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I'm Retired Now, But When I Was Younger...
I was always too busy. When we went on vacations, I was always in a hurry to get to our destination, and always in a hurry to get back home. We were also either staying in hotels, or else with friends or relatives. Taking Interstates was the obvious choice. They are usually the most direct route, and unless there's a traffic problem, there's nothing to slow you down along the way. Furthermore, I could drive at least as fast as everyone else. Sound familiar?
Our family life was all about work and raising kids. If we weren't working, there was a good chance we were busy with the kids' activities. When we did travel, it was often by plane, because once again, we were in a hurry. Vacations were always these too short breaks from normal life. To get the most from them, we had to be in a hurry to get to our destination. Once there, staying until the last minute before returning home was essential.
Today's It's Different
We are at the point in life where are able to slow down, and really need to. Life was always such a blur that we would lose track of how quickly time was passing by. Today, we see the importance of enjoying each day and getting the most out of them while we can. Traveling is no longer a short break from our intense routine, but has now become a more integral part of our lives. For us, it's important to try our best to enjoy each day, even those when we are just sitting in our truck driving down the road. We've become very aware of how quickly the days of our lives get away.
When we travel today, the thing that makes more difference than anything else is to avoid Interstate highways all we can. It takes more time, but makes a huge difference in how we feel and how much we enjoy the days we are on the road. Pulling a small trailer, I always try to keep my speed down to 60-65mph. On the Interstate, this means that everyone else is constantly passing me. The entire time I drive, my full attention is on the traffic. When it's busy, it can get really stressful when there are a lot of big trucks all around going faster than me.
On the backroads, a good bit of our trips have no traffic on them at all. When there is traffic, it is often when we are passing through towns where everyone is driving slowly. Instead of spending all the time concentrating on traffic, driving backroads allows us to enjoy the scenery and the sights. The end result is that we are much more relaxed and the time generally passes much more quickly.
Choosing Our Route
There are two parts to choosing a good route. Here's how we do it.
- Use an online mapping program before the trip
My favorite for working out the details is Google Maps on a computer (not a phone). For me, the size of a computer screen is key to working with the route. The first step is to set the option to avoid highways, then put in the cities I want to drive between. I play with the resulting map, tweaking the route and seeing how if affects the time. A priority for me is to drag the route to avoid any big cities unless it is somewhere we want to go. When I have it the way I want it, I either print out the directions or write out some notes that I can use when we are driving.
- Use a GPS program while driving
Once again I use Google Maps, but this time on my smartphone. Even though I already know my basic route, the GPS is key for three things:
- Keeping me on my route. The audible voice directions make sure I don't miss a turn
- Letting us see where we are along our route
- Alerting us to traffic backups (sometimes due to construction) along the way
What's important, is that I follow the main route I had planned in advance. If I follow the GPS too closely, it will try to save two minutes by taking us down some road we wish we'd never turned onto. I want to make sure the decisions I made when I tweaked the route on the computer don't get forgotten. Of course sometimes the GPS doesn't like the decisions I made, so I just turn down the volume for a while to shut it up! Eventually it will adjust and re-align with my choices.
Our Most Recent Trip
We just got home from our latest trip, which included a month in Michigan. On the way there we took two weeks and incorporated a lot of stops for visiting along the way. Coming home, we took a pretty direct route.
Google Maps indicated this to be a 19 hour trip by Interstate, and 25 hour trip avoiding the highways. I tweaked Google's route just a bit, without increasing the estimated time. We ended up with almost 1300 miles, with only about 20 miles of it on the Interstate.
The trip was full of beautiful scenery and almost no traffic at all. We saw a lot of interesting small towns, but avoided all the big ones except for Jacksonville, Florida. This is where we had our 20 miles of Interstate to bypass the main city. For us, the extra six hours were well worth it. This is the way we like to travel!
For more information about how we plan our trips, please visit the Planning Trips section of the tinyTowable Beginner's Guide.
A Note About Map Time
We refer to the travel time shown on Google Maps as "Google Time". It does not consider time spent at traffic lights and other slow downs, as well as stopping for gas and to eat. It also doesn't know how fast (or slow) we drive.
We generally multiply Google Time by about 1.5 to get an idea of how long travel is really going to take. Some times it's more, sometimes less, but be sure to take it into consideration as you plan your trips.