Some things can't be improved with technology. Planes and trains can get you to your final destination fast, but to actually see, smell, taste and listen to the pulse of the places you'd otherwise travel over, nothing beats the great American road trip. So rather than taking a six-hour flight to California, I hit the road.There are a few options for what routes to take, including Interstate 40 through the mountains, one of the most direct ways. But the southern route -- taking I-85 south to I-10 west -- offers a once in a lifetime scenic adventure.
The Carolinas to Georgia: Starting out the trip from the “Peachoid” to the Peach State is easy riding along I-85. In Gaffney, S.C., there’s the familiar site of the Peachoid, the water tower painted as a giant peach. There’s no major congestion until outside of Atlanta. Georgia’s capital city boasts one of the South’s top attractions: the Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest. And don’t overlook the myriad of shopping and dining options.
Georgia to Alabama: Continue south into Alabama, where the trees become more sparse on the roads, and at each stop the air is warmer and thicker as you move closer to the coast. Alabama’s state history is deeply seated in the civil rights era, from Selma to Birmingham to Montgomery. Driving through the Heart of Dixie, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site is just 150 miles from Atlanta and makes for a nice break to stretch your legs and look around before moving on. The site, which includes a museum and small gift shop, commemorates the first black military airmen in the United States. The road ahead shifts towards the west as I-85 gives way to I-65 through Montgomery and Mobile, then intersects with I-10 west.
The Gulf States (Mississippi and Louisiana): The terrain noticeably flattens going from lush greens to greenish browns. These days, Magnolia State coastal living has given way to high rolling excitement with new luxury casinos specifically in Gulfport. Music buffs will love checking out the markers along the Mississippi Blues Trailbefore they take in a show.Let the good times roll -- with your tires -- in Louisiana and New Orleans. The Big Easy is a food lovers dream, offering fresh made baguettes, sweetly messy beignets, spicy etouffees, and seafood-laden po’boys and gumbos. The Riverwalk beckons with food, shopping and cultural options, including the country’s only Southern Food and Beverage Museum, while overlooking the great Mississippi River. Step out of your comfort zone and try the turtle soup or frog legs while you’re in NOLA.
Texas: The stars at night are big and bright, but so is everything else in the state of Texas. The Lone Star state begins with exit number 880 and ends at 0. Get gas often. Expect long stretches with nothing but land as far as the eye can see, but also winding turns through nothing but colossal rock mountain faces. Houston and San Antonio are filled with numerous connecting highways. Pay attention to directions when visiting the well-known sculptural fountain in Houston called Waterwall Park, Beer Can House, the landmark ode to recycling, the scenic San Antonio River Walk, or the Alamo, battle site during the Texas Revolution (Read about them here). The speed limit gets up to 80 mph during the day, but drops to 65 at night. Just make sure not to go so fast to miss the amazing pink and purple blended sunsets in the plains. New Mexico and Arizona: The air is dry, and so is the land, full of cactus, desert grass, and sagebrush. However, don't expect the views to be simply brown and gray. There is a stark kind of beauty associated with this acrid area, bursting with life in vivid yellows, peaches, and oranges that blaze the scenery when the sun rises and sets. The New Mexico city of Las Cruces is a nice change of pace after Texas, with its laid-back contentment and Southwestern flair. The Enchanted Island amusement park in Phoenix is a must stop if the kids are getting restless.
California: The Golden State has more to offer than just sunshine and movie stars. The land changes so much while driving through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the state's backbone, to the Pacific beaches, which cover its front. The wind farms near Palm Springs are numerous and like something out of a sci-fi movie, but what California has a true abundance of are highways. Take the 10 to the 91 to the 405 to get to Long Beach. Jump off the 405 onto the 105 or the 710 to head north to Los Angeles. Only the 101 goes straight into Hollywood, explaining the constant traffic. There’s so much to see, but before you head home, try to check out Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ near Belmont Shore in Long Beach. It’s a great place to get pork barbecue, fried okra, and sweet tea on the west coast...just in case you’re road weary for a taste of home. Before the rubber meets the roadMake sure you prepare for your road tripMost people are familiar with the two Rs: rest and relaxation. For planning my road trip, I employed the seven Rs:
Research. Grab some guidebooks or jump on the Internet to see what kind of attractions you might pass along the way. Requirements. Have all required maintenance done on the car, and all systems checked right before leaving. Routine. When you map your route, schedule reasonable stops to give your body, your mind and your eyes sufficient time to rest and relax. Reservations. Keep all reservation information, addresses, and phone numbers on hand for any of the hotels or attractions you plan to stop at along the way. Refreshments. Make sure to have a few non-perishable snacks and water handy. You never know when you might get hungry before your next scheduled stop, and what your options will be along the way. Reinforcements. Be prepared for anything. Pack flashlights, plastic sandwich bags, duct tape, extra batteries, blankets and a sink stopper as back up for whatever you encounter on the trip. Readiness. This is not a race. It’s an adventure. Be adaptable to change, and ready to make one if necessary. After all, this is a road trip, with no rush to get off the road. Above all else, just enjoy the ride.
Consider this...AAA Vacations in University City offers a TripTik, which includes a detailed map outline for each state you go through, as well as any travel advisories and traffic updates that may have been issued for the time you plan to travel. Erica Rosales, travel sales specialist at AAA Vacations-University recommends a traveler's checklist for any extended trip, which includes travel health information, travel gear, and an itemized list of things to do in and around your home before you set out.