2016: Year of the road trip

Melissa Preddy
Car Culture

The seed catalogs are starting to hit the mailbox and spring is less than seven weeks away.

That means it’s time to start dreaming of sun, fun and auto-powered adventures. In fact, TheStreet.com just dubbed 2016 “the year of the road trip” in light of the low gas rices we’re enjoying, compared to the cost of airline tickets.

I can relate, having just completed a 1,200-mile round trip for less than $100 — compared to the same journey’s usual tab of $400 for airfare and $130 for a week’s worth of airport parking. Back when gas was about $4 a gallon, it was easier to justify the price of the airline ticket and related expenses, but not so when a six-day hatchback-powered getaway is less than a hundred bucks. Divvy that up by multiple passengers and your savings increase impressively.

Sure, transit time was longer but there are worse things than relaxing with an audiobook while taking in the sights along an unfamiliar interstate, and I don’t usually get much done at my destination on travel days anyway, so arriving a few hours later each way wasn’t a hardship.

Michigan’s average price for self-serve regular unleaded gasoline was about $1.66 per gallon on Sunday. That’s about 45 cents less than it was a year ago.

If that whets your appetite for a backroads boondoggle or highway getaway, here are some resources for planning:

On the Web: RoadTripAmerica.com offers route advice, tips on scenic locations and traveler reviews of attractions, parks and even good places to stop for a picnic. It also features an active discussion board where planners exchange info on routes, lodging, travel gear and even the weather.

Roadtrippers.com is another useful site, and I like MyScenicDrives.com for its off-the-beaten-path slant. Special-needs sites exist, too; GoPetFriendly.com helps those traveling with animals, and sites like LonelyPlanet.com offer tips for family-friendly road trips.

Vroomgirls.com/road-trips/ offers advice and guides geared for female travelers. Don’t forget Pinterest; it’s teeming with road trip tips and destination ideas.

Apps: Practical travel aids for smartphone users abound, from packing planners and mapping apps to weather trackers. But I like the quirkier ones for adding flair to trip planning and sparking fresh ideas. Field Trip, for example, uses your location to offer points of interest you may not know about. TV Food Maps will point you to nearby restaurants that have been featured on, it says, some 40 TV shows. And the Oh, Ranger! app will pinpoint nearly parks.

App stores also feature many road-trip themed games if you have backseat passengers who need distraction. I like the messy-car one and the antique-hunter game.

Magazines: American Road magazine and its website (americanroadmagazine.com) are another good source of travel info, and seem particularly suited for those interested in motoring nostalgia and historical sites.

Another tip: Even if you’re not an RV owner, the publications aimed at that demographic generally are rich with travel information; they include Trailer Life (trailerlife.com), Motor Home (motorhome.com) and Family Motor Coaching (fmcmagazine.com). Available digitally or via hardcopy subscription, they’re a fun source of armchair daydreaming and a glimpse into a travel-oriented lifestyle.

Books: Supplement standard travel guides with books that address your particular needs and interests — “22 Accessible Road Trips” by Candy Harrington, for example, offers routes that feature attractions, restaurants, lodging and more that are friendly to those with mobility issues. “The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip” by Josh Pahigian and Kevin O’Connell, bills itself as a fan’s guide to visiting Major League stadiums. Other specialty road trip guides are out there for everyone from Civil War buffs to foodies to “rednecks.”

Plenty of fun car-travel memoirs offer inspiration, and you can always dip into a literary classic like “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig or Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com