Where do I start when planning my itinerary?
Armed with this information, planning an itinerary becomes a far less daunting task. As long as you are able to break the task down into smaller manageable chunks, then planning a trip like this is great fun.
Now that you know how long you will be spending on this trip it’s time to start penciling in some ideas for where you will be spending each night. There may be some motels that you feel you simply have to stay at. If this is the case then your task becomes a little easier as you only have to fill in the gaps. If you decide not to book any accommodation in advance then you can just make a note of the general area you hope to be in at the end of each day.
It’s not uncommon to leave your motel at 9am and not reach your destination until 5pm but that’s not to say you’re driving for all that time (in fact you might have only covered 200 miles!) The special thing about Route 66 is that you’ll find yourself stopping off every so often even if just for 10 mins to stretch your legs or at small cafe for a coffee. Then of course you have the museums, gift shops and other attractions to see so 200 miles can take you a full day quite easily. Plus, aside from the places you’ve read about or are included in the EZ Guide you’ll find your own spots to stop at even if it’s just to take photos or buy a postcard to support a local business.
Armed with a list of the motels you know you have to stay at, use a large map or road atlas to judge approximate distances between each stop-over. Be realistic and make sure that there’s not too far between each stop that’ll not allow you to see what you want to see. You should find that you’ll soon have a list of definite stop-overs and potential areas to stop-over spread fairly evenly across your journey.
A final consideration might be whether you intend to do any side trips or not. If this is the case then time should be allowed within your itinerary to allow for the extra travel.
How much time should I allow for my trip?
The amount of time required for a Route 66 road trip depends on several factors… How true to the original alignment do you wish to be? Do you plan on taking any side-trips? How often do you plan on stopping the car and exploring the towns/sights? How spontaneous or planned do you want your road trip to be?
Driving from Chicago to LA can take only 4 days if you’re prepared to spend all day on the interstates, although this is not the same as driving Route 66. (It is worth noting that if you have a strict itinerary to follow then hopping onto the I40 occasionally is a practical consideration for those with limited time.) Ideally it should take you at least twice as long if you want to get a taste of the real Route 66.
As you get deeper into planning your Route 66 trip you’ll find it increasingly tempting to make the most of the opportunities for great side-trips; the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the Santa Fe loop… If this is the case then you should set aside an extra day or 2 for each.
If you intend on getting the most out of the experience then you’ll be stopping frequently along the Route to explore towns, museums and roadside attractions. All of this takes time of course and will limit your day’s mileage.
If you are able to plan ahead a little you may find that there are times when all you are doing is criss-crossing the I40 on the frontage road and you might benefit from hopping on the Interstate if time is tight. This may feel like you’re cheating but there are times when you’re on the interstate that you’ll be less than 50 feet from Route 66! Remember – driving Route 66 shouldn’t be stressful and it’s okay to tailor the journey to your own requirements.
I found that two weeks allowed for a comfortable road trip, including a night at the Grand Canyon and a few nights at Vegas. The days were long but allowed me to experience all that I wanted to cover without ever feeling rushed. However, the length of your trip ultimately comes down to your own personal circumstances. I would recommend no less than a fortnight to cover the full length whilst at the same time pointing out that two weeks makes for a fantastic Route 66 experience!
Which motels are recommended?
This website has a selection of motels/hotels that have been recommended by users which can be filtered by state. Every Route 66 road trip is different and people’s wants and needs vary greatly, so where appropriate I’ve tried to include a variety of different accommodation types: motel and hotel, independent and chain, rural and urban.
For the authentic “Route 66” feel you’ll probably want to stay in smaller independent motels along the way – these can book up fast during peak seasons so you should definitely try to make a reservation in advance. However, if you don’t want to book accommodation in advance and are happy with simple, homogenous motels, such as Best Western or Super 8, then there are many chains operating along the route that’ll provide a place to rest your head after a long day’s driving. Occasionally you might choose to stay in one of the many large metropolitan areas along the route, and perhaps choose a more luxurious hotel.
Route 66 can be a rich experience, encompassing all from small frontier towns to large cities, and the accommodation you choose will reflect this. A mixture of pre-booked motels and spontaneous stops is probably the best way to ensure you get the most out of your trip. Personally I booked about a third of my accommodation in advance to make sure I got to stay in particular iconic motels – there were some places I just knew I had to see. Other than that I stopped off in a variety of independent/chain motels when I got tired of driving. Finding accommodation along Route 66 is not difficult – the usual chains (Super 8, Motel Six, Comfort Inns, etc…) are conveniently placed so you never feel that you may be lost or stuck for the night. I also stayed in some very pleasant city-centre hotels when I wanted to check out one of the large metropolitan areas positioned along Route 66 (Chicago, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles for example).
Once you’ve decided on the type of lodging you’re after you should be able to use the Plan Your Trip section of this website to find somewhere that suits. If you’re simply wondering which motels are considered “essential” to the Route 66 experience or have a long history with the road then I can recommend The Munger Moss, The Big Texan, The Blue Swallow and The Wigwam Hotel. Each of these has a rich history and has not only served the Route 66 community for many years but, importantly, still provides quality accommodation.
Whatever approach you choose there’s an adventure just waiting to be had!
What sights/attractions should I see?
This is the most commonly asked question over on the forum and the best advice I can offer is to check out the Plan Your Trip section of the website. Many of the most iconic attractions are listed there but of course everyone’s idea of a “must-see” is completely different. A lot of what Route 66 has to offer you’ll simply encounter as you travel. However, check out the Plan Your Trip page and filter the listings by Sights & Attractions for more specific information on particular museums or attractions.
Something to bear in mind of course is that a lot of the roadside attractions are just that – by the side of the road! Therefore the chances of missing The Gemini Giant, Tow Tater, The Blue Whale or The Big Texan are slim so long as you’re not driving with your eyes closed! Of course it helps to have an up-to-date map and guide book with you to make sure you are actually sticking to Route 66 and have advance warning of an upcoming attraction.
Are there any side-trips?
There are several large detours that you can take whilst travelling Route 66. For me the most important question I considered when planning my trip was “If I don’t do this now, when will I?” Simply put – I didn’t know when I’d next be able to afford the time and the money to visit places such as the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, etc…
- Santa Fe – Technically not a side trip as for the first twelve years in Route 66’s existence it actually passed through Santa Fe. These days most guide books or maps point this out as the pre-1938 alignment or The Santa Fe Loop. I found Santa Fe to be a lively and vibrant destination featuring the oldest house in the USA, colourful market areas and the “miraculous” staircase at the Loretto Chapel. My Route 66 trip was the first time I’d visited the States and I didn’t know when I’d be returning. When I realised that a Route 66 road trip could easily take in a break at Vegas or the Grand Canyon it seemed like a missed opportunity to simply drive by. On my trip the 4 largest deviations from Route 66 were:
- Grand Canyon National Park – Since it’s birth Route 66 has carried many families on vacation towards the Grand Canyon. And why not? It’s situated only an hour from both Williams and Kingman making it easily accessible from Route 66. It’s an easy day-trip or if you’re feeling more adventurous why not stay the night within the grounds of the Park itself and catch a sunrise or even take a short hike down into the canyon?
- Las Vegas – A side trip to Vegas comes at the price of missing some of the California stretch of Route 66 for those travelling west-bound. For me – travelling from the UK – I felt it would have been a missed opportunity to bypass Las Vegas having traveled so far. That said, Las Vegas isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Personally, I loved every minute of the Vegas experience – the cocktails, slots, shows and spectacle were completely absorbing. The drive to Vegas isn’t a simple short drive however and so be prepared for some very desolate roads through the desert. However, I very much enjoyed seeing this kind of scenery as there’s nothing like it in the UK! Just remember that if you’re planning on spending a few nights in Vegas then there will almost certainly be some trade off on Route 66 coverage in California (unless of course you re-trace your steps back from Vegas to Route 66 the way you came!)
- Highway 1 – Again, this isn’t a true side trip but more of an extension to Route 66. If you’re travelling west-bound then your trip ends at LA. If you still have a few days of travelling in you why not take the scenic Highway 1 up the west coast to San Francisco, taking in Santa Cruz and Monterey? I extended my Route 66 holiday this way and comfortably spread the journey over three days. Again, this decision was based on the fact that I didn’t know when I’d get the chance to see these sights again.