Warren Resen – Member North American Travel Journalists Assn.
“See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet…” This was the opening theme song from the old Dinah Shore (Burt Reynolds’ lady friend), television show.
After years of foreign travel, with all of the accompanying discomfort and indignities of airline travel, worries about safety, revolutions and natural disasters, it was time to get in our car despite the price of gas and see this country where there are no currency changing hisses and people speak the same language, well basically.
Road trips can be fun, interesting, and yes even boring at times. Plans have to be made. Being a free spirit and going where the road takes you can be exciting to some and daunting to others. The most important factors for a really great trip are an open mind and a willingness to experiment.
Long distance road trips by car, or SUV in my case, not RVs and motor homes, means lots of pit stops for food unless you pack a large cooler, personal convenience and overnight stops in motels, campgrounds or where ever you wind up sleeping.
Stopping at chain restaurants is convenient, predictable and boring. You don’t have to think. Everything is always the same. And that’s OK if covering miles is most important. But then why even leave home?
Traveling is more than just seeing the famous sights. It’s about learning and making memories that last a lifetime. You can’t do that by stopping at the national fast food chain restaurants.
Whenever stops and time allows I always look for local eateries, often with funky, individual names offering local food and color. On the early part of this trip in Mt. Dora, Florida, there was the Chew-Choo Express butted up to the railroad tracks. In Wiggins, MS, there was the Whistle Stop Café, also alongside train tracks. In New Orleans the attention grabbers often had VooDoo in the name. Near Baton Rouge the famous Boutins Restaurant serves local delicacies and features Cajun music at night.
Years from now will you remember the hamburger chain you stopped at in some forgotten city or the unique local eatery?
If you are a fan of everything fried, then traveling the southern states will be to your liking. I generally tend to shy away from the really deep fried foods, but in the south deep fry cooking is an art. My favorites tend to be fried cheesecake and fried ice cream. Someone can get rich if he or she can discover a way to deep fry water.
Be flexible in your planning if one or more of the secondary attractions listed on the Internet or your GPS is not open as advertised or is no longer in business. The listings seem to last forever on the Internet even when the attraction is long gone.
From experience we’ve learned to wear and pack mostly nylon shirts, pants, quick-drying socks and underwear when traveling for more than a long weekend. Cotton takes too long to dry and spending time in a local laundromat is not one of a trip’s more memorable moments. Packing light takes practice.
Not having to consider weight restrictions, it’s easy to fill in all of those empty spaces in your vehicle with “stuff” you think you might need. But most of this extra “stuff” can be purchased on the road if needed and you’ll discover that you have been transporting “stuff” for no reason. Dressy clothing no longer seems necessary, especially on a road trip.
Depending on the time available, you’ll have to decide the purpose of your trip. Is it a trip of exploration, or visits to friends and family, or possibly both? There is nothing worse than trying to meet time schedules on the road. Things can become hectic and tempers fray if you are trying to arrange your trip like a train time-table. The 1969 movie comedy, “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium,” says it all. Go for quality not quantity unless you are entered in a contest for most state capitals visited in three weeks.
On your travels you’ll see the road signs for towns and cities with strange, descriptive and sometimes funny names, a particularly American tradition. Names represent local features, history and individuals. There are too many of them throughout this country to even begin a list. However, in the early part of my trip one really stood out. In the Houston area is the town of Bottle ‘N’ Smoke near Sour Lake. The sign naming this location was definitely a head turner and I have no idea of its origin. If you are trying to amuse the kids, have them keep lists of these wonderfully unique names, many of which could possibly disappear from the map when the postal service begins closing local offices.
Meeting people from other places, people with whom you would never normally interact can provide lifetime memories. The interaction can be funny, poignant or frustrating but definitely memorable as was my stay at a campground in southeast Louisiana.
We had a campsite overlooking a lovely bay. It was the only site with any vegetation. Next morning I noticed the foliage was supporting a healthy growth of poison ivy and reported it to the manager. The following day the camp’s maintenance man came by for a look. When I pointed out the offending vegetation his response was, “Really? Don’t look ‘nothin like the poison ivy from where I come from up in Maine.” I will never forget this exchange, nor will my wife. She wound up with a case of poison ivy.
Unique places to visit are not confined to the major tourist sites of the West. A trip around the southern Mississippi River in Mississippi and Louisiana will yield riches to the traveler. There are miles of plantations depicting a different era in this country when cotton, rice and sugarcane were king and millions were made and lost by men on the whim of nature or the flip of a coin. Two totally different examples of plantation life are the Evergreen Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana, and Houmas House Plantation and Gardens in Darrow, Louisiana.
Evergreen, a bare bones working plantation has been faithfully reconstructed along with its slave cabins to the era before the Mississippi levees were built and paddle boats docked at plantation dwarfs to load produce. While it looks grand from the outside, the main house is quite simple inside. On the other hand Houmas House, also called “The Sugar Palace,” is an eye popping example of how a successful plantation owner lived and flaunted his wealth. The house and furnishings are magnificent and the grounds have been turned into something quite spectacular for today’s visitors.
As our trip continues, with the furthest destination being Yellowstone National Park, I will report on places seen and things done that might be enjoyable or bring back memories of past trips. Reports will also be made of specific locations I found particularly interesting.
Our trip is being made in a small SUV. We will be stopping at campgrounds, cabins, motels of all types and even some five-star hotels. Perhaps an overnight in the car will even be necessary.
Watch for the next installment in this series.