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If you're thinking of going on a driving vacation across the United States, you definitely need to plan ahead in terms of where you'll go.

This book is moderately priced and helpful, but does not provide all the information you will need.

 
 
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Let's Go Roadtripping USA

The Complete Coast-to-Coast Guide to America

More and more people are choosing to vacation closer to home, and rediscovering the 'Great American Roadtrip' style of vacation.

This book will help you plan a small or long drive across our vast and varied nation.

For more info, see the two selected excerpts from the book here and here.

 

 

As a New Zealander myself, I can say - and not be accused of parochialism - that the United States is replete with beautiful scenery and fascinating sights.  I've driven through 35 of the 50 states, and wish I had time to drive more of it.

While international travel is always alluring, let's not forget all the wonders here in our own country, and perhaps consider spending more time enjoying the United States.

Why not go on a road-trip?  In which case, this book can be a great aid to planning your route.

About the Book

The paperback book measures 6" x 7" and is 1" thick, weighing a hefty 2lbs.

A book that bills itself as 'The Complete Coast-to-Coast Guide to America' is setting itself a fairly high standard to measure up to.  At first glance, its 1010 pages would indicate that it may indeed be impressively comprehensive.

However, in reality, even 10,000 pages would probably be inadequate to fully cover all of the continental US plus some of Alaska, Canada and Mexico.

Probably in recognition of this, the book has wisely chosen to limit itself to eight specific routes.  These routes are :

  • The Pacific Coast, 1500 miles from San Diego to Seattle

  • The North American, 5600 miles from Mexico City to Anchorage, including 1500 in Mexico and 2500 in Canada and Alaska

  • The East Coast, 2000 miles from Bar Harbor, ME to Key West

  • The Southern Border, 2700 miles from San Diego to the Everglades National Park

  • The National Road, 3000 miles from Atlantic City to San Francisco

  • Route 66, 2400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica

  • The Oregon Trail, 2000 miles from Independence, MO to Oregon City

  • The Great Northern, 3800 miles from Bar Harbor to Vancouver, BC

The book is printed onto reasonable quality white paper.  It has over 160 half-toned black and white maps, but no photographs.

There is one single page of glossy paper with color photographs in the middle of the book, but this page contains only advertisements, and unrelated to the book's subject.

The book was published in 2005 and is priced at $24.99.  It can be purchased online through Amazon (of course!) as well as from most bookshops.  Amazon currently offer it with a 34% discount, at $16.49.

What the Book Contains

The largest part of the book are the sections on each of the eight routes.

Each of the eight routes is described in one direction from one end to the other.  The route starts off with an overview and - if applicable - some history of the route.  Some of the suggested routes are artificial constructs created by the book's authors, and others are based on well known routes, the most obvious of which being Route 66.

There is a map of the entire drive, and then sectional maps for each part of the drive.  These sectional maps are printed in a vertical format, with north pointing in whatever direction is necessary for that section of the route to run in a near vertical line.  This makes best use of space in the book, but can be a bit disorienting when trying to match with one's perception of where things are and when set alongside traditional maps with north pointing up the page.

There are also regional maps for areas of interest, and city maps - both area overviews of cities and detailed maps of downtown areas.  These are all printed with the more traditional north up orientation.

City sections are subdivided into information on Getting Around, Sights, Outdoor Activities, Entertainment, Food, Accommodation and Nightlife.  Not all city sections have all these categories.

At the start of the book there is a 46 page section with a wide range of related information, including even a short history of the automobile, and a miscellany of trivial items that are perhaps obliquely interesting and may help you to get into a road-trip mood, even a list of road-trip themed books and movies (but no 'Thelma and Louise').

Some of this introductory information looks like it is included in the front of every Let's Go guide, and some of it is dated and/or stupid - for example, the claim that 'traveler's checks are one of the safest and least troublesome means of carrying funds' is rather contradicted by the immediately following section about ATM cards.  No-one needs to hassle with traveler's checks these days.

And do we really need to be told that hotels are commonly found in the downtowns of cities?

Note - part of this introductory information is excerpted here.

Road Trip Details

Each of the eight featured itineraries provides information about the places you'll drive through and other places reasonably close to your main driving route.

For moderate and larger sized towns and cities it offers a 'Vital Stats' box with information on population size, and where to find a Visitor Information Center, Internet Access, and Post Office.

Internet access information typically points the reader to the local library, which while having the benefit of being free, often suffers from never having any free internet terminals, requiring a frustrating wait.  A dedicated roadtripper will probably head straight to a nearby Starbucks and its Wi-Fi hotspot, with their own laptop, and access the internet that way.

Occasional interesting side-bar items are shown in highlight boxes.

In some cases, but not consistently, websites are shown for features of interest, but there are many other cases where attractions, hotels, or restaurants have websites which aren't shown.  Being as how the book does not have complete information, and the information it does have necessarily starts to age as soon as the book goes to the printers, it would be prudent to add as many more urls as possible.

One significant omission was driving times and suggested ways to break a journey into a number of days.  While of course there is a tremendous range of personal preference, it would have been helpful to have seen tables saying, eg, 'if you have a week, this is how you should plan your journey and stops' and 'if you have two weeks' etc.

I'd also like to have seen some loop itineraries.  The eight itineraries are one way only, so you're likely to end up driving back the way you came for some or much of the route, or else will have to plan an alternate return without the book's assistance.

We've published an example of the detail contained for each route.

About Let's Go Guides

Many guidebooks are very blandly middle class.  Who among us doesn't regularly get confused as between, eg, a Fodors and a Frommers guide - the two seem almost interchangeable.

Others are more quirky, or in some other way have a distinctive flavor.  The Rick Steves series, and the Lonely Planet series would be examples of this.

Let's Go is happily more distinctive than blandly generic, although it is becoming more mainstream than previously.  The series was founded in 1960 as a summer project by a group of Harvard students, and since that time has continued to use students as writer/researchers.  Unfortunately (perhaps) this means that featured accommodation is more strongly slanted to backpacker hostels than to five star deluxe resorts, and restaurants tend to be more cafeteria and bistro style than white tablecloth.  Similarly, information on local nightspots and the arts is more focused to the younger crowd.

If this is your style of touring, you'll find the Let's Go guides useful.  But if this is no longer the way you travel, you might choose to hurry on past the Let's Go guides and choose one of the more mainstream books.

This editorial slant is of less importance in this book than in many of the others.  For most of us, a 'roadtrip' is mainly about the driving and sightseeing, and less about staying in deluxe hotels and resorts; indeed, staying in some older style motels can add to the interest and immersion in the entire traveling experience.

Information about Accommodation and Food

The 'written by students' nature of this book does flow through, inevitably, to a 'written for students' feel as well.

Choosing a part of the book at random for an example, the section on Tucson AZ lists the first suggested sight to see as the University of Arizona.  The 'Getting Around' section tells us where the 'hip, young crowd swings' (but omits any such information for where middle aged or older groups congregate) and in opening its section on Food says 'Like any good college town, Tucson brims with inexpensive, tasty eateries', then features four places that probably are of interest predominantly to students.

The accommodation reviews in the Tucson section cover two hostels, a hotel with rooms from $24/night, and an out of town resort, nothing else.  There is a separate section on camping.

In total, Tucson is given just over four pages of text plus a full page for a city and area map.

Tucson is one of a few cities that lie on two different routes, and so is mentioned twice in the book.  The editors chose to duplicate the Tucson listing rather than simply refer readers to those pages of the other route.

Looking also at my home city of Seattle, there are almost seven pages of text, a double page city detail map and a 2/3rd page area map.  Seventeen restaurants are listed, being mainly low cost cafes, and none of them offering fine dining.  Two hostels and two very low priced hotels are listed.

It is possible to debate the writers' choices of which sights to include in this (and all other) city profiles.  Your best solution is to buy separate guide books for specific areas that you plan to spend some time in, and the concept of a road trip is perhaps more focused on the traveling than on the cities and towns on the way.

Sightseeing Information

The driving itineraries include a random seeming amount of detail relating to the sights you'll see and towns you'll pass through on your road trip.  For example, in OR on Hwy 101 it makes no mention of North Bend (pop 10,000) but does have half a page on Bandon-by-the-Sea (pop 3,000).  Of course, there is more to the decision to feature a place or not than just its population; on the other hand, it is relevant to note that a medium sized town is completely passed over without mention.

The book also offers occasional detours to nearby places that aren't directly on your path.  Unfortunately, these side-trips aren't always shown on the provided maps.

It is possible to endlessly second guess as to what is and is not included, and perhaps it is best to simply say that more could be included.

Some of the directions, when a route deviates off the main highway are sketchy, and important/helpful information is sometimes missing.  For example, at almost the conclusion of the Pacific Coast drive, readers are told merely 'take the ferry to Edmonds' without naming the port the ferry departs from, or advising about ferry schedules or helpful information such as avoiding travel on a Sunday afternoon.

There is a definite potential to get lost and/or frustrated if this book is not supplemented by more specific driving information once you've used the book to choose your general route.

Much that is included is seen from the perspective of a young college student.  For example, the lovely Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is described as 'where retirees de-wrinkle in the springs and eat in the lodge' - a very unkind description (I'm neither very wrinkled nor, alas, retired, and neither are many of the other guests I've met during my frequent visits) and this description also omits the wealth of beautiful walks through the scenic splendor of the Olympic National Forest that surrounds the resort.

Maps

The book has one big map in the front, showing all eight road trips on a map of North America.  It then has one map for each road trip showing the complete route, followed by a series of more detailed maps splitting the route up into sections.

However, none of these maps are drivable maps you could use to navigate from.  They have very little detail.

Area maps for some of the featured cities, and detailed downtown maps are also provided.  The detailed downtown maps would be better than nothing, but a 'real' map would usually be preferable.

The maps suffer a bit by being in black and white, and having only a very little information on them.  They are sufficient to enable you to work out from where you are on these maps to where you are on a 'proper' road map, but that is about all.

Summary

This book contains a great deal of information in its 1000+ pages, but unavoidably excludes a great deal more information.  An interesting calculation is that each page of the book has to cover 23 miles of driving.

The book's best use may be in the early parts of planning a roadtrip - deciding on the route you might take, and subsequently keeping it in your car while driving.

You'd probably also want to do some additional research on areas of potential interest, and to compensate for its editorial focus on student/young people's activities/interests and low budget dining and accommodation.

While this book is not the complete guide it describes itself as, it is a very convenient and useful starting point for planning your own personal American road trip.

Priced at $24.99, and available at a generous discount from Amazon (currently offering a 34% discount, taking its price down to $16.49) it is definitely good value.

 

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Originally published 15 April 2004, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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