Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tried and True Tips for Road Trips,........or, "No Particular Place to Go"

My hubby and I have a framed United States map where we've kept a visual record of our auto travels around this marvelous country.  It's funny how a few roads have been colored with magic marker many times, and one area of the country shows that we haven't been there, together, at all. The rest of the map is marked with routes lined in various colors, reminding us of our car trips on the road. Cruises are marked with dotted lines in the water. The few flights are dots on the places we landed.

I write a blog that tells about our trips for the past few years at  and have books of hand-written journals from "BB," or "Before Blog."

In other words, we are seasoned travelers, and over our years together, we have acquired a certain amount of "savoir faire," which makes our trips easier and more fun.

Since we just returned from fifteen days on the road, it is all fresh in my mind, and because I am, by profession, a teacher, I am willing to share these with you!  Pick and choose the ones you like.

1.  Join AAA.  Before we leave for anywhere, we get recent maps and guidebooks. It's all part of the membership, so it's not expensive.  You can have AAA make you a Triptik to show you how to get somewhere, at no extra cost.  We ride along with the current state's guidebook on the "navigator's" lap, and the non-driver can tell the driver what's coming up that might be of interest. We also take along "Thelma," our trusty GPS unit. She has only tried to kill us twice, and she can usually get us where we decide to go.

2. Make plans, but DON'T MAKE PLANS.  If you suddenly realize that you are about to encounter an area you want to investigate, you don't want to say, "Oh, too bad..........we have reservations...." You  may never pass this way again!  Stop and see me, there's a hotel waiting somewhere for you. We managed to be in South Dakota not once, but twice, during the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Instead of going elsewhere, we went with the flow, met some bikers, and had a wonderful time. We found hotels in spite of the crowds.

3.  Pick up the hotel and motel booklets at the rest areas on interstates.  There are coupons in there for great motels at discount rates!  I have stood behind customers in motels who are paying twenty or thirty dollars more than I am, for the same kind of room, simply because they didn't know about those booklets.  They are only available on interstate rest areas, so don't waste time looking elsewhere, and they are generally for motels near an interstate. Check the fine print to see if there are restrictions on days of the week or holidays, but they are a gem! We make reservations only if we know for a fact that we need them. Without coupons, we "shop around" for the best price and accommodations before we settle down for the night. We always ask to see the room, too.  Just because a lobby is clean doesn't mean that the room itself isn't reeking of mold or too much air freshener. Don't be afraid to say, "No, thank you," and walk away!  You can negotiate, sometimes, for a better price, too. And don't forget to say you're a AAA member or AARP, or a member of their chain!  Use the tools you have!

4. Join hotel and motel chain clubs.  Fill out the form and carry the card.  Over the years we have had several totally FREE NIGHTS at Choice Hotels due to being a club member.  We are card-carrying members of nearly every hotel chain in the country, and hope to use our points some night at other chains, too. If the points expire before we can accumulate many, we don't use that chain.  We don't know where we're going to stay ahead of time, and expiring points don't help us. Read the fine print, as I said. Look for motels that offer a free breakfast, not just continental breakfast. It will save you money, and if you have had enough to eat before you set out for the day, you don't need to spend a lot of money on food.

5. Pack lightly!  This last trip I wore every item in my suitcase.  You really are never going to see the people that you meet on a road trip again.  They're wearing jeans, so you might as well be, also. One sweatshirt, one pair of jeans, a few tee shirts, one sweater, a jacket and one coat if it's not summer.  A pair of black slacks and a black sweater goes along in case we "go somewhere special," but let it be wrinkle-free-easy-pack, so you don't have hanging clothing all over your car. Walking shoes, sandals, shower shoes and a pair of black flats are ENOUGH for your feet. One swim suit and a cover-up will be fine in any hotel.  Remember: You will never see those people again.  They won't know you wore it at the last hotel. Take enough fresh underwear, as it's the only thing you won't wear twice. Take a hat, preferably a ball cap, to keep sun out of your eyes as you drive.

The only other hat you might need is a sun hat for a beach.  If you even think you're headed towards a beach, throw in a beach umbrella and two beach chairs, but only if those chairs fold flat, so the don't consume space! Leave the boogie boards at home: For the space they take and the two minutes you'd use them, it's wasted space.

Your clothing won't get dirty sitting in a car, so many times I can just leave my suitcase in the car instead of dragging it into each motel.  I carry in fresh undies, my robe, and that bag with the laptop and cosmetics, and travel truly lightly. This works best if your motel door is near the car, but it's most appreciated when it's not, and there's a flight of stairs to climb.  Some motels don't have elevators.

6.  You don't really need to take shampoo and conditioner. For a week or so you can get along with the hotel stuff and save room in the car.  Take all your make up in one little bag. I pack my cosmetic equipment on the morning we leave, dropping each item into the bag after I've used it.  If I didn't need it that morning, I won't need it any morning. Leave the fluff at home! DO take a night light from the Dollar Tree, a can of air freshener, and a flashlight.

7. I take a laptop, so we always look for free Wi-Fi, which is now almost a given.  Do I need anything other than the laptop and my cell phone?  No.

8. Do not take valuables along with you.  I wear one set of jewelry, and I am wearing it!  Almost every theft I've heard about took place in a motel room when the people were at breakfast or the room was being cleaned.  The key is:  Don't take valuables along to be stolen. Leave the jewelry in the safe deposit box, and carry your purse everywhere you go, so your credit cards are always on your person.  If you haven't put the laptop into the car before you go to breakfast at the motel, stop, go back, and put it into the locked car before you eat.  Lock the dead bolt before you go to bed, and use that metal thing that keeps the door from opening, too. If there's noise in the hall, call the desk, and don't open the door to see what it is. It's their job to keep the hotel safe and quiet, not yours.  Also, when you park your car, don't park it behind the motel. Put it right out front under a big, tall flood light! Having light and possibly a video cam up there may deter break-ins.

9.  Make lunch a picnic! Some of our fondest memories are the picnics. We stop at grocery stores for fried chicken or lunch meat. Then we stop at a rest area or city park.  We carry a large plastic container holding a loaf of bread, a jar of almonds, peanut butter and crackers.  A little candy is important, too. We take a large bag that holds salt and pepper, plastic silverware, paper plates, paper towels, napkins, and an old tablecloth in case a picnic table needs covering.  I carry a smaller bag that holds single servings of mustard,mayonnaise and artificial sweetener, so I can make my famous "egg salad breakfast" at motels.

10.  I include the famous "egg salad breakfast" directions for the sake of those who are sick of the motel waffle and refuse to eat that gunk they call gravy and the fattening biscuit.  If you are at a motel that offers hard-cooked eggs, you are in luck. (If not, you can now buy small packs of 2 or 6 hard-boiled eggs at grocery stores and keep them in your cooler or motel frig until you need them.)
The egg salad breakfast:  Cut up a hard-boiled egg in a bowl.  Add one of those single-serving packs of mayonnaise and half a single-serving pack of mustard. I like my egg salad sweet, so I add two packs of fake sweetener, mix it up with a fork, and then I spread this over a toasted half bagel, an English muffin, or a piece of toast. It is filling, delicious, easy to make, and when I add a piece of fruit from the breakfast bar, I am totally satisfied for several hours.(It is also not fattening.)

11. Dinner is a special time, but not every night.  On the nights we are too tired or cheap to eat at a special place, we order pizza to be delivered to our room, or do the fast food thing. Since I am pretty picky about what I eat, we might visit a local grocery store for deli specialties, a Lean Cuisine (if our room has a microwave), or make a sandwich using that loaf of bread in the car and fresh lunch meat.  Since food is not the most important thing on our road trips, we are fairly easy to please, but as we enjoy trying local foods, if there is a special restaurant to visit, we splurge!

12. Wear a pedometer!  It's fun to know how far you've walked each day, especially if you are "foot-walking a city," for your sightseeing. We bragged about walking 13 miles the day we were in The Magic Kingdom, and had the proof of it on my waistband!

 If you're missing your workout at home, consider the steps you took as your exercise, but if you're not satisfied, check to see if your motel has a work-out room. Once, we went to a Lowe's Home Improvement Center and did our walk inside the store.  We weren't sure of the neighborhood, and Lowe's was safe. We just briskly walked up and down each aisle until we'd gotten half an hour of walking done.

13. Throw stuff out as you move along!  If you're done with Georgia, toss out the maps and advertisements. It will keep your car clean and tidy. It's where you are living, in a way, for the trip time, so it's nice to have it neat. Put a small trash can in the front area of the auto, so little stuff gets tossed into it, instead of littering where you sit. When you hit a rest area, the navigator can empty the can.

14. Take turns driving.  Nobody wants to spend the whole trip at the wheel of the car.  The other person navigates and reads the guidebooks.  Every hundred miles or so, switch!

15. Visit the library BEFORE you leave home! Tell the librarian you are going on a trip, and he will let you sign stuff out for as long as a month! We take three or four audio CDs with us, and have become totally engrossed in mysteries, laughed a lot at Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone stories, or been terrified by a Stephen King novel. We've also read whole books aloud to each other as we moved across the country, the navigator reading. It makes the traveling time go faster, trust me.

16.  Souvenirs and gifts need to be small enough that they don't crowd the car. I once bought a lawn chair, and had to tote it all the way from South Carolina, only to find that I could buy the same thing at my local store.  I like to take food gifts home, as they are consumable, and the receiver doesn't have to clean off a shelf or keep it for posterity.  Nobody really wears the Stone Mountain tee shirt, so we gave up on clothing, but the pickled okra and Himalayan pink salt was a hit. Wine from wineries we visited has also been well-received.

17. Write a journal as you travel, so you know where you've been!  My volumes have come in handy many times when trying to remember a town's name or the route we took.  It's also fun to share your travels with people who are interested. Those who aren't, aren't. You will get over it. But DO take pictures, and include yourself and your traveling partner in the pictures.  A mountain is a mountain is a mountain, but a mountain with Randy in front of it is a souvenir and proof that he was there!  A moment in your life, and his, has been captured! Don't be afraid to ask others to take your picture together, and then offer to return the favor for them.

18. Have fun! Your trip is not an assignment!  This is to see the world, after all, not to "get it done!" If something appeals to your curiosity, STOP THE CAR, get out, and SEE IT!  We would never have seen Mark Twain's grave or the World's Largest Frying Pan if we had just driven by and said, "I wonder what that is ..................."

19.  Coming home should be wonderful.  Since you don't have a lot of STUFF that you didn't use but took along, the trash has been left behind as you travelled and the souvenirs are small, it's not a big deal to unload the car.  Move it in, put it away, toss the laundry down the chute, sit down with a drink and talk about how much fun you had!

I am newly retired, and hope to be able to continue to take road trips for many years.  We discussed taking a tour to another country soon, but instead we might go see that area of the country where our wall map doesn't have any colored lines running over it, and change that!

Copyright:  KP Gillenwater 2013