Genealogy Road Trip 2021 Final Thoughts
Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind” – Anthony Bourdain
The Great American Road Trip Map
We left home on August 14th. We returned home on October 28th.
After 11 weeks, 8 thousand miles, 21 States, 24 museums, 3 national parks, and untold numbers of hand caught clams, naturally, learned a few things. We were surprisingly very well prepared. We’d like to share some practical advice for your next road trip.
Start two spreadsheets: one of personal items and one of joint items to bring at least 2 months before you leave. We came prepared for camping, hiking, and biking (helmets, vests). We packed for summer and fall weather, sun and rain.
For the car we brought:
· a portable battery jumper/AC outlet
· a 12-volt tire inflator
· a 2-gallon gas can
· florescent road emergency triangles.
To make life easy:
·Prominently labeled Ziplocks made a huge difference in keeping things organized and readily identifying their contents. (Hint: Target sells huge 2.5-gallon bags).
Bring extra Ziplocks. Gallon, quart, and sandwich. You will need them. Trust me.
· We saved some of the better hotel bars of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. That all came in handy as the room in Candlewood Suites came without these basics.
· We brought a Yeti cooler which we named “the fridge.” We always kept water and cold snacks on ice.
· Bring plasticware and basic kitchen stuff like a cutting board, serrated knife, and a peeler.
· Bring snacks. Lots of them. (See below).
· Bring your backpack to breakfast. Five-finger-discount yogurt, fruit, muffins, or anything else you want from the hotel breakfast bar. It’s great road food and no one is watching or even cares.
· We avoided gas station food by having stuff to make sandwiches.
· DON’T FORGET YOUR FIBER!
· We maintained a gallon jug of water to wash utensils, hands.
· We brought a small container of Tide Pods. Buying hotel laundry soap is expensive and inconvenient.
· On that note……bring lots of quarters for hotel laundries and road tolls.
· Bring an extension cord.
· Bring extra charging cords.
· Bring mobile phone charger (brick) and keep with you on your walking/hiking trips. It saved our butts in Chicago walking tours and on rapid transit several times. Almost all ticketing, parking, reservations for events/museums, etc. is done virtually on your phone.
· Speaking of masks, KN-95s are the best and most comfortable virus screeners.
· We bought a “Tchotchke Box” for all the tourist jars of jam, soaps, and socks we acquired.
· Bring a wide-brimmed hat.
· Poo-pourri. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKLnhuzh9uY
Travel Tips for Chicks
· I brought one large suitcase (A) for clothes.
· I brought empty medium duffle (B). When we were only staying one night, bringing in one set of clothes instead of large luggage (A) was infinitely more practical.
· I brought one medium duffle (C) that had toiletries to last 3 months, a “reservoir” of sort. A smaller duffle (D) had with the toilet items we were currently using.
· I brought one small duffle (E ) for 3 months of meds and vitamins.
· I brought 3 pairs of shoes: hiking (which were the most comfortable), walking shoes (which I used once), and Teva sandals. Each pair lived in a Ziplock so they were easy to find and kept dirt out of the car.
· I brought only one set of nice clothes.
· My laptop was heavily padded and in a computer carrying case.
· Apply sunscreen every day! Don’t bother with a lot of makeup. It’s just going to melt into your face mask.
· Always use the bathroom before you leave a restaurant or museum or when you stop for gas. Public restrooms are hard to find, especially in the cities. There are few gas stations on rural highways. Libraries or public buildings usually allow you to use theirs.
The mistakes I made:
· It was hot and humid wherever we went. We also went hiking and biking. My mistake was bringing too many cotton shirts (ones that get soaked, don’t dry, and feel icky) and not enough shirts that wick moisture.
· I brought 9 pairs of shorts and only wore 4 of them. Denim was too hot to wear, and I never wore it. On that same note, regular bras are too damn hot. I lived in jog bras that wicked.
· I did not bring enough underwear and had to buy more.
· I brought a large purse which proved bulky, hard to carry, and was not practical. I ended up buying a multi-pocketed, comfortable, can-hike-and bike-with-it backpack.
Travel Tips for Dudes
Men like to plan (and some women.) Resist this impulse! Jamming too many “must see” stops, events, obligatory attractions into your travel schedule will:
· Rob you of last minute opportunities to do local side-trips you didn’t know about until you got there.
· End up exhausting you.
· Leave no room for meeting and establishing a new level of friendship.
· Leave no time to share what you are experiencing like writing a journal or blog.
· Always have a pocket knife on you. A light multi-tool is the best. You never know when you’ll need small pliers. You will be surprised at how often you need to cut something (candy wrappers, random fruit, etc.) Obviously this won’t work if you have to travel on a plane.
· Pack extra underwear. I packed 7 pair of boxers and socks.
· Bandanas are the bomb. They double as picnic place mats, snot rags, sweat rags, head covering, small wound dressing, etc. If you are in high temperatures, put one in the cooler with the ice for a few hours, take out and wrap around your neck. Portable air conditioning!
· At least 2 hats just in case you lose one.
“Fish and visitors stink in three days.” –Benjamin Franklin
“When I go to someone’s house and they tell me to make myself at home, the first thing I do is throw them out because I don’t like visitors.” -anonymous
“Hotel rooms inhabit a separate moral universe.” -Tom Stoppard
“My idea of roughing it is a hotel without WiFi.” -found on a Somme card
Thoughts on accommodations:
Many of our readers have asked, “So, tell us about where your accommodations.” (Actually, no one has asked but we needed a segue way to this travelogue entry). We left Lakewood thoroughly prepared for any overnight option.
STAYING WITH FRIENDS
The best place to stay is with friends or family. What a better setting than to be with those you care about? Of course, be prepared to know when you’ve over-stayed your welcome. Helping in the kitchen isn’t always welcome with some folks who have their kitchens organized “just so.”
BED AND BREAKFASTS
Stay in a Bed and Breakfast. The food is better, the rooms are much nicer, they have better soap, they often have dogs, and the hosts are a wealth of knowledge about where to eat and what to do. By far the best was The Inn at Antietam. We also loved the Strawberry Farm B&B in Muscatine, IA.
Our first three nights were at Black Hills and Badlands KOA campgrounds. Our 4-person dome tent was dwarfed by our 35-foot Winnebago neighbors. The first two nights we stumbled around in our efforts to set up camp. By the third night, we had the tent up in 12 minutes and had hot food within 30.
KOA is a franchise. The Black Hills KOA was well-run and clean. The people were very nice. The Badlands KOA was not well maintained, the showers being especially neglected. Use your imagination. They did serve a free RV park pancake breakfast the next morning. Chefs Bob and Jim were especially proud of their paper plate sculpture.
Bob and Jim at KOA in the Black Hills
We did stay in an RV park Tiny House in Accord, NY. It was new and quite nice.
Camping, however, quickly lost its charm. The Midwest humidity and that sumptuous feeling of sweat mixed with sunscreen quickly gave way to a desire for a temperature-controlled environment, cable TV, a microwave, and a bathroom you don’t have to walk in your flip-flops in the dark to get to.
We toyed with the idea of staying at mom-and-pop motels.
It’s generally cheaper. Additionally, how convenient is it to have your car steps away from your motel door? What rapture to have the room next to the Coke and ice machine. Do motel rooms still have Magic Fingers? Remember Howard Johnson’s?
Hell, it was good enough for my family while making our yearly pilgrimages to Poughkeepsie to see my dad’s folks.
However, fear of bedbugs, paper-thin walls and hearing neighbors getting amorous at 3 am, and the aroma of cigar smoke embedded carpets overcame the desire to save a buck.
The video of Steve Goodman singing “This Hotel Room” sums it up. Well working watching.
That said, the lack of reasonably priced accommodations near Cooperstown led us to stay at “Lake O’ Pines” motel. On Otsego Lake, it had all the usual plastic outdoor chairs, a small pool, and neighbors who talked too loud. It had a real key with a key fob that guarantees delivery if you put it in a mailbox.
It was convenient to park right outside of our door. I did not feel, however, that the promised “lake view” I paid $15 extra should include most of my van.
At Lake O’ Pines you can even rent a fishing pole and buy worms.
Upon opening the motel door, we were immediately overwhelmed by the pungent smell of Lysol. It was thick and nauseating. We figured that the cleaning people likely spilled a bottle of it and saturated the carpet. We went to the office where we were told it was the very last room they had. So, we aired out the room as best as we could, spent the night with the windows open and the bathroom fan going. Those efforts helped a little until the continuous use of the fan caused it to make noise like it was coughing and choking. Additionally, the toilet ran every 6 minutes and the heavy-footed insomniac above us paced at all hours. The room didn’t even have pictures.
On a positive note, we did enjoy vending machine Klondike bars and the sunset above the lake.
We became connoisseurs of the mid-priced hotel. You can tell a lot about a hotel by the toiletries they provide (or don’t), the size and texture of the towels, the lighting, and their complimentary breakfasts.
In a lust to get hotel points for the U.K. trip in August of 2022, we stayed at Hampton Inns. A lot. I mean, too many to count. They all look the same. Same generic hotel art, same geometric carpets, and same Neutrogena soap. Even the desk clerks looked the same.
Hampton Inns serve a standard breakfast of mediocre coffee, rubbery scrambled eggs, Froot Loops, unripe bananas, and bagels your dog wouldn’t eat. Still, coffee is coffee in the morning, and we always managed to find something that wouldn’t give us diarrhea.
We stayed at a couple of Holiday Inns, again, for the points. The accommodations were on par with the Hampton Inn only they had rougher towels and Ivory soap.
When we wanted to splurge, we stayed at a Marriott. Rather than tubs with shower curtains, they had fancy glassed-in showers and Paul Mitchell soaps. The rooms were larger, and they had better cushy sofas and bigger TVs. The downside is that Marriott does not serve breakfast. There’s a Starbucks in the lobby where you can get oatmeal or a breakfast sandwich.
Most of the room views were of parking lots. Once we looked at a Costco loading, a boarded-up Toys R Us, an embankment, and often the Interstate highway.
Hampton Inn in Richfield, OH --We had to play “Mario Karts” to avoid deep potholes in the otherwise scabbed asphalt lot. It had a scenic view of a mega plastic manufacturing plant. The bathroom ceiling had black mold and the degrading tub caulk had gaps and pink mold. The tub backed up when you showered. The bed had a loud squeak which changed our evening plans, and we could hear the people above us stomping around. I could not take coffee back to the room because the lids provided didn't fit the 6 oz Styrofoam cups. I would avoid this place.
Candlewood Suites in Durham, NC-is a no frills, “don’t even ask because we ain’t got it” hotel. Our room had a vinyl floor with collections of dust in the corners. While it had a small kitchen, there was no dish soap to wash and some of the available dishes still had food on them. The bathroom also had no soap or toiletries (we used our backup supply). The thin bedspread had a permanent blood stain. Train tracks were close enough to hear the whistle and clatter. Still, it was a step up from camping.
The Hampton Inn, Terrill TX assigned us to a room within feet of the ice machine. I noticed early in the evening it had been making a “death rattle” noise. About 2 am I woke up to the sound of an alarm, like a home smoke alarm’s intermittent beeping. In my stupor I robed-up and investigated the source. Sure enough, Mr. Ice Machine. Luckily there was no water on the floor. I call down to the desk to alert the clerk. A 20-something female voice informed me ‘I’m alone and can’t leave the desk. I don’t know what to do.’ I suggested all she had to do was unplug it. She did not comment further and hung up. About 10 minutes later, the alarm ended. I looked. Someone had unplugged the machine.
This trip has changed us.
Neal: Janice and I agree that we have never been so much “in the NOW” for such long periods of time. The theme of the trip was “We may never pass this way again.” When you get older, moments and experiences seem so very precious.
· Forced us pay attention to small things, the least of which is how we drive.
· Freed us from household chores, home rituals, TV binging, community projects, grocery shopping, etc.
· Stimulated curiosity. Who knew that feeding calves was so much fun? Who knew that I could enjoy a climbing wall gym at my age? Who knew that ghost hunting is actually a past time and that there was high-tech equipment you can use?
· Reminded us of our mortality. Dodging 18 wheelers on Interstates has a way of focusing the mind like nothing else (except maybe a climbing wall).
· Changed our relationship. We are stronger, closer, and more appreciative of each other.
Travel During COVID
The contrast between small towns and big cities seemed dramatic in people’s response to the pandemic. It didn’t matter whether we were in Boston, Chicago or Nashville, or Santa Fe, masks mandates and compliance with those mandates was strong. By comparison, most small towns or country establishments were almost mask-less by staff and patrons. You could spot ‘the tourists’ because they were the only one’s wearing a mask (we now call them “diapers” as in “did you remember to bring a diaper?”
We are truly two countries. Traveling during this pandemic was a unique experience because it might be the only time in our history where almost everyone was wearing a flag (mask) for “I do believe in science” or for no mask, “I don’t believe in science.” If that is too simple, I’ll own that.
I am more in love with America than ever. Its natural wonders continue to inspire awe and amazement. The people we met along the way reinforce my faith that almost everyone is doing the best they can to cope with a very strange and complex world.
My research into my father’s line of ancestors has reinforced my belief that I am descended from strong, brave and humble folks. They began their journey in the early days of the colonies in the 17th century from England just like thousands of others. Each generation looking at the frontier and deciding to move forward, then westward hoping for a better life. I’m here because of key decisions of my ancestors. This is my heritage. And when things get tough or scary, I’ll gain some strength from that.
We once again wish to thank our gracious hosts; Julie Frost, Steve and Debra Howards, Steven Padley, Dan and Aileen Surface, and Jim and Barbara Lambert. You made this trip so much more personal and enjoyable. Nuestra casa es su casa.
Neal and Janice.