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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rules of the Road Trip

Back in July, I took the ultimate vacation. I freed myself of a schedule, of commitments and of the constraints of time. My family and I went on an old-fashioned road trip. We went West young man.

1 car
6 people
7 states
10 days
3000 miles

I learned a lot along the way. I learned that Bonnie, of Bonnie & Clyde fame, never shot a gun at anyone except herself. I learned that friendly tourists are preyed upon by predators in Dallas's Dealey Plaza. I learned that my children's cultural references are not the same as mine: They looked at me with blank stares when I mentioned the grassy knoll, and said we had to go see what was left of the Branch Davidian compound (which we did), and sang Oklahoma as we crossed the Red River.

For ten days, I was Queen of the Road, taking my children to see America. With open minds and an open plan, we took advantage of the rare opportunities to see the world's largest urban bat colony in Austin, TX wagon ruts remaining from the Chisholm Trail crossing in Round Rock, TX, the Comal River, which is the shortest river in the world, in New Braunfels, TX, the house where Lee Harvey Oswald hid the gun in the days leading up to the assassination, the cemetery of circus performers in Hugo, OK, the Mississippi homes of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, and so many more places between all of those.

Everyone must take their children on an adventure like this. I can't wait until we can strike out again in another direction. There's nothing like that ribbon of highway passing beneath my vehicle as I let the road take me to where ever it might lead.

Tips for a Successful Road Trip:
1) Travel light - When packing to leave, remember that every morning you will load the car. Every night you will unload the car. Every day you will ride in the car with the possessions you've selected to accompany you. My oldest son insisted on bringing his guitar on our trip. For ten days, due to its delicate nature, we choreographed our packing around it. It went in and out of hotel rooms with us and made back-seaters whine when it slid forward and knocked their noggins. By the time we arrived in Hot Springs, Arkansas I wanted to use it to bust mailboxes as we passed them at 60 mph.

2) Take a road atlas - Yes GPS is the new modern technology for getting from point A to point B. But on a road trip you don't always know what point B is. A road trip is mostly about driving in a general direction, not to a specific location. An atlas reveals all the places you can go, if you get the notion. Also, there are still many remote, rural places where a GPS device does not pick up a signal.

3) Open a FaceBook account - Or an account on any social media platform. I used FaceBook from my Droid to track our trip. I checked in at all the places we visited. I wrote status updates about what we were doing and seeing there. I uploaded pictures. Now that we're home, the details of our trip are recorded and saved in my FaceBook history. And all the people who followed our trip on FaceBook tell me again and again how much fun they had "traveling" with us.

4) The key is free - Believe it or not, a long road trip can cost as much as staying in a nice resort. Expenditures include meals, gas, lodging, attraction admission fees and sundries. Therefore, stay in hotels that offer free breakfast and free Wi-fi. Take a cooler and fill it with lunch supplies for picnics. (A couple of our best stops were lunch on the Natchez Trace one afternoon and lunch on another day on the banks of the San Antonio River.) Buy snacks and drinks at grocery stores instead of convenience stores. And skip amusements like the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum. So much of America is free (for example, The Alamo and Tupelo's Elvis museum) or low cost (for example, the National Military Park in Vicksburg, MS and the 8th Airforce Museum in Barksdale, LA).

5) Take an ipad or laptop - Every morning I used my hotel's free wi-fi, my road atlas, and my ipad to map a loose plan for the day. I figured out what cities and towns we would pass through or near and researched on the Internet to make a list of what we might want to see. This gave direction to our day without locking us into anything.

6) Be flexible - Austin was not on our agenda, but on our way to San Antonio I decided at the last minute that we simply had to stop there. That evening we witnessed, for free from the Congress Avenue Bridge, the world's largest urban bat colony take flight. Without flexibility, we would have missed this wondrous piece of nature. Create a loose plan, prioritize stops, cover ground, but be constantly willing to go off script. We came home with way more stories to tell, like the one about how we got swept into a march on the Mississippi State Capitol.

3 comments:

Jo said...

Sounds like a fun trip. I would love to do something like that.

Lexa Cain said...

What an adventurous trip! I wish I could have seen those bats take flight -- it sounds amazing. Thanks for keeping us updated!

William Kendall said...

Watching bats take flight would be amazing!

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