Road trips: Trust this guy, he's traveled more than 400,000 miles
Jamie Jensen, author of Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways, has probably seen more two-lane blacktop than Kerouac did. Jensen has just released an updated fifth edition of his 900-page book, full of road-trip itineraries with detailed maps, trivia, roadside curiosities, and dining and accommodation recommendations. Jensen first started researching the book in 1990 and has since traveled more than 400,000 miles. We picked his brain about the Great American Road Trip. Maybe you'll be inspired to take a close-to-home trip after reading it—especially given today's reasonable gas prices.
BT: What has been your most memorable find?
If I have to choose one truly special place, it would probably be the borderland between the Sand Hills of Nebraska and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Within a couple hours drive of Mount Rushmore and Wounded Knee, you have a full spectrum of highlights, including my favorite oddball roadside monument—Carhenge, a replica of ancient Stonehenge, made out of 1970s American cars. History buffs will love Fort Robinson, where Sioux chief Crazy Horse was captured (and murdered) in 1877; also the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron. Feast on great milk shakes and up to 2-pound (!) hamburgers at a classic old soda-fountain diner, Sioux Sundries, in the one-stoplight town of Harrison. All that said, if you asked me again tomorrow I'm sure I'd come up with a dozen other favorite places like this, which I've found over the country.
BT: What are your top tips?
One great way to save money and still have a great time is to go camping—the USA has perhaps the best and most beautiful national and state parks in the world, yet for some reason many Americans don't take advantage of them. Not only is a campsite less than half the price of a motel (and many campsites, if you are willing and able to hike a short way away from roads and RV-ers, are free!), but since you do your own cooking the food is comparatively cheap. (And all food tastes better outdoors!)
BT: What's the most important thing to consider when putting together a road trip itinerary?
For me the most important thing is not to be too ambitious—make sure you factor in enough time to savor and enjoy the things you do on your trip. So often, people make the mistake of "over-scheduling", of feeling they ought to be moving on to the next stop, when what is important is to relax and enjoy the moments. Leave yourself enough time for spontaneity and serendipity.
BT: What are some areas of the country that are prime for road tripping but are often forgotten?
One place that great for traveling but not exactly famous is the Great Lakes, and especially the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Here you have gorgeous scenery (rugged mountains and dense forests, and of course the lakes), with a lot of history (think Paul Bunyan). [Editor's note: Budget Travel has a four-day road trip itinerary for Michigan's Upper Peninsula.]
Duluth is another one of those wonderful mid-sized American cities no one thinks of for a vacation, but which happens to be tons of fun.
Other less-known but fun cities I like: Buffalo, with its wonderful architecture and access to Niagara Falls; Memphis, with Elvis, a great minor league baseball stadium and access to the musical road trip heaven of the Mississippi Delta; and Missoula, Mont., which is a great college town right at the heart of the majestic Rocky Mountains.
Want more? Check out Jensen's website.
5 editors share their dream trips
After publishing our most recent list of Dream Trips, we thought it would be fun to find out more about where a few of our coworkers hope to travel themselves. Rosas, Spain, to eat at Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant. I've been obsessed with this chef ever since I first read about him about five years ago. He's known as the pioneer of molecular gastronomy, which sounds horribly unappetizing but is actually really fascinating—sort of like a mad-scientist approach to cooking. For example, he uses nitrous oxide to make things like potato-and-lobster foam. The tasting menu at his restaurant lasts hours and consists of something insane like 30 courses (each pretty tiny, but still). Getting reservations is pretty ridiculous (the restaurant is only open from April to October, and all reservations have to be made in October for the following year) and the prices are pretty outrageous (in 2008, the tasting menu with wine hovered around $300 per person), but from what I've read, the experience is absolutely worth it. Added bonus: The town of Rosas is on Spain's Costa Brava, which looks incredibly gorgeous. I'd travel the coast a bit, and end up in Aix-en-Provence, France, where a friend of mine is living. —Beth Collins, associate editor Taking my wife to my favorite spots in Dublin. She has been to Ireland before, but I lived in Dublin for three years, so I want to take her to places tourists usually don't go. We'll take a long walk in Irishtown and Ringsend (the gas ring is a hulking, rusty relic, but I love it, and my old local chipper and pub will have to be on the agenda) and over to Sandymount Strand. There's a beautiful pub in Clontarf called the Sheds; I was last there eight years ago, and I hope it hasn't changed much. On a nice afternoon, a picnic and/or nap on the grass in Merrion Square can't be beat. The Garden of Remembrance commemorates the 1916 Easter Rising, but what I like about it is the Oisín Kelly sculpture of the Children of Lir, from an Irish legend; I used to study early Irish literature. In the city center, there are too many good pubs and restaurants to mention them all, but we should certainly spend an afternoon in the library bar of the Central Hotel. Add in good friends, and the craic will be ninety. —Thomas Berger, copy chief Because my husband is very opposed to traveling via boat for an extended period of time, to sail the Greek islands for two weeks may definitely be a dream—or done with someone else! I would like to be on a small boat with just a few people and start by the eastern most islands (Kos), and slowly and leisurely make our way to Athens, hitting Santorini, Mykonos, and Kythonos on the way. Our days would be filled with swimming and snorkeling with lots of time for daily excursions to the islands to check out the sites, people watch, and eat good food. —Lauren Kamin, editorial production manager My dream: I'm walking along the ridges of the Haraz Mountains in Yemen. It is hot, and the terrain is sometimes tortuous, but exploring a region so few have experienced is invariably exciting. Sweeping views of terraced hillsides and rugged landscape keep me inspired. From one ancient village to another, I meet kind, welcoming Arab people that transport me back in time, to a time of simplicity, a time of mud brick buildings and living off the land. I see myself sitting up against a rock with my wife and our guide, who speaks broken English, sipping on excellent coffee, while watching the sun peak over the surrounding ridges. We all marvel and are thankful for such a beautiful morning. It's an absolute dream, which I realize is just a dream when I spill my coffee on my keyboard. Unfortunately for now, it is just a cubicle reverie. For my "Dream Trip," I thought of hiking in the Haraz Mountains because the area is virtually undiscovered by tourism. You can hike from one village perched on a hilltop to another. Guides are needed because hardly anyone speaks English and the trails can be deceiving…you need someone that knows the way. —Michael Mohr, associate photo editor For years now, one of my friends has raved to me about Chiang Mai, a northern Thai city that lies near the village in which he had once been stationed as a Peace Corps volunteer. Well, I've just returned from my first visit to Chiang Mai, and it was the Best Trip Ever. The city has all of the Thai charm of Bangkok without the capital's infamous nightlife or Blade Runner-like enormity. I'm not much of a shopper, but I snapped up Chiang Mai's heavily discounted celadon housewares, silk flowers, and other hand-made items as if I'd never visit Asia again. One of my prized purchases was of a red-and-black lacquered jewelry box with the image of a deity-as-a-snake on it ($24). I justified the purchase as a gift, but I haven't been able to part with it since. A highlight for me was renting a bicycle ($2 per person, per day) and exploring the area. I was particularly wowed by the view from Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a serene mountain temple overlooking the city ($1 admission). I also liked taking a break in one of the city's dozens of independent cafés, where locals linger over Thai iced coffee ($1) in outdoor gardens. Coming from Bangkok? I recommend you skip the high-priced plane tickets and instead hop the 13-hour, overnight sleeper train ($33, first-class private car, tickets can't be booked at online, book at the main train station in Bangkok or through a travel agent). You'll see more of the countryside that way plus save a night of lodging expense. —Sean O'Neill, senior editor online
Virginia giving away 40 free trips
The great state of Virginia announced today a sweepstakes in which it will give away 40 free trips in 40 weeks to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the "Virginia Is for Lovers" tourism campaign. Starting today and for the next 40 weeks, you may enter to win a trip to a destination in Virginia, such as Virgina Beach and a one-on-one basket weaving session with artisan Gary Carroll. You'll find the rules and entry form at Virginia.org/40. (Some of the fine print: "Prize trips range from two to seven nights for two to six people. Virginia will award one trip a week, starting February 20, culminating in a grand prize awarded November 23. The contest is open to U.S. citizens 21 years and older.")
New York City: A clever new trip planning website and tourist info center
This morning Mayor Michael Bloomberg debuted two new initiatives to help tourists plan their visits to New York City. A new website, nycgo.com, will make it easier to plan a trip to the city—and a new tourism information center will use high-tech touch screen maps to let tourists print out personalized trip plans. Nycgo.com replaces nycvisit.com as the best place for consumers to use. Travelocity will offer a select number of vacation packages for booking exclusively on nycgo.com. You'll also be able to read restaurant reviews by Time Out New York and the New York Observer and then, if you find a restaurant you like, click through to see if tables are available at the time of your choosing via OpenTable. The website also has a calendar of New York City’s cultural events. Not ready to book now? Then create a profile for yourself and save your favorite bits of info. The biggest news is that within the next few months, Google will unveil a "send map to phone" feature. Find a neighborhood map you like at nycgo.com and you can have it zapped to your mobile phone. The itinerary highlights on the map, such as the location of key museums and restaurants, will be intact on your phone's version of the map. If successful, this tool will likely be adopted by many other websites. New York City's main tourism information center—a few blocks off Times Square at 810 Seventh Avenue by 52nd Street—has been completely redone, too. Gone are the walls of racks with paper brochures. Now the room is full of touchscreen monitors on which you can find suggested tourist attractions overlaid on Google city maps. Create a personalized trip itinerary, which can be either printed out for you or sent electronically to your cell phone or PDA. In a nice move, the screens are wheelchair accessible and can be used in nine languages. (Bloomberg repeated his announcement about the tourism initiatives in Spanish, too, as another effort at outreach.) The two initiatives were funded by private companies. For example, the billboard operator at JFK airport will give the city's tourism office $9 million worth of free advertising on its airport billboards for the new website, nycgo.com. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Hotels: New York City at a Price That's Right Broadway Tickets News
Helpful websites to plan your India trip
India's rush of color, noise, and people will take you by surprise, no matter how much you try to prepare for it all. But I can recommend a few websites that ought to give you a handle on what you're in for when you visit. I've spent much of the past two years in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, and elsewhere in this fascinating country, and these sites were quite helpful. IndiaMike: With its super-detailed coverage and sometimes overly opinionated contributors, this homage to all things Indian can be infuriating to newbies. But spend a bit of time here, and you'll be well rewarded. The site's exhaustive guides to the byzantine ways of the India's train system and its domestic airlines are incredibly useful. What Am I Eating?: A good site to head to before leaving for just about anywhere in the world, this guide to the world's dishes and ingredients give equivalents in lots and lots of different dialects and languages. In a place as diverse as India, this site is a godsend. Another Subcontinent: Written by current and former Indian residents as well as those with Indian heritage, this well designed website is tops in my book for information about food and many other essential parts of the region's many cultures. Outlook Traveller: The web presence of a good travel magazine (keep an eye out for the paper version when you reach India). Because the places covered are meant to appeal to a middle-class Indian crowd, the selection is great for those travelers who want to wander off a bit from where most foreigners go. Inspiring pictures, too. Incredible India: Although many of India's tourism sites remain out of date and frustratingly sparse, the country's main site is lush and full of good info. The site's Youtube page makes a good escape.