Guest writer Linda Richardson discusses a great North American road trip in this post.
In retirement my husband and I decided to combine shorter road trips into a grand circle tour of Canada and the U.S. Over 10 weeks and 21,000 km last fall, we travelled through eight provinces and 37 states.
Given the new discoveries every day, our road trip proved to be a wonderful adventure. I’m hard-pressed to name a favourite part, but a few experiences stick with me because of the emotions they evoked. In Nova Scotia my first cousin, whom I’d not seen since we were 10, showed us three places where my mother and her family lived, regaling us with stories about his father’s and my mother’s life in Thorburn and New Glasgow. I felt strongly my mother’s presence. At Pier 21 in Halifax, I discovered previously unknown and surprising information to me about my Grandmother’s entry to Canada from Scotland in 1913, with her widowed father and eight siblings. I connected deeply with my “Nana”. Emotions stirred within me again in Memphis, where I was born during my father’s Orthopaedic Residency at the Campbell Clinic. The original Clinic had moved, but I did find its current location.
- We agree Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of the greenest cities we’ve visited. And we live in Victoria!
- Cotton fields are still omnipresent in the South. At a roadside stop, I touched the cotton plants which were just like cotton balls when mature. Who knew?
- The rocks and mountains of Monument Valley awed us in their beauty.
Vehicle After checking into a number of options – renting an RV, renting a car, buying a used car and selling it at journey’s end, or using our own vehicle — we opted to take my 2009 Hybrid Ford Escape. We put on four new tires and had it serviced completely before our departure. With its reasonable gas mileage and built-in ability to car camp as necessary, the Escape turned out to be the best choice. We rotated the tires once, changed the oil twice, and took it to a Ford dealer to repair a small but important engine part.
Route Throughout parts of Canada and also in Phoenix, we stayed with family and relatives, so their schedules in part determined ours. Otherwise, we kept the route flexible. Staff at Visitor and Welcome Centres were invariably helpful. More than once, they arranged our accommodation and gave advice on toll roads and noteworthy sights. Sometimes we drove on freeways; often we chose roads less travelled, finding the smaller ones more scenic and interesting.
Driving Since he loves to drive, my husband did 70% of the driving. He seemed a bit on edge when I drove, even though we both know I’m a competent driver! However, it was uncanny how the roads became narrower, with more challenging twists and turns, whenever I took the wheel…
Guidance Samantha (“Sam”), our portable GPS, saved us many times, not only by keeping us on the right route but also by helping us find attractions, motels etc. On the other hand, I still liked to consult a road map, which Visitor and Welcome Centres provide free of charge.
Distances Our longest day in the vehicle was 11 hours, going from Chicago to Toronto, but four to six hours typically constituted our limit. Occasionally we visited a sight en route (e.g. Gettysburg); other times, we just headed to our next overnight stop. On the last day, we covered the entire state of Washington because we were anxious to get home!
Accommodation Budget determines lodging. We set a budget of $200 CDN per day (all in) so often stayed at motels under $100 CDN (some were nicer than others). AirBnB’s and B and B’s cost more and/or required us to share a bathroom, which was a non-starter. We booked the motels from destination to destination, using my laptop with Wi-Fi. In major cities, we stayed outside the downtown area (for affordability) and used public transit or Uber to get to the city sights. I first used the Uber App in Boston and, as long as we were in Wi-Fi range, it gave excellent service.
Meals When accommodation was pricey, we economized on meals. Where possible we picked motels that offered continental breakfast, as well as a fridge for food and beverage storage. Often we bought suppers at a supermarket deli or a street vendor. To sample local delicacies — for example, beignets in New Orleans and deep-dish pizza in Chicago — we splurged at restaurants.
Sights We added cities and recommended attractions to our itinerary along the way. In larger cities, we stayed two or three days, beginning with a Hop-on-hop-off bus tour to determine the areas or attractions to return to. We also spent considerable time walking – for exercise and to become acquainted with the city.
Checklist Devising a checklist of belongings was my husband’s (very good) idea. Before leaving a motel, we ran through our list. Items missing after ten weeks? A pair of shorts and socks each — probably sitting in a motel washer or dryer.
Compatibility As a passenger, I spent time reading about the next city, province or state and planning the attractions to see and the motel to book. We binge-listened to podcasts and NPR throughout the U.S. Listening to music and audio books also passes the time pleasantly. We did have a few disagreements – about navigation and accommodation — but realized that, on a long trip, give and take plus a sense of humour are of paramount importance.
Decompression Once home both of us suffered a bit of transitory memory loss, forgetting some people’s names, familiar routes and how to use the TV remote. Having filled our brains with copious new information and memories, we pushed back older ones for a while. We recovered!
Will we repeat the great North American road trip? Likely not, though we may revisit certain cities or explore the provinces and states we missed in 2017.
Please share your road trip tips and anecdotes in the comments below. •