When I was little, my family and I would take yearly road trips to California to visit our relatives. We’d all pile into our family van—usually accompanied by a stowaway cousin and a case of Big Red soda to be offered as a housewarming present—and take off. We’d slowly make our way up the long, boring stretch out of Texas, then veer west through the haunting desert beauty of New Mexico and Arizona, and then finally arrive in Los Angeles: home to Disneyland, Hollywood starlets, and my cousins’ backyard pool.
Sometimes we stopped at the Grand Canyon, and other times we’d keep driving north to the soft beaches of Santa Barbara. We visited the stunning Sequoia National Park, and I remember being awed—not only by the massive trees, but also by the giant chipmunks I imagined living in them.
These “Mexican Meccas,” as my sisters and I jokingly referred to them, sparked the curiosity and wanderlust that define me today. And, best of all, they required no plane tickets or passports.
While I strongly encourage you to see other parts of the world, until you get that lovely combo of both time and money, you can still satisfy your desire to travel by visiting the many stunning sites North America has to offer.
Great cross country road trips
Grab a pal and channel Thelma and Louise by journeying across the United States. Traveling by car is as American, and as easy, as apple pie, so pick a route and hit the road.
The Pacific Coast
Journey from sunny San Diego, California, all the way to the glacier-capped peaks of Olympic National Park in Washington state. The 1,300-mile trip takes you through the distinctive cities of Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. One of the best parts of the trip though, is the stunning stretch of the Pacific Coast highway that runs from north of Santa Barbara and winds through the coastal California towns of Cambria, Big Sur, Monterey, and Santa Cruz—all sandwiched between redwood forests and the sparkling Pacific Ocean.
The Atlantic Coast
The New York City-to-Key West, Florida, 1,450-mile route runs through the quirky coastal towns of Atlantic City, New Jersey; Ocean City, Maryland; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, then threads through the languid lowcountry of Charleston, South Carolina, and the gentile southern town of Savannah, Georgia. You’ll smell the change in the air when you hit vibrant Daytona Beach and pass West Palm. Stop to take in the Euro-trash glamour of Miami, and end with kitschy Key West.
Sea to Northern Sea
Though many come close, no other cross-country route takes in the variety and extremity of landscape that US-2 does. Running from Acadia National Park in Maine to Seattle, Washington, the route has been dubbed “the Great Northern” in memory of the pioneer railroad that parallels the western half of the road. US-2 is truly the most stunning and unforgettable, not to mention the longest, of all the great trans-continental road trips.
You can still get some kicks on Route 66, but some spots on this over-2,000 mile trail have become a little dilapidated. Starting off in the Windy City and ending in the City of Angels isn’t so bad, and if you’re looking for greasy spoons and campy Americana, you probably can’t do much better. Plus, you’ll get a good lesson in fortitude by following the path so many took to California after being displaced by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Highlights include eating some hometown barbecue in St. Louis and checking out the original London Bridge, which somehow ended up inexplicably in Lake Havasu, Arizona.
Check out www.roadtripusa.com for detailed routes and recommended stops along the way. This would be an optimal time to get your hands on a hybrid car so you can save some money on gas. But if you get together enough pals, you can split travel costs and maybe splurge for a convertible!
Car Tip: If you opt to rent a car, be sure and check with your car insurance and credit card companies before you travel. Both often cover rental car insurance, so you can pass on the insurance offered by the rental company.
Passports and Puerto Rico
You now need a passport to enter both Mexico and Canada, and this includes cruises where these destinations are on the itinerary. You can get an application at the post office or your local library. You should receive your passport in about six weeks, but one can be expedited for an extra cost. Check out www.napvs.org for more information.
If you don’t have a passport but are still craving a beach getaway, consider a vacation in Puerto Rico. Many airlines fly cheap and direct to the capital city of San Juan since it’s a gateway to the Caribbean. Admire the Spanish Colonial architecture of Old San Juan, one of the oldest towns in the Americas, then take a ferry to the idyllic islands of Vieques and Culebra. With blue-lagoon like water, these affordable islands are truly paradise found. Visit www.gotopuertorico.com for more information.