After working 37 years as a teacher, I retired. To celebrate my newfound freedom, my wife and I took a road trip to see the fall colors of New England.

On Labor Day 2018, we took off from San Luis Obispo, California and traveled to Boston, Massachusetts. We returned on October 30, after logging 9,361 miles. Here are some tips we recommend and observations that we learned along the way.

  • Ensure your car is in good working order before undertaking such an odyssey. I had the tires rotated and the oil changed, and a local repair shop deemed it roadworthy.
  • Stop by your local AAA office and get maps and travel guides for planning your trip. Also, use the internet to find activities and places of interest (e.g., 10 Best things to do in Nashville).
  • Prepare an emergency bag and tools for repairs and breakdowns. I purchased an emergency roadside bag and supplemented it with
  • some tools.
  • Purchase a roadside assistance card. You never know when you might need a tow or assistance along the side of a road, which we did
  • in New Hampshire.
  • Take your time but learn to cut costs. We were able to spend almost two months on the road fairly inexpensively. We stayed at Airbnbs across the country (shared rooms in houses). We ate breakfasts of cold cereal or oatmeal, sandwiches and fruit for lunches, and for dinners, we either cooked at the Airbnbs or ate out.
  • Bring an ice chest. We were able to eat healthy food and save money. No need to stop in gas stations to buy greasy, sugary snacks or fast food.
  • Obey all traffic laws, especially the speed limit. Thankfully, we didn’t get any tickets. If in doubt, go with the flow of traffic.
  • Be prepared for toll roads with loose change and cash. In Oklahoma, there are unmanned tollbooths where you throw your change into the basket. We were scrambling through the ashtray looking for enough change to feed the beast—totally unprepared. In Chicago, Illinois, “highway robbery” has a new meaning. Within half an hour, there were four tollbooths.
  • If you’re traveling in the winter, winterize your car. Have the appropriate coolant in your radiator and the right oil for cold weather.
  • Bring chains for the car, a snow shovel, an ice scraper, snacks, water, and extra warm clothes.
  • Always fill up before you get to the lower fourth of a tank. Know how far it is to the nearest gas station or town and you’ll never have to worry about whether you will make it to the next town before running out of gas. The first gas stations on the outskirts of town are usually more expensive than gas stations further towards the downtown area.
  • Stop by welcome centers as you enter the different states and cities. We were able to get brochures on attractions along with maps and information on highway conditions and road closures. At the Wyoming Visitor Center, we found out about some road closures in Wyoming due to snow.
  • Take a break every hour or so. Don’t drive while drowsy. If necessary, pull over at a safe place and rest. Be aware of other drivers. Drive defensibly.
  • Bring a charger in your car for your devices, whether smartphones or tablets. My iPhone, using Google Maps, can go from 100% charged to 0% in a few hours.
  • Provide some entertainment for the kids such as games and books. Or just talk. Entertainment doesn’t have to be electronic.
  • Have snacks and drinks at the ready. Our kids are grown and out of the house so this wasn’t an issue on our trip.

Get off the interstate highways and travel the less traveled route. You’ll visit small-town, Main Street, America and see what America is all about. Allow more than enough time for getting to where you want to go and don’t try to do too much in a day.

It’s a huge country. Yes, you could fly over the country in a matter of hours, but you would miss the beauty of the country and the people of this land that a road trip reveals.

Drake stated, “Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” Some of the best places we’ve enjoyed are between the places we stayed. Don’t be in such a hurry that you miss the beauty between the destinations.

Those are a few items that I’ve learned through the years, especially these past few months. Happy trails!