Road Trip in the Time of Covid
Welcome to my "Road Trip in the Time of Covid" blog! I am getting ready to embark on a month-long road trip to some of my favorite National Parks in the American West. This blog will chronicle my travels in words and pictures and hopefully inspire you to start planning your own adventure.
1. Why I'm creating a blog
2. Who am I
3. Why I’m traveling
4. Where I’m traveling
5. How I’m traveling
6. What a typical day will look like
7. Follow my journey on Social Media
Why I’m creating a blog: With all of my past travel experiences, I've journelled using the old-fashioned pen and paper method. On this trip, I’ve decided to make it easy on myself and go electronic. Since I already own my own website, I thought it would be fun to share my exploits with a wider audience than just myself. (Besides, after cleaning out all my closets during quarantine - the last thing I need is another paper journal taking up space.)
Who am I: My name is Kristin Jenn - I’m a Travel Director (TD) by profession. The job of a TD is a cross between cruise director, hotel concierge, history teacher, and cat wrangler. When I’m with a group of guests, I oversee the (hopefully) smooth operation of 2 week long, 50-passenger motorcoach trips to various regions in the USA and Canada. Generally, my guests are retirement age since they are the ones who have the time and money to travel and tick off their bucket list items.
I adore my career and can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve been working on the road off-and-on for the past 15 years. For the last ten, I’ve been employed by The Travel Corporation (TTC) family of brands. We operate in over 60 countries; but, as an American, I only guide in the USA and Canada. I specialize in leading trips through the National Parks of the American West and the East Coast USA & Canadian cities. TTC develops the individual itineraries and markets the trips to the guests and my job as a Travel Director is to be the face of the company throughout the trip and make sure everything goes off without a hitch.
My days are full of vendor coordination, history/culture talks, answering guest questions, and making sure 50 people don’t get lost. It's a lot of work, but it's very rewarding. I get to show people places they have only read about, seen pictures of, or watched on the movie screen for their entire lives. I revel in the vicarious thrill of experiencing each place fresh all over again through the eyes of my guests. Cute story: last year, one of my guests gave me a new job title: “Bucket List Fulfillment Expert.”
In addition to enjoying the best job in the world (for me), I get the added bonus of having six months off every year. I work pretty consistently on the road from May to October (having no social life or time with family); but, then I return to my beloved Austin, Texas, to spend November to April doing whatever I want. During that time, I like to refer to myself as a “lady of leisure.”
Funny story: I was at a party this past weekend and I was answering the standard what-do-you-do question. The young woman I was speaking with got really excited and exclaimed: “Wow! You’re one of those fabled Instagram people who lives on the road and travels around to fabulous places. You DO exist!” I laughed and thought to myself, I guess that could describe my life. (Minus the duck pout and gratuitous swimsuit photos, of course.)
People often ask me how I got into this line of work, so here’s my spiel: I was born and raised in a farm community in rural Iowa. I earned a BS in Radio & TV Broadcasting and an MA in Christian Leadership. I joined the Air Force after college and traveled the world for three years. When I was about to get out of the military, I knew I wanted a job which would continue to pay for me to travel...so in 2003, I literally Googled, “travel jobs.” I didn’t know being a Travel Director was even a thing; but, once I found it, I knew right away this was the profession for me. I started out at the bottom rung as a National Park camping guide for a budget tour operator and now I travel with a world class company which specializes in 4 & 5 star hotel trips. Lord willing, I’ll continue to work for this company for another 25 years. I have reached the height of my career ambitions and the view is breathtaking.
Why I’m Traveling: I’m writing this blog in early June 2020. The world has been on lock-down since March due to the COVID-19 virus. This spring has been some seriously unprecedented times. I have had the luxury of quarantining in my own little condo near downtown Austin, Texas. Our company canceled our spring and summer trips pretty early on, so I spent two months on my couch, reading books and rewatching every TV show I’ve ever loved. As spring turns into summer, my company hasn’t committed to cancelling our fall trips, yet, but most of my coworkers don’t hold out much hope of a paycheck in September and October.
Thus far, I feel as if I’ve weather the quarantine storm with most of my sanity intact. However, the longer it takes for me to return to work, the more restless I get to see my beloved mountains and red rock formations. Don’t get me wrong, I love Austin, but I emotionally bank on getting my National Park fix every summer.
So...last week I hit my breaking point. I sat down on my couch, had a good stress cry, and started to make a travel plan. I realized that I am in a unique position - in my entire career, I’ve never had free time in the middle of summer to travel on my own. And when I am traveling with TTC, I am restricted to a very specific schedule - it’s been years since I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, in whichever park I wanted.
Where I’m Traveling: After deciding I wanted to take a road trip to the western National Parks, I started making a list of all the long and/or difficult hikes I’ve been wanting to do for the past several years. Most of these hikes are ones I’ve done when I was a camping guide, but it’s been a decade since I’ve had the opportunity to really hit the trails on my own.
My first pass at creating an itinerary was extremely ambitious, clocking in at 6,700 driving miles. I will be on the road for one month, so I decided that would be too much time behind the wheel and not enough time on the trails. I’ve since whittled the route down to around 4,500 miles.
I will be departing Austin, Texas on June 13 and concentrating on my absolute favorite parks: Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. (I’ll be creating a separate blog post detailing the route further.) On July 13, I’m meeting up with friends in Colorado for a week, so that will mark the official end of the road trip.
How I’m Traveling: Obviously, I don’t currently have a job, so I’m living off my savings until work starts up again - whether that is in four months (September) or eleven months (May 2021). Therefore, I’ve decided to travel on the cheap. I recognize this will be a bit of a stretch since I’ve become accustomed to a much higher class of travel since the Camping Guide days of my 20s. But, the choice is either to rough it or stay home and stare at the same four walls I’ve been staring at for the last 2.5 months. Staying home is not an option.
One way I plan to save money is to sleep in my car, so I’ve converted my Honda Fit into a sleeper (check out my next blog post to see how I did it). I have a great online resource for finding free campsites on land operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I also plan to “stealth camp” occasionally in places I deem safe. Stealth camping is basically just parking your car in a parking lot somewhere, crawling in the back and going to sleep. As for showering, I plan to shower at truck stops and campgrounds when they're available. I may even rent a dirt cheap hotel a couple of times for the chance of a hot bubble bath.
I also plan to buy all my food at groceries along the way, instead of eating out. I have no interest in camp cooking, so I don’t need to bring any of that type of equipment with me.
My goal is to try to do this trip for around $50 per day. This would include all food, gas, and park entrance fees.
Typical Day: Since I am covering a lot of ground, some days will be straight up just driving. I’m totally okay with this - I have a stack of CDs from high school and an ancient Ipod full of jams from my 20s, I’ll be rocking out nostalgia style. Plus, the scenery in the west is to die for as you travel from park to park.
I’d like to spend 3-4 days in each park, really just chilling out, hiking, lounging, reading, soaking up the scenery and generally reveling in the freedom from being cooped up in quarantine for the past 2.5 months. A typical day will look like the following:
Sunrise: Wake up an hour before sunrise and drive to the best sunrise spot. Watch the sun come up and spend time praying/meditating. I plan on taking quite a few sunrise time-lapse videos which I’ll post on my YouTube channel.
Morning Hike: Because some of the places I’m going are quite hot this time of year, I’ll try to get on the trails right away in the morning to take advantage of the cooler temps on the more difficult/longer hikes.
Morning Lounge: I’m really going to try to "stop and smell the flowers" while I’m on the trails, so I plan on pausing at various places mid-hike to set up my folding camp chair under a shade tree (or rock outcrop) and just soak in the moment for a while before continuing to hike.
Mid-Day Siesta: Since the mid-day heat will be pretty intense, I’ll probably find a nice shaded or air conditioned place to read a book or edit photos as I wile away the hot early afternoon hours. Fortunately, these parks are my stomping ground so I know all the great hidden places to find a comfy spot to lounge.
Afternoon Hike: As the temperature cools off a bit, I’ll set off on another hike.
Afternoon Lounge: Once again, I’ll whip out my folding chair to bask in the scenery before moving on.
Sunset: About an hour before sunset, I’ll drive to a choice sunset spot and watch the day melt away (while also taking sunset time-lapse videos).
Stargazing: Either before sunrise or after sunset, I plan to make time to watch the stars twinkle.
Follow my journey on Social Media: I will periodically upload additional blog posts with photos. Keep in mind, I'll be in some pretty remote locations, with sketchy data service, so it may be a few days between updates. Ways to follow me:
Facebook: if we’re friends on FB, I’ll be posting a notice every time I have a new blog post, Instagram photo or YouTube video. Stay tuned.
Blog: Check back for the latest posts on www.TheJoyfulTravelista.com
YouTube: Subscribe for videos on my channel: The Joyful Travelista
Instagram: Follow for photos @TheJoyfulTravelista