Plotting that perfect (well, almost perfect) road trip!

Roy's Motel and Cafe (and our Scotty teardrop trailer), historic Rt. 66 in Amboy, CA.

How to plan that perfect (well, almost perfect) road trip

We recently dined with old friends, including one couple where she had recently retired, and was looking forward to the retirement of her husband – and to them making those long-delayed road trips. Whether retired or planning that next vacation, here are suggestions for planning that perfect road trip.

Wheeler Peak, part of Great Basin National Park, just off Hwy. 50 in eastern Nevada.

Where to: gather your hopes and dreams, and, prioritize. For inspiration and how to map your trip, see this article on touring the top sites in the lower 48 states:

Plan your trip, but allow for flexibility: On longer trips, we’ve moved away from trying to plan every day’s destination in advance. We have found by taking back roads we find those pleasant travel discoveries, and can always find campgrounds by watching, or motels on-line.

Recently, planning to drive from Tucson to Petrified Forest National Park, we chose a circuitous route, up the east side of Arizona on Highway 191, taking two days to tour that scenic, high mountain drive. Our reward, an often stunning drive through Alpine forest, reminiscent of Wyoming or Montana, and finding that perfect campsite, a Forest Service campground at 8,000 feet. Days later we made an unplanned stop in Flagstaff – using the Kayak phone app, we quickly found a deal on multiple motel rooms, 40-50% off.

Remains of a '32 Studebaker mark the old roadbed where Rt. 66 once cut across the northern portion of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

Maps, vs. GPS: Without spreading out my AAA map, noting its zigs and zags though tall mountains, we would not have discovered Hwy. 191 to Petrified Forest. You’ll get the overall layout of a state with a paper map, and, kids or grandkids can take part in helping plot a road trip route. Lastly, in western states, big swathes offer no cell phone signal – if you’re relying on cell phone GPS – you’re out of luck.

If kids/grandkids are part of the travel plan, allow kids to be part of the “where to, and what to do when there” planning. Pack a few games and establish, in advance, an electronics policy. Don’t forget the games of my youth, both license plate poker and “I spy”. Plan frequent and spontaneous breaks for both adults and kids, and allow a bit of time for all your passengers to stretch or get in a short hike if appropriate.  Pack a small cooler, keep healthy drinks iced down and avoid the travel urge to pack or buy junk food. You and your fellow travelers will feel stronger at day’s end and avoid that vacation weight-gain.

Eat “fancy” occasionally: I am pretty tight on food budgets when traveling, but, with Susan enjoying the occasional classy meal, we sometimes splurge. Check on-line coupons, and pick up the local entertainment weekly in a town you’re spending some time in. During a recent stay in Edmonds, Washington, just north of Seattle, Susan and I found a two for one coupon for Arnie’s, an upscale restaurant on Edmonds the waterfront, next to an active ferry terminal.  We dined like kings, enjoying a marvelous view, for about $70 including wine.

This stunning art creation is part of Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, Seattle, WA.

Talk to locals for best places to visit, to eat, scenic drives: Without chatting with locals, as example, we never would’ve found our way to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle Center or the weekend farmers market and craft fair in the University of Washington district. Or, in Tucson, we would not have found our way to the best Mexican restaurant or to Saguaro National Park East near the city.

Take the road less traveled: Get off the freeway, explore older highways and byways. Whether it’s touring old sections of historic Rt. 66, enjoying the “loneliest road in America” (and, one of the more scenic), Highway 50 across Nevada, or Highway 191 in mountainous eastern Arizona – you’ll discover joys of road trips that you’ll never find sticking to interstate highways.

Your vehicle: take your car in for service, and, if it has some miles on it, have key items like fan belts and tires checked. Nothing like a breakdown to ruin a good road trip. Consider an AAA membership (for the maps, vacation planning assistance and the roadside towing service if your car conks out on you).

Making more space: First, work to pack light. If you’re on a long trip, you can always find time to wash some items, or buy a missing item on the road. If you’ve got a crowd in a tight vehicle, consider a rooftop cargo carrier to open up space inside.

Get your America the Beautiful Senior Pass (for those 62 and up) before the price increases later this year!

Take your valuables: Pack your passport (if going into Mexico or Canada), your Federal senior pass if you qualify, and make copies of your passport, key credit cards and the like if you were to lose them. If you are on medications, pack those meds and make a copy of the prescription. An easy way to make these copies is to take good photos on your smart phones.

Keep calm and enjoy the trip.  Realize that all the planning in the world won’t allow you to avoid a few hiccups along the way – so plan to enjoy the unexpected! Don’t let yourself get uptight; it’s your road trip and vacation!

For more information: Our national parks,; the Federal senior pass,; for Federal campgrounds,

Contact Tim at, follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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