Since the 1950s, the road trip has been an iconic, uniquely American pastime that’s generated countless books, movies and childhood memories — good, bad and ugly. Starting with the rambling, east-to-west, two-lane blacktop of Route 66, the nation saw an explosion of 24-hour diners and ramshackle motels in every little town along the way. Soon after, tourist attractions from the incredible to the downright odd appeared along the same route, giving curious families from across the nation a unique reason to stretch their legs and open their wallets every few hundred miles.
Before long, the classic road trip became a firmly entrenched part of American pop culture and claimed a significant percentage of the nation’s tourism revenue. Then came the 1970s.
The 1970s saw a fuel crisis that caught most Americans unaware, spawning the age of the subcompact foreign 4-cylinder commuter car that became all the rage in the 30-plus years that followed. While these cars were just what the doctor ordered in terms of fuel economy, they sacrificed the comfort and luxury that made touring the country in a ’57 Chevy sedan so alluring.
During this same period, billions of dollars were invested nationwide on intrastate and interstate superhighways designed to zip travelers from point A to point B as quickly as possible. And that’s exactly what they did — by bypassing nearly all the small towns and funky tourist traps that had grown around two-lane cruising routes.
And so this classic American pastime became less a vacation or form of entertainment and more a drudgery reserved for those who couldn’t afford to fly.
But today, hitting the open road is back in vogue. With fuel costs currently at low levels and predicted to remain that way for the indefinite future, Americans have been investing in larger, roomier and more luxurious vehicles. Driving for pleasure is once again a favorite way to spend time together and build memories.
But how can you make the most of the modern driving adventure? Here are three simple tips to make everything from a day trip to a multiweek excursion more fun and affordable than ever before.
While it’s romantic to toss caution to the wind, hit the road and just see what happens, that level of spontaneity also runs risk of being unprepared. (“Did we actually forget the music? And the food?”)
Take advantage of resources online to discover what sights and attractions are available along your way. Then, map out a reasonable itinerary, and adjust based on budget. You can research discounts, compare prices and otherwise optimize the trip for everyone involved. That way, you’re sure to have fun with as little stress as possible.
Rather than planning marathon driving sessions every day of your trip, be sure to incorporate rest stops with cool things to check out along the way. If any single stretch of driving along your route takes longer than four to five hours, you run the risk of discomfort, frustration and mutiny. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun trip, not the longest morning commute ever. Make the journey as much fun as the destination.
While it’s important to plan ahead to eliminate unnecessary stress, it’s always good to be flexible, too. If you happen to come across an unexpected scenic overlook just as the sun’s going down, don’t insist on pressing on to eat up those last few miles to the next motel. Pull over, and enjoy the scene — isn’t that why you’re out here in the first place?
Whether it’s a gorgeous national park you’ve never experienced before or a line of Cadillacs half-buried in the sand, you’re sure to find something new and memorable on every well-designed road trip.