Can you hear that? It’s the open road whispering your name! Pretty soon, that little whisper will turn into an ear-shattering scream, and your right foot (the one that puts pedal to metal) will get an itch that only miles of shimmering blacktop and iconic Route 66 signs can scratch.
Before you and your buddy jump into the car to take off for a wild road trip down “The Mother Road” without a care in the world, stop and think for a minute. To keep this trip in the fast lane and out of the I-can’t-believe-we-did this-what-were-we-thinking ditch, decide what you need to take, where you’ll stay, and what you want to see before you hit the road.
Let’s walk through the planning phase, so you start your grand tour of endless kitsch and Americana before your cravings get the best of you.
THE MASTER PLAN
You road trip starts right here! With a master plan that covers all your bases, you’ll be prepared for almost anything that could possibly happen and still enjoy the more pleasant surprises of this amazing adventure.
What Should You Take?
There are two basic kinds of travelers: the pack rat and the free spirit. The first one won’t use half the junk he packed, while the second will be wishing for a flashlight, or a jug of antifreeze, before the trip is over. Let’s try to stay comfortably in the middle with this packing list:
Clothing – The first rule of the road is Route 66 isn’t a fashion show. The second is, you can usually wear a pair of jeans for more than one day. Bring a few t-shirts, a spare pair of jeans, some shorts, and enough socks and underwear to see you through the trip.
Better yet, toss the tees, and buy souvenir shirts along the way. Include a warm sweatshirt or a light jacket, depending on the weather, and toss in a pair of sandals if you can’t make do with those comfy tennis shoes you’ll wear. No need for anything fancy; on Route 66, the dress code is definitely casual.
Sunglasses – Cool shades are a must!
Toiletries – Remember the deodorant, the sunscreen, razors and shaving cream, basic makeup for the ladies, and skip the rest. If you’re catching a few Zs in a motel, hey’ll have shampoo and soap.
Drinks and snacks –Toss a cooler in the backseat for some drinks and snacks to tide you over between greasy spoons.
Electronics – A road trip should be unplugged and off-the-grid. Bring the cell phone and a charger for emergencies, but leave the iPod at home, tuning into the local stations for the real deal.It can be a challenge staying on certain parts of Route 66. If you must, bring a GPS; but using old-fashioned, foldable maps could lend an authentic feel to this trip. Actually, getting lost once or twice should be part of the fun.
Car Basics – You’ll need a few basic necessities for the car just in case things go very wrong. Pack a flashlight, a few basic tools, a gallon of antifreeze, a quart of oil, and some duct tape at the very least. Consider joining an auto club with towing privileges if you aren’t already a member.
Money and Documents – Bring cash, credit and debit cards, copies of your health and auto insurance policies, and, of course, your driver’s license.
Where Will You Stay?
You’re in luck with this one: Route 66 is literally lined with cheesy motels that look like something right out of the movies. If you’re going when it’s not crowded, just look for the “vacancy” sign, and pull right in. For the anal-retentive or the peak-season traveler, reserve a room ahead of time. Here are a few of the more interesting places to stay along Route 66:
• Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba
• Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon
• Silver Spur Motel in East Amarillo
• U-Drop Inn in Shamrock
• Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari
• Hotel El Rancho in Gallup
• Wigwam Village (“real” Teepees!) in Holbrook
• La Posada Hotel in Winslow
• Frontier Motel in Truxton
• Hotel Beale in Kingman
Are You Covered?
Before hitting the open road, make sure you’re covered for any possibility. Your typical auto policy will take care of your car if you’re in an accident, but it might take a few days for an adjuster to show up and approve a rental car.
Many people only think about trip insurance when they’re going on a cruise or taking a flight to some foreign destination. Did you know you can get this kind of policy to cover your road trip? Because there’s no expensive transportation costs involved, it would be extremely affordable, and it could take care of things like rental cars, legal problems, and medical transport depending on the type of coverage you choose.
How’s Your Car?
Before leaving home, take your car by a trusted mechanic for an oil change and a once-over to make sure everything is in tip-top shape. This should include checking belts, hoses, tires, and brakes. Just to be safe, make sure both your spare tire and your jack are in good shape.
Finally! Let’s talk about what you’ll see and do as you make your way across the country on Route 66. This historic trip runs from Chicago, Illinois on one end, all the way to the Santa Monica Pier in sunny California on the other. Depending on where you start, and which direction you’re going, a one-way trip on The Mother Road can put up to 2,448 miles on your odometer.
Although the trip can be made in as little as four days, the experts don’t recommend it. You’ll need at least ten days to fully experience Route 66. Add a few more if you want to take any of the popular side trips like Vegas or the Grand Canyon.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the must-see attractions on Route 66.
1. Gemini Giant Statue
Location: Wilmington, Illinois
Date Built: 1960s
Although it looks like a green spaceman, it’s actually that infamous super-hero, Muffler Man.
2. Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower
Location: Collinsville, Illinois
Date Built: 1949
At 170-feet tall, the world’s largest bottle of the red stuff was erected in 1949. Now, if there was only a 50-foot French fry to go with it!
3. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
Location: Chippewa, Missouri
Date Built: 1929
Stop off for a cold treat, and step back in time to the real thing. Try the special: “All Shook Up” is a peanut-butter and banana masterpiece inspired by the King himself, Elvis Presley. Don’t be surprised if you get a sudden craving for Blue Suede Shoes or shag-carpet wallpaper.
4. Meremac Caverns
Location: Stanton, Missouri
Date Built: Eons ago, opened for official business in 1935
Once the hide-out of the notorious James brothers, it’s now a visitor hot spot where people can imagine Jesse’s ghost haunting the five-story interior of “America’s Cave.”
5. Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park
Location: Foyil, Oklahoma
Date Built: Somewhere Between 1937 and 1962
This 9-story tall masterpiece is the tallest totem pole in the world. Made of concrete and steel, with over 200 carvings embedded in the surface, it took Ed 11 years, working seven days a week, to complete this project. Now, that’s dedication!
6. The Blue Whale
Location: Catoosa, Oklahoma
Date Built: 1970s
How would you like this as an anniversary gift? That’s exactly how the Blue Whale got its start. It soon became a popular swimming hole, but is now closed to the public. You can still get close enough to take some memorable photos.
7. Leaning Tower of Britten
Location: Groom, Texas
Date Built: Around 1946
Believe it or not, this water tower isn’t falling – it was built that way on purpose. It was meant to be a eye-catching gimmick to convince passing tourists to stop in this sleepy little town. Guess what! It’s still working.
8. The Cadillac Ranch
Location: Near the Hope Rd. Intersection
Date Built: 1974
No one could possibly miss this crazy, tilted world of half-buried Cadillacs. You’re welcome to stop, look around, and even grab a can of spray paint to leave your mark at this unusual ranch.
How was that for a tease? It was just enough to make your mouth water, but definitely not enough to satisfy your appetite for an America that’s all but lost everywhere except on “The Mother Road.”
Speaking of that, what are you doing just looking at the famous Route 66 on a screen? Get out there and see it all for yourself on the road trip of a lifetime!