Powell with Lake Powell Paddle Board. It was an amazing workout and beautiful views of Antelope Canyon from the outside.

The day ended with the icing in the cake, the reason we had booked this trip in the first place, a photography tour of Antelope Canyon. We decided to visit Upper Antelope Canyon around noon to make sure the light was just right. The light beams in Antelope Canyon are what makes this spot so special. They only occur at a certain time of the day and don’t last long so to catch one is incredible. Our guide really made sure we were at the perfect spot at the perfect time to snap the perfect pictures.

We then made the drive back to Vegas going in and out of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada and through beautiful rocks along the way. I was in awe at all the beauty this side of the world had to offer, and to be able to learn from a world famous photographer who also happens to be my dad was an unforgettable experience. I hope that this blog is an inspiration to get out and explore and to find the beauty in this world.

Travel Tips 

If you are planning to do this drive here are a few travel and photography tips that I learned along the way.

  • Book in the summer: I know that it is unbearably hot in Arizona in the summer, but for photography reasons this is the best time to visit the Antelope Canyon. Because of the sun and where it is positioned, you are more likely to experience the beams in the summer months.
  • Go early or late: Besides the Canyon I would suggest either getting an early or a late start to the day to try and avoid the crowds and to get the perfect light for pictures. It is always best at dusk or dawn.
  • Wear close toe shoes: I wore sandals to Horseshoe Bend and was miserable, plus the rocks can be a little slippery so if you want to get the perfect shot make sure you have the right footwear.
  • Don’t plan too much for one day: Since we split up the main attractions, we had a chance to discover hidden gems like the crater that weren’t even on our to do list.
  • Look for unique shots: These spots are extremely touristy and so a lot of pictures are taken here annually so try and find a unique shot. My dad’s favourite picture of the entire trip was actually of a tattooed man standing in front of the Grand Canyon. You can check that shot out and more from the trip on his instragram @Steviewonderful110.

Happy snapping my friends,

xo

Mia

Mia goes M.I.A: Pacific Coast Highway

I had always heard how beautiful Pacific Coast Highway 1 was,  so I had to experience the drive for myself. My roomie and I decided to rent a car and drive down the coast of California for a long weekend. The three-day trip started in San Francisco and ended in San Diego, and let me tell you, it exceeded any picture, any story, any expectation. With the beautiful seaside cliffs and ocean line views we truly experienced California.

I wanted to share with you some highlights of this three-day adventure. Places we stopped, towns we stayed in etc. I also felt like we learned a lot from this experience and wanted to share some do’s and don’ts if you are thinking of doing the drive yourself.

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Day 1: San Fransisco 

The first stop on our trip was San Fransisco. Since neither one of us had been here before we decided to spend the full day exploring. We decided to be real tourists starting the trip with a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite the overcast skies, the view from the bridge was beautiful.

Next up a ride on a trolly. I mean with the up and down hills I didn’t feel like walking that is for sure. We first took the trolly to Chinatown (the largest of such outside of Asia) and then we hopped on again to head to Union Square for dinner. My highlight in both of these places was the various local art. Really take the time to look around Union Square and check out the local work.

Since I am from Canada, dinner was pretty basic, a trip to the Cheesecake Factory (hey we don’t have those up here).

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Day 2: San Fransisco to Long Beach 

On the second day of the trip we started the actual driving portion. I am not going to lie it didn’t start off smoothly. I have trouble parking as is, try parking on those steep San Fran hills. It was pretty smooth sailing after that near accident. Once we made it on to Pacific Coast Highway 1 I was speechless. The views were spectacular. Cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, it definitely isn’t for the fearful drivers.

Pit stop #1: Big Basin Redwoods State Park 

What is really amazing about this drive is you start off in forest before you get to beach so we really wanted to take advantage of the different landscapes. We decided to take a quick stop at Big Basin Redwoods Park which offers some beautiful hiking trails. Giant trees, beautiful wildlife, and waterfalls made for some great pictures. While we didn’t have time to hike any full trails, it was great to get some fresh air.

california4Pit stop #2: Carmel By the Sea 

Carmel by the Sea is a small beach town surrounded by fairytale like cottages and plenty of art galleries. The drive through this quaint town was what made us stop. We were told about the picturesque Senic Bluff Path which runs from the surf area of the beach to Carmel River State Beach which is known for its wildlife. Since the weather was a little chilly we decided to take a stroll on the path and trust me the views were amazing.

Pit Stop #3: Big Sur 

When we decided to do this trip, I said the one place I absolutely needed to see was Big Sur. Our whole road trip revolved around a stop here. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of the coast with some of the most breathtaking beaches I have ever seen. In fact, it has been described as the greatest meeting of land and water in the world, and I tend to agree. Again it was a little chilly so we didn’t get in the water, but we walked around some of the beaches in the area. The red rock formations were incredible. And of course there were some great waves perfect for the surfers that were a lot braver than us.

We stopped for a delicious dinner at Nepenthe, which has some yummy American cuisine with one of the best view points in the area before continuing our trip to Long Beach.

We learned a valuable lesson on night one, and that was to map out our overnights a little better. We didn’t realize the distances from San Fransisco to Long Beach was over 6 hours on the coastal drive. By the time we started making our way to the hotel the sun was setting. Trust me, not only is driving along PCH in the dark disappointing because you are missing out on some spectacular views, but also super scary. I do not recommend this whatsoever.

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Day 3: Long Beach to San Diego 

We woke up nice and early to get a good start on today’s drive. Because we covered most of the previous day, we knew this meant we could spend a longer time at each pit stop.

Pit Stop #1: Huntington Beach 

The first stop of the day was at a small surf town known as Huntington Beach. It was outlined by adorable beach cottages and cute coffee shops. Of course there was the white sand beach and crystal clear blue water. Again it was a little chilly ( I guess June gloom is  a real thing) so we didn’t get in the water but was a really adorable town to stop bye.

Pit Stop #2: Laguna Beach 

Well this was a childhood dream come true. After plenty of hours binge watching the MTV show Laguna Beach I needed to visit. The town consists of gorgeous mansions on top of rolling hills. We packed a picnic for the day and headed down to Aliso Creek County Beach ( less crowded than Main Beach). We grabbed a spot near the water and took in the smell of the ocean.

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Pit Stop #3: La Jolla 

Alas we made it to San Diego region and we were told we needed to check out La Jolla. La Jolla is considered the regions jewel by the sea and it was just that. I have never seen such a breathtaking town before. Cliffs down to the the calm and clear waters. We grabbed a coffee and then decided to take a cave tour. With the various rock formations, La Jolla has some amazing caves. On our tour we got really close to some of the locals aka seals that have populated the area.

Pit Stop #4: San Diego

All good things must come to an end right? We finished our drive in San Diego, which is one of my favourite cities in the world. Since we only had one night in San Diego we decided to make the most of it. We went to Florent for dinner which is a restaurant and nightclub combined into one. The modern American food menu is delicious and they have some awesome cocktails. My personal fav is the Maui Mule. california5

We capped off the night at a rooftop bar  ( a must in San Diego). We decided to go to The Rooftop at STK at Andaz. Grab a drink and then grab a spot to overlook the breathtaking city views.

This marked the end of our incredible road trip. While it was an amazing experience, there were definitely wish we had done some more planning ahead of time and wanted to share some of the lessons I learned with you in case you are planning a PCH road trip. So the following are some of my do’s and don’ts

Do: Stop when you want to

One of the points of a road trip is to experience what is along the way. We had such a set map of the places we wanted to visit that I feel like we missed out on some really adorable towns on the way. If you see something that catches your eye stop and take a look

Don’t: Book a hotel too far away 

This we definitely learned the hard way when we were forced to drive PCH at night time. Really map out the route and figure out how far apart the hotels are. This way you won’t feel rushed at your stops and you will really get to experience the beautiful drive.

Do: Get a convertible (if you can afford it) 

One of the biggest regrets of the trip was not shelling out more money to drive with the top down. While a convertible seems cliche I think it is totally worth it. Especially with the views of the ocean that you sometimes miss with the windows up.

Do: Pack layers 

Here I was thinking California was always sunny and hot, I was wrong. Only later did I find out about this June Gloom. It was overcast and chilly for the majority of the trip and I was so upset I didn’t pack a cute sweater and pair of jeans.

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Don’t: Speed 

Driving PCH is scary, the road is winding all the time and there is only one lane of traffic on each side. You don’t want to lose control at any point and you really don’t know what is around each corner. Plus you may miss some amazing views if you are just speedy through.

Do: Drive North to South 

I didn’t think of this before, but while on the trip I realized how smart we were. By driving from the North to the South means you will be on the ocean side of the road.

Do: Research for booking your car 

There are so many car companies out there that you want to find a good deal but also a reliable dealer. We booked with Hertz and didn’t have any issues. I highly recommend checking them out.

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Have you driven PCH? I would love to hear about your experience or I hope you find these tips helpful if you are planning a trip out there.

Happy traveling and can’t wait to share my next Mia goes M.I.A adventure with you

xo

Mia