As I explained earlier, we have a habit of going somewhere that is a detour from our original destination. In this case, today, as this hits the Internet, I’m on my way to Florida. But after three days there for a wedding, Ken and I will fly to Atlanta and launch a road trip to three southern states I’ve been wanting to check off my list of state’s visited: Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina. Additionally, we’ll be spending time in Tennessee and passing through South Carolina.
As I was planning the trip, I was doing my usual frugal searches for hotels, and my usual Internet searches for interesting sites. But then I realized that I was overlooking three perfect tools for planning the road trip. I’ll be telling you more about how all these things worked out, but for now, here are three secrets to planning a unique and interesting road trip.
1. Get Off the Highway and follow the Byways
Fortunately there is a website directing you to nationally outstanding byways, selected not only for scenic beauty, but also for historic and cultural interest.
The official Department of Transportation site starts with a map showing the location of 150 America’s Byways. You can click on a dot on the map (almost every state), or plug in an address and find something nearby. Although the site includes a brief description of each of the featured byways, you have to go else where (click on the title of the byway) to get the details, like maps, time estimates, attractions along the way, etc.
With a site like America’s Scenic Byways, there is no excuse for sticking with the boring wide, truck-crowded freeways. That site lists not only the official Byways, other scenic roads, roads through BLM lands and Forest Service Lands, Parkways, but also All American roads. You can browse through each category, or search by state.
And don’t forget to go to the state you are interested in. Do a search for “StateName byways” and you’ll find a treasure chest of information for the location you’re visiting.
How are we using this? Well, I wanted to travel across just the northeast corner of Alabama, because we’re headed for Chattanooga, one of my favorite cities. Looking at maps, I didn’t see anything very interesting in that corner of the state. However, I found not one but TWO Byways that cross that area, conveniently connecting us from Atlanta Georgia to Chattanooga. That’s just one of the Byways in our itinerary, which I’ll be talking about.
2. Skip the Motel and try a different lodging provider
Thank goodness for motels. When my mother was taking road trips in the 20s and 30s, she had to stay at some pretty rough places. But after the war, in the late 40s, people hit the road in a big way, new highways were built, and motels came into being. Chain motels soon developed with dependable, cookie-cutter decor and service. But sometimes you need a change.
In Florida, we’re staying for the first time in an Air BnB facility. I’ll let you know later how it works out, but it is very conveniently located and my grand daughter who lives nearby, drove by and confirmed that it looks perfect for us. It will be a nice break from the and get us out of the rut of taking the easy way out and booking at ubiquitous motel chains. Variety is the spice of road trips. We’re used to staying at VRBO or other apartment rentals when we’re staying for several days, but this will be only three nights.
Another lodging choice was the vary last I booked, and leads to my final tip.
3. Take a Break at a State Park
I’m assuming that if there are any National Parks or Historic Sites on your route, you’ll know about them and visit them. But sometimes we forget that many states have excellent state park systems. While they may offer active recreation like boating or water skiing on lakes and hiking or trail biking, they may also house historic sites or be located in urban areas.
The State Parks will almost certainly have picnic grounds, and you can either stop at a grocery store or pick up some deli/restaurant food and get off the road and into nature for a couple of hours when you stop to eat.
And many State Parks offer cabins, lodges, or motel rooms in addition to the expected campgrounds. In fact, we honeymooned at a state park in Ohio (a very long time ago).
So why did it take me so long to realize that instead of settling for the overpriced “cheap” motels in one area, that I should look at the state parks? Although generally you must rent for longer than one night, it does not hurt to ask, and in this case, since it was a Sunday night, they were more than happy to put us up for the one night. (I’ll describe the cabin later, but I’m thrilled!)
One caveat, not all states have the same quality of lodging. And just because it is a rustic cabin does not mean that it will be cheap. Because of high demand in the summer, the prices may be on a par with one and two start hotels.
I hope you’re coming with us on this road trip. I think we’re going to have a wide array of unique experiences packed into 10 days and five states.