Overall: I got a *lot* of quality time with my parents! We got to visit with more relatives, and even met some new ones. I saw parts of the country I had never seen before, and noted quite a few that I want to spend more time in (*really* slow travel, and *with* Rick). I learned (and re-learned) a *lot* about how to do a road trip, and about what I want from a road trip.
Statistics (I may have to update these later with actuals from Dad):
- Miles: 2400 +/-
- Gas mileage: 55 mpg +/- (it really pays to drive 62 mph, in a Prius!)
- Days on the road: 10 days (+ 9 days in Tennessee)
- Cost per person: $385 (+ $200 for flight back)
- Cost per mile: gas for car = 10 cents/mile, plane ticket = 10 cents/mile
- Cheapest gas: $3.75 (but we kept missing this!)
- First aid kit
- Food box and cooler (sharp knife, utensils, bowl, ziplocks, paper towels, ice pack, cereal, snacks, water)
- Notebook and pen
- Air mattress, sheet, pillow (optional: blanket and towels)
- Emergency contact and medical information
- Itinerary with contact info - remember to keep it rough...
- The usual suitcase contents - clothes, toiletries, etc.
- Day pack or sling bag
- Pictures and books
- Address book, address stickers, and stamps (for all those postcards)
- Cell phone w/ hands-free system (many states have hands-free laws now). A good option is pay-as-you-go with no roaming or long-distance charges.
- Car emergency box (jumper cables, flares/triangles)
- Guitar, CDs, favorite DVDs, or other shareable entertainment
- Something from your home area that you want to share with others (wine, fruit, arts/crafts...)
- See this advice also: What to Pack on Your Next Road Trip
Things to keep in mind for future road trips:
- Know why you are on the trip. Is it to get from here to there? or to explore? or tour all the theme parks? or visit friends and family? or see all the National Parks? or to be awed by the majesty and expanse of the open road? Be true to you.
- Look for Mom and Pop places. These are harder to find than chains, but they provide a better flavor of a place.
- Plan on eating at least one meal per day from your food box and the grocery store. This will save $$, and keep you from getting bored with eating out. You get to see the sorts of things that are stocked (and eaten) in different parts of the country. It also saves your sanity if you are nowhere near a restaurant when you need to eat...
- Spend time in places along the way. 500-mile days are doable, but just not very fun. Make your schedule loose enough that you can take that side trip that looks interesting. Spend time in local libraries and bookstores reading up on the locale. Pick up a local weekly paper and go to a listed event.
- Don't be afraid to just whiz through a point-of-interest. It's all about keeping things interesting. If you just want a quick look at Graceland, spend 10 minutes walking along the fence. However, if you are a die-hard fan, go on the tours and spend the whole day (or more)!
- Keep an eye out for visitor centers. Stop in and pick up all kinds of local information. Scan materials for events happening right now, and *go!* The maps you get here will have a lot more points-of-interest shown than your road maps. This is also a good place to talk to the staffers about what to do, where to park, how to see something without getting caught up in the crowd.
- Take a tour or two. Sure, it's touristy, but you get a good overview of the area, and usually some interesting facts as well. For that matter, take a tour in your own area - I'll bet you'll find out something you didn't know!
- Drink plenty of water. Stock up on bottled water. You can try filling up a refillable bottle, but if it tastes "off" you won't drink enough.
- Talk to folks; strike up a conversation wherever possible. Find out where they like to go in their area.
- Walk through galleries - and some museums, but galleries are free...
- Pick up a couple of hotel directories (super 8, days inn, etc). These usually have maps and details about the individual motel. Or try using an Inn or Bed & Breakfast listing - these usually need reservations and more $$, but may be worth a phone call (and you can use the chain motels as a back-up).
- Take and wear compression socks. The kind that you get in the hospital for post-surgery anti-thrombosis are great! Or see if you can get the kind for treating varicose veins. These are especially good if your legs swell from sitting a long time in the car. They are also good to wear on an airplane for the same reason.
- Take a sheet to use at the homes of family and friends. If you are only staying a day or two, this saves them from unnecessary laundry. Most are surprised by this gesture, but I know I appreciated it when my folks did it when they visited me.
- Find some way to exercise. Stop at rest stops and walk around a bit; hike in a national park; take a walking tour of a town; consider taking small weights or an exercise ball.
- Tennessee had a lot of decorated cemeteries. The locals we spoke to said this was probably an aspect of Southern Pride, and said there is a day specifically set aside for going to the cemetery to clean up and decorate the graves. Compare this to Latin and Asian cultures that have a similar holiday. Contrast this to my immediate family (California and Pacific Northwest) - we looked for my uncle's memorial and couldn't find it. I can't name where *any* of my relatives are buried.
- A typical house in Tennessee is brick, and in the center of a large well-maintained lawn. Fences are very unusual. Contrast this to Santa Fe, where houses are adobe, flat-roofed, and usually fully fenced, with glimpses of plants. Contrast to California, where houses are usually wooden, with plenty of earthquake safety features, and usually fully fenced. Both California and Santa Fe houses are much closer together than in Tennessee. Houses in a Costa Rican town often share a wall (now *that's* close!)
- Rest stops are different! California rest stops usually have minimal information about the area, posted on signboards. They always have rest rooms, usually have picnic tables, and sometimes have snack vending machines. In Texas, you see picnic areas - tables and parking, but no snacks or rest rooms. In Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, rest stops can be like mini-theme-parks - there are staffed visitor centers, snacks, rest rooms, and tables - all housed in air-conditioned castles (well, not really, but compared...). I felt sorry for us when we first saw the picnic areas that had no rest rooms; then I felt sorry for Texans who expect so much more from a rest stop than is provided on a California road.