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Summer Road Trip Forecast & Tips

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
March 21, 2019
An overhead view of a car on a desert highway.
Mykyta Starychenko/Dreamstime
From gas prices to popular routes and easy start-today advice, consider this your 2019 road trip planning cheat sheet.

If you’re planning to take a family vacation in 2019, you’re in good company: A recent AAA survey predicts that nearly 100 million Americans (that’s about 4 in 10 adults) are planning to do the same. With that data in mind, AAA shared some stats, know-how, and trip inspiration that every Budget Traveler should know.

By the Numbers

According to AAA’s survey, two-thirds of family travelers will take a summer getaway, with more than half of them planning to make that getaway a road trip.

One factor that’s inspiring travelers to plan road trips and scenic drives is the lower cost of gas, down about one quarter compared with last year. Gas prices are expected to rise, but remain lower this summer than last. AAA reports that a third of Americans surveyed said they would add another road trip to their summer plans if gas prices stay down,

Planning Your Route

“To make the most of their vacations, AAA recommends families plan and research as far ahead as possible to avoid missing out on popular activities and fun,” says Stacey Barber, executive director, AAA Travel Information & Content.

Budget Travel has been covering great American road trips for more than 20 years, and offers a wealth of itineraries and advice. It turns out, AAA’s top routes for summer travel (according to AAA member road trip routing data) align very much with some of Budget Travel’s all-time favorite U.S. road trips, including the National Parks of the Southwest, the Pacific Coast Highway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the mountains of New England.

READ: 5 Perfect U.S. Road Trips

Tips for a Successful Family Road Trip

We also echo AAA’s common-sense road trip tips, which you can start implementing as early as, well, right now, to ensure a smooth summer excursion:

  • Pack smart. Bring books, games, and music, information on your destination, and healthy snack.
  • Stay safe. Stop every 100 miles, or every two hours, to help stay alert. Make sure all passengers are safely wearing seatbelts or sitting in child safety seats.
  • Be patient. Be prepared to hit traffic, and reduce your chance of delays by hitting the road earlier or later than most drivers, especially on holiday weekends.
  • Map out your route. Sure, GPS is awesome, but it’s always best to map out your route in advance, including reliable lodging, restaurants, and gas stations, especially if you’re traveling a relatively remote area where you may lose cellular service for a time.
  • Get your car ready. Have your car inspected and tuned up, carry a flashlight, extra batteries, flares or reflective triangle, jumper cables, a first-aid kit, and plenty of water.
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Road Trips

Travel News: Rent an RV From $10/Day, Travel the World for Free, and Were You Exposed to Radiation at the Grand Canyon?

From a very cool way to save big money on your next RV adventure to some tips for traipsing around the world for free (yes, free), plus a heads-up about years of uranium exposure at the Grand Canyon, this week’s travel news is all about getting you the inside scoop to make you a smarter globetrotter. Rent an RV From $10/Day We’ve been getting to know RVShare, the first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace (translation: it’s like Airbnb for RV rentals), and we want to put it on the radar of Budget Travelers as they plan their 2019 adventures. If you’re looking to explore, say, the national parks of the American west this summer but don’t especially feel the need to own an RV year-round, RVShare offers rentals from as low as $10/day. If you already happen to own an RV but don’t use it on a regular basis (and 93 percent of RV owners use their vehicles for only about five weeks each year), RVShare offers the opportunity to make some money along with the more than 60,000 other RV owners who currently participate. RVShare also offers one-way rentals starting this spring, and has just launched the Historic Route 66 Road Trip Sweepstakes, which will deliver a 10-day RV trip from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, to Las Vegas. Visit RVShare.com to learn more. Travel the World for Free The word free always gets our attention, and when our friends at the financial comparison site MyBankTracker.com compiled a list of options for seeing the world for nothing, it caught our eye. Some hacks you should consider: Swap houses with someone in your vacation destination. Volunteer for a worthwhile cause via Idealist or Workaway, or volunteer on a farm via World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms in exchange for food, lodging, and training. SIgn up for a cultural exchange program like GlobalFreeloaders or BeWelcome. Apply for scholarships or fellowships.Crowd-fund a travel project you feel passionate about via platforms such as Indiegogo. Offer freelance work or barter in exchange for accommodations.And MyBankTracker.com suggests opening an online banking account before you travel abroad to enjoy lower fees or no fees at all when you use partner ATMs for cash.Were You Exposed to Radiation at the Grand Canyon? Well, not all travel news is good news. CNN has reported that uranium stored at Grand Canyon National Park’s museum caused elevated levels of radiation exposure for visitors and employees for more than 18 years, according to Grand Canyon’s safety, health, and wellness manager. Elston Stephenson told CNN that he began asking questions last year and in early February he emailed Grand Canyon park staff warning that workers and visitors who were in the park’s Museum Collections Building between the year 2000 and June 18, 2018, were exposed to uranium according to the definition of exposure used by OSHA. The good news is the exposure levels were not high enough to be considered dangerous, just high enough to warrant a heads-up.

Road Trips

3 Great Places to Take a Maple Syrup Road Trip

Ready for a unique spring road trip? Explore the short—but sweet—maple sugar season in the great north. Maple sugar season is short because there are just a few weeks each spring when sugar maple farmers—known as "sugarmakers"—get just the right weather (mid-20s at night, mid-to-high 40s and sunny during the day) for their maple trees to start producing the sweet sap that goes into maple syrup, maple sugar, and other products. Sugarmakers typically celebrate syrup season in mid-to-late March with tours of tapped trees and "sugarhouses" where maple sap is turned into syrup. Maple sugar season is sweet because, well, you will not believe the taste and aroma of pure maple syrup, sugar, and candies. Whether you're looking for a fun family outing or a romantic snugglefest, there's nothing quite like visiting a forest full of tapped trees and stopping by the "sugarhouse" to see the sap boiled and processed into syrup and sugar the way it's been done for centuries. (To produce one gallon of maple syrup, sugarmakers must boil down about 40 gallons of sap.) You might even get a sleigh ride or steam train ride around the farm, and, of course samples of syrups and candies. Some of the best places for a maple syrup road trip are: 1. VERMONT Enjoy fresh maple syrup in the region that Grandma Moses immortalized in her paintings—taking a tour of a sugar maple farm may make you feel like you've stepped inside one of her classic rural scenes. Stay at the historic 1857 Eddington House Inn (eddingtonhouseinn.com) in North Bennington, where the super-helpful staff can direct you to the best farmstands and "sugarmakers." While you're in the Bennington area, don't miss the magnificent collection of Grandma Moses paintings at the Bennington Museum, and the Robert Frost House, devoted to that great American poet's inspiring words. For a look at a local sugarmaker in action, contact Dutton's Farm Stand (duttonberryfarm.com), in nearby Manchester. 2. MONTREAL The Quebec province of Canada is where 80 percent of the world's maple syrup is produced. An hour's drive outside Montreal you'll find a wonderland of "sugar shacks," each offering tours of tapped trees and sugar-making activities. Families with kids will especially love the shacks that include a steam train or pony ride. Stay at Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites (squarephillips.com), a 15-minute walk from the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica, with spacious guest rooms with kitchenettes from well under $200/night. To see a Canadian sugarmaker at work—and to take a steam train ride around the farm, visit Cabane a Sucre Bouvrette (bouvrette.ca), about an hour's drive outside Montreal. 3. WISCONSIN Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Big Woods" are a maple wonderland! Make downtown Milwaukee your home base for this trip, at the lovely art-deco style Ambassador Hotel from well under $200/night (ambassadormilwaukee.com) and explore hight art at the Milwaukee Art Museum (stunning Picassos and Kandinskys, among other classical and modern works) and beer & pretzels at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. Head out into the country for tours of sugarmakers and farmstands during their busy April season. For tours and samples, contact Inthewoods Sugar Bush (inthewoodssugarbush.com), about an hour and 20 minutes' drive north of Milwaukee.

Road Trips

4 Easy & Gorgeous Fall Foliage Trips From NYC

Sure, the fall colors in New York City’s Central Park, Prospect Park, and New York Botanical Garden can be absolutely beautiful. But for a taste of country-style leaf peeping and autumn festivities, city dwellers have an array of options that are within reach. Here, four of our favorite foliage getaways. 1. Harriman State Park, Rockland & Orange Counties, NY We love Harriman State Park, which stretches across Rockland and Orange counties, making it convenient for New Yorkers and New Jersey residents alike. This time of year it is hands-down one of the most gorgeous places to drink in those autumn colors, with 31 lakes and reservoirs, 200 miles of hiking trails, two beaches, two campgrounds, and a laid-back vibe that makes you feel that you have truly escaped from the city. 2. Lake Minnewaska State Park, New Paltz, NY A little farther upstate, about 90 minutes from the city, Lake Minnewaska actually makes you feel that you have taken a trip out west, with granite peaks, and stunning vistas you may not associate with upstate New York. You can take an easy hike around Lake Minnewaska, or spend most of the day hiking deeper into the park and enjoying the fall colors. But do save time for dinner in New Paltz, with its barbecue, vegan specialties, and a wide array of comfort food. 3. Adirondack State Park, NY You will have to set aside a weekend or longer to visit Adirondack State Park, a few hours’ drive upstate, but you will be rewarded with mountain peaks, pristine lakes, and endless miles of rivers and streams for paddling canoes and kayaks. It is not only New York's biggest state park (bigger than most national parks!), but it's also one of the only state parks that is home to actual communities, including the welcoming villages of Saranac lake, Lake Placid, and other cool towns with amazing food, museums, galleries, and friendly locals. 4. Western Connecticut You don’t have to travel all the way to Vermont or New Hampshire to see classic New England fall foliage. Western Connecticut is home to Litchfield Hills and charming communities such as West Cornwall with its covered bridges, gorgeous Kent Falls State Park, and small towns where traditional New England architecture rubs elbows with gorgeous autumn colors and great restaurants. Visit nearby Mohawk Mountain for stunning views and outdoor activities.

Road Trips

You Will Love These Fall Road Trips Across Tennessee

From Memphis to Nashville, from Chattanooga to the Great Smoky Mountains - and so much more - Tennessee's highways offer gorgeous vistas, welcoming cities and towns, and an array of activities for every member of the family. Here, three Tennessee road trips every traveler should take. Experience Unique Music and Culture: Memphis to Nashville In Memphis, jump-start your autumn excursion with a cup of java and a pumpkin duffin - a cake-donut-muffin hybrid - at Bluff City Coffee, before heading to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination now chronicles the Civil Rights Movement  through films, artifacts, oral histories, and interactive media. The world-renowned museum is connected to the Lorraine Motel where a powerful exhibit shares Dr. King’s last hours, his iconic speech “Mountaintop” and Room 306 where he was staying April 4, 1968. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is also one of 10 Tennessee sites located on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. For audiophiles, the stretch of the Americana Music Triangle’s Gold Record Road that runs from Memphis to Nashville (aka “Beale to Broadway”) is especially fertile. Start at Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded his first song; then follow in the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s footsteps to his home, Graceland, where you can see the famous “Jungle Room,” the Racquetball Building and the pool room. Visit Elvis’ Memphis where you’ll encounter Elvis’ extensive car collection, hundreds of artifacts including jumpsuits in Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum and even his airplanes. Stroll down Beale Street, the epicenter of African-American jazz and blues culture in the early 1900s, where the music and dancing never stop from the clubs and venues lining the strip. Visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the world’s only museum dedicated to the genre. The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institution, dives into Memphis’ global influence on music from the 1930s to today. Wrap up with a guided tour of the Gibson Guitar factory where skilled luthiers make some of the best guitars in the world right in front of your eyes. Jump on Highway 40 and head east until you reach the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville, where a mecca of Tina Turner memorabilia is housed in the one-room schoolhouse she attended as a child; the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll grew up in Nutbush, not far away. Back on the road, it’s just under 30 miles to Jackson, home to both the International Rock-a-billy Hall of Fame and The Carnegie Featuring The Tennessee Legends of Music Museum which has exhibits on Sonny Boy Williamson, WS Holland and Carl Perkins. Outdoor lovers can visit Chickasaw State Park for a swim in Lake Placid or visit the stables for a guided horseback ride along a tranquil trail. From there, it’s an hour to Nashville, and Music City is not only the epicenter of country music in America but also a hotbed of world-class classical, jazz, and film music as well. Attend a show at one of the many music venues across the city where you’ll find not only country music but rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, jazz, blues and more. For a full history on country music visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. Take a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry and take in a show during the live recorded show that “made country music famous.” See rising stars and music legends at the historic Ryman Auditorium or an up-and-comer at the Bluebird Café. See if you can stand the heat of Nashville’s hot chicken, prepared with secret spicy recipes from the grandfather of hot chicken, Prince’s or the more modern take, Hattie B’s and Party Fowl. Stay in a historic hotel like the Hermitage Hotel which has hosted presidents and famous musicians alike or rest your head in a museum hotel like Noelle or 21c Museum Hotel.  Sixty-five miles east on I-40 is Edgar Evins State Park, a sprawling 6,000 acres on the banks of Center Hill Lake with fishing, kayaking, canoeing, 11 miles of hiking trails, and 57 species of butterflies. Drive half an hour further to Burgess Falls State Park, a natural area on the Eastern Highland Rim with sheer bluffs, narrow ridges, and four waterfalls. Snap some shots for Instagram and then head for Sparta, where you can visit the Coal Miner Railroad Section House Museum, take in views of four different counties from Sunset Rock. Enjoy a glass of wine at Tennessee’s oldest winery, Highland Manor Winery in Jamestown. From there, it’s a straight shot down I-40 to Knoxville. The Scenic Route: Nashville to Chattanooga Just 45 minutes south of Nashville is Franklin, a small town filled with music, history and boutique shopping. Keep an eye out for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Winona Judd at Puckett’s Grocery’s famed open-mic night; peruse the country-chic offerings at White’s Mercantile, a general store owned by Holly Williams, granddaughter of Hank Williams and a musician in her own right; learn the extensive Civil War history through carefully preserved battlefields and homes that were on the frontlines; and pick up sweet treats for the road from Meridee’s Breadbasket. Motoring south down US-41A, you’ll pass Tullahoma, the site of both the world’s largest wind tunnel and a former World War II POW camp. (Reserve at least two weeks in advance for tours of Arnold Air Force Base.) While you’re in town, have a meal at One22West, a former department store now slinging American classics with a local twist, and have a lovely night’s stay at the Grand Lux Inn, a refurbished 1905 home in the town’s historic district—both favorites of Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett. Aviation buffs should consider an October trip for the Beechcraft Heritage Museum's annual Beech Party, a celebration of all things antique aircraft. From Tullahoma, it’s 13 miles to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniel’s since 1866. Whiskey fans can tour the distillery and partake in a five-pour tasting, then hit Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House for a great Southern meal. Afterwards, pick up provisions and memorabilia at the Lynchburg Hardware General Store, then take Rt. 50 to 41A south until you hit the neighboring Cumberland Plateau towns of Sewanee and Monteagle. Stop for lunch and admire the mountain vistas over sandwiches at Mountain Goat Market or pulled pork at the 135 Cafe, a diner gem tucked away behind a gas station and a truck stop. From Sewanee, take I-24 through the mountains to Chattanooga, East Tennessee’s Scenic City. For great leaf-peeping, bike the Tennessee Riverpark Greenway, then spend some time in the Bluff View Art District, a vibrant one-and-a-half-block neighborhood overlooking the Tennessee River where you’ll find regional, local and nationally-known artists’ works at the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Houston Museum and the River Gallery. Treat yourself to a meal at the Back Inn Café, where dishes like smoked-duck flatbread and shrimp and grits impress as much as the water views. After dinner, swing by the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. for a tour, a tasting, or a drink in the lounge, then hit the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, an historic terminal station that now houses the Songbirds Guitar Museum, for a nightcap. Food and Fall Colors: Chattanooga to Knoxville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park From Chattanooga, it’s 36 miles northeast to Booker T. Washington State Park, a 353-acre water-lover’s paradise on the shores of Chickamauga Lake. Wander the walking trail, challenge yourself with a mountain bike ride, take a boat out on the lake and go fishing, or picnic by the waterfront. The outdoor activity is bound to make you thirsty, and the family-owned Morris Vineyard & Tennessee Mountainview Winery in Charleston is just under an hour away. Sip a glass of muscadine blush or blueberry wine, made with fruit grown on the property’s more than 50 acres, in front of a stunning mountainous backdrop. From there, take Rt. 11 to Athens, and cap off a tour of Mayfield Dairy Farms with a scoop of homemade ice cream in the old-fashioned parlor. Next, it’s on to Madisonville for a stop at Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham, where the renowned country ham and hickory-smoked bacon gets made for some of the top restaurants in the nation. Take a pound or two to go for the ultimate edible souvenir, and continue on to Knoxville, the football-mad home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. In October, join the rowdy crowd for a game, then stick around to watch an array of adorable pups compete for best costume in the UT Gardens’ Howl-O-Ween Pooch Parade. Head up to the 4th-floor observation deck of the Sunsphere, a 266-foot tower built for the 1982 World’s Fair, for 360-degree views of the city, then slip over to the nearby Knoxville Museum of Art. Explore the lively dining scene at Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, run by James Beard Award-nominated chef Tim Love and Oliver Royale, breweries like Balter Beerworks and Alliance Brewing Company; donut shops like Status Dough, and pet-friendly patios like Stock & Barrel and Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern , before bouncing back to your boutique treehouse at Treetop Hideaways, just outside of town. Known as the Gateway to the Smokies, Gatlinburg is just over an hour away, at an access point to the nation’s most-visited and biodiverse national park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take the winding Great Smoky Mountains Byway, but drive slowly to capture the many fall-foliage photo ops, especially in Cades Cove. (Don’t forget to check the park’s Weekly Fall Colors Update to catch the vivid autumn palette at its prime.) Get your fill of hiking, zip-lining, and rafting, but be sure to allow time for Gatlinburg proper, too. Take a tour and sample the spirits at Sugarlands Distilling Company, pick up some pottery or take a class at Fowler’s Clay Works, and don’t miss Anakeesta, Gatlinburg’s newest attraction, with its own mountain, dueling ziplining, canopy walk, shops, bakeries, barbecue, and stunning mountain views. Stop by Tennessee’s only ski park, Ober Gatlinburg, for the Oktoberfest celebration, and wash it all down with a shot of pumpkin pie moonshine from Ole Smoky Moonshine. For epic views on the way out of town, take the Gatlinburg Bypass and stop at the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook before continuing on to Pigeon Forge, where the main attraction is Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s amusement park. Make a day of it there, but don’t skip the area’s assortment of specialty museums. Located in Dollywood, the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates the pioneers of the genre; nearby, stop by the Titanic Museum to see relics and recreations from the legendary luxury liner, snap selfies with stars like Lucille Ball and Michael Jackson at the Hollywood Wax Museum, and learn about the criminal underworld at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum, where infamous artifacts like O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco and Ted Bundy’s VW Beetle are on display. In neighboring Sevierville, motorheads will love the collection of high-performance vehicles at the Floyd Garrett Muscle Car Museum, while warbird enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. Spend an afternoon running the obstacle course at the Sevier Air Trampoline & Ninja Warrior Park, take a scenic helicopter ride or go up in a 1927 biplane, and browse the merchandise at Smoky Mountain Knifeworks, the world’s largest knife showplace, where everything from collectible and antique knives to fantasy and superhero blades is on offer.  Don’t miss gorgeous nearby Foxfire Mountain, and be sure to treat yourself at Tanger Outlets, the sprawling mall with something for everyone. 

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