200 Motels

30 Sep 2009

Yes, it all fitsIn 1971, Frank Zappa released “200 Motels”, a film about life on the road for a touring rock musician in the early 70s. It was apparently frenetic and plotless, but fun in the end.

A lot like our road trip this year.

Starting from our Miata's home in Gentry, Arkansas, we visited 12 states and put over 4700 miles on the odometer. We went as far south as Florida and as far north as Indiana, from the hills of the Ozarks to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We rode three ferries. In total we spent 25 days on the road, sleeping a single night in 10 different motels, staying with friends the other nights. We ate way too much barbecue and fried fish. We avoided the freeways when we could.

I'm not one for detailed logs of trips – they are usually only interesting for the original participants and besides, I don't remember that sort of stuff anyway.

I did, however, think about what I would tell people who decide to do such as trip in a two-seat roadster. Here is what I came up with (in no particular order of importance):

  • Get a GPS. It will virtually eliminate the arguments and provide a bit of humor. Get one of those GPS systems that allows you to change the voice. We used the voice of Karl from the movie Slingblade. It wasn't long before we named our GPS “Karl”, and discussed routes with him. Occasionally, Karl would make a mistake and take us on a totally unexpected route. Those were the best times of the trip.
  • Figure out how to tell your GPS to avoid freeways. Use that option as much as possible.
  • Stop and talk to people. Often.
  • Try not to set a schedule. I realize that most people don't have the luxury of unlimited vacation time, but do your best to keep your schedule as open as possible. Plan the next day roughly, plan the day after that vaguely.
  • Get an audio book for the trip. Limit your listening to one disk a day.
  • Put the iPod on “all shuffle”, but listen to local radio stations when you can.
  • Road tripping in a roadster is not like traveling in other cars. You don't have space for much of anything, so storage requires creativity. (Very) soft bags are important, and an understanding of your cars various storage spaces critical. For soft tops, don't make the mistake of thinking that the space behind your head where the top goes can be used for storage – if you do, you'll never take your top down again. Those little soft cooler bags that kids use for lunch boxes now make great little coolers. Put a Blue Ice bag in your hotel freezer at night and have a couple of cool water bottles all day.
  • Realize that you are on vacation and arguing about a particular route or mistaken exit is pointless. We considered our many mis-turns to be a gift. We rarely made a U-turn to get back on the original track, we just told Karl to recalculate our route based on the turn we had just made. We were never sorry.
  • If you are staying in lots of motels, figure out what sort of frequent-stayer programs they have and use them. Some programs will let you pay a few dollars extra for the room and get lots more points that can be used for a free room farther down the road. For example, if a room costs 10,000 points and you can pay an extra 10 bucks to get 3000 points on the room you are staying in tonight, you'll get a room down the road for around $30.
  • Another motel tip: Don't book ahead unless you are sure that there won't be rooms where you are heading. You might decide to change your route during the day, and often motels that aren't full will give you a discount or a room upgrade just to put people in rooms. In one case we checked online to find that a hotel we were heading for was completely full, but when we got there they had a room for us.
  • ...and the most important advice of all: Road trips, like life, are not about the destination, they are about the journey. Don't look at the road you are traveling on as a barrier to where you are going; the road is just an extension of the destination. Enjoy it.

Here's a few photos from the trip