Road Trip USA

Road Trip USA

“Road Trip USA…takes you as close to the real America as you are ever likely to get.”

Here’s a question for you. If you had the time and the money to undertake just one extensive trip by road on any continent on the planet, which one would you choose, and where would you go? I ask this question because time and money seem to be the only things stopping many people from undertaking their ultimate dream vacation.

Last year (March 2008), a survey conducted by the Australian online automotive website Cars Guide indicated that Aussies love to hit the road. In fact, the survey of 810 respondents, found a whopping 99 per cent of Australians would go on a road trip because of the freedom and spontaneity it allows.

Not long after the Cars Guide survey appeared, a Rand McNally survey (May 2008), examining American attitudes to long road journeys found similar opinions to this form of vacation. According to the Rand McNally survey (of 2,030 U.S. adults), three in four adults (75%) were at least somewhat likely to take a road trip, and about three in ten (29%) said they were very likely.

Meanwhile, a recent article published in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal (May 2009), reported that the road trip was poised to make a comeback as the American summer travel season began, despite the lingering recession and rising fuel prices.

While the cost of fuel and accommodation were nominated as the two biggest concerns both in Australia and America, it seems our respective love affairs for the open road is not likely to diminish any time soon.

Which brings me to Road Trip USA.

Jamie Jensen’s best-selling guide book, Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways, (Fifth Edition, Avalon Travel, 2009) takes you as close to the real America as you are ever likely to get.

With 11 trips to choose from, covering classic American landscapes such as the Appalachian Trail, Atlantic Coast, Oregon Trail, and the famed Route 66, Road Trip USA steers intrepid road warriors through major cities like San Francisco and Chicago as well as remote, but charming all-American towns like Dyersville, Mississippi (where the baseball field created for the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams attracts visitors from near and far); or the small blue-collar town of Seneca Falls, in New York state (which saw the birth of the American women’s movement in July 1848).

As you might expect, Jensen’s routes also lead to popular destinations such as Disneyland, Yellowstone National Park, Niagara Falls, and the Statue of Liberty. Complete with local lore; oddball trivia (Memphis’s gifts to American culture – and the world’s – include the supermarket, the drive-in restaurant, the Holiday Inn, oh, and Elvis Presley). Filled with noteworthy details and roadside curiosities (a sign in Texas spelling out the command: “Rattlesnakes Exit Here”), Road Trip USA contains a wealth of recommendations on where to stop, what to see, and where to eat and sleep. This is one guide aimed at getting travelers off the freeway system, and driving into the heart and soul of America.

Other features of this edition include:

o A flexible network of route combinations, color-coded and extensively cross-referenced to allow for hundreds of possible itineraries
o More than 125 detailed driving maps
o Full-color interior with modern and vintage photos and illustrations
o A road trip resources section with contact information for popular hotel and motel chains, car rental companies, state tourism boards, and road condition centers

My personal criteria for a good guide book is that it should inform, enlighten, and occasionally even surprise, so I’m please to say that Road Trip USA has no trouble being informative, enlightening, and yes, even surprising.

I have no hesitation in saying that when I undertake my own road trip across America, this will be the one book I will have by my side at all times.

What’s Missing?
Unfortunately, Road Trip USA is almost entirely devoid of links to online resources. In an age when almost every printed piece of paper has a website URL and an Email address on it somewhere; and when so many modern electronic devices come Internet ready, this seems to be a glaring omission. I can only assume this is a deliberate choice by the author and publisher. With thousands of places of interest detailed in the book, they may have taken the decision to try and cut down on the visual clutter associated with URLs, and make the contents more ‘readable’ by avoiding them altogether.

While one doesn’t expect a URL or Email address for every location mentioned in Road Trip USA, surely major places of interest do warrant the inclusion of a web link (where available). A quick look through other guide books on my bookshelf reveals that all those printed over the last five years or so, include web addresses throughout, and future editions of Road Trip USA would be well served to do the same.

Before You Go
I think Road Trip USA would also benefit from a ‘Before You Go’ section outlining basic information regarding preparations for the journey. This chapter might cover such topics as:

o Useful (online and offline) sources of information regarding trip preparations.
o Information about safety (personal, vehicle break down, and other safety issues)
o What to do in an emergency (break downs, accidents, personal attack, etc)
o A checklist of possible items to pack and prepare
o A checklist of pre-trip vehicle preparations (brakes, tyre and engine checks, etc)
o Traveling with children and pets

Road Trip USA does have a small Resources section at the end of the book, running to just eight and a half pages – four of which contain a Recommended Reading list. The others refer to organizations associated in some way with automobiles and highways; a short list of hotel/motel chains, and car rental companies; and a list of U.S. and Canadian agencies dealing with State Tourism and road conditions. And that’s pretty much it.

The good news is, the omissions noted above do not detract in any way from the overall depth and quality of the detailed information presented in Road Trip USA. At just over 900 pages, I think it is fair to say that Road Trip USA covers all the ‘bases’ and then some. In deed, I have no hesitation in saying that when I undertake my own road trip across America, Road Trip USA will be the one book I will have by my side at all times

The Five Golden Rules of Cross Country Road Trip Planning

The Five Golden Rules of Cross Country Road Trip Planning

A cross country road trip is like no other road trip! For most road trippers, it’s the Holy Grail of trips. For you, it may just be a long desired vacation or chance to visit family. No matter what your reason, you’ll need some tips in order to prepare that are very unique to a cross country road trip. These five Golden Rules of Cross Country Road Trip Planning will ensure that your trip is a success!

Golden Rule #1

Recognize that this country is HUGE. Looking at a map may give you the illusion that you can cross it in a couple of weeks. There is no way you can do that, no matter what any mapping site says. Day after day spent entirely behind the wheel is a hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and you certainly don’t want to suffer through it. A typical enjoyable cross-country road trip can last anywhere from a month to two months depending on whether it’s round trip or not.

Map It – Whether your cross country trip is round trip (from home and back) or one way (a rental or another car you can drop off and fly back), get on a mapping website that will estimate the number of hours it will take you to drive to your destination (and back if that applies). There are tons out there including Google Maps and MapQuest.
Get Real – If you think you can drive for 8 hours a day, you’ve got another thing coming. For a fun (I hope this isn’t some method of self-torture) road trip, you’re going to want to spend no more than four hours behind the wheel a day. That will allow plenty of breaks and sightseeing along the way, and you’ll need both on your vacation. To make your trip even more pleasant, plan a day “off” from driving occasionally during your vacation. Plan that day to be at a destination where there will be enough to see and do to entertain you for a full day.
Consider Your Destination – Wherever you’re going, it’s probably somewhere you’re very interested in, or you wouldn’t be crossing the country, right? Plan at least a few days there to really soak it up before heading back home, no matter whether you’re flying back home or driving back.

Golden Rule #2

Spend some time planning out the sights you’ll see along the way as well as your time at your destination. Winging it with this can lead to some very boring breaks along your route. Most great things just aren’t visible from the highway. Great resources for planning your stops/sightseeing are:

Guidebooks on each state you’ll pass through.
Travel forums – especially ones that address specific areas/states and cities.
Websites that specialize in a state/area you’ll be passing through or in road tripping attractions (like mine).

Golden Rule #3

One common question I get is whether to book all the hotels/campgrounds/other lodging and plan each day or just to “wing it” and hope for the best. The answer: you can do either, but there are rules specific to each. For the planner, it’s easy – plan! Booking ahead will usually ensure cheaper lodging and will guarantee that you’ll have a place to lay your head at the end of each day (winging it can be more dangerous, but there are tricks to make it less so).

If you want to “wing it”, you’ll still need to do some planning. At the very least, book your lodging in the areas you’ll be visiting along the way that are popular destinations. Trying to get last minute reservations near a place like Yellowstone Park in the summer is insanity. It won’t happen. Consider the time of year also – New York City in the month of December is a crazy time. Plan accordingly.

Otherwise, “wing it” people can either use their GPS and really fly by the seat of their pants, or they can protect themselves from trouble by doing the following.

Before You Go – Research areas along the way and at your destination that may – or may not – be places you’ll want to stay. Make a list of 3-5 lodging choices for each and take down the address information and the phone number. Put it somewhere safe and accessible for your trip (I use a folder).

On the Road – Every morning, make the decision. Where do you want to go that day? Select your evening destination and make calls to your listed lodging choices. Don’t put this off until later in the day if you want to guarantee a place for the night. What vacancies exist in the morning will probably be snapped up by the afternoon. Now you can follow your whims every day and still have the security of a reservation each evening.

Golden Rule #4

You’ll need to really baby your car before taking a cross-country road trip – more so than for any other road trip. You’re about to push it to its limits! Here’s a checklist of things to have addressed by your mechanic before you hit the road:

Read your manual and have all maintenance that’s due taken care of now. Timing belts, tune-ups, system flushes, etc. all fall into this category.
Get an oil change unless it was literally just changed.
Have your mechanic check the following: hoses, spark plugs, belts, air filter, and all fluids. Also, if there’s any problem/weird noise or smell that you’ve been noticing with your car, deal with it.
Tires are vitally important. If they’re old, they won’t be able to handle heating up as they roll on the road and will probably blow. Replace them now if warranted. Get your tires rotated and alignment checked

Be sure to pack a roadside emergency kit (jumper cables, flares, tire patching kit, jack, spare tire), make sure you renew or get a roadside service membership, and pack extra water, a blanket, a flashlight with fresh batteries, and some emergency snacks.

Golden Rule #5

Packing for a cross-country road trip is all about streamlining. Unlike other vacations, this is not one where you’ll want to pack an outfit for every day. The best plan is to have 5-7 pants/skirts/jeans and 7-9 tops/shirts that coordinate well (as well as shoes, underwear, socks.

Stick with neutrals (kaki, white, gray, black, navy, blue jeans) for easier mixing and matching. Add 3-4 sweaters and jackets (more layers if the weather will be colder) that also are in neutral colors. Bring a gentle detergent for hand-washing (or using a machine when your lodging offers it) to make these outfits last as many weeks as your trip lasts. Don’t worry about your travel companions growing bored with your wardrobe – most people don’t care about your clothes as much as you do!

When it comes to other items, be sure to bring enough of the things you can’t easily get on the road (prescriptions for instance). For everything else (drugstore shampoos, soap, shaving cream, etc) just bring what’s easy to pack and get more as needed on the road. You don’t need to bring everything – you’re not going into the wilderness!