How to Have an Amazing Weekend Adventure With Zero Planning

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I don’t know about you, but I love weekend adventures. And no, I don’t mean the kind of adventure where you wake up somewhere on a Sunday morning having no idea where you are or what transpired in the 48 hours past. I mean a good, clean outdoor adventure like your great grandparents would have enjoyed.

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The problem is I don’t often have much heads up about what days of the weekend I’m free. Most of my adventures end up being last-minute, spur-of-the-moment mini road trips.

From midnight drives through Yosemite to Friday afternoon beach trips, I’ve had some success in getting on the road and having a great time.

Bear in mind I don’t have children, so this might not be the most workable strategy in the world for families.

Most of these steps are customizable for your unique personality, likes and dislikes, and time available. But the most important thing to keep in mind is in order to have an enjoyable last-minute adventure, you have to keep things simple.

Find a place to go within 3–5 hours away.

A 3–5 hour drive can seem long, but as long as you’re staying overnight, it ends up being worth it. Most cities have places closer, but these usually qualify more for day trips. For my weekend adventures I try to get somewhere I haven’t been before or don’t often get a chance to visit.

Since most of my day trip spots have been well taken advantage of, giving myself more time is very rewarding.

If you don’t know where to go, just start browsing Instagram and checking out tagged locations, searching on Google and asking friends.

If you still can’t find somewhere to go, just pick a direction to start driving. Some of the best trips are the ones where you’re completely lost.

Toss blankets/supplies in your back seat/trunk.

You can make this as simple or as complex as you want. My packing list varies depending on where I’m going, but there are a few staples:

  • Blankets/pillows (or something to function as a pillow such as an extra blanket or towel)

  • Sleeping bag

  • Flashlights (usually an actual flashlight and a lantern of some sort)

  • Camera, lenses, tripod, memory cards

  • Knife

  • Lighter

  • Firearm (in case of bears, mountain lions, etc.)

  • Rope (I seriously need to get a climbing harness)

  • Change of clothes, sweatpants, boots, extra socks, underwear, and at least two jackets

  • I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but that’s the beauty of the word “adventure”, it’s all-all-encompassing and usually connotes something not being perfect, such as the packing

Fill up your gas tank.

If you don’t already have a full tank of gas, this is very important. You don’t want to be stopped on the side of a rural highway at 2:30 am because your fuel ran out.

Buy a gallon of water and some trail mix on the way.

For some reason I never have trail mix at home, so I usually buy it on the way (when I’m getting gas), and a gallon of water to stay hydrated over the next couple of days.

I don’t usually eat much more than trail mix and the occasional other snack during my weekend adventures. This isn’t because I’m trying to starve myself, but more as a way to ensure any bathroom breaks in the wilderness are easily taken care of.

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Turn up the music, adjust your seats and enjoy the drive.

Since most of my adventures start late on a Friday night, it’s already dark when I set out and most traffic has cleared off the road. This is the perfect time to enjoy some really good music, get comfortable, set the cruise control and take your time in getting somewhere.

Depending on how much sleep I got the night before, I can sometimes get quite tired on a long drive. Obviously it’s more important to stay safe than to get to a destination, so I make sure I’m good to drive, but still the winding roads and good music can be quite lulling. I find the best way to stay bright and alert is by having the heat turned up in the car, but the windows open. This keeps the car warm enough to be comfortable, with a nice fresh breeze to keep me alert.

Get “there” between 12:00 am and 2:00 am and sleep in the car.

I bought a tent last year. It’s still in the original packaging.

What can I say, when it’s dark and cold out, I don’t really want to step out of the car to set up a tent. Also, on most of my adventures I don’t have enough advance notice to reserve a camp ground or something, so I just end up parked somewhere on the side of a road or in a rural parking lot. This means the backseat (or trunk) is usually the best option.

I finally got a car that I can fit a full air mattress in, so I’m excited for that.

Car sleeping tips:

Best case: Large SUV

Air mattress with all the rows of seats folded down. No more explanation needed, you’re in weekend adventure paradise. Extra points for a panoramic moon roof that lets you watch the stars from your “bed”.

Good case: Medium SUV or Crossover

Fold down the back row of seats and lay down a sleeping pad, use a sleeping bag on top of that.

Livable case: 4 Door Sedan

If you have a decent backseat, you can curl up on that with a sleeping bag and some blankets. If not, get in the passenger seat and lean the seat all the way back (the passenger side has more room since it doesn’t have the steering wheel).

Worst case but I still did it because it’s called an “adventure” not “luxury vacation”: 2 Door Coupe

Trunk. Okay, I’ll explain: in this scenario you fold down the back row of seats to expose the trunk (hopefully your seats lay flat). You then lay down your sleeping bag (and hopefully pad under it), and sleep with half your body in the trunk and the other half on the flat surface of the folded down seats.

I’ll be honest, this set-up is not ideal. It worked to give me a few hours of rest on a Yosemite trip, but it’s not something I’d opt for on a regular basis.

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Wake up while it’s still dark and watch the sun rise.

When I’m out on an adventure, whether I’m sleeping in my car or on a camping trip with friends, I tend to wake up early. This is perfect since it gives me the opportunity to watch the sun rise.

As beautiful as sunsets can be, nothing beats seeing the sun crest the horizon and begin to bathe the world in a soft warm glow.

As a photographer, this also presents the best version of “golden hour” to capture all of nature’s beauty.

Hike, swim, jump, climb, get lost, do whatever you want.

The world is your oyster and so is a weekend adventure. The fact that its unplanned, spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment means your trip has no constraints, a fairly unlimited timeline and a wide-open schedule.

My last adventure had me hiking to a waterfall for sunrise, getting lost in the woods, climbing a log over a river and bathing in hot springs.

The best part was that I could do whatever I wanted. I was on a trail and instead of feeling like I needed to get somewhere by a certain time, I could just walk off the trail and find out the answer to “I wonder what’s on the other side of those trees?” And “Where does this little trail lead?”, etc.

You can also make friends. I’ve often run into people on my adventures, and it’s always fun to take some time to pet their dogs and share stories.

Head home, shower, sleep, get ready for the week.

At some point it’s time to go home. That’s when you hop in the car, pick an up-beat playlist and settle in for the long-ish haul home.

Once you get back, it’s time to clean out the car, do some laundry and do any other needed weekly preparations.

This is also the time where I look at the pictures I took and edit a few of my favorites.

And there you have it: that’s how to have a weekend adventure with zero planning.

All photos taken by me either on iPhone or Sony Mirrorless Full-Frame.