A fantastic vacation road trip is one that’s about the journey, not the destination. The keys to a memorable adventure? A mix of smart planning and flexibility, highway veterans say. A few tips:
The route: Be open to detours
“It’s a good idea to have a destination in mind, but never a route,” says blogger Mike Shubic of MikesRoadTrip.com, who has been road-tripping since 2010, when he left his marketing job to travel full time. “I veer down side roads, go for short hikes, or stop by a place where most people will drive by and say, 'I wonder what that is?’ ”
If you’d rather not be so footloose, go ahead and plan a couple activities a day along a chosen route, such as touring a historic attraction, strolling through a quaint small town or hiking in a national park.
Restaurants: Don’t waste a dining opportunity
For many of us, the best part of traveling is mealtime. Different regions have their specialties, from clam chowder in Boston to key lime pie in Key West. Visiting an authentic local restaurant, whether for a lobster roll on the coast of Maine or Nashville's hot chicken, can be one of the most memorable parts of a trip.
And these days it’s easier than ever to find unique eateries serving local fare. The TVFoodMaps app lists thousands of restaurants that have been featured on more than 30 different shows — like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives — and are worth a detour.
At other times, consider packing a cooler with lunches and healthy snacks, so you’re not wasting calories on forgettable chain-restaurant burgers.
Hotels: Allow room for flexibility
Some people aren’t comfortable traveling unless they know where they’ll be sleeping that night. While that’s understandable, a too-rigid itinerary limits your ability to meander and explore. If you're OK with a little uncertainty, try to make reservations only if you’ll be traveling at a busy time of year or have your heart set on a specific hotel. If a wonderful hotel is on your wish list, of course, book early and allow time to experience it. (It would be a shame to visit the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge in Colorado, which has the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool, for example, and not leave yourself time for a soak.)
Otherwise, it’s easier than ever to make same-day plans with apps like TripAdvisor, which allows you to check on hotel availability in towns down the road, and Hotel Tonight to find last-minute rates.
Grandchildren: Expect screen time
Hitting the road with your grandkids can be a great bonding experience, but it’s crucial to set ground rules and expectations. And if they’re like most kids today, you’ll have an extra companion on the trip: their phone, iPad, DVD player or some other electronic device.
“It can be a clash of cultures,” says Lazelle Jones, who has written about and traveled the Western United States for decades. “Just accept the fact that your grandkids are going to want to have their headsets on.”
If that’s going to bother you, talk about it. You might want to limit screens to a few hours a day, or ban devices during mealtime. But discuss it beforehand to avoid conflict during the trip.
Driving: Set a daily limit
Never equate the success of a road trip with the miles traveled. It’s crucial not to overdo it. “I’ve driven up to 750 miles a day, but it can be really fatiguing. That’s not a vacation,” says Jones. “Build in adequate time to truly see the destinations.”
He recalls meeting a guy who bragged that he had visited three national parks — Zion, Bryce Canyon and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon — all in one day. “It was important for him to say that," Jones says, “but he really didn’t see anything.”