TL/DR: What are common preparation tips or techniques for low-hour private pilots planning long cross country flights in unfamiliar territory?
I got my private pilot's license in November 2016 in Hawaii. I've since moved back to the mainland to continue working and flying here. I'm currently in Phoenix and have been checked out for Cessna 172 rentals at a local airfield.
Over MLK weekend (Jan 14-16) if the weather is nice I hope to fly from Glendale (KGEU) to San Luis Obispo (KSBP) then to Rancho Murieta (KRIU) near Sacramento, and back to Phoenix. My girlfriend plans to come with me and I want to do everything that I can to prep and plan this flight to minimize our risk.
I have about 75 hours total time, mostly in 172s and DA40s and all my cross country time has been on the Hawaiian islands where it is nearly impossible to get lost and there are few airspaces enroute.
I'm very comfortable with VOR navigation but I'm not yet accustomed to the smaller Garmin G430 GPS unit in the Cessna here (I'm spoiled, used to the G1000) so I don't want to stress with the GPS unit.
I'm most concerned with the strength of my pilotage and dead reckoning and whether they are up to the task, especially considering that this will be my first flight in the region. Since VOR is line-of-sight and there more than a few mountains in the region I want to feel confident that I can get us there safely in case the VOR signals aren't being received for the duration.
I have the routes planned, altitudes selected, waypoints and frequencies written down, performance planning and W+B done, etc. and I plan to speak with my local flight instructor to go over all of these materials before the flight.
In any case, it would be great to hear additional tips/tricks/things to be aware of/mistakes that you made early in your flying career so that I can be as prepared as possible moving forward!