Road Trip Planning Ezine Hit the Road! - July 2009

Planning a Movie-Themed Road Trip?
Blockbuster is fighting the good fight and offering something Netflix will probably never offer: road trip planning advice so you can visit the scenic locales from all your favorite movies. If you’re a huge fan of the movie The Shining, why not see the spooky hotel where it was filmed in Estes Park, Colorado? Love Fried Green Tomatoes? Swing by Whistle Stop, Alabama!

Just select a state you’ll be passing through and they’ll give you every movie filming location in that state at (opens in new window). It’s a fun potential theme for a road trip or you could just visit one of the locations on the way to your destination.

Lessons Learned (or Relearned) on the Road
Every road trip I’ve taken has taught me something. Sometimes I have to learn that lesson twice - or even more times, (it’s sad to say)! Our recent road trip from North Carolina up the coast to Connecticut was another education and what better way to utilize all that info than to pass it on to you?

Lesson One – Never Underestimate a Pit Stop: As Ocean City, Maryland was along our route from Virginia to Delaware, it seemed like a good place to stop, maybe take a stroll on the famous boardwalk, and see a little of the town. I was thinking along the lines of an hour or so at most.

Holy beach town! This place sprawls for miles! The boardwalk itself could be a city – then add acres of mini golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and much more. We drove around looking for parking and found that parking itself must be an art in Ocean City as there were no spots to be found – even in paid parking lots. Finally we chucked it and continued our trip to Delaware.

Lesson: just because something’s along your route and you think you can easily stop there, don’t count on it. We were flexible and just continued along our way, but if we’d had kids in the car that we’d promised a visit to Ocean City, there would have been a riot if we hadn’t stopped, so this lesson is most important to those making promises who might not have the time/ability to fulfill them.

Lesson Two – Towns That Were Once Great Destinations/Pit Stops Can Die: We stopped at two towns along our route as pit stops that used to live and breathe and are now ghost towns (for the most part): Williamston, NC and Wachapreague, VA.

The first was recommended in a guidebook. I know, I know, I’ve already learned this lesson ad nauseum – check out my article always take guidebooks with a grain of salt and you’ll see. Williamston used to be a lovely historical southern town. It is now a shell – there were no people around, most of the stores in the downtown area are shuttered or closed permanently, and the place where we planned to eat lunch (guidebook strikes again – I even checked it out on the web and it seemed “live”) had gone out of business.

The second, Wachapreague, was a town I’d visited with my family on a road trip when I was thirteen. I remember it as a busy fishing port – we’d watched many charters heading out of the marina while feasting on crabs at a rustic restaurant named Island House. That restaurant has since burned and been rebuilt, but the charter fishing industry has left permanently due to new laws and the town is in the process of a slow death. The empty streets and abandoned houses attest to the loss of monetary lifeblood to the area. The restaurant is still very charming and serves some seriously succulent crabs, but primarily caters to the few drivers passing on nearby Route 13 (who see the sign) and the town’s remaining residents.

Lesson: even great towns die. Also, remember that grain of salt (with your guidebook)!

Lesson Three – There’s Some Crazy Stuff on the Road! A gift shop on a highway tunnel (what were they selling, miniature tunnels?). A sign posted on the side of the road in the middle of a wooded area that read simply “Tomatoes” – with no evidence of any tomatoes nearby. The fact that if you’re selling fireworks in Virginia, you’re also selling bacon, sausage, and hams (every sign/market we saw advertised them as a group). These unlikely items as a match has led us to believe that the ideal plan is to blow up some hams or sausages and see what happens (like Letterman and the watermelons that he dropped from the roof on his show in the 80’s).

Lesson: keep your eyes peeled on your road trip and you’ll see a lot of weird and wacky stuff out there!

Most of all, riding all the beautiful back roads on our road trip reminded me of how much fun it is to check out how people live – from laundry lines in backyards to funky mailboxes (one was a carved fish whose mouth opened for the mail) to the furniture people choose for their front porch (sagging heavy armchairs alongside plastic beach chairs).

July’s Scrapbook Photo
Here’s me on our hotel room’s balcony overlooking Virginia Beach on our recent road trip. That beach is so enormous, you’ll never need to worry about a place to put your blanket…

Road Trip

Road Trip Destination Review: Mystic, CT
Mystic is often touted as one of the premiere towns in CT to visit on vacation. Websites, ads, and some books suggest you could spend a lot of time there. I beg to differ.

We visited Mystic (again – I’ve been there many times before) on our road trip for a day. I’ve been to the aquarium multiple times in the past, so we decided to see Mystic Seaport – “a living history museum” – and stay overnight in the downtown area. Here are my general tips if you’re planning to visit Mystic based on not only my extensive experience of the town, but also other people’s opinions (collected from forums and consumer reviews):

  • Don’t plan on staying in Mystic for more than one to two days. Two only if you are traveling with kids or if you have an aquarium obsession. Why? Mystic Seaport is a great place to visit if you don’t mind the high admission fee ($25 per adult) – you can spend an entire afternoon wandering this restored colonial town and seeing all the excellent exhibits and demonstrations. There is no way you could spend more than four hours here unless you like to take it really s-l-o-wwww. The aquarium is okay – great for a day with kids under ten years old. Older children and adults who’ve seen more sophisticated aquariums will be disappointed.
  • Bring your money, honey! Mystic is not cheap. Both of our restaurant bills (lunch and dinner) were close to $100 each! Our hotel was $280 for the night (a quaint inn, not a palace)! Luckily, my mother had wanted to treat us to this mini-trip, so we can still eat this month. For the average frugal traveler, you’re going to have to work hard to make sure your visit doesn’t break the bank.
  • I-95 in CT (really, it’s horrible from New Jersey up through Boston) has some of the worst traffic in the U.S. – expect delays no matter when you drive, but especially on weekends (we had terrible traffic both ways in the middle of the day on a Wednesday and a Thursday). The problem is that the population in New England has grown, but the roads haven’t.
  • So why go? It’s a charming New England town, the historic element of the seaport is the real deal and you’ll find out a lot about life in colonial times, and you can continue your road trip to many nearby destinations including Newport, RI (highly recommended), casinos including Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, and Block Island (a ferry trip away).
Hot Off the Presses!
A new addition to my cross-country road trip planning advice (something frequently sought in the forums that I participate in daily) are entire cross-country routes. The first is a northern cross-country route and itinerary that not only suggests the many great sights to see along the way, but also scenic routes to take as you travel across the U.S. This route runs from NYC to Seattle.

Coming soon: a route/itinerary that charts a trip across the country’s midsection as well as one that runs through the Southern portion of the country.

I’ve also got some other fun stuff on my road trip blog including beach destination reviews, a kick-butt road trip diary I’ve recently discovered, and much more, so be sure to check it out!

Happy trails and a very happy Fourth of July to you and your family!

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