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America the Drivable

Richard Quinn

I’M BASICALLY A BORING kind of guy. I’ve been known to fall asleep during a raging house party. But when it comes to travel, you’ll find me wide awake. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

Given the hassle of international travel right now, Connie and I decided to see more of the U.S., rambling from state to state, planning no more than a day or so in advance.

We’ve just finished our third cross-country road trip since 2014. We had two goals for this trip: to complete visiting all 50 states and to see the locations of my wife’s favorite HGTV shows—first Indianapolis, then Waco, Texas, and finally Laurel, Mississippi.

Oklahoma was one missing state, and I wanted to see the memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing. Our most distant target was Idaho Falls, just because we hadn’t been to Idaho. There we stumbled onto the Idaho Potato Museum and had a baked potato smothered in beef stroganoff. What more can you ask for?

Along the way, we found the birthplaces of Thomas Edison in Ohio and Herbert Hoover in Iowa. Did you know Edison went bankrupt at age 18 and Hoover was an orphan at seven? It’s amazing what you can learn when you pay attention to those roadside historical markers.

Several weeks ago, Rick Connor recounted his recent road trip. At age 65, Rick is still in the go-go years of retirement. By the usual measures, Connie and I are not, given our ages of 79 and 83. “Balderdash,” I say. People with the means and reasonable health don’t think about averages or norms. Instead, they press on for as long as possible.

Our road trips are about seeing this great land, learning its history and meeting people who lead lives very different from ours. If I stand next to someone for more than five seconds, I strike up a conversation.

I learn how similar and how different we can be. A group of bikers, a minister, and a fellow from the Alabama town where I was stationed in the Army 50 years ago all fell prey to my questioning. At restaurants, servers are a great source of insight into local events.

There are some rules to be followed. When you’re “in the middle of nowhere” and talking to a local, don’t say that to them. Remember, you’re actually in their hometown, and their family may have lived there for generations.

At one stop “in the middle of nowhere,” I asked a local how people earn a living. “There aren’t as many jobs as there used to be, but we have the coal mine and the natural gas wells,” was the reply. This was not the time for a discussion about global warming.

Southern Utah

I enjoy driving. Connie doesn’t drive much since losing sight in one eye. In total, we traveled 7,000 miles in a little over three weeks. The U.S. has such an incredibly diverse landscape. It’s impossible to describe. Neither words nor photos can come close.

Sixteen percent of Americans have not left their home state, according to a recent survey. Many Americans have no desire to travel, which is beyond my comprehension. The only data I could find said the average American has visited 12 states. There’s no reliable data on how many of us have visited all 50 states, but it’s relatively few.

As I drove across the prairies of Nebraska and Wyoming, I thought about those early pioneers walking those endless miles, month after month. Imagine what they thought, after all that time, looking over the next hill and seeing the Rocky Mountains facing them.

“Another fine mess you’ve gotten us in, Pa. Now, what are we supposed to do?”

“Just keep going, Ma, keep going forward.” Thankfully, they did.

Once, as we were driving in Montana, I thought I saw an Indian hunting party atop a distant hill. Or maybe it was my imagination since we’d just visited an old Indian buffalo hunting ground.

Many times, I’ve heard that spending money on experiences is far better than on stuff. I fully agree, but what you experience also makes a difference. My idea of a great experience isn’t a $12 turkey leg in one hand while waiting to shake hands with a four-fingered mouse. Rather, I get a thrill from watching Navaho horsemen wrangling their flock of sheep, or driving the mountain roads of Zion National Park with no guardrails, or seeing 100 hot air balloons ascend at once.

When we take a road trip, we begin with a vague itinerary and no budget, although I know where the money is coming from—our travel account. On this trip, we spent about $45 a day on gasoline and a total of $4,280 on hotels. Food added some $1,800, including tips. Admissions and miscellaneous charges boosted the tab by roughly $1,200. Altogether, the 23-day trip cost $8,315.

My preferred mode of travel is a comfortable sedan and a comfy hotel room each night. I realize others see it differently. Still, how does emptying an RV’s grey water each night count as fun? To each their own. As I pass a middle-aged couple driving a $60,000 pickup truck towing a $40,000 RV towing $20,000 worth of motorcycles, I’m thinking, “Have they fully funded their IRA?”

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I filled the gas tank each night. When driving out West, there are times when gas stations are few and far between. If you run out of gas on some roads, you’ll be on the missing persons’ list in short order. If you have a favorite gas station—perhaps so you can earn points—good luck. Take what you can get.

Dining can be a challenge. We avoided fast food as much as possible in favor of local restaurants, but many times we ended up in chains like Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel. We even found a Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Arizona. BBQ at a famous Texas restaurant was a disappointment, but gumbo on top of jambalaya in Louisiana was a winner, as were the beignets.

Watch your speed. Traveling down an interstate highway on the Great Plains, with no trees on either side to give you a sense of speed, you can easily find yourself cruising at 90 miles per hour without realizing it. The open spaces are tempting for this former rally car driver, and I love to push the limits.

Zion National Park

If the posted speed is 80, I figure they mean 90, but don’t count on it. My personal best is 115 mph. I was headed to 120, but Connie woke up murmuring something about a crazy old man. Driving along I-80 at 75 mph is not a good time to open the sunroof. It will test your eardrums and, trust me, all the screaming wind will not suck that fly out of the car.

Resist tchotchkes. A stuffed Armadillo may be cool in Texas, but not so much in your living room in Connecticut. That cowboy hat only looks good on a cowboy west of the Mississippi.

What does an old couple, married 54 years, do confined in a car for hours at a time? That’s a piece of cake. Try a ship’s cabin for weeks. Believe it or not, we talk on the road more than at home.

When something comes up that we question or want to learn about, we always have our companion. “Hey, Siri.” On long road trips, we develop a special relationship with her. Connie has even taken to saying “thank you.”

Oh, yes, there’s always the license plate game. The goal is to see a license plate from every state. We saw all 50 states and Guanajuato, Mexico. Believe it or not, Alaska and Hawaii are not the hardest to find. It takes so little to make me happy. If you’re really ambitious, you can count wind turbines. Thousands upon thousands are changing the landscape.

GPS makes travel so easy. My car has a GPS, but it’s a bit out of date, so I prefer Waze. I prop my phone on the dash and we’re good to go. It’s not perfect, though. Get too far off the beaten path and you’ll drive it nuts.

While searching for St. Anthony Sand Dunes in Idaho, I sensed frustration from Waze. We seemed to be going in circles. I was expecting a snide remark such as, “Use a map next time, for Pete’s sake.”

I’m told it’s possible to drive all the way to South America, except for the 90-mile gap between North and South America. That trip may be beyond even those in the go-go years. Where to go next? Canada maybe?

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.net. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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Derek R. Austin
Derek R. Austin
2 months ago

While it won’t reconcile exactly with your travel account, the IRS-standard $0.50/mile is a useful rule of thumb for your car costs, which include insurance and depreciation, not just gasoline.

For 7,000 miles, that’s $3,500, not just the $1,000 in gas.

Thomas Taylor
Thomas Taylor
2 months ago

As I read the article, I was struck by the survey that stated 16% of Americans had not left their home state. I remember years ago a speaker at my Rotary Club was asking us to sponsor a field trip for a group of inner city kids to go to the beach for a day. This is an east coast city which for most people is less than a 30 minute drive to the beach. And these kids had never been to a beach in their own home town! My wife and I have been to about half the states in the US and we hope to travel some more when I retire, but I know we are very fortunate to have travelled as much as we have.

David Lancaster
David Lancaster
2 months ago

Rick,

Back in 2016 when we toured Italy there was a company called Tours by Locals that may have tours by car for your wife. They are located in many cities throughout Europe.

Happy Travels

Sean Mooney
Sean Mooney
2 months ago

Working and living in Germany has given me some advantages like being able to see most of Europe and have enough vacation time to explore my fascinating and beautiful home country of USA! We love the road trips. The US has so many natural wonders and the driving is imho quite relaxed (outside of NYC)!
My car top ends on the Autobahn at 140mph which is quite a thrill (well maintained with good tires -important). In Indiana we were stopped because I was enjoying the scenery and clocked at 95. The policeman had been stationed in Germany so he gave us a warning – learned my lesson, whew! Hard to drive so slow – haha!
My parents just visited us. They are 86! They have always loved travelling. We got them to do premium economy, a direct flight, had airport wheelchairs, and my brother accompanied them. They had a wonderful time.
So, I guess the motto is to keep on keeping on!

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago
Reply to  Sean Mooney

Yes it is the motto, because the minute you slow down, you aren’t getting up again. My car was made in Stuttgart so it expects to go fast. 😎

Stacey Miller
Stacey Miller
2 months ago

Sounds like a wonderful trip, Richard! Like you we converse during our frequent road trips… and reminisce mightily about when our sons, and our marriage, were younger. There’s also a lot of duets with Michael Bublé!

I’ve been holding at 48 states for years now. We prioritized some European travel this year (while we’re completely able-bodied!)
Those cobblestones in Scotland, Prague, & Vienna are hard on my hooves, but so worth it!

ND and Alaska are my last 2 states to visit; my husband only has Alaska to see. So I need a quick trip to ND, see the NP and other sights, circle back thru MN for a refresher visit, and we can then cross the finish line together on a cruise to Alaska.

Make sure you get to Maine @Booch 221.
I’ve treasured every trip, but our most recent in 2021 was extra special as we spent a few nights on Isle au Haut– eye-opening as to what “island living” demands, esp. concerning groceries, restaurants (1!), fuel, & garbage! Plus it contains “the rest of” Acadia, which while a beautiful hike, was treacherous for these 2 aging goats’ ankles.

Last edited 2 months ago by Stacey Miller
R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago
Reply to  Stacey Miller

Prague is one of my favorite cities, been there a few times. Since I retired we have been to 44 countries, several a few times.

Stacey Miller
Stacey Miller
2 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

As a student of the Spanish language (1 of the “romance” languages), I’m much more comfortable in France, Italy, & Spain, obviously. Czech menus and signs offered no clues, except Toaleta, aka toilet. Thank goodness for google!

I hope you can make it back to Prague. Perhaps take a river cruise! The Hilton in Old Town was very comfortable and convenient.

We stumbled upon a beautiful riverside restaurant “Brick’s”–and enjoyed our outside lunch in November. It was a bit chilly, but I relied on my thick Midwestern blood…& a light raincoat. Our Spanish (from the beautiful Canary Islands) server was bundled in a heavy wool coat. She couldn’t believe we were ok with being outside.

I can’t get enough of Europe, but recognize there is no place like home.

Cammer Michael
Cammer Michael
2 months ago

Ten years ago or so I wanted to do the drive down to South America and spent a lot of time on Google Maps pretending to do it. But I decided it was too dangerous and novel and for someone half my age.

Mark Eckman
Mark Eckman
2 months ago

Quite the journey! As for that couple with the $60k truck, $40k RV and $20k motorcycles – all must be used – I think we both know the answer to their IRAs. We relocated after retirement and paid cash for the new place near family. I looked at a new RV that was more expensive than the house. The RV lifestyle is a toy multiplier.

Cammer Michael
Cammer Michael
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Eckman

Last edited 2 months ago by Cammer Michael
booch221
booch221
2 months ago

I’ve driven Alaska Highway three times, twice from Pennsylvania. On one trip I took a detour into Canada to visit Winnipeg for a night, and then went back into North Dakota to Minot. I stayed in the US until I got to Spokane.

Alaska license plates draw a lot of attention. One time, I stopped at a rest area on I-80 in PA to use the facilities. When I came out there was a young boy taking a picture of my license plate. It brought a smile to my face.

One time I signed on with an Auto Driveaway vehicle relocation service. A lady who lived in Seattle needed to move her car to DC. That was a great trip.

I’ve visited most states with the exception of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Maine, and all the Canadian provinces except for the Maritimes. When checking off a state I don’t count just landing at the airport to change planes as a visit. But if I leave the airport, it counts.

tnretiree
tnretiree
2 months ago

We took a big leap when we retired and bought a high-end 45′ coach. It is like a Hilton on wheels…a king-size bed, two toilets, a big closet, all your standard kitchen appliances! RV parks have been an eye-opener. There are families living in RV’s full-time that home-school, transient workers who move every few months, retirees with all types of rigs, young couples tent camping! We have no interest in the super-premium “RV Resorts”…wow, those are really pricey! The people we’ve met have more than fully funded IRA’s, they seem to be a pretty well off crowd overall. Of course, we have met those who are living in a dilapidated rig with an adult disabled child they care for–sadly, I have seen that more than a few times. While decent RV parks nightly rates have gone up, a nice RV park is still less than a mediocre Best Western! We plan to “do the 4 corners” of the US and sell the rig before the depreciation really hits the value and move on to the next adventure! The next time you drive by a nice coach…just picture me on the couch in back watching a show I recorded off the satellite having a sandwich, with my dog in my lap! PETS! 98% of everyone I’ve ever met in an RV park has a pet, or multiple pets, all types and sizes! It’s not easy to travel with pets, but it’s simple in an RV.

Last edited 2 months ago by tnretiree
R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago
Reply to  tnretiree

what you describe sounds like a TV show I watch about RVing. I know many people enjoy it, but not my cup of tea.

I can’t imagine driving a 45 foot vehicle
down the road or taking it to places to visit.

Last edited 2 months ago by R Quinn
Mel Turner
Mel Turner
2 months ago

Richard, I can so relate to your joy of traveling. This summer my wife, of 54 years, and I spent 53 days “on the road.” We did the back roads of Route 66 starting at the Santa Monica Pier and ending in downtown Chicago. Sometimes we did 150 miles a day and even spent two nights in a couple places we wanted to explore. How many people get to see the Meteor Crater near Winslow or the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, NM, or the Devil’s Rope Museum where you get to learn the history of barbed wire? We fit in a family reunion in Olivett, KS, (Population 73) where 101 of us showed up to share the kitchen specialties of farm wives. The return was even better planning only one hotel in advance. Across the wide open state of Montana where you get the “you’re not from around here, are ya” look and you discover they could be your best friend if you were to live there. Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, all waiting for us to stand in awe and be thankful. Hope to see you on the road.

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago
Reply to  Mel Turner

Funny you mention that, we stumbled on the Winslow meteor crater too. Amazing site. Also, on the previous trip we found the Devils Tower. The Albuquerque hot air balloon festival was a real treat this time – especially when a ballon flew ten feet over our car and landed in the parking lot.

AnthonyClan
AnthonyClan
2 months ago

As much as possible, stay off the interstates! Get an old school road map and look for the scenic by-ways and other secondary roads. Lots of interesting stuff, better scenery, better local restaurants, etc. Monitor Google maps for interesting stuff.

Boomerst3
Boomerst3
2 months ago

Driving 200-300 miles a day is my idea of horrible, not to mention unhealthy. But to each his own. The guy driving the RV with all his toys probably made good money working, and has his own bed to sleep in each night, and inexpensive and healthy food to eat. Also, grey water doesn’t need to be changed each night. Enjoy yourself, but remember that to many other folks, what you describe as fun sounds like torture, especially with all the rude and crazy drivers on the road.

Chazooo
Chazooo
2 months ago
Reply to  Boomerst3

“Horrible and unhealthy” reminds me of why I refuse to fly any more unless an emergency – the last time for me was 2015 and everyone tells me it is much much worse now with ultimate load factors, a few lunatics, stressed and rude employees, and still doing the shoes and belts BS after 20 + years, so no thanks. I find peace and serenity in the passing scenery off the beaten paths. Yes, the sometimes unavoidable city traffic and major Interstates can provide a generous supply of frustration, but I’ll still trade that for trying to sleep in an airport because the last flight was cancelled for a litany of excuses beyond my control, my dinner of a dozen mini pretzels wearing off and everything closed until tomorrow.

UofODuck
UofODuck
2 months ago

Both my parents and an older sister owned RV’s (and a dreaded “fifth wheel”) for years as they preferred to take their homes with them, rather than test the thrills of staying in a no-name motel as they traveled. I guess I was the odd member of the family as I could never understand -or justify- spending the $100K or so that was required in order to travel in an RV, not to mention the cost of gas and what seemed like a never-ending series of very expensive repairs along the way. Give me clean sheets and a mint on my pillow every night and I’m just fine. And, like you, travel time seems to encourage some of the best conversations with my wife that we never seem to have time for (or avoid!) while at home.

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago
Reply to  UofODuck

I’m sure with you. We only stay at Hilton properties mostly Hampton Inns, breakfast included and we build up points. The points mean free hotels on our way to Florida each winter.

Last edited 2 months ago by R Quinn
johny
johny
2 months ago

I’m noticing that as we are getting older, driving long distances is getting harder and harder. The wife hates it and she finds cross country road trips hard to understand.

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago
Reply to  johny

That’s all too true. I used to drive 500-600 miles a day, but now it’s 300-400 tops. My wife doesn’t mind the ride. Luckily, while she has serious back trouble, riding in the car doesn’t bother her.

Chazooo
Chazooo
2 months ago

The U.S. has such an incredibly diverse landscape. It’s impossible to describe. Neither words nor photos can come close.” Mr. Quinn’s words capture our imaginations – you have to experience it to fully understand what they mean. Then wonder what it was like for the pioneers nearly 200 years ago as you cruise at 80 mph in airconditioned comfort. You can add my wife and I to the 50-state list. We would gladly do it again!

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago
Reply to  Chazooo

I’d do it again too. So much to see there is no chance of seeing the same thing twice unless you want to. I especially enjoy the landscape and visiting historic places. We diverted a bit this trip just to see the Vicksburg battlefield because I had read about the battle a few months before.

David Lancaster
David Lancaster
2 months ago

Rick, you mentioned that you would like to visit Europe but your wife can’t walk far. May I suggest a European barge (really a small, low, cruise-like boat) trip. You board, unpack your things and cruise along Europe’s major rivers stopping at cities and towns. If your wife is having trouble moving one day you can just relax on board. This allowed my parents to travel many more years as my mother’s dementia progressed. With recent drought problems I would recommend booking a spring trip.

Betty Zellner
Betty Zellner
2 months ago

David, what European barge companies are you referring to? I know about Viking Cruises but are there others with small boats?

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago

You are right David, it’s a great way to travel. But in our case we have done all the available river cruises, including Russia and the Ukraine. I’d do some again, but the problem is walking in the towns and getting on and off a bus for tours is difficult. I really do want to get to Iceland and I was thinking of hiring a tour guide with a car. We did that once in southern France and it worked out quite well. I do long for the old days though when we both climbed the castle stairs and kissed the Blarney Stone.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
2 months ago

Sounds like a great trip. We really enjoyed our road trip and look forward to many more. Keep traveling as long as you can.

Michael1
Michael1
2 months ago

Sounds great! We’ve been on the road now for a few weeks, so allow me to recommend the (world’s only) Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum in Brevard, NC, also home of the white squirrel.

OldITGuy
OldITGuy
2 months ago

Sounds like a fun trip! My wife and I have been making a series of road trips in recent years.   Basically, we like to visit a locale and stay for anywhere from a few days to a month and explore the area with a series of day trips.  We generally do this a couple times a year and it’s been really pleasant so far. 

Walter Abbott
Walter Abbott
2 months ago

Road trips!! We’ve done several month-long tours over the past four years. Literally coast-to-coast and border-to-border. Even now planning another for next year that will be about 6 weeks. Our favorite drives? Big Sur and Blue Ridge Parkway.

steveark
steveark
2 months ago

My wife and I recently completed a 4,000 mile road trip to Grand Teton and Great Basin National Parks, and other places like Twin Falls and pretty much any place that had waterfalls. We also had no plan, no iteniary and no reservations. It was so much fun!

James McGlynn CFA RICP®
James McGlynn CFA RICP®
2 months ago

Richard I was in Oklahoma City during the bombing so I also visit the Memorial when I’m in town. I’m glad your go-go years continue. I am in Budapest teaching English and could not imagine doing that in my late 70’s although we do have a participant in that age group.

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 months ago

Thanks, we are very fortunate. I would like to be in Europe visiting a few places we have missed, but Connie’s back problems severely limit her walking so we need to find alternatives. Fifteen years ago I never dreamed we would see and do what we have. Don’t forget to bring back some Paprika 😃

James McGlynn CFA RICP®
James McGlynn CFA RICP®
2 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I see more palinka where I go than paprika.

Michael1
Michael1
2 months ago

Ah, palinka…

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