Tales From The Road
Like the pavement they follow, no two road trips are exactly the same. But they all present an opportunity to create enduring memories.
Remember road trips you took as a kid, a young adult, or even as a parent or grandparent? The anticipation. The freedom. The blur of the landscape. The reminder to simply pay attention to the moment.
2020 made those experiences harder to come by, but it didn’t eliminate them. As these four AAA members found, there are always new adventures around the bend. What awaits you this summer on the open road?
The National Parks Pilgrimage
The Peterson family at the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy of Shannon Peterson
AAA member Shannon Peterson really wanted to see Yellowstone National Park. She and her son, Griffin, and her husband, Gary, had been there a dozen years ago, but she wanted to show her favorite park to her daughter, Miri, and her brother’s family. The COVID-19 pandemic gave them pause, but because they were planning to spend most of their time outdoors, rent their own house, and avoid crowds, they went ahead with their plans.
Last August, the Petersons—Shannon, Gary, Griffin (age 21) and Miri (age 9)—headed for Yellowstone. On the way, they stopped at Badlands National Park in South Dakota, and Devils Tower National Monument and Keyhole State Park in Wyoming. Then, in Billings, Mont., they met Shannon’s brother, his wife, and their daughter, who had all driven from their home near Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“The girls are so close in age, and they get along really well, but they don’t get to see each other that often,” Shannon says. “So, by going on a trip like this, the girls got a solid week together, and they really bonded. It’s a great way for the families to catch up.”
Courtesy of Shannon Peterson
“My favorite part of the trip was Yellowstone. It’s like my happy spot. My husband, son, and I had gone there many years ago, so to go there now and bring my daughter—and my brother and his family, who hadn’t been there—was really meaningful for me.”
“We took a float trip in Grand Teton National Park down the Snake River. It was a four-hour boat ride with just beautiful scenery. We saw bald eagles, and a bison came down to the river. The guide said that doesn’t happen very often.”
“My sister-in-law had heard about this restaurant in Bearcreek, Mont., called the Bear Creek Saloon & Steakhouse, which had pig races outside the building that you could bet on. [The races raise money for local scholarships.] These two young kids would try to get the pigs out of their pens and out into the race. Sometimes they wouldn’t move, or they would lie down, and the kids would try to get them to stand up and run. It was just very, very comical.”
Shannon’s AAA tool kit
Discounts on hotels and attractions helped Shannon save along the way, while having AAA Roadside Assistance offered peace of mind. “We wouldn’t even consider going on a trip like this without AAA.”
The Cross-Country RV Ride
Josh (right) and Dana Letchworth (center), and two of their three children. Courtesy of Josh Letchworth
Josh Letchworth believes the heart of a road trip isn’t just getting from point A to point B—but what lies between. Last summer, those in-the-middle moments took his family 4,200 miles across the country in a rented RV.
It was a journey he had long considered; the pandemic provided a gentle nudge to finally do it. The RV offered the family a safer way to travel together and the flexibility to explore at their own pace.
“There is something cool about rolling down the road in a ginormous living room—you have everything you need right there,” says Josh, a photographer and AAA member. “We had a little plan but not much else. Just cruise and make some stops in the odd corners and crevices along the way.”
Josh and Dana Letchworth, and two of their three children, crossed the country from Florida to Boulder, Colo., spending time in Texas and New Mexico. They visited art museums and national parks. They hiked, ate picnic meals, watched sunsets, and stayed in campgrounds. They examined unfamiliar cultures. Most importantly, they did it as one.
“My favorite thing as a dad is when I see the family experiencing things together,” Josh says. “What an opportunity this was to see a lot of the country that we’ve never seen before. How people live in different places. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us.”
Courtesy of Josh Letchworth
The roads less traveled
“I always take the back roads. I like to see what the small towns are like … roll the windows down, smell the smells, wave at the locals, drive under the speed limit, and take my time.”
’Cue the highlights
“We tried to hit the most famous barbecue joints along the way. Texas on the way out west; Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, Birmingham on the way back. We sampled some, took some home … it was quite the taste test of different styles.”
“New Mexico was incredible; we spent the most time there. White Sands National Park was a real highlight. We pulled over and hiked into the sand dunes, had an amazing picnic, and watched the sun set.”
Did You Know?
AAA inspects and approves RV parks and campgrounds across the country? Find them on the AAA Mobile app and at AAA.com/TravelGuides/Campgrounds.
The Solo Mountain Retreat
Courtesy of Karen Lee
Last summer’s COVID-19 restrictions forced international traveler and AAA member Karen Lee to get creative with her plans. Instead of globe-trotting, Karen shifted gears and went on a road trip. “The pandemic spurred me to actually take a trip I’d talked about but never did before,” she says. As an added bonus, it reminded her that she doesn’t have to experience a new country to enjoy herself.
Escaping the heat of Tampa, Florida, Karen drove solo to the mountains of North Carolina, where she stayed a total of six weeks at two different rental properties. While there, she had a few guests visit (one at a time and staying in separate parts of the house). They went horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, and even enjoyed some downtime, just sitting around a fire pit at night.
AAA member Karen Lee traveled to the mountains of North Carolina. Courtesy of Karen Lee
A hike like no other
“The app I use for hiking rated a waterfall hike named Rough Creek Trail as easy to moderate. But once I was on it, I learned that the app’s definition of moderate and my definition of moderate are not the same. I was clinging to the side of the mountain, hanging onto branches to keep from sliding over.”
The biggest surprise
“Parks that had no bathroom facilities open! I found that to be one of the strangest things. They want us all to be outdoors, but …”
Advice for travelers
“Be flexible if you’re going somewhere with COVID-19 restrictions. Places or things might be closed that normally you could just walk up and do. They may be only taking reservations, and there could be limits to the number of people allowed to participate in activities—even outdoors.”
AAA to the rescue
“Near the end of the trip, I had to press the buttons on my key fob more than once to lock and unlock my car. I replaced the key fob battery, but then on a Sunday (the day before I was supposed to drive back), I couldn’t unlock the car.
“My rental cottage was at least 30 minutes away from the nearest auto repair shop. I called AAA and got connected to a tow truck driver who, after troubleshooting, concluded that I had a dead car battery. The dispatcher called off the tow truck and sent a battery truck instead. My car battery was a nonstandard size not normally stocked on the truck, so the battery truck driver went about 15 miles out of his way to an auto parts store that was open on Sunday and had the right battery. He installed the new battery, and I was able to load my car that evening and hit the road for home the following morning, as planned.”
The Road Trip as Stress Reliever
Montia Gardner, Lataya Harris, and Shelly-Ann Harris visit a vineyard in Charlottesville, Va.. Courtesy of Shelly-Ann Harris
The COVID-19 pandemic ruined a lot of travel plans in 2020, but it also generated some. Last August, AAA member Shelly-Ann Harris, of Margate, Fla., got a phone call from her friend Montia Gardner. Montia, who lives in Baltimore, Md., had been working on her dissertation and isolating for months. The stress was beginning to take a toll—she needed to get away.
“We like to do road trips, so we said, ‘Let’s do something we’ve never done before,’” Shelly-Ann says. They quickly made a plan: Shelly-Ann and her sister Lataya would meet Montia in eastern North Carolina, and together they would drive to Charlottesville, Va., in search of vineyards and relaxation.
“I told my business partner that I’d be gone next week,” Shelly-Ann says. “We hadn’t made plans for housing; we were just going to see what happened when we got there.”
After looking around Charlottesville and going online, the three were drawn to the AAA Four Diamond-designated Boar’s Head Resort. So, Shelly-Ann made a phone call—asking first whether the hotel offered a discount for AAA members. “They said yes, and I said, ‘OK!’” And for the next few days, the resort was their home base as they explored local wineries, restaurants, and scenery.
© iStock/James H. Loving
Getting a new look
Montia: “After breakfast one morning, we wanted to dress up and go to the vineyard. We didn’t have anything in our bags that was color-coordinated or would fit the natural beauty of our surroundings. So we bought dresses and went gallivanting around the vineyard in them. It was really cool to just decide: We want to buy something new and add a look to the experience.”
Shelly-Ann: “Just being with each other was great. We grew up together. I’m always around my sister, but Montia and I live far apart as adults. When we come together, it’s like we’ve never been apart. Just to do this was the best experience ever.”
AAA on the road
Shelly-Ann: “When I moved [in 2016] from California to Florida, AAA guided me through my whole trip. That was my first time driving across country. I got my map from AAA, and I used AAA to book hotels at my two stops. Whenever I go out of town, I always use AAA to guide me.”
AAA has tools and resources to make road-tripping easier. Get started at AAA.com/RoadTrips, where you can find suggested routes, tools for booking hotels and renting cars, resources for saving money and staying safe on the road, and more.