The road trip is an American ritual. Both of my parents spent their childhood summers in the back seats of sweaty cars, being driven from Portland, Oregon, to Illinois (my mom) or California (my dad). Those were the days when there was no air-conditioning, no multi-lane Interstate Highway System, and everyone drove 50 miles per hour.
My parents continued this car-driven vacation tradition, and every summer they would shove my sisters and me into the car and we would go a-drivin'. There was one summer in the early 80s when my dad bought a brown Ford van and decided we would circumnavigate the entire state of Oregon, as family goddamnit! You can only imagine the intense eye rolling and annoyed icy stares that we four teenage and pre-teen girls were giving out. But the real kicker was when my mom said that the only music allowed on the trip would be classical music. Our road trip never had a chance after that. Thank God someone got hurt and we had to head home early.
One ill-fated van vacation aside, I have always enjoyed traveling by car and taking long road trips, especially when I have plenty of money and plenty of time. These two crucial elements were in short supply on a most recent road tripthis time through the South.
We started our journey with the intention of driving from New York to Jackson, Mississippi, and back again in ten days and with two dogs in tow. Oh, it all looked so easy and quaint on the map, but it was a 3,000 mile trip; though I didn't figure that out until day seven... which leads me to the first commandment of the road trip:
Thou Shalt Plan Thy Road Trip!
The best place to start your trip is with a good old-fashioned road atlas. If you are a super-smarty pants and are a member of AAA, then you know they give out all kinds of free maps and other trip planners. There are alot of benefits to being a member of AAA, and I'm not just saying this because they rescued me and my piece of crap VW Rabbit many times. If you are not a member and you own a car, pay the membership fee and join up.
Also, if you mention your AAA membership when making hotel and car reservations -- alot of places will give you a discount. They will think you must be a real swell person if you are a AAA member.
Once you have studied your road maps and thought long and hard about the places you want to go, it is time to get to the fundamental fact of this trip, and that is you are going to be driving to all of these places. If you are driving alone, think about how much driving you can stand to do in one day. Personally, I can only drive for two hours at a time, though I once drove twelve hours alone to San Francisco, stopping only to pee.
With your driving capacity established and your road atlas at the ready, go to http://www.maps.yahoo.com and use the "driving directions" option to find out how long it takes to drive from point A to point B along your route. This is a good way to figure out the basic parameters of the trip so you can stay on a loose schedule and not end up with a 28-hour drive home because you dilly-dallied along the way.
I like to make motel reservations online for each night. There is nothing more pathetic than pulling off the freeway after a long day of touring and driving only to find that every room in town is being reserved for a Shriner convention. The only drawback to making reservations beforehand is the possibility that your trip takes a different turn (you want to stay in a town longer, you got a flat tire) and your list of reservations becomes impossible. This is where a cell phone comes in handyas long as you call and cancel before 4:00 p.m. on the day of your reservation, motels usually honor cancellations without a charge.