If you've not driven in the US before then there are some basic differences that every driver should be aware of. Quite often you'll be driving on quiet roads but occasionally you might want to slip onto the Interstate or drive though one of the cities along the route. This selection of tips for driving in the United States is specifically tailored towards the Route 66 states, and is designed to keep you safe and operating within the law.
When driving in the US it’s worth noting that each state does have their own driving laws, but before you start to think this is going to get complicated, it’s fair to say that they don’t differ greatly. Generally speaking the maximum speed limit across each of the Route 66 states is between 70 and 75mph (110 and 120 kph) except in situations where signs indicate a lower speed limit. The state-specific maximum speed limits are:
If you’ve not driven in the US before then you're going to find driving Route 66 a real treat! Aside from the fantastic scenery you will most likely be driving a rental car too, and in most cases that means automatic transmission. At first I was unsure of how I’d find driving an automatic but I very quickly came to love the ease and comfort. Stop. Go. Simple.
If you’ve not previously driven an automatic it’s best to tuck the left foot away and into a comfortable position in order to operate the brake/gas pedals with the right foot only. This will help avoid any sudden braking should you have the urge to go for the clutch! Don't forget that you'll also be driving on the right-hand side of the road, and this, combined with being sat in the left side of the vehicle, takes a little adjustment. You may find yourself reaching for the window each time you think you feel the need to change gear!
Auxiliary controls (indicators, wipers, etc…) will also be reversed but the pedals remain in the same position - brake on the left, accelerator on the right. There's no clutch in an automatic transmission – this space is taken up by the over-sized brake pedal.
Each of the following rules may be new to you depending on your home country. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these before hitting the road.
Traffic lights will often be on the far side of a junction or even strung high above the road, rather than fixed to posts by the roadside. You need to be mindful of this as for a new driver in the US it may not be immediately obvious which set of lights are intended for your position.
The sequence of lights is usually green-yellow-red-green, but very occasionally you may come across a set of lights that skips the yellow phase and immediately cuts from red to green and back. A yellow light does not mean that you may proceed, it is simply giving you an indication that the light is about to change - don't pull away on yellow.
If you're from outside the US then one of the most unusual features of traffic lights (in most states, and certainly all of the those on Route 66) is that it is legal to turn right at a red light. This can feel alien at first as driving through a red light goes against everything you may have learnt in your home country, however, you will very quickly adjust. Remember that you are already driving on the right-hand side of the road so all you are doing is simply checking to your left to ensure that the road you are pulling into is clear. Always look left to ensure the path is clear and don’t be bullied into turning if you feel uncomfortable. Be assured that in cases where it is considered dangerous to turn right there will always be signs stating “Do not turn right on red”.
When turning left at a traffic light remember that, as you are driving on the right, you need to make sure that you aim for the correct lane, particularly when turning in to a dual carriageway. Be sure to enter the correct lane upon turning (the right-hand lane) and not accidentally enter the left-hand lane!
In the US you'll find that the vocabulary of driving may be different to your home country. Here are some of the more common words you'll encounter:
You'll find that you will very quickly adjust to driving in the US. Route 66 is a long trip and so you'll learn out of necessity if nothing else. Following on from all these tips for driving in the United States, my biggest piece of advice for you to take away is to relax and study other drivers. If you arrive at a junction, or a set of traffic lights, and you're not sure what to do just observe the cars in front and take their lead. If you're really unsure then pull over if it's safe to do so and wait for the vehicle behind you to proceed. Never feel pressured to do something if you feel uncomfortable even if the car behind beeps their horn.
Remember, "Life is a Highway" and there is always something new to learn!
When renting a car in the US you need to be at least 21 years old with a valid drivers license - if you're from outside the US your country's driving license will be fine, there's no need for an International driver's license. Although you may be 21 years old that's not to say that every rental company is obliged to rent to you - some rental companies have a 25 year minimum age or require an additional payment if you're between 21 and 25 years old - prices vary so shop around. Most companies will also require you to produce a credit card before leasing you a vehicle.
Also, don't forget that most hire cars in the US will be an automatic transmission so if you want to drive a stick shift be prepared to pay extra!
Inform your rental company if there will be multiple drivers prior to signing your contract and budget for an additional payment for the privilege - this varies between companies - be sure to check on this.
There are several major companies to choose from when renting a car:
However, trawling through each of these sites individually, having to enter the same information time and time again soon becomes tiresome. There are websites out there that will search all of these companies on your behalf to find you the best deal. If you don't want to spend the time searching each company I would recommend using RentalCars.com - a price comparison site that will do all the donkey-work in finding the cheapest deal.
I have always used this company to help me find the cheapest deals for car rental and have never been disappointed - they are easy to communicate with via email or phone. One point worth noting is that if you get an estimate for car hire online but do not book straight away, they often wait a couple of weeks before sending you an email with a slightly reduced rate to entice you back!
When renting your vehicle be sure to understand that you are responsible for any damage to the vehicle and that you'll be presented with several insurance options by the rental company. At the very least you will need liability insurance to cover any damage caused to third party vehicles but I'd recommend a comprehensive insurance in order to cover any damage to your own vehicle too. A great tip is to ensure you take out any relevant insurances at the point of booking - if you try to sort this later, when picking up your vehicle for example, you'll almost certainly end up paying more.
Some credit cards, such as American Express, will offer rental insurance if the card is used to pay for the rental but be sure to check this in advance and if needs be ensure you're not being billed for separate insurance by the rental company.
Of course, your insurance requirements will vary depending on whether you're booking from within the US or not...
Disclaimer: Obviously this advice can't cover all eventualities and insurance can be minefield. The advice given here is consistent with most of the large rental companies but always check your policy details.
Most rental companies have locations at airports, large hotels and cities and are plentiful across the US. If none of these locations are suitable for you then Enterprise offer a service whereby they will come to you when you are ready to rent your vehicle. Whichever you choose just make sure you have your passport, driving license and credit card when you collect your vehicle.
When you book your car you will most likely only be able to specify the type of car (compact, saloon, 4WD, sports, etc...) rather than the specific model. Upon arrival at your chosen pick-up point you will likely be directed to the area of the parking lot which houses your type of vehicle and you will be able to choose your own vehicle from the available selection - a very exciting experience!
Once you've picked out your vehicle be sure to give it the once over and check for any damage to bodywork no matter how small. Bring any dents, scrapes or paint chips to the attention of the rental company so that they can document it - you may want to take a few photos/videos yourself for peace of mind.
In the unlikely event that you should encounter a problem with your car, most companies will either repair the vehicle if it's unable to start or more likely replace the vehicle if you are able to get it to the nearest branch (which are numerous and widespread).
Most cars in the United States are fitted with an automatic transmission and will only have two pedals. If you are used to a manual transmission then you can forget the clutch - your car will only have accelerator and brake pedals. With an automatic gearbox you set it to P in order to park or stop, D to drive, and R to reverse. It can take some getting used to but makes for a very easy driving experience.
Before hitting the road be sure to take a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the essentials such as turn signals/indicators, high beam lights, wiper controls and AC settings.
Your car will be presented to you with a full tank of gas and you will be expected to return it in a similar state. If you return the vehicle with less gas than you started with, the company will fill it up to the desired level for you but will charge a premium for this (sometimes as much as twice the cost of having done it yourself!)
Most people that drive Route 66 opt to return their car at alternative site to where they collected it. If you wish to only use your vehicle for a one-way journey (Chicago to LA or vice versa) then you will have to pay a one-way drop-off fee. Be sure to enquire about this with your chosen company as it can vary from company to company. Alternatively, if you're booking your car hire through RentalCars.com then this is taken into account when providing you with your quote.
Just as you gave the car the once over for bodywork damage when picking it up, be sure to do the same at drop-off. I always take a few photos of the exterior of the car when dropping off as a record of the condition I returned it in.
I hope this information has been helpful - enjoy your trip!
For me, the process of planning my Route 66 road trip was a large part of the whole experience. I was 28 years old, knew next to nothing about Route 66 and had never been to the US before - the whole experience was new and exciting.
When my wife and I made the decision to do it we immediately threw ourselves into the research. We signed up to numerous forums, scanned many websites and then finally bought ourselves some books and maps. In fact, at one point we had a huge corkboard hanging on our wall with a map of the US on it with pins marking our approximate stopping points for each day - it really helped us get some perspective on expected daily mileage. Also, at this point my geographical knowledge of the US was so poor I was also learning which states lay where.
It was the thrill of this process that led to me starting this website - I would now be able to spend time back on Route 66 even if it was vicariously through others! Website and online research are invaluable, but there's nothing like a good paper-based route 66 guidebook to keep by the side of the bed for dipping in and out of. We bought several to get ourselves started (and have since learned of some that we wish we'd had but sadly passed us by. In this post I've listed 5 of the most often recommended guide books by travellers that have experience of driving the greatest American road trip - Route 66...
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a small commission with no cost to you. All books are also available from our shop.
When you ask anyone with experience of driving Route 66 to recommend a good route 66 guidebook the EZ66 Guide is nearly always the first on their list. Considered by many to be an essential purchase, this book offers a detailed break-down, turn by turn, of the whole route from start to finish. It's hard to get lost when using this book. It sticks as closely to the original alignment as it's possible to get and offers variations when they come available (the alignment has changed many times over the years). Jerry McClanahan is internationally regarded as a route 66 authority.
This book was invaluable to me and my trip. Every day we'd finish the drive by marking our total mileage for that day in the top right corner, and every evening we'd browse it while waiting for our meal at whichever diner/restaurant we'd managed to find that night to get a feel for the next days adventure.
The book can be used to follow the route east to west or west to east, and also highlights some specific must-see sights and attractions along the way. It's not a guide in the sense of featuring listings of motels and attractions, but more of a series of maps with text explanations of each small stage of the journey. Packed with useful advice and very specific directions the EZ66 Guide should be part of every Route 66 road trip.
Now in it's 17th edition, the Route 66 Dining and Lodging Guide is one of the Route 66 guidebooks that unfortunately passed me by when I took my trip in 2007. However, being one of the most recommended books by veterans of the mother road, and since the series has now been discontinued, this book comes with a pretty hefty price tag due to rarity!
It features recommendations by members of the National Historic Route 66 Federation and been used by thousands around the world to find the best places to stay and eat along the route. It lists over 500 dining and lodging establishments and concentrates on the vintage properties that made the Route famous.
Although several versions of this book are available, it's worthwhile picking up the latest edition (currently the 17th) if you can stretch to it as it features newer listings and updated details, although older versions will save your wallet! I love the formatting of the book. It breaks the road down into sections and within each section lists the lodging followed by the dining recommendations.
Like the EZ66 Guide this route 66 guidebook is spiral bound making it perfect for a road trip (the book can be left open on the section that you've reached). This is an excellent companion to the EZ66 Guide in that whereas the EZ66 Guide is about the actual route, this flags up the recommended accommodation and restaurants you'll pass along the way - worth a purchase.
This book has a special place in my heart - it was the book that inspired me to take on my route 66 adventure. It was given to me by a friend of a friend after they'd described to me the most amazing road trip they'd taken. I was vaguely aware of route 66 but knew nothing of it's history or mystery. The Route 66 Traveler's Guide and Roadside Companion was my gateway to the world of Route 66 travel and I read and reread the first 4 chapters over and over again because, unlike the previous two guidebooks mentioned here, it features a lot of historical and contextual information on Route 66. For someone new to route 66 this is inspiring reading.
Tom Snyder creates a vivid portrait of life on Route 66 and the people who haunt it, including cattle rustlers, gangsters, hitchhikers, and everyday travelers.
Smaller sections of this book include tips on trip-planning, roadside photography and mini-tours, whereas the bulk of the book is broken down by state, guiding you through, section by section, pointing out roadside attractions and iconic sights. I've often referred to his book over the years to fact check information for this website and for inspiration. Any book endorsed by the great Michael Wallis is a book worth reading!
Now in it's 'High Octane' fifth edition, the Route 66 Adventure Handbook distinguishes itself from others by focusing on the many wonders that you'll encounter on your route 66 road trip. From vintage motels to kitschy roadside art, this book successfully navigates route 66 with very clear passion for its subject. In terms of planning an itinerary this book is packed with tips and suggestions.
Painstakingly researched by Drew Knowles, this book provides information on how to locate unmarked portions of the mother road, contact info for Route 66 associations and local visitor bureaus, an index of all Route 66 towns, and anecdotes, trivia, attractions, and suggested side trips.
The author has a great voice which makes for real entertaining prose. This book delights in taking the reader off the beaten track and introducing newbies and veterans alike to hidden gems and long-forgotten diversions. It also includes a large number of maps.
I didn't have access to this book prior to my trip and I actually bought it back in 2010 when the idea for this website first came to me. Despite being the smallest route 66 guidebook in this list it warrants a mention due to some of the unique content it contains.
This Lonely Planet guide book has some overlap with the other books in this list but the reason why it's made it is for a very specific reason - its box-outs!
It may have many of the same features as other guide books but it has a load of very interesting features littered throughout the book including:
This is just a small taste of the great info included in this book and it shouldn't be overlooked.
So there we have it - my 5 top route 66 guidebooks for planning a route 66 road trip. However... I need to make an honorable mention...
It's not a guidebook and it's not a map, but The Route 66 Encyclopedia by Jim Hinckley is a phenomenal book on the subject of route 66. It's a large, hardback, glossy paged, full colour celebration of route 66. I bought a copy a few years back and my only two regrets were that I didn't buy it sooner and that I couldn't get a signed copy! It's exactly what it says - an A to Z encyclopedia of the road and it's many features. A complete triumph of passion and perseverance, this book didn't really meet the criteria for this list but it would be a travesty to overlook!
Getting started planning your Route 66 itinerary can be a daunting task. Do you begin with a wishlist of sights and attractions or the knowledge of where you'll be spending each night? Do you book your accommodation in advance or do you go with the flow? How long does it take? Will I miss anything?
Things can get stressful really quickly if you let it, so take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is supposed to be fun!
The good news is that there are answers to all of the questions above. The bad news is that they'll be different depending on who you ask! There's no right or wrong way to go about this but there are a couple of common questions that you'll need to ask yourself before you delve into the details: how much time can you spare and what is your budget? I can offer guidance on the first but only you can answer the second.
When it comes to the time you can spare, if you're considering traveling the full length of the route, then you should allow for at least two weeks. You can find further guidance here on how long your trip might take. Anything less than two weeks and you risk rushing through without being able to truly enjoy the experience.
When armed with the answers to these two questions planning a Route 66 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. For me it just added to the whole experience - months were spent reading blog posts and scanning forums, getting more and more excited as it got closer and closer. I even mapped my route and overnight stops using pins on a huge map of the US on my living room wall!
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. I'd recommend going about it this way so that you can plan for a (roughly) even daily mileage. Many people like to spend a night or two in Chicago first (assuming you're heading west) and the same when they reach LA so take that into account. Buy yourself a good sized map of the US and use it to approximate where you'll spend each night, trying to keep roughly equal distances between each stop. You're not committing to anything - just trying to establish a broad idea of where you may reach each evening. 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.
A further consideration might be whether you intend to do any side trips or not (Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, etc...). If this is the case then time should be allowed within your itinerary to allow for the extra travel. A day or more for each would be about right. You can use this guide to the five most popular side side trips to help you decide.
Now that you have a broad idea of where you might end up each day there may be some motels in that area that you feel you would like to book in advance. If so then make a note of them. If you decide not to book any accommodation in advance then you can just make a note of the general area you hope to arrive at each day. You can find more advice on whether to book in advance or "wing it" here.
One of the most commonly asked questions on the Driving Route 66 forum or Facebook page is "what are the best Route 66 motels?" This isn't an easy question as it depends upon what you're looking for - creature comforts, authenticity, or to fit within a certain budget. Also, beauty of driving Route 66 is traveling the road less followed and discovering your own hidden gems. However, if you're looking for guidance on some of the more iconic stops then it's worth checking out my Highly Recommended Route 66 Motels Part 1 and Part 2. Personally I'd recommend a mixture of pre-booked motels and those you'll discover for yourself. Personally, I booked every third night in advance to help me keep on track and to make sure I got to spend the night in some of the more iconic lodging. You should find that you’ll soon have a list of definite motels and potential areas to stop-over spread fairly evenly across your journey.
It’s not uncommon to leave your motel at 9am and not reach your next evening's lodging until 5pm but that’s not to say you’re driving for the whole 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 stop at a diner for a coffee. Then of course you have the many towns, museums, gift shops and other sights to experience so 200 miles can easily take a full day. Also, 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.
You might find the Trip Planner on this website useful as you are not only able to filter sights and attractions by state, but also display them in order from east to west or west to east. Alternatively you can check out the guides to the various states here: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California. In addition to these resources try to keep in mind that there's no definitive list of things you have to see on Route 66 and that a great road trip is about exploring and finding things for yourself.
If it helps, you might want to note down some sights and attractions that you'll have the option of exploring each day, but unless there's something you're particularly excited about I'd be inclined to just go with the flow. Plan your trip as you go rather than try to create an itinerary that accounts for every hour of every day. Spending the evening reflecting on your day's travel, and reading up on the following day's possibilities, is all part of the fun!
Starting to plan your Route 66 road trip can be a daunting task, particularly knowing that you may very well be spending every night of your trip in an entirely new bed. In this respect a road trip will be unlike any vacation you may have taken before. Having a little information on the types of Route 66 accommodation won't hurt, and so this post aims to outline some of the choices that you'll face. It also aims to answer a very common question - should Route 66 accommodation be booked in advance or should the whole trip be spontaneous?
I hope you enjoy reading it. If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments or head over to the Facebook group.
If you're not camping or driving an RV then chances are you'll be staying in a range of different accommodation types; motel and hotel, independent and chain, rural and urban, and finally... teepee!
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. If you're travelling at peak season then motels like the Blue Swallow, Munger Moss, Route 66 Motel or Wagon Wheel Motel are certainly worth booking in advance if you want to avoid disappointment.
However, if you don’t want to book Route 66 accommodation in advance and are happy to simply go with the flow and make discoveries, then rest assured that there are numerous independent motels ready to welcome you and grateful for your business. If you keep a copy of the Route 66 Dining and Lodging Guide in the glove box then you'll have the best advice at your fingertips whenever you're ready to end your day's drive.
If you're 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. Usually you know what you're getting with a chain motel and sometimes you might be grateful for the familiarity that they offer. If you're happy to mix it up a bit, staying at both independent and chain motels, then you'll never be stuck for a local bed for the night. I've personally had very comfortable nights at the Comfort Inn in Santa Monica, and the Travel Inn in Claremore. Accommodation in both was basic but clean, comfortable and conveniently located in terms of proximity to the route.
Many of the iconic motels will be located in small towns or rural areas, but as Route 66 passes through some major cities you may want to treat yourself to the occasional fancy hotel! Some of the larger metropolitan areas along the route include Chicago, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, Tulsa, Amarillo and St Louis. Each of these will boast a range of accommodation from budget chain motels to more luxurious hotels. I stayed the night at the Renaissance Hotel in Oklahoma City, a beautiful 4-star hotel with the best range of breakfast options I encountered on the route! Also very popular is the Wyndham Garden in Amarillo who offer a "roadie rate" if you happen to present a copy of their advert from the Route 66 Pulse.
This is down to personal preference - how much freedom do you want? Finding a place to stay is generally not too difficult, and most areas along Route 66 will be able to offer basic accommodation for the impulsive traveler. However, if you know in advance that you’d like to stay in a specific motel/hotel it’s essential to book in advance during peak season. Certain iconic motels will be fully booked months in advance. A sensible option would be to stay at a mixture of booked and spur-of-the-moment lodging; this way you get to balance the freedom of travelling the open road with the security of knowing you won’t miss out on the most iconic stops. Pick the motels you’d consider a must-see, book yourself a room, and fill in the gaps as you go. Spur-of-the-moment lodging at chain motels is particularly easy to find due to the high number of such establishments.
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 Route 66 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.
A recent conversation over on the Facebook group revealed that most people planned their trip as I did: book your essential motels in advance, maybe one motel every third day, and just wing it the rest of the time just for the freedom of it all. The great thing about this approach is that it'll help you keep focused in terms of your timings. Knowing that you have a place to be every third day will not only help with your planning prior to your trip, but will also make sure that you keep an eye on your daily mileage.
Once you’ve decided on the type of lodging you’re after you should be able to use the Trip Planner tool found on 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 certainly recommend checking out my previous posts on Highly Recommended Route 66 Motels - Part 1 and Part 2. Each of the motels listed has a rich history and has not only served the Route 66 community for many years but, most importantly, still provides quality accommodation.
The Trip Planner tool has a selection of motels/hotels that have been recommended by users of this website 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 types of Route 66 accommodation: motel and hotel, independent and chain, rural and urban.
Route 66 is a 2448 mile trip without taking in to account small detours or larger side-trips. That's an awful lot of driving!
Considering how much time you're going to spend behind the wheel it’s imperative that you try to make the journey as comfortable (and therefore safer) as possible. Here are my 5 tips to keep comfortable when driving Route 66...
It's the most often-repeated advice to any driver regardless of whether they're on Route 66 or not - but taking breaks is essential to keeping comfortable and safe. Current advice is to not drive for longer than 2 hours without taking at least a 15 minute break. With that in mind, it's actually unlikely or very rare that you'd find yourself driving for this long on Route 66 without stopping to take it all in anyway.
So be sure to take regular breaks – but not just for the safety aspect - because that’s what the Route 66 experience is all about. Stop at cafe’s, diners, museums, roadside art, photo ops… Have a coffee or soda, buy a fridge magnet or postcard from a small business, chat to the locals… Basically, do your best to support the local businesses that embody the spirit of Route 66. Without custom of Route 66 tourism many businesses just wouldn't survive. Perhaps decide on a collection before your trip - maybe a postcard or fridge magnet from each town or attraction you stop at. When I returned from my trip I was able to plot my journey on the side of my fridge using a huge array of magnets - it became quite a talking point!
It's just not a road-trip without a great set of tunes to set the mood! There are numerous radio stations along Route 66 to soundtrack your road-trip. If you’re after the traditional American road-trip sound then the following stations will provide you with a mix of classic rock, country and rockabilly:
But keep exploring the airwaves – there are numerous stations along the route just waiting to be discovered. I like to make a note of some of the best tracks I stumble across so I can make a playlist when I return home.
You'll spend a lot of time in the car so make sure you have a small selection of snacks to nibble on and keep the energy up. When you stop of at one of the small towns maybe pick up a bag of pretzels or some boiled sweets. If you're going to opt for something healthier then be prepared and carry a cool bag with you to keep things fresh. Just be sure that whatever you choose it's something that is safe and easy to eat on the road.
Another great tip is to always have a load of bottled water in the car. Before leaving Chicago I made sure that I visited a mini-mart and picked up a crate of bottles so that we would always have a steady supply of drinks. Of course, in this more eco-aware time it would actually be better to carry a refillable bottle to reduce plastic waste. Either way you'll be glad to have a fresh drink with you to keep you hydrated and the energy levels high.
If you're driving with a partner try and take turns behind the wheel. Not only will it prevent one person becoming worn out and tired on the road, but the process of driving Route 66 is just as enjoyable for the passenger as it is for the driver. Taking a rest from behind the wheel will give you an opportunity to soak up the scenery, maybe film some footage and take photos, or simply take control of the radio!
If you've traveled to the US from overseas you may find yourself driving with a passenger that is reluctant to take the wheel. Maybe they're anxious about driving on a different side of the road, or they've not used an automatic transmission, or they are simply not confident drivers. If this is the case then you may very well find that once you've moved away from the built up areas, and you hit the quieter, more open roads, that your passenger becomes a little less reluctant to give it a go. My wife had no intention of driving on our trip, but once she realized that large portions of Route 66 are driven on clear roads she decided to give it go. She loved it of course and then for the remainder of the trip we shared duties, with me taking over when we approached built-up areas.
If you're driving in a rental car then it'll almost certainly be equipped with plenty of features to keep you comfortable. Air conditioning is an essential feature when driving during the warmer months, particularly in the mid-western states. Temperatures can get extremely high during the summer and you'll want to be familiar with the AC settings of your car. Some cars have dual AC controls so that the driver and passenger can set individual temperatures for their side of the vehicle.
Also, you may have a vehicle equipped with cruise control which really helps during the long, straight stretches. It allows you to relax your legs a little during extended, uninterrupted periods. Again, if you're not familiar with cruise control then simply check the glove box where you should hopefully find the manual. If this is not he case then it might be something you'll want to ask about when picking up your car.
Adjusting the seats and head rest appropriately can not only keep you comfortable but actually help prevent accidents and improve safety should an accident occur. For example, you should be able to rest the heels of your hand on the top of the steering wheel without leaning forwards in order to improve your reaction time. Being seated in a relaxed position means that you won’t tire as quickly. Sitting in the wrong position will increase the chances of neck, shoulder or back pain.
Alongside the great road itself there are several very popular detours that you can take whilst travelling Route 66. When deciding which, if any of the most common side-trips that you opt for, the most important question you can ask yourself is “if I don’t do this now, when will I?” Simply put – when will you next be able to afford the time and money to visit places such as the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, etc…
Side-trips are not a part of the Route 66 experience, they are merely an option should you wish to take advantage of your location and squeeze in some extra sight-seeing. For those travelling from overseas, Route 66 manages to place you relatively near some great locations that you might not otherwise get a chance to visit. Let's not also forget that the original Route 66 vacationers back in it's heyday also made many of these side-trips for the exact same reasons.
Presented below, in no particular order, are my five top Route 66 side-trips...
Okay, so technically this is not a side trip, as for the first twelve years of Route 66’s existence the road actually passed through Santa Fe. However, as many people don't follow this pre-1938 alignment I thought it was worthy of inclusion. These days many guide books (particularly the EZ66 Guide) point this out as the pre-1938 alignment or the "Santa Fe Loop".
I found Santa Fe to be a lively and vibrant destination with beautiful architecture and colourful market areas. Popular Santa Fe tourist spots are the oldest house in the United States and the “miraculous” staircase at the Loretto Chapel.
Take your time and explore the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, catch some live music in Santa Fe Plaza, or even buy some Native American jewelry.
Since it’s birth Route 66 has guided 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 but 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?
On my visit I stayed at one of the many lodges within the national park and set my alarm an hour before sunrise. My wife and I packed a few snacks and drinks and took a short walk into the canyon to watch the sunrise. There was something about the view that seemed unreal, like a painting, as if we could reach out and touch it. We walked as far as we could in an hour before stopping to admire the views before starting our ascent. I'd thoroughly recommend it.
A visit to Monument Valley warrants a significant detour off Route 66 - a 400 mile detour in fact! If your time on Route 66 is quite limited then this isn't the side-trip for you. A two week trip that tries to include Monument Valley would be too stretched in my opinion. However, if you're lucky enough to have time on your side then this is an opportunity you may not want to pass up. A detour from Flagstaff is possible and allows you to return to the exact same spot to pick up Route 66 where you left off.
Perhaps the most famous example of the classic American West landscape, Monument Valley has been the backdrop for numerous Hollywood films. Part of the Navajo reservation, the views at Monument Valley are nothing short of breathtaking. If you're lucky enough to book far enough in advance you can secure a room or cabin at The View Hotel. The name says it all really - it's a prime spot to enjoy the sweeping vistas and magnificent scenery. The place can be fully booked in peak season so keep this mind.
Depending on how much time you have at your disposal, a side trip to Vegas may come at the cost of missing some of the California stretch of Route 66 for those travelling west-bound. However, if time permits, you could re-trace your steps back from Vegas to Route 66 and pick up where you left off. The path to Vegas isn’t a short drive and so be prepared for some very desolate roads through the desert. Personally, I very much enjoyed the drive as the desert landscape has always appealed to me.
Las Vegas isn’t to everyone’s tastes but personally, I loved every minute of the Vegas experience – the cocktails, slots, shows and spectacle were completely absorbing. It's garish, over-the-top, and shamelessly decadent, but if you can take it at face value it's also incredibly fun.
A visit to Vegas is no longer about gambling, and although I did spend a brief time trying out the slots (it would have been rude not to!), the highlights were to be found away from the casino floor. The fountains outside the Bellagio are a joy to watch with a cocktail in hand, and the many bars and restaurants also feature live entertainment of some sort. During the days you can simply walk the strip soaking up the atmosphere - the many exhibitions, street performers, and even zoos will keep most people entertained.
Again, this isn’t a true side trip but more of an extension to Route 66. If you’re travelling west-bound then your Route 66 trip ends in Los Angeles. However, if you have the luxury of a few more days of travelling then you could take the scenic Highway 1 up the west coast to San Francisco.
This journey can be comfortably made in three days and will take in some great stops such as Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Luis Obispo before you reach your destination of San Francisco. The coastal views are fantastic on a clear day but the west coast fog is very unpredictable and may conceal the views entirely.