Road Trip USA

In Review: Road Trip USA, by Jamie Jensen

Road Trip USA… takes you as close to the real America as you are ever likely to get.”

Here’s a question for you. If you had the time and the money to undertake just one extensive trip by road on any continent on the planet, which one would you choose, and where would you go? I ask this question because time and money seem to be the only things stopping many people from undertaking their ultimate dream vacation.

Last year (March 2008), a survey conducted by the Australian online automotive website Cars Guide indicated that Aussies love to hit the road. In fact, the survey of 810 respondents, found a whopping 99 per cent of Australians would go on a road trip because of the freedom and spontaneity it allows.

Not long after the Cars Guide survey appeared, a Rand McNally survey (May 2008), examining American attitudes to long road journeys found similar opinions to this form of vacation. According to the Rand McNally survey (of 2,030 U.S. adults), three in four adults (75{899b15f80a2d8718204d48354149b0a45e47eff631d37dac5896e2c8e1eedb93}) were at least somewhat likely to take a road trip, and about three in ten (29{899b15f80a2d8718204d48354149b0a45e47eff631d37dac5896e2c8e1eedb93}) said they were very likely.

Meanwhile, a recent article published in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal (May 2009), reported that the road trip was poised to make a comeback as the American summer travel season began, despite the lingering recession and rising fuel prices.

While the cost of fuel and accommodation were nominated as the two biggest concerns both in Australia and America, it seems our respective love affairs for the open road is not likely to diminish any time soon.

Which brings me to Road Trip USA.

Jamie Jensen’s best-selling guide book, Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways, (Fifth Edition, Avalon Travel, 2009) takes you as close to the real America as you are ever likely to get.

With 11 trips to choose from, covering classic American landscapes such as the Appalachian Trail, Atlantic Coast, Oregon Trail, and the famed Route 66, Road Trip USA steers intrepid road warriors through major cities like San Francisco and Chicago as well as remote, but charming all-American towns like Dyersville, Mississippi (where the baseball field created for the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams attracts visitors from near and far); or the small blue-collar town of Seneca Falls, in New York state (which saw the birth of the American women’s movement in July 1848).

As you might expect, Jensen’s routes also lead to popular destinations such as Disneyland, Yellowstone National Park, Niagara Falls, and the Statue of Liberty. Complete with local lore; oddball trivia (Memphis’s gifts to American culture – and the world’s – include the supermarket, the drive-in restaurant, the Holiday Inn, oh, and Elvis Presley). Filled with noteworthy details and roadside curiosities (a sign in Texas spelling out the command: “Rattlesnakes Exit Here”), Road Trip USA contains a wealth of recommendations on where to stop, what to see, and where to eat and sleep. This is one guide aimed at getting travelers off the freeway system, and driving into the heart and soul of America.

Other features of this edition include:

o A flexible network of route combinations, color-coded and extensively cross-referenced to allow for hundreds of possible itineraries
o More than 125 detailed driving maps
o Full-color interior with modern and vintage photos and illustrations
o A road trip resources section with contact information for popular hotel and motel chains, car rental companies, state tourism boards, and road condition centers

My personal criteria for a good guide book is that it should inform, enlighten, and occasionally even surprise, so I’m please to say that Road Trip USA has no trouble being informative, enlightening, and yes, even surprising.

I have no hesitation in saying that when I undertake my own road trip across America, this will be the one book I will have by my side at all times.

What’s Missing?
Unfortunately, Road Trip USA is almost entirely devoid of links to online resources. In an age when almost every printed piece of paper has a website URL and an Email address on it somewhere; and when so many modern electronic devices come Internet ready, this seems to be a glaring omission. I can only assume this is a deliberate choice by the author and publisher. With thousands of places of interest detailed in the book, they may have taken the decision to try and cut down on the visual clutter associated with URLs, and make the contents more ‘readable’ by avoiding them altogether.

While one doesn’t expect a URL or Email address for every location mentioned in Road Trip USA, surely major places of interest do warrant the inclusion of a web link (where available). A quick look through other guide books on my bookshelf reveals that all those printed over the last five years or so, include web addresses throughout, and future editions of Road Trip USA would be well served to do the same.

Before You Go
I think Road Trip USA would also benefit from a ‘Before You Go’ section outlining basic information regarding preparations for the journey. This chapter might cover such topics as:

o Useful (online and offline) sources of information regarding trip preparations.
o Information about safety (personal, vehicle break down, and other safety issues)
o What to do in an emergency (break downs, accidents, personal attack, etc)
o A checklist of possible items to pack and prepare
o A checklist of pre-trip vehicle preparations (brakes, tyre and engine checks, etc)
o Traveling with children and pets

Road Trip USA does have a small Resources section at the end of the book, running to just eight and a half pages – four of which contain a Recommended Reading list. The others refer to organizations associated in some way with automobiles and highways; a short list of hotel/motel chains, and car rental companies; and a list of U.S. and Canadian agencies dealing with State Tourism and road conditions. And that’s pretty much it.

The good news is, the omissions noted above do not detract in any way from the overall depth and quality of the detailed information presented in Road Trip USA. At just over 900 pages, I think it is fair to say that Road Trip USA covers all the ‘bases’ and then some. In deed, I have no hesitation in saying that when I undertake my own road trip across America, Road Trip USA will be the one book I will have by my side at all times.