Vacations with kids can be demanding. Vacations with one kid will present different challenges. Vacations with one teenager.….. well….
There I was – all set to divulge our family secrets and then thought…. Hold on!! This is the guy I’m depending upon to take care of me in my (rapidly advancing) old age!!!
An abrupt change of tactics required!! Better make this post less about our road trip and more about Route 66! That should work! (but not as much fun – sorry!)
This is not a detailed route 66 itinerary. Its not even a detailed planner for teenagers (you can google some of the 12 million sites for ‘Route 66 with teenagers’!). This is a general reflection on what worked for us (summer, 2007).
Ok – it can be done in a ‘whirlwind’ if that’s what you want. If you live in the US then you could do it in stages. If traveling from abroad you have to allow a few weeks. You will need a couple of days at either end for Chicago and Los Angeles if you haven’t visited before. Then there are the ‘add ons’ – Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas…
End to end we allowed 3 weeks and covered 3400 miles. Our longest drive was 340 miles (St. Louis to Joplin). There was only one day in which we didn’t move the car (Santa Fe).
Research is very important if doing the trip with teens – is the Springfield Drive-in Movie Theatre open every night? Where will you find a weekend rodeo? What attractions are closed on Mondays? Are you going to try and catch a professional game somewhere? Whats the cheapest night for accommodation in Chicago / Las Vegas / Santa Monica….
Rodeo, Santa Rosa, New mexico
Keeping the Peace
Lets face it – no matter how well you play at happy families, a few weeks in a car will do everyone’s head in! There has to be a few rules to help with survival:
*Make sure everyone knows the plan for the day (unless there’s a surprise arranged). No point in trying to hide that 8 hour drive with minimum stops…
*Make sure there’s a ready supply of (healthy!) snacks and cold drinks on board at all times.
*Even if they have earphones on all day, you can’t have your own choice of music / radio blaring the whole time. Encourage your teens to download their own music onto a road trip playlist.
*Physical space – try not to clutter the back seat with extra luggage etc – leave them space to stretch, lie down, spread out their stuff.
*Rotate the passenger seat – let the teen sit up front for some part of every day.
*Stop taking offence, and keep your mouth shut, if they’re tuned out and not loving the miles and miles of empty highway as much as you do!
*Get out of their way!!! Give them personal time every day – either stick them under a shady tree or leave them in their bedroom and head off for a walk or a drink…
Are we there yet….are we there yet….. are we there yet…..
*Road signs – put them in charge of spotting lesser attractions and landmarks
*Trains and trucks
*Deserted buildings along the route
*Familiar names from TV
This won’t be a cheap vacation. You’ve most flexibility with accommodation – popular Route 66 motels are obviously going to be more expensive ( and won’t have better facilities) than the regular chains. Your other major outlays are obviously flights, car rental, fuel and food. RV’s are expensive to rent but might work out better in the long run, especially if you’ll need more than one bedroom.
You will have to allow for the cost of attractions- Sear’s Tower, St. Louis Arch, Meteor Crater, movies, etc. – they all add up, especially with a family.
Blow outs – try and budget for a major highlight (but not too early in the trip) – there’s Disneyland in Anaheim or maybe a show in Vegas. We opted for a helicopter ride at the Grand Canyon.
Fine if you’re happy to take your chances but if you’re looking for iconic motels you have to book in advance. Will you be traveling in the US high season? Do you want to overnight at the Grand Canyon? Will you want swimming facilities in the evenings after a long drive? Does your city hotel have free parking facilities?
I started planning several months in advance so managed to get almost everything I wanted (just not our 1st – or 2nd – choice at Grand Canyon). I won’t list all our accommodation here but just a few main points:
*Cities – Chicago, Oklahoma, Santa Monica, Flagstaff, St. Louis, etc. – we just went for convenience and value.
*Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Springfield – small motels, mostly within walking distance of attractions (which means a break from driving). Bear in mind that Santa Fe is considered one of the most expensive places on the route outside of Chicago and LA.
*Grand Canyon – book this as soon as you’ve worked out your route. The lodges fill up pretty quickly. Alternatively, you can commute from Flagstaff.
*Las Vegas – Do you want weekend or midweek. Is there a major conference in town that will drive up prices? You might get a big name casino hotel cheaper than you’d think (but remember the resort fees).
*‘Iconic’ Motels (all should be booked in advance):
Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico
Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona
Caboose at the Canyon Hotel, Williams, Arizona
Big Texan Motel, Amarillo, Texas
If booking either a wigwam or a caboose, its worth keeping it as a surprise if you can….
Food and Drink
With all that driving, food stops will become very significant events. If you’re traveling with kids / teens you’re probably looking mostly at diners, pizza, fast food, etc….
*Make a list of those famous Route 66 diners and work them into your schedule for lunch time stops…
*Chicago – Bring the family for a deep-dish pizza (not really my thing). There are dozens of pizza joints vying for the top spot so either book a place in advance or just opt for somewhere close to your hotel.
*St. Louis – Its worth joining the queue at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. Ted Senior opened his first store in 1929 so they’ve had a long time to perfect those recipes!
*St. Louis – join a tour at the Budweiser Brewery
*Amarillo – At the Big Texan Steak Ranch you can enjoy your own meal while watching someone tackle a 72oz steak! (its free if you can eat it within an hour!).
*Las Vegas – Kids and teens will not be welcome around the gaming areas but they can still enjoy the buffets.
*Oatman – have lunch in the Dollar Bill Bar and enjoy the decor!
Highlights and Activities
There’s a LOT of driving. If travelling with youngsters or teens, you need to try and find something of interest every day.
River Architecture Tour (you can enjoy the commentary and they can enjoy the boat trip!!)
Go see grant Wood’s American Gothic at the Art institute
Visit ‘the Bean’ at Millennium Park
Get your photo of Route 66’s starting point
Wilmington Gemini Giant
Lincoln’s Home National Historic Site
Drive-in Movie Theatre
St Louis Gateway Arch
Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge
Molly’s Landing – Blue Whale
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
Clinton – Route 66 Museum
Amarillo Cadillac Ranch
Santa Rosa Route 66 Auto Museum
Acoma Pueblo Tour
Petrified Forest National Park
Winslow Slow down to see THE CORNER made famous by the Eagles hit song ‘Take it Easy’
Meteor Crater Guided Tour
Oatman Gun fights and donkeys on the streets
Las Vegas Retail Therapy – bring them to an outlet mall for their sports gear and new sneakers etc.
Joshua Tree National Park
Elmer’s Place Bottle Tree Ranch
Disneyland, Universal, etc.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Santa Monica and Venice beaches
Don’t forget your route end photo!
13 years later!
One to one 30 second interview (at enormous expense!) with said teenager:
Off the top of your head, without thinking – what were your favourite bits?
Big Texan Steak House
Chicago – all of it (that’s a surprise!)
Drive-in Movie in Springfield
Vegas even though I wasn’t allowed to do or watch anything
Sleeping in the Train and in the Wigwam
And worst bits?
Santa Fe – all of it – but can’t remember why!
Mexican food – but I like it now!
Don’t forget: ESTA / Drivers licence / Excess car insurance
Would it be cheaper to get a return flight to Chicago and an extra Los Angeles – Chicago flight rather that into Chicago and home from Los Angeles – no harm in checking before you purchase tickets.
Which car rental companies don’t charge excess for a different drop off point (presuming you’re not driving back to Chicago!)
Some diners in smaller towns close up surprisingly early – don’t dawdle too long at the motel swimming pool without checking restaurant times, especially mid week. Bring games etc. for night time entertainment.
Watch out for time zones. We got a bit cross with a guide at the Meteor Crater because she wouldn’t let us on our prebooked 10.00am tour – transpired it was only 9.00am!!!!
After flying along for days, it took absolutely hours to do the last stretch in California due to traffic. Allow plenty of time if you are heading straight to the airport the same day….