Guidebooks to traveling the American highways
Yes, there are guidebooks to help make even the Interstate more interesting.
Beyond the exit signs
The best of highway dining and sightseeing usually lies just beyond the tangle of ramps and infestation of chain hotels and fast food joints right at exit itself.
Take it from me: few of my memorable meal experiences on the interstates of America have been listed on those ubiqutious blue Gas/Food/Lodging signs. I've usually found them a mile or three down the road from the actual exit—and invariably well worth the teensy detour—and I've usually found them by one of two methods:
- Using the Yelp app on my phone
- One of the Mile Oak Publishing books:
The charmingly handcrafted series of sprial-bound books from Mile Oak Publishing is fabulous—though unfortunately limited in scope, designed mainly for folks on the East Coast or in Upper Midwest headed toward Florida.
The only titles are:
- Drive I-95 (www.drivei-95.com; $23.95, or $18.88 at B&N) - Crammed with info and resources for every exit along the East Coast's major highway, from sights and food—both chain and, wonderfully, not—to historical anecdotes. I don't drive I-95 without it.
- Along I-75 (www.i75online.com; $24.95, or $17.92 at B&N) - Similar to the fantastic I-95 book above, but devoted to local knowledge for I-75 travelers between Detroit and the Florida border.
- Along Florida's Expressways (www.flonline.info; $24.95, or $15.63 at B&N) - Sunshine State drivers will welcome Dave Hunter's map-enhanced guide to Florida's highways. Along Florida's Expressways covers the state, including FL 4, 10, 75, 95, and much, much more.
In addition to briefs on the usual gas, food, and lodging at or near each exit (plus sights, to break up the drive's monotony), these spiral-bound books are crammed with highway maps (with useful side-roads for bypassing traffic), thoughtful details like the a chart of local radio stations (cruelly ignoring NPR), entertaining facts and history about the places you're whizzing past (you just think it's a boring tunnel in Baltimore; you're actually passing right under the site of the Revolutionary War battle during which Francis Scott Key composed the Star Spangled Banner), and best of all: great non-chain eating options, often just a mile or two from the exit.
Christmas for me has always meant at least two days of sheer I-95 monotony between family members in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, a trip enlivened in recent years by this book's steering me that crab shack on the Chesapeake—not to mention the world's greatest pie in a forgotten whistle stop village in North Carolina.
More excellent dining options for road trippers
Speaking of which, also check out Jane and Michael Stern's Road Food ($21.95, or $15.69 at B&N; www.roadfood.com) for a state-by-state guide featuring a selection of excellent, non-chain nosh on the road.
Exit by exit
Instead of debating the eternal question—Should we stop here or drive on to the next exit?—end the mystery of what lies around the bend with Explore the Next Exit ($14.95, www.thenextexit.com), a bland but complete directory reproducing the gas, food, and lodging listings on those blue signs for the entire Interstate system. ("Look, honey: just 130 miles to another Stuckey's!")
If even the Motel-6 is beyond your budget, or it's just a nice night for a little car camping, carry a copy of Don Wright's Free Campgrounds in the West ($27.27 at B&N)—though the title fudges a bit, as any campsite under $12 is listed.
(This is not to be confused with www.freecampgrounds.com, which lists free spots to park an RV; for more on the subject of free campgrounds, see here.)