Knowing and Using Your Resources

As the calendar pages turn from July to August, our days in Ocean City get down to a handful, and the start of our “Big Adventure” is just weeks away! Once we get back to Long Island next weekend, we’ll have a couple of weeks to get clothes together, schedule the car to be checked out, take care of visits to the Doctor and Dentist, take care of nail and hair appointments, and see our kids before we leave. Then on Sunday, August 21st, with the car loaded, off we will go. A combination of sadness (that we are leaving the life we love in Ocean City), excitement (that this trip we have so long dreamed about and planned is really here), and trepidation (are we nuts to embark on 2-3 months of driving around the United States????) is our current state of mind, but we know that once we get on the road, we’ll have a great time!

Recently, a friend who has been following along with this blog asked a question about where to get information. He too wants to embark on a retirement trip, but he just didn’t really know where to start. It started us thinking about what our process has been, and thought some might find it interesting to take a look at some of the tools we have used along the way. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just some ideas we have used to get a handle on some of the places we want to visit and how to get there.

image1 – The AAA. As long time members of the American Automobile Club, we have always used AAA Maps and Tour Books as our road trip bibles. If you are of a certain age, you will understand what we mean when we say there is just something about watching your progress on a paper map that seems to define a road trip. Luckily, some of the best paper maps you can get, are published by the AAA, and are a perk of your membership. In addition to the maps, the tour books have a wealth of knowledge about tourist destinations as well as hotel and restaurants listings in the area. If you are an AAA member, you can order maps, tour books and even triptiks (route directions) online. You can also just stop into a local AAA office (doesn’t have to be the state AAA you are affiliated with) and pick up maps, tour books, and even triptiks. Having a paper map in front of you so that you can check the location and relationships between places you want to visit is a must when planning a trip, and the tour books will give you valuable information about the places on your trip and be very helpful in deciding what you want to visit. If you are a member, stop in and pick up a couple of maps and tour books and start planning. If you are not a member, consider joining, as the price of your membership will be well worth it for the information you can get. (aaa.com….yearly membership $52)

image2 – Atlas – Because many people would not consider a road trip without a comprehensive road atlas, we purchased a Rand McNally Road Atlas. This one volume contains maps of all 50 states and lower Canada and assures us that we will always have a map showing our location, wherever we are in the US. The scale is smaller than the AAA maps which sometimes makes it hard to figure out exactly what you’re looking at, but sometimes makes it easier to see the relationship between two destinations. While we’ve used this volume a lot in our planning, for our actual trip we think it will take a back up roll to the bigger scale AAA maps.

image3 – Books – One of the things that you need to do when you are planning a road trip, is to decide what you want to see. If you have a “bucket list” of places that you want to include (like Frank wants to see Mt. Rushmore and Sue Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon), it will make your planning easier, as you already will have destinations in mind. If your “bucket list” is empty, or if you need more information about places, there are thousands of travel books you can purchase via Amazon or at a book store like Barnes and Noble that will help you flesh out an itinerary. Two that we have used are, “1,000 Places to See in the US and Canada Before You Die” (Workman Publishing, NY) and The New Roadside America (a Fireside Book published by Simon and Schuster, NY). The first covers everything from National Parks, historic sites, scenic byways, and the like, while the second will lead you to the odd things…like the biggest thermometer, ball of twine and those kind of offbeat attractions.

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4 – Google and the Internet – We live in the age of information at our fingertips, and much of the info you’ll want to plan your trip is available via your computer, tablet, or even smart phone. Google will lead you to just about anything you have a question about, and virtually everything has a website these days. Want more info on the Grand Canyon? Type it into Google and go right to the Grand Canyon National Park’s website. While it’s nice to have books in hand, the reality is that you can find everything you need on the internet.
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5 – Trip Advisor – While we are talking about web sites, we’d like to single out one that has provided us with lots of information and advice. Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) is virtually a one stop destination for travel information. From hotel, restaurant, and attraction reviews, to information about the area, even to listings of hotel and apartment rentals, Trip Advisor is a great source for travel information. Just put in the area you are interested in visiting, and Trip Advisor will provide you a complete overview. In addition, hit the MORE button on the top of the page, highlight TRAVEL FORUM and it will open up the Travel Board where you can ask questions and get real advice from fellow travelers! From Cities and States, to National Parks and Historic Sites, to every kind of trip (like Road Trips), you can find a forum that covers exactly what you are looking for, populated with knowledgeable travelers looking to help their fellow travelers. A great resource.

image6 – Google Maps – Looking at places on a map gives you an idea of where they are and the relationship of places to each other, but how do you know how long it will take you to get from say Chicago to the Black Hills? This was the position we were in when planning some sections of our trip, and we found an easy way to get a ball park estimate was to use Google Maps. Enter your starting point and your destination, ask for directions, and it will tell you not only the mileage but give you an idea of the driving time. Now, we know that it’s not fool proof, but we think it’s a good way to get an estimate so that you can make some decisions based on facts.

7 – Hotel Apps – If you have a smart phone or a tablet you can travel with, hotel apps are a great way to see what’s available and even to make reservations. At the present time, I have apps from Best Western, Hilton Honors, and Choice Hotels on my phone, but there are many others. If you’re going to be traveling a lot, not only do these apps help you find lodging, but by joining their programs, you may even get free stays!

image6- GPS – While we like printed maps, we always travel with a Garmin GPS on our dash. It’s very handy when you are trying to find a hotel or site that you have an address for, and good to give you an idea exactly where you are. In addition, ours tells us what the local speed limit is, how fast we’re going, and also keeps us updated on traffic. We don’t depend on it totally, as we always try to have maps as a reference, and I’ve read on the internet that using a GPS in the American Southwest is iffy at best, as they are notoriously inaccurate there for some reason, but it’s a good tool to have in your tool box.

So there it is…some ideas from us, and how to go about planning and executing your trip of a lifetime…or perhaps just a trip down to Florida in the winter to avoid the January and February freeze! Probably the next time you hear from us, we will be on the road, but now we have to continue packing up the Ocean City house, and get ready for 2 weeks of trip preparation!

Looking Back

Now that our Florida trip is over, we have to get on the stick and start planning for our big USA trip that we hope to start in August. We’ve got Tour Books from the AAA, maps of all kinds, and we’re making lists of places we don’t want to miss. But before we get hot and heavy into research and planning for that trip, we figured it might be good to take a look back at our recently completed 11 day trip, and see what worked, and how that info can be transferred to our future road trips.

imageThe first thing we clearly found out was that our Hyundai Sonata Limited is a great car for our travels. The car has a good sized trunk, so there is lots of room for all kinds of stuff that we wanted to have with us. From a case of water, to our large suitcase, to even an emergency jump starter, we had no shortage of space. The back seat is an added space benefit, and gave us a place for our cooler but also an easy place to throw sweatshirts and jackets. The front seats are very comfortable, it’s an easy car to drive, and has plenty of power to go as fast as you want on the Interstates. It also gets great gas mileage, so that every tank got 400 miles or better before we had to refill, meaning that even on travel days, we bought only one tank of gas a day. She will make a very good companion for us on our long trip!

imageWe traveled with our GPS, even if we didn’t always follow her advice, as we were also following AAA Triptiks. There was a lot of “recalculating” done by her in the course of the week, and we still wonder if the couple of times we did follow her directions, she wasn’t getting back at us, as some directions seemed a little off. One thing that we did this trip was not mount the GPS on the windshield. Always seems like a reach to us to hit the buttons, and we’re not really thrilled that when it’s mounted on the windshield it blocks our view to the right. So Frank found this “sticky” pad for the dashboard. It mounted in a great place just above the radio, was easy to see and operate, and didn’t block our view. We will be getting a lot of use out of this!

imageSpeaking about the radio, we were very happy to be able to listen to the same thing all up and down the coast courtesy of our Sirius/XM Satellite subscription. Considering that Frank made his living for 43 years working in AM radio, that may seem strange, but the radio landscape in America has changed, and the days of enjoying listening to multiple stations as you go up and down the coast is gone. Signals are weak and fading, all the radio stations tend to sound the same, and finding something you want to listen to can be a pain, so we were very happy to have the company of Jimmy Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville for the entire 11 days. We never changed the station!

imageAnd the last thing we got for this trip and we loved, was the new Coleman cooler we bought for the back seat. It was just the right size (45 quart) for all that we wanted to keep cold, had a drain in the back (and not a lot of coolers seem to have one these days), and wheels that made it easy to roll into our motel rooms. The one problem is that the telescoping handle (kind of like a rolling suitcase) does not lock into position, so if you are pulling it the handle is fine, but if you try to push it, the handle un-telescopes. It needs to lock into position, and we’ll be imageworking on a solution to that issue down the road. We ordered a seat cover that is designed to go under a kid’s car seat, so the back seat was kept clean, and we strapped it in each morning with the seat belt and a bungie cord, and it was super stable. The cooler made it easy for us to do one of our favorite things, and that is have lunch along the way. Some days it was at a picnic table at a rest stop (once we were in warmer states), and other days it was in the front seat of our car, but either way we like this a lot better than buying lunch. Something that I guess we both did when we were on trips with our parents, something we did for the first time on our honeymoon, and definitely something we did with our three kids when they were growing up, and we were on the road.

So some successful items that enhanced our road trip and that we will definitely be using again in the summer, and for all our future travels, as this adventure of ours continues.