Ready to get out and see America this summer? Whether you’re hitting the road with your best buddies, your significant other or with the kids in tow, the hours you spend in the car together can either be magical memories or a close-quarters catastrophe. We prefer the former. So, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Mother Road, Route 66, we present this five-part series, with 66 tips for the ultimate summer road trip.
Part One: Tips 1-9
Embrace the Spirit of Adventure
Road trips provide limitless opportunity for memory-making adventure: Foster an attitude of spontaneity and see where it takes you!
1. Go West, Young Man (On Route 66)
For a memorable and history-infused road adventure, why not tour America on its most famous route? In November of 1926, the Main Street of America, Route 66, was approved from Chicago to Los Angeles. Paved in 1937, the road became a symbol of hope as Dust Bowl refugees took to it on their migration to work the fields of California. When Nat King Cole released “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” in 1946, the road became internationally famous, and the post-World War II boom found vacationers hitting the highway on a great American journey.
Although the interstate system replaced or bypassed large swaths of 66 beginning in the late ‘60s, many of the hotels and roadside attractions that benefited from the road’s fame still exist. You can still rent a (concrete) teepee in Arizona just off the highway, or sleep where the stars stayed during the heyday of Western movies, at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico.
2. Don’t Rush It
A road trip is about more than your destination. Sit back and savor your time on the road by planning to do less. When time permits, split up your trip to allow for fewer miles each day, leaving time to pull over for antique malls, flea markets, local restaurants and exploration before the sun sets on your day’s adventures.
3. Tap into Atlas Obscura
Use your tablet and electronic devices to help you discover what’s outside your car windows, rather than missing the view. A Florida ghost town along the Suwannee River? An 80-room treehouse in Tennessee? The National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin? It would be a shame to pass by the most exciting roadside attractions without even realizing it. Atlas Obscura, an online database of fascinating places, is your guide to the wonders just around the next corner, wherever you are in the world. The Garmin DriveAssist display has a search field that makes it easy to find addresses and millions of points of interest. Simply enter a category like “pizza” and DriveAssist display quickly returns your results. In case of a misspelling, Garmin DriveAssist provides multiple search results that sound similar to what you’ve entered.
4. Talk to Locals
Whether you’re gassing up or filling your belly, whenever you’ve pulled over in unfamiliar territory, take advantage of the opportunity to chat with the locals. At worst, they’ll think you’re an overly friendly weirdo from … wherever you’re from. But at best, you’ll learn about the perfect swimming hole just around the corner, or the best ice cream float in the world at the drive-in down the street.
Image credit: Leslie McKellar
“When you are planning a road trip, an easy way to find the best food is to find a great craft cocktail joint (Google before you go), then sit at the bar and ask the patrons and the bartenders, where they like to eat. A craft approach to beverages is a natural fit for people who enjoy a craft approach to food.”
—Stephanie Burt, Food Writer and Critic, Charleston, S.C. http://www.thesouthernfork.com/
5. Get Off the Interstate
Major freeways might be the most direct route, but there’s much to be said for taking to the two-lane backroads. If the idea of getting on the road bores you because everything looks the same, the solution may be to leave an hour earlier and take an entirely new route. It may take longer, but you’ll enjoy the drive!
“My family took a lot of road trips from Virginia to Texas to visit my dad’s family. We always took a pretty leisurely route and found interesting places to stop along the way, from a little German-style mountain town in Georgia to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served alligator in Louisiana. I have no idea how my parents found these places without the internet—maybe we just winged it? But I don’t remember ever feeling bored, despite being on the road for hours each day. There was always something new to look forward to.” –Erica Curran, Writer and Editor, Richmond, Virginia, https://ericajcurran.wordpress.com/
6. Leave Open Days
If you’re in a hurry, you might just miss the best experience on your trip. Whether it’s an extra day with an old friend you’ve stopped to visit, a family detour to an amusement park, or simply a day hiking and camping out at a random state park far from home, you’ll never regret leaving yourself extra time to relax. Be spontaneous and follow your curiosity.
7. Play “Wing It” or Don’t!
Okay, if you’ve taken these first six tips to heart, you’re ready to clear your schedule and hit the road with no agenda but pure exploration. Take it to the next level by letting the kids call “right” or “left” and truly winging it. Pull over at all historical signs and points of interest. But keep an eye on your route, lest you drive in circles!
Let the Garmin DriveAssist help you navigate your road trip. This device includes detailed maps of North America, driver alerts for increased awareness on the road, and a built-in dash cam that continuously records your drive.
8. Give the Trip a Theme
Whether it’s a tour of battlegrounds, mansions, museums, or sports arenas, a themed journey can be as educational as it is exciting. Give your trip a purpose around one of your family’s interests. Does mom love antique shops? Does dad get a kick out of amusement parks? Plot each destination on your map, and let those be your guide.
“When I was 15 years old, my family took a road trip from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Charleston, South Carolina, and stopped at every historical Civil War site along the way (including random battlefields in the middle of nowhere). It was the “Civil War Tour of 2000.”
– Michelle Marino, Editor and Freelance Writer, Boston, Mass.
9. Where to Go? Step Into History at the “Birthplace of Route 66 Festival”
August 12-14: This annual shindig in Springfield, Missouri, features concerts by The Marshall Tucker Band, Rhonda Vincent and Asleep at the Wheel, plus a parade, and car and motorcycle shows. On Sunday morning, they’ll host 6.6K and 3.3K runs, giving visitors a chance to get their blood pumping, and road trippers the opportunity to make up for sedentary days in the car with plenty of steps tracked on their Garmin wearable.
Inspired to hit the road yet? Get packing! We can help. Take a look at our next part in the series: Tips for packing and preparing for your big adventure.
Stratton Lawrence is a travel writer and adventure buff located in Folly Beach, South Carolina. He’s driven cross-country many times, including a two-month sojourn from San Francisco to Charleston in a 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Stratton also provides auto advice, whether you’re hitting the road in a classic car or your favorite modern cruiser, as a writer for eBay Motors.