Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Return of Road Trip Travel Advice...

According to Mr Google, today would have been the 116th birthday of artist Norman Rockwell, the man who created all those homespun Saturday Evening Post magazine covers. Though conservative and sentimental, his pictures trace the arc of mid-20th century America, and are worth a look (especially if you're traveling in New England, where most of his pictures are set, and where his studio and a massive museum document his life and work).

But then again, it's still the middle of winter, and New England is snowy and sub-freezing, so here are some ideas & questions-and-answers about plannning future road trips at other times and in other parts of the USA.

Kind of like the road warrior equivalent of a seed catalog, to inspire future adventures...

Here goes:

Funding a Life-Changing Road Trip Odyssey

Dear Jamie Jensen,

My girlfriend and I are putting together a 48-state, three month road trip starting this March. Its been a dream of ours for forever, and if we don't do it now, it might never happen. Susanna and I are community college students, full of curiosity for the world, anxious to meet brothers and sisters from all walks of life and corners of the nation. To us, its about the people! American people. Our people. We will sleep at hostels, campgrounds, rest stops, and even in our car if we have to.(For a chance to meet the ranch-hands of Montana, shrimp boat captains of Louisiana, and every hot dog vendor in New York City, we are more than willing to rough it!) The problem is that we are still short in the money department. Gas/food will set us back $4000, and a $15 daily campsite adds up to roughly $1,300 (not to mention pre-departure costs, emergency funds, and the ability to, on occasion, do the whole tourist thing.) When all is said and done, we cant expect to do this trip with less than $6,000.

My question to you is: Do you know of any scholarship programs for road-tripping students? Tips for saving money on the road? We want to put a purpose to the trip, and have talked about doing a blog/youtube channel, or a live show via Ustream, but that doesn't bring in money.We’re not famous and our trip isn't a record breaker or anything, but it’s important to us. A sort of windows-down, radio-blaring, wind-whipping, type of soul search, that might just have the potential to change us. If you have any suggestions, or ideas on how we can make this trip happen, we’d be forever grateful.

Wishing you well – Aaron G.


Dear Aaron --

Many thanks for your message. I hope you are still planning to take the big trip you outlined to me, and I also hope I can help you make it a great experience.

I wish I knew of a scholarship program or some sort of subsidy that would help you on your way -- and I've been holding out hope that some of this $$Multi- Billion "Economic Stimulus" money would be used like it was back in the New Deal 1930s, when needy young men were put to work planting trees and building parks, and writers and photographers were hired to travel around, explore the country, and write what turned into the still-fascinating "WPA Guides", one to each US state. Check them out if you're ever in a library -- most of these books have been out of print for 50+ years, but are still on the shelves (around Dewey Decimal ## 917.42) and still make evocative reading.

Though I can't point you toward a funding source for your great adventure (and if anyone out there can help, please put feel free to make an offer thru the blog-comments!), I will still encourage you to head out on the highway and see what you find. Many moons ago, when I was a college student myself, I set off on what I thought was going to be a summer vacation road trip, planning to hitchike back to California from Washington DC, where my Mom was living at the time. On the 5th of July, the day after Independence Day, I loaded up my backpack (tent, stove, sleeping bag, food and water!), and stuck out my thumb -- and I was still "on the road" three years later, having had all sorts of adventures and experiences -- truly "life changing" stuff. I don't think I ever had more than $100 in my pocket at any time, but I managed to get by, by:

1. subsisting on Cornnuts, and
2. being open to whatever opportunities presented themselves -- helping old farmers make hay in Kansas and Oklahoma, doing odd bits of building works here and there, selling popcorn and kites, even crewing a sailboat traveling slowly down from Cape Cod to the Caribbean. I don't remember ever getting paid very much, but I did get many a "free lunch", a place to stay, and an enduring sense that the world is not always the evil and soul-destroying place it can sometimes seem to be.

Because I had no real destinations to get to, or any time constraints at all (ahhh, the freedom of youth!), I think I was better able to be open to possibilities as they presented themselves. And also, because I was prepared to cope (sleeping out under the stars some nights, but more often on some new friend's couch..), I never panicked or got desperate -- at least not for very long. Having a car you can sleep in (comfortably!) will help improve your state of mind, I'm sure.

Travel wise, the best decision I made on my trip was to stay away from big roads and freeways, where everyone is in a hurry to be somewhere else. Instead, I traveled on small, local roads, where as a hitchhiker I was a non-threatening novelty, and people seemed to feel less fearful and more open to stopping to talk to me, maybe take me a ways down the road, or even to put me to work.

Thinking practically, prior to your big 3-month odyssey I would also suggest you try some shorter, "shake-down" trips, to find out what works for you. Practice living extremely cheaply; you have the rest of your lives to worry about money, and I think that trying to "monetize" this adventure would be missing the point entirely -- but by all means document whatever thought or insight strikes you. (Jack Kerouac took his big "On The Road" trip in the late 1940s, but he didn't write about it or see any cash rewards for 10 years or more...)

So: when you do mange to make this "windows-down, radio-blaring, wind-whipping, type of soul search" road trip with Susanna, my "words of advice" would be to encourage you to get out of your car as often as you can, stopping to watch rivers flow under bridges, walk around the small towns and big cities you'll pass thru, and really try to engage with the people you meet. You seem to be inclined to this already, so get out there and make it all happen.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen

Route 66 -- via Las Vegas

Hi Jamie

I've been enjoying your website, but there are just too many exciting options when planning the perfect American roadtrip! With all your wealth of experience, what would be your road trip counsel in this (our) situation:

We are two Brits planning a 3 week roadtrip for next May or June.
I can't drive - fortunately, my boyfriend does...
He has spent two weeks in California - I have never been to the States.
We want to start off in Las Vegas.
We had thought Vegas to New York, but I am getting nervous thinking that'll be loads of driving and will be more of an epic trawl than a jaunty drive. Especially with just one person at the wheel.
We love great scenery - but are not really tent and campfire Outdoor Types.
We want to keep it cheap-ish and very cheerful.
We're not desperate for Theme Parks of famous landmarks - its more about the coffee and burgers and sliding in to a diner booth and pretending we're in a movie (maybe that's just me).

Any tips...?

Any advice you could punt our way would be very, very much appreciated!


Dear Mimi --

Thank you for writing in to Road Trip USA -- and sorry it took me so long to reply. Your trip sounds like great fun -- a 3-week road tripping cruise around the USA from Las Vegas will give you a great sense of America.

Heading as far as New York is indeed a long drive for a first visit -- just to give you an idea of the scale of the country, NYC is roughly the same distance from Las Vegas that London is from distant Istanbul, so make sure you don't overdo it. In fact, I would suggest limiting your driving and focusing more on the western USA -- California has all the movie connections you could want (and your image of sliding into a diner booth reminds me of a scene from Pulp Fiction, where Tim Roth does exactly that -- then pulls out a gun and robs the joint... A life of crime isn't in your itinerary, I hope).

Factoring in the hugeness of the USA, I would suggest you consider a lower-mileage tour -- from Las Vegas, you can travel around the amazing John Ford / Wild West landscapes of Utah and Arizona, cruise along historic "Route 66" to see the Grand Canyon and other natural spectacles without needing to camp out (there are plentiful accommodations, often in truly charming old lodges). Then head west to California, for Yosemite National Park (not to be missed in May /June, when the waterfalls are running full blast!), the great cities of San Francisco and LA, and all the beaches, mountains and deserts you could want. Even if your boyfriend has been here before and "seen it all", California is still a fantastic place to visit and explore (esp if you like to pretend you're in a movie!).

To my mind, NYC and the East Coast in general is less of a road trip destination than the wide-open spaces of the American West -- but then again, New England has charming villages (and 1930s stainless steel classic diners aplenty). And then there's the South, with New Orleans, great food and music, and all that homespun hospitality. The Pacific Northwest, around Seattle, is also gorgeous...

You are right -- there are just too many options!

Take it one trip at a time, though -- the USA should still be here for a few more years at least. (Long enough for you to get yourself a drivers licence, so you can get the full road trip experience!)


OK -- that's a starter answer. Please write me again when your plans start taking shape -- and in the meantime I hope you enjoy my website, and my book, which has tons more info and ideas and roadside trivia (and maps and photos, too).

Thanks again for writing, and

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen


Hi Jamie

Thanks so much for your email. We had already purchased your book and with its sage advice decided on our route... from Vegas getting on to Route 66 as far as Chicago (maybe cheating on the end section, for the run into the city). We liked the idea of clocking some miles, and the nostalgia of the route won us over. We figure if it's about 2,000 miles then an average of about 100 miles a day, more when there's less to see, is totally do-able (says I - the non-driver!). We can't wait to take it all in - buy some art in Santa Fe, eat steak in Amarillo, and finish up in a cool boutique hotel in Chicago. And with Vegas as our starting point, who knows what fun we'll get up to to send us on our way.

Thanks again for the advice - we'll be most likely going in May - can't wait!


Danish Kicks on Route 66

Hi Jamie!

We are a group of Danish travellers - 8 adults and 2 kids. We wanna
explore the USA in the Fall 2011 and I wanna hear your advise for our trip.
6 of us will be driving on Motorcycles and 4 of us in a car. We have 3
weeks to spent...
Can we do the Route 66 without being stressed in 3 weeks? And can we do it
on our own? I think it's to expensive to take a guide trip (sorry for my

Hope to hear from you with some advise...

Best regards

Lene from Denmark


Hello Lene --

Thank you for writing in to Road Trip USA, and I hope you are still planning to make your big trip down old Route 66!

Three weeks is probably plenty of time to do that great drive -- and you'll still have enough time to enjoy the sights and sounds at either end (Chicago and LA) and soak up the scenery along the way (the historic wonders of Santa Fe New Mexico, plus quick detours to gape at Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon).

And the freedom of doing this without the expense of a guided tour is well worth the few possible hassles -- just be sure to do your research so you know what to look out for. In general, there are plenty of motels, restaurants and gas stations out there along RT66 (which to be honest runs in the shadow of some pretty major, heavily-traveled modern roads most of the way from Chicago to LA.)

And we Americans are a pretty hospitable bunch, plus I am sure you will find the USA a very "affordable" place to visit -- pizza & beer in America is a lot less expensive than in Copenhagen, for sure!

And bear in mind that RT66 is not the only great highway in America -- if you want a complete contrast from your hyper-civilized homeland, take a motorbike cruise along the "Loneliest Road in America", following US50 across Nevada, or on some of the many other great roads all over the USA. I cover 40,000 miles worth of fantastic road trips in my book, Road Trip USA, and that barely scratches the surface of the many wonders the USA offers to adventurous travelers.

I hope your RT66 trip gives you a great taste -- you'll have fun for sure!

Let me know how your plans shape up -- and feel free to write back if you want more details. For now,

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen

please check out my books:
Road Trip USA -- the Big Book
Road Trip USA: Route 66


Scottish guitar strummers on All-American US-50 road trip

Hi Jamie, first of all I'd just like to say thank you for the website, it is a fantastic tool for budding road trippers!

My name is Stephen, I'm 23, from Aberdeen in Scotland. My friend and I are hoping to take a month-long road trip next year, probably just after Easter time. We are really keen on going either West to East or the other way round on Route 50!

Our plan is probably to fly to Sacramento with a bag of clothes each, a guitar and a chunk of cash, try and get a cheap pickup truck and just drive! Its a really exciting prospect, and we hope to get the best out of our trip.

I'm just emailing for advice really, is a month a good enough length of time to do the trip and get the most we can out of it? Also, we would love some help with ideal places to stop! We want to stay in little motels, eat at little cafes and just get to know the culture as it is so different from life in Scotland!

Thanks again for a great website!



Hi Stephen --

Thanks for you note, and your kind words. Your trip sounds great, and I think you've got a good plan -- cars are cheap (thanks to the ongoing recession...); gas (aka "petrol") is cheap; and a guitar can come in handy out there on the mean streets of America.

A month is a good chunk of time, and US50 is a great trip -- lots of history, lots of scenery, and good full spectrum taste of the USA. You'll have a blast, but think about bringing sleeping bags and maybe a tent, because accommodations can burn a big hole in your budget without offering a lot to remember in return. Then again, camping gear is bulky, and probably much cheaper to buy once you are over here. Or are you planning to sleep in the bed of the pickup?? -- that can work great, especially in the wide open spaces of Colorado and Utah, and if you fear getting wet and snowed on you can get small pickup trucks with camper shells for not much money... Check Craigslist for an idea of what's available.

(And while I'm offering you advice: maybe think about setting up a UK bank account that gives free/easy ATM / cashpoint / money machine access in the USA -- cash is OK, but it _is_ asking for trouble, and a sudden end to your trip, to carry your whole wad everywhere you go. Barclays in UK works for free with Bank of America all across the USA -- while other banks charge around $10 a time...)

You've got some time to plan, so if you want to check in as you get closer to traveling, please feel free to write again and maybe I can suggest some specific stops.

Glad you like the website -- now check out the book version, which has a lot of extra trivia and pics and maps and stuff! -- and keep in touch.

Happy trails,

Jamie Jensen

Road Trip USA -- the Big Book


Irish Road Trip: NYC to Miami, and back!

Hey Jamie,
I've just come across this website and am weak with excitement!!! Myself and a friend are planning a road trip next Summer.

We are from Ireland and ideally want to travel from New York down to Miami. We would like to rent a car and to do it in two weeks. Is this possible?? We also won't have a huge budget for accommodation and are hoping to find motels, B&B's or anything else cheap and cheerful on a nightly basis as we go on our trip. We are both not into camping so this will not be an option for us. Would you advise this??

Basically we want to see as much as we can on this trip, taking in any little towns and villages and of course as much natural scenery as we can.

Any help would be reeeaaallllllly appreciated ;)



Dear Mary F --

Thank you for writing in to Road Trip USA -- and your road trip, from New York City to Miami (and back again!?), sounds like great fun. It's definitely manageable in 2 weeks, especially if you don't spend too much time and money in the boutiques and bars of Manhattan or Miami Beach. Summer is peak travel time, but even so you can usually manage to escape the crowds -- and if you feel bold enough to explore less famous places, you can have some fantastic adventures.

And you are in luck -- I have just finished two ** new, fully up-to-date guides ** to the two routes you are most likely to travel -- so please check them out, once they are available (in mid-April, I am told).

One great thing about traveling in the US, if you can stay away from big cities, is that accommodations are pretty inexpensive (at least compared to the Shelbourne or other fancy Irish hotels, where I was lucky enough to stay with my family last summer!) So you won't need to camp out and deal with all the mosquitoes and other annoying bugs that love the Florida coast.

If you rent a car, it is usually cheaper if you return it back to the place where you started, so think about planning a round trip. If you get pressed for time, you can bomb between NYC and Miami in 2 days, following the 75mph I-95 freeway, but it is much more fun to take the slower scenic roads, for sure. On the coast, I recommend making sure you visit the gracious cities of Savannah Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina -- they are "Georgian" in their architecture, with many nice squares, lush parklands and gardens, and excellent restaurants.

If you like beaches, venture east onto North Carolina's Outer Banks -- and if you like green mountain scenery, head inland to the mountaintop Blue Ridge Parkway, where the civilized mountain resort town of Asheville, North Carolina is surrounded by gorgeous forests and home to the most impressive mansion in America -- the 250-room Versailles-style Biltmore, open daily for unforgettable tours of the house and gardens.

Basically there is a little of everything along the road, and I'm sure you'll have a grand old time. Please feel free to write me again when your plans start taking shape -- and in the meantime I hope you enjoy my website, and my books.
Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen


Road Trip USA

** fully updated, brand-new editions coming out April 2010 **

Appalachian Trail:

Road Trip USA: Atlantic Coast:

Las Vegas, Yellowstone, Seattle Road Trip tour

Hi Jamie!

My hubby and I are planning a road trip starting in Arizona or Las Vegas, going through the Rockies and Yellowstone, and ending in Seattle. We're just not sure of the exact route yet... Do you have a suggestion for a specific route that we should take to see the most beautiful scenery? Also, what time of the year is best for this drive?

Vanessa from Miami


Hi Vanessa --

Thanks for writing (and btw, I enjoyed looking at your blog -- scrapbooking is not something I'm any good at, but I always intend to make a journal or diary of my trips, which seems way healthier than sitting in a motel watching ESPN...)

Anyway, about your road trip -- the country between Utah and Yellowstone is one of my favorite places on the planet, and wherever you go you'll have an amazing time. It's all at a pretty high elevation (more than a mile above sea level!), so summer is really best, extending thru October when you can get some nice "fall color", especially in the canyons of Zion National Park.

You didn't give me a time-frame, but for an outline route, how this: head out of Vegas (after winning big bucks!), taking the I-15 freeway for about 2 hours to gorgeous Zion Nat'l Park, maybe staying just outside in the town of Springdale. Admire the stunning red-rock (Zion is Sedona on steroids!), and if you feel brave, walk up the canyon to the "Narrows".

Then hop back in the car to wind south, to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (stay a night or two at the lovely old lodge here). Enjoy the views, hike down into the canyon, breathe deeply.

Then back on the road again: Glen Canyon / Lake Powell is spectacular, as is the entire swath of northern Arizona -- Monument Valley, the cliff palaces of Canyon de Chelley, Betatakin, also Mesa Verde Nat'l Park over the Colorado border. Fantastic places all!

You could spend a month here and not get bored, or have a fab time in 3 or 4 days.

After that, you have a big choice: head north via yet-more red-rock wonders of the Colorado Plateau (Canyonlands & Arches National Park, in Utah); or, wind up the Rocky Mountains via Colorado's "Million Dollar Highway", Hwy-550 north from Durango.

Destination: Yellowstone, which is a 600-mile 2-day drive (it's faster if you bomb up I-15 via Salt Lake City, which would only take one very long day from AZ).

You need at least a lifetime in Yellowstone to really "get" it, but 2 days / 2 nights would be magic. And be sure to enter Yellowstone from the south, via the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

After Yellowstone, head west to Seattle? I-90 seems the best bet (and Missoula MT makes a great stop-off), but if you have time there are many lovely winding scenic roads up here (US-93 across Idaho, for example).

Hope this helps whet your travel appetite -- let us know what you get up to!

-- Jamie J.

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Blogger Vanessa, Florida, USA said...

Hi Jamie!

WOW. Thanks sooo much for all this great info! It was lots of help. We're planning to do this road trip over two weeks time (well, about 16 days) around early to mid-August. Do you think that is enough time?

P.S. Glad you liked my scrapbooking blog! LOL!

5:32 PM  

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