June 14, 2005

Road trip resources - See the USA in your Chevrolet...

This is a post from my stint as May's Featured Author at BoomerWomenSpeak.com. There was a lot of travel talk during the month-long thread, and several of the discussion participants were about to set off on U.S. road trips and were looking for online travel resources:

I wanted to give you a few links to websites I found especially helpful in researching and planning the "Ribbons" journey and a link to my hands-down favorite overall travel site, www.TripAdvisor.com.

Whether you want to get away for a weekend or a year, these sites are useful in planning a U.S. road trip, and many are rich in links that will bring you to other sites that specialize in niche subjects like camping, RVing, historical travel and the like:

www.roadtripamerica.com -- A one-stop site for tons of links and info to help you travel America

www.randmcnally.com -- Maps, driving directions, trip planning tools. I used a Rand McNally road atlas, along with individual state maps and online distance calculators at www.mapquest.com and www.aaa.com to plan our 12,000-mile “Ribbons” journey.

www.nps.gov -- The National Park Service. You could spend a whole day cruising this site, which has information about every park, battlefield, forest, historic area, monument, lakeshore, seashore and property in the National Park system. In addition to info about the well-known parks that we've talked a bit about in this thread, you'll find info on small hidden gems you might not have known existed. On our cross-country journey, we experienced utter uncrowded magic at less-celebrated sites like Newberry Volcanic Monument in Oregon, Idaho's Craters of the Moon, the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, Mississippi with its haunting roads and woods and trenches and rows of soldiers' graves, Petroglyph National Monument outside Albuquerque. So many gems. You might want to consider a National Parks Pass, which, for $50, gives you unlimited free entry into NPS sites for a full year. If you're over 62, you can nab a Golden Ager lifetime pass for only $10.

www.tourstates.com -- This site provides links to the official tourism offices of all 50 states. Then, from each state's individual site, you can order maps and brochures galore to be sent to you via snail mail. I had my poor mailman, Tom, bent under the weight of such deliveries for months.

www.byways.org -- Describes and maps out scenic drives and routes all over the country

www.tripadvisor.com -- I love this site because it's one of the only places I've found where you can get a plethora of good, meaty, unbiased opinions about tours, hotels, resorts and restaurants all over the world from actual visitors. Tripadvisor now boasts about 1.8 million reviews, and, while it's a little unwieldy to navigate, once you get the hang of it and zero in on what you're looking for, you get a boatload of eye-opening information from regular folks who've "been there." They tell you straight whether a destination is thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I've found Tripadvisor to be a great money-saver. You can cruise through this site and uncover great reviews about small, unknown, inexpensive places that the big sites like Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity don't tell you about. I found the Sunset Beach all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica by cruising Tripadvisor. I wouldn't have found it anywhere else. It was nearly half the price of the other all-inclusives, and we had an absolute blast. I booked based on the hundreds of reviews I read on Tripadvisor, and those visitors/reviewers were right on. Going to Europe? Look for a secret gem of a 3-star hotel in Tripadvisor instead of booking at a chain hotel through one of the other sites. This site is a mother lode of information.