Flying May Get You There Faster, but a Road Trip is a Richer Experience

Revel in a Road Trip!

I have yet to get my kicks on Route 66 but I have got a kick out of Interstates 40, 70, 80, 90, 95, and the beloved I-5 that runs from Southern California through downtown Seattle. I have driven across the United States three times, and up along the Eastern Seaboard. I was alone during my first cross-country drive and just 24-years-old, and the most recent transcontinental trip was in August 2011 when Hurricane Irene interrupted our flight from Los Angeles to Newark. Instead of camping out at Los Angeles airport, we rented a minivan and my husband, daughter and I took a four-day trek covering about 2,700 miles. We stopped in Las Vegas and enjoyed the scenery of Utah and Colorado the most.  Weather interfered again in October, my flight from Savannah, Georgia, to Newark was cancelled because Hurricane Sandy was moving in. Enterprise came to my rescue and I was soon behind the wheel of a Dodge minivan driving north on Interstate 95. About 815 miles and 13 hours of public radio later, I pulled into my own driveway.

I enjoy road travel not because I hate flying–after all, I have managed to rack up frequent flyers with the best of them–but because the road experience is one that can't be replicated. Flights feel pretty perfunctory and, if all goes safely, one flight feels like the next. But no two road trips are alike even if you travel down the same road. The landscape constantly changes. The people change. Driving along a highway or a dirt path, sometimes you can go 100 miles before running into another gas station or any sign of civilization or gentrification. You don't get that up in the clouds. On the road, America still feels like the huge frontier country you read about in history books.

Plan But Make Impromptu Stops, Too

A plan of action is always important with any trip, particularly a road trip, but leave room for spontaneity, too. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is a great resource and has never steered me wrong–pun intended! AAA allows you to customize a road trip or triptik that you can print out. Using AAA, you can also look up hotels along your route or plan any sightseeing.  Investing in AAA membership is also a good idea, especially if you own your vehicle and in case your car breaks down (which happened to my husband in South Dakota during a cross-country trip). If you are renting a vehicle, ask the car rental agency about their policies regarding roadside assistance and whether it's worth purchasing roadside insurance up front.

Roadside Attractions:

The open road beckons. Want to see full-sized trucks and cars near Alliance, Nebraska that are piled on top of one another to look like England's Stonehenge?  What about a 20-foot tall Coast Salish Native American woman carved from wood ready to greet visitors to Tacoma, Washington? How about posing in front of the giant blue whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma, along the famous Route 66? American ingenuity and entrepreneurial are on full display on the road. Whether it's a mom and pop cafe or a sculpture piece that started out as a joke and eventually gained a following, America's byways and highways offer plenty of road stop attractions, from the serious to the quirky to the bizarre. Visit Roadside America or Legends of America to learn about what's out there. Roadside America also offers an app so you can make decisions about what you want to see while on the go.

If you're looking to enjoy Nature's bounty, the National Parks Service offers endless opportunities to explore America's finest. We've turned to the National Parks Service during our own road trips to California, Virginia and Maryland, such as camping on Assateague Island National Seashore on the Atlantic Ocean and watching wild ponies trot along the beach. And don't forget about state parks along the way. Use your road trip to discover fantastic state parks. Check out individual state government web sites for details about recreation and park listings.

Roadside Food–What to Do?

If you're okay with fast food, then the open road beckons with endless possibilities and countless foods dipped and fried. But what if you're more of a health nut, like me, and you just can't stomach greasy spoon fare?  No matter what your dietary preferences, when on the road it's always good to keep plenty of water on hand and snacks. Dried fruit and nuts are inexpensive and keep blood sugar levels stable. I also bought protein shakes so I could enjoy some protein on the go. More fast food restaurants also offer healthier options, including salads. Road Ninja is a fun app that can help you identify different restaurants or other stops along your route. Vegan tacos? Or maybe you need to stop at a pharmacy to buy band-aids. Road Ninja can help, from letting you know where to pull over for a quick bite to how far until the next gas station.

Another trick I learned is to keep bags of tea on hand. I'm a tea snob and like my organic white cucumber tea, thank you very much. This snobbery came in handy when I needed to stay awake during my solo drive from Savannah to Newark. Instead of stopping repeatedly for coffee, which isn't usually very good at roadside convenience stores, I would get a cup of hot water and brew my own tea while on the go. It worked wonders.

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