The planning for the trip Round America has been going on in our heads since 2000. But the serious planning began in January 2003.
Barbara and I have been reading a number of travel books. I don’t want to miss a thing that we might not have known was just around a bend.
We could have done even better with our research. There are no totally comprehensive travel books. We could have made better use of State Tourism information, and we could have spent more time on Internet research.
In charting the course, I have created a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Each segment of the trip is listed with total mileage shown for that segment, and then each town we will pass through is listed, showing the highway that we will use. At last count, there are over 2,500 towns on the itinerary. This was invaluable. This was our guide for the trip.
I have contacted the Department of Tourism for every state we will visit, and I anxiously await the flood of brochures and maps. I’ll review each and add to the itinerary. We’ve also emailed family and friends for ideas on places to go, things to see, and pie to eat.
Most states responded — some faster than others. We didn’t have enough time to review this info, so requesting this information further in advance is important.
Our home and our cat have been major concerns. We wish Kitty B Kitty could be a road cat, but our one long trip with her proved otherwise. We aren’t RV’ers, so it wouldn’t be fair to keep her cooped up in a little car, and most motels don’t welcome animals. Fortunately, brother Tony has come to the rescue. He will look after the house and take care of Miss Kitty B Kitty while we are gone. Barbara wasn’t wild about interviewing and hiring a house sitter.
Thanks heavens for Tony. Kitty B Kitty was well cared for. In fact, she was spoiled rotten by Uncle Tony, who we need to get his very own kitty.
We have prepared a list of things that we must do before we leave as well as things that we must remember to take with us on the trip. Haircuts, dental checkups, and prescription gathering will be done right before we leave. We’re rejoining AAA, and we’ll make sure we have our AAA card, our AARP card, our passports, our drivers’ licenses, registration, and proof of insurance. We’ll take just an American Express card and a MasterCard, some cash, and travelers checks. I’m getting prescription sunglasses, and I will take two pair of glasses in case anything should happen to one.
This all went well. We didn’t need to gather prescriptions; we learned that an out-of-state pharmacy can just call our Atlanta pharmacy. I broke both a pair of glasses and the sunglasses. I needed to buy a pair of clip on sunglasses.
Equipment-wise, we’re getting a new cell phone with essentially unlimited long distance and no roaming charges for just $99 a month. I’ll get the phone numbers of family and friends programmed in so everyone will be just a few keystrokes away. We’re also getting a deal at Best Buy that makes the cell phone hands free and uses the car stereo speaker system for the audio. I’m buying the latest and greatest SONY digital camera with a telephoto lens, wide angle lens, and various filters. I’ll be taking my laptop, and I will download the digital photos we take to the laptop, so we are also buying a power gizmo that will enable us to run the laptop off the car battery. That way, we can download photos from anywhere and even recharge the camera battery and cell phone as we drive. We’ll take our “old” digital camera as well. We’re taking a small markerboard and markers, so we can create a sign with anything appropriate for certain photos. The only other equipment will be a big powerful flashlight, two umbrellas, a fold-up hair dryer, and a tape recorder.
We chose Verizon as we believe it has the widest coverage. Coverage area is important, since so much of a two-lane trip to small towns is spent in the boonies. We were surprised to be charged 40 cents a minute when out of Verizon’s home territory, so this was an unexpected surprise that might have made us choose another service. The goal should be wide coverage but a plan with no extra charges for roaming and out-of-territory (whatever that means). A satellite phone might be a better option; I don’t know enough about them to know, but we will look into it for the next trip. We used three different hands-free deals for the cell phone. I couldn’t get the one that works with the stereo to work properly. The Sony camera was great. I had three 128 MB memory sticks, and this enabled me to take 150 highest resolution photos before I had to download to the laptop. We didn’t use the power gizmo. We broke three tape recorders, so I will take two next time, as our trip had us in many places that did not sell pocket recorders. The recorder was the only practical way to record our ideas and information as we drove. We used our First Aid Kit a number of times, and I should have brought it to Hawaii as well as you always need what you don’t have, and I have the drug store receipts to prove it.
We plan to pack light and hit a laundromat once a week. We are buying a few clothing items from TravelSmith, the folks who specialize in all types of “travel easy” wearing apparel and accessories. Jeans or shorts, golf shirts, and tennis shoes will be about it. We are taking some hiking boots for use in the Northwest and as needed elsewhere.
Our clothes system worked out great. We each had two black nylon bags. The big bag could hold 7 days worth of clothes. A smaller bag could hold 2 days worth of clothes. We only took the small bag into the motel each night — refilling it from the larger bag. Dirty clothes went into a dirty clothes bag. It worked fine to wash once a week. Comfort Inn, Marriott Courtyard, Hampton Inn, and the like all have guest laundries. I wore shorts every day but one, and I could have worn shorts that day as well. Finding comfortable walking shoes with plenty of foot support is really important — sand- or dark-colored shoes will look best as my white shoes looked a million years old after a few weeks. I ended up buying shorts from L.L. Bean and wore nothing but embroidered Round America sport shirts from Rod and the boys at Atlas Printing & Embroidery in Cleveland, Ohio.
We have not yet decided which vehicle we will be taking on the trip. We’ll get it serviced just before we depart, and we’ll get an idea when we will have to replace the tires.
We took a white Porsche convertible for the first half of the trip. It was great for driving, but it seemed to attract some folks who might have done us harm. It was definitely cramped, but we managed to make the very small storage areas work. The convertible was wonderful for seeing the sights and soaking rays during the southern loop Round America. We took a black PT Cruiser for the second half of the trip. The Cruiser was a poor choice as the car has a terribly wide turning radius, and many U-Turns are required daily. We were unable to do a U-Turn on normal streets. The Cruiser also gets terrible gas mileage. The ideal car for us would be something that has a small turning radius that will enable U-Turns to be made on two-lane roads in one turn. Good gas mileage is a plus. We will want a GPS system and perhaps a satellite phone next time. A compass is important. An odometer that shows tenths of a mile would be a plus. A CD Player is a must. A full-sized spare tire would be a plus. Digital gauges that can be read with sunglasses on would be a plus. White stays much cooler than black. Cup holders are essential as are really comfortable seats. Both the Porsche and Cruiser had really comfortable seats. I recommend testing any car on a day trip before you decide to take it on a long trip, as bad seats would make for a miserable trip.
We’ll put together a notebook with the itinerary and plenty of space to take notes as we travel. And we’ll each carry a pocket notebook and pen so we will always be able to jot notes. We will be printing some business cards to use as we travel. The cards will have our basic information as well as a one or two sentence explanation of the trip, the trip web site address, our email address, and our cell phone number. We’ll give these to people we meet along the way.
The notebooks were extremely valuable. We had dividers for each state, with photocopies of information about sights we wanted to see in each state. The business cards were perfect; we gave out 1,500. We used the pocket tape recorder for recording all notes — the only way to handle it.
Between now and April 1, I will spend additional time adding to this web site — creating pages that will reduce the amount of time I need to spend while we are on the road. I will also be adding a photo search engine that will work off the keywords that we will use to name each of our photos. So anyone visiting the site can see photos from a specific state, city, person, type of activity — you name it.
The Trip Round America will be well-planned, and we will be prepared!
March 30, 2003:
Busy month. We’re just about ready. The list of things to accomplish tomorrow is relatively short.
We originally planned to drive around the border of the country, but the idea of visiting all 50 states in one trip was just too exciting to pass up. I was surprised when Barbara endorsed the significant expansion of the trip. The numbers now are 50 states and the District of Columbia, over 2,500 towns, and 19,631 miles! I know we will pass through cities that aren’t on the map, and the mileage will be much higher as we will be driving around towns that we visit, and the 19,631 is just a point-to-point calculation.
I’m very pleased with the research that we’ve done. We have identified a significant number of attractions all along the route — many things that we would have never known were there. Some state tourism offices came through like champs while others haven’t gotten a thing to us. The many books that we bought have been our best resources as well as the Internet. I wish we had done more research on hotels, motels, and B&B’s to try to find more special places to stay. Perhaps we can improve on this for the second half of the trip.
Neither of us has found the time to read the books that we bought about the trips of others. I plan to toss a few of these in the car in case I find any time to read.
Tony is all set for cat and house sitting as well as business management while we are away. His help is making the trip possible as I question whether we could have ever been comfortable hiring a house/cat sitter that we didn’t know. Those who love cats will understand that we consider Kitty B Kitty to be like one of our children.
I believe I would have thoroughly enjoyed driving our 1955 Chevrolet Police Car on the trip, but Barbara vetoed that idea early on. We have decided to take a convertible on the first half of the trip — the drive along the southern border of the US and across Route 66. We’ll switch to an SUV for the second half of the trip.
A few people have asked what prompted the trip. We want to relax, enjoy life, and see more of the USA. We miss the kinder and gentler days of our youth. Our parents took us on wonderful driving vacations as children, and we both miss that. Most of our vacations with our children were airplane trips rather than car trips, and when we did drive, we drove on the interstates. You don’t see much of anything on the interstates, so the decision to drive primarily on two-lane roads was essential for us to see and experience what is important to us. We’ve been to most of the big cities, so we are concentrating on smaller towns and areas where we’ve never been. We see the trip as a real celebration of the many wonderful things that our great country has to offer. I look forward to seeing and photographing patriotic displays that we see along the way. We’re at a point in our lives where we can devote several months to take a trip of this magnitude, so the timing is right. I always enjoy doing things that others haven’t done, so traveling to all 50 states in one trip will be a very satisfying accomplishment. And, we hope our book will encourage others to truly SEE the USA!
August 15, 2003:
The trip is almost over. We’ve logged over 29,000 miles driving around the Continental United States.
Our planning proved to be excellent. We were very well prepared. I’ve inserted comments in red under each paragraph above to indicate how well or not-so-well each aspect of planning went.
Boz prepared a first-aid kit as well as a bag of assorted things. Pocket-sized tissues, Handi-Wipes, hand sanitizer, Advil, screwdriver, blister-sized Band-Aids, eye wash, travel alarm clock, and additional tapes for the recorder were all very important.
We lost only one thing on the entire trip — my favorite feather pillow. Many motels have only foam pillows, so if you are a feather pillow person, be sure to take your own pillow. Marriott properties all have feather pillows, so we chose Marriotts on some nights for that very reason. We were very systematic in what we carried into the motel each night and how we kept our stuff in the motel rooms. It would have been really easy except for all the electronics — two cell phone chargers, the digital camera charger, the laptop and its power cord/charger, and the travel alarm clock.
The beads were a MAJOR part of the trip. It’s great to have some type of gift that you can give to people when traveling, and the beads were a nice little gift…and so much more. We ordered 70 dozen beads — probably would have used 100 dozen if we had them from the very beginning. We encourage everyone to take “lucky beads” when they travel. You can order them at www.mardi-gras-beads.net. You can buy 33″ 6-style assorted metallic beads for $6.25 for a 10-dozen bag — $37.50 for a 60-dozen case. You’ll meet far more people; you’ll have more fun; and you’ll have a nice, inexpensive gift to present to those you meet.
We kept the information received from each state tourism office in file boxes in the back of the Cruiser. We pulled the appropriate file for each state as needed. This worked well. We had to leave those files at home when we were in the Porsche.
We took the plastic laundry bag from each room each night and used it to transport our dirty clothes from the room to the laundry bag in the car. We then used the bag to hold all the travel brochures for the previous day. We tossed each bag of travel brochures in a box, and then we shipped a box back to Atlanta every time it got filled. I believe we ended up with somewhere in excess of 500 pounds of printed stuff…and all that hotel shampoo.
The signs on our car attracted a lot of attention and enabled us to meet many people we would not have met otherwise. The beads served a similar purpose, as I was asked again and again about the beads…and I met far more people that I would have met otherwise. We also have shirts and caps with the Round America logo, and these caught the eye of a number of people and added to the number of people we probably would not have met otherwise. The combination of the signs, beads, shirts, and caps made meeting people easy; more often than not, people came to us.
We weren’t signed up for all of the frequent customer programs with the various hotels and motels, so Boz got us signed up during the trip. We earned a number of free rooms from all the room nights for which we paid. We also tried to use American Express everywhere we could as we are on a program where each dollar earns points toward air travel or hotels.
For the first half of the trip, we made hotel reservations a week or two in advance. For the second half of the trip, we ceased making reservations more than a day in advance. The problem with reservations is that you are then tied to a schedule, and that kept us from spending additional time where we would have liked to do so. It also caused us to be driving late into the night way too much of the time. On the next trip, we will not make reservations in advance — except in Maine (where we could not get a hotel room).
Expandable waist bands are invaluable if you plan to eat a lot of pie. 🙂