“The Mother Road” is a 2,500 mile journey through the heart of the USA - the quintessential American road trip.
From its beginnings in Chicago it stretches through the midlands and down to Los Angeles, ending at the Santa Monica Pier. It was known as the “Main Street of America” because it wound through so many small towns in the Southwest and Midwest, lined by motels, cafes and tourist attractions.
It was a popular pilgrimage in the 40s and 50s before it was officially removed from the US Highway System in 1985. However, the journey is still taken by cross country travelers searching for a nostalgic adventure packed with long stretches of lonesome highway, retro motels, down-home diners and quirky roadside attractions.
If you are planning to get your kicks on this classic roadway, here are some tips to keep in mind.
1) Consider Your Time Frame
Be realistic about how much time you have and how much of the route you want to cover. It is generally accepted that you can complete the entire route in two weeks, but if you don’t want to rush through it and want to have time to take interesting detours I would recommend allowing yourself at least a month.
2) Don’t Try to Drive More Than 6 Hours Per Day
Driving along this scenic route is fun, but if you do too much driving each day you will tire yourself out and miss out on many of the sites. A good general rule is to schedule around 6 hours of driving per day. Don’t forget to factor in the time you will take to fuel up, eat and visit attractions along the way. Also, remember that this is not an interstate highway so you will be going slower.
3) Leave Extra Time for Unexpected Detours
Each town that you visit along the way will have its own interesting attractions, from odd roadside wonders to historic places to vintage motels to beautiful natural areas. No matter how much you research in advance, it’s almost inevitable that you will spot something on the road that you will choose to check out spontaneously. Make sure that your travel plans are flexible enough to accommodate for these random detours.
4) Travel Some of the Old Road
Plan your route so that some of your journey takes place on the oldest sections of the road, which date back to the 1920s. They may be less maintained, but this is where you will find lots of history.
5) Read About the History of Route 66
Route 66 has been a legendary journey for travelers since 1926 and although it no longer officially exists, roadtrippers have been following it’s route turn by turn ever since. The history of Route 66 is interesting and colorful and before you drive the road, you should do some reading in order to truly understand it. A great place to start is our History of Route 66.
6) Use a Guidebook or Map to Follow the Original Route
Today most of the original Route 66 is still drivable, with the help of a good planning aid. Remember that it won’t likely be marked on your GPS, so you will need turn by turn directions to follow the route. Also, it is helpful to pick up a state map at the gas station as you go along.
7) Make a List of Must-See Attractions
Unless you have several months to meander as slowly as possible across America, you won’t have time to stop at every single attraction along the way. So, it’s a good idea to narrow down a list of your top essential sights that you cannot miss. You can always visit more if you have time, but make sure you cover the basics that you would regret not seeing.
8) Consider a Side Trip
If you have time, there are several stunning side trips that you can take along the way. For example, you could marvel at the enormous expanse of the Grand Canyon, the humbling power of the Hoover Dam or the towering rock formations of Monument Valley. If these attractions are on your US travel bucket list, schedule time to veer off the path and visit them.
9) Avoid the Busy Season
If you can travel outside of summer holidays you will enjoy the benefit of fewer crowds. One of the best times of the year to do the drive is September - the weather will still be warm and pleasant but the school season will have begun and fewer people will be traveling.
10) If You Do Travel In Busy Season, Book in Advance
If you have no choice but to travel during the peak summer season, it is recommended that you book hotels in advance to make sure that you have somewhere to stay.
11) Stay in Fun and Quirky Themed Accommodation
Forget cookie-cutter chain hotels - one of the best parts of traveling Route 66 is staying in the odd and unique little motels and B&Bs along the way. Here are a few great examples
Plus, staying in the local accommodation will help to support the small businesses along the route and sustain them for future visitors.
12) Calculate Your Budget
How much does it cost to travel Route 66? It depends on how fuel efficient your vehicle is, what you eat along the way, what level of accommodation you stay in and how many cheesy Route 66 souvenirs you buy. To give yourself an estimate of the costs, this road trip calculator is very handy. Just input your number of days, your lodging and food budget and other factors and it will spit out an estimated total.
13) Talk to the Locals
One of the most wonderful parts of traveling Route 66 is getting to know the quirky and interesting characters that you will meet along the way. Take the time to chat to the locals you meet at the roadside diners and motels and ask them about their Route 66 story.
14) Download the App
In our modern day and age it probably comes as no surprise that there is an app dedicated to planning your perfect Route 66 road trip that we've created! Our Route 66 Road Trip Guide is easy to use and contains a wealth of resources including maps, attraction listings and more. You can sort by state and build an itinerary to help you along your trip. Download it here.
15) Have Emergency Supplies in Your Car
You never know when you might end up stranded in Middle of Nowhere, USA, so make sure that you have some emergency gear in your vehicle such as extra gas, first aid kit,a spare tire, bottled water, etc. Also, it is a very good idea to get the car serviced before you take off just to make sure that it is in good working shape.
16) Make Sure You Have The Right Driving Permit and Visa
If you are not a US citizen, it is important that you make sure that you have the right tourist visa to enter the USA, as well as an International Driving Permit that will enable you to rent a car and drive during your visit.
Although sometimes you will be able to rent a car with a valid driver’s license from your home country, an international license can come in handy if the car rental agent cannot understand or recognize your license. You can find more information here.
With these tips you’ll be ready for the ultimate road trip on Route 66, so what are you waiting for? The open road is calling.