“how-to” plan a roadtrip
Many of you have asked me how I find so much “good stuff” on these roadtrips. If you travel old highways parallel to the interstates, you may find some interesting old things. But they are few and far between. What you are witnessing in your own town and in your own state, is happening everywhere in America. Old commercial strips are being replaced with a monotonous mix of chain stores. “Dated” mid-century buildings are being demolished for contemporary boxes. Neon signs are being dumpstered for plastic box signs. Treasures are being lost on a daily basis. The time to travel and see them is now!
If you want to maximize the SPH (sights per hour) on your trips, it pays to do some research and planning. Here then is my “road warrior” methodology. I keep lists, organized by state and city, of things that I want to check out someday. I’ve been doing this since around 1999 so the lists for each state are huge. The lists are done in a Microsoft Word table. I can then sort alphabetically by city if I want to. I color code the rows: bright blue for “must sees”, bright yellow for “wanta see”, white for “could live without” and light yellow for “done”. You don’t see this on the black and white printouts shown below but it helps with putting a trip together.
I find out about all these places through magazines, books, websites, as well as Google and Flickr key word searches. Just before a big trip, I’ll spend days, even weeks, doing more internet searches for things that might not be on my list. Nevertheless, there are always the inevitable disappointments of coming home and finding out about things you missed that were just blocks away from someplace you were.
When it’s time to put together a trip, it’s pretty much a matter of plotting out things on my list with the most efficient path between them all. Sometimes it helps me to organize the best route using the “sticky system”. I tear small post-it notes into little strips, write a short name on them, and stick them to an atlas page.
During the actual trips, these stickies tend to start falling off and I give in to just circling destination cities right on the atlas page in pen. I then draw “as the crow flies” lines right on the page which helps me pick out the most efficient path of roads.
I do pretty much the same thing for printed city maps using pen instead of post-its. Here’s a particularly dense map full of destinations. A GPS system could never give me this kind of at-a-glance information.
This kind of map is used as an overview. I’ll paper clip more detailed maps behind it when there are places bunched together or street names are not shown. I usually cross out the places in pen as I “do” them and/or remove the post-its from the atlas. This helps me make sure I don’t miss something and gives me a tiny sense of accomplishment.
Some towns may have just a stop or two. The maps for these destinations just needs to be detailed enough to give the highway and street info to get me there.
Working with the my master list and these maps, I then order all the stops into a trip list. The maps are put in the same order as this list. Therefore, during the trip, I can just focus on driving and taking photos.
As you can see, I scribble notes on these lists during the trip. These notes are entered on the master list when I get home (places that are missing or possibly have a bad address, a new place that I found that wasn’t on the list, a change in business name, etc.).
For a big trip, the lists and maps are binder-clipped by state. These stacks can be pretty intimidating at the start of a multi-week trip.
I hope this helps you develop your own strategies for getting the most out of your travels. Enjoy!