Planning a road trip for the ages

This summer, we are planning a road trip for the ages. It’s one of our big goals for the year to take an epic road trip across the country. It’s also an excellent excuse to combine a few of my favorite things: planning, journeys, and documenting it all. We’ve even opened it up to other folks to join us or meet up with us along the way in hopes that we end up creating a caravan of an adventure. Ultimately, my biggest hopes are that this is a trip our family never forgets, one that brings us closer together, and deepens the girls connection to our land and our history. I’ve nicknamed this trip our Civil Rights and National Parks tour.

I’ve always loved the idea of road tripping, I grew up on road trips. My first road trip memory was traveling via train to Berlin when I was a kid. My father was stationed in the military in West Germany at the time, and we made the trip to Berlin. It was my first train-ride. I remember sleeping on the train, the bunkbed falling on me, the cold, grey looking buildings in the Berlin snow. It was all amazing. Later when we moved back to the states I remember long road trips from Georgia to Texas or Kansas to South Carolina. Wherever a car could take us, it seemed that my father was willing to go. Those are some of my favorite memories from my childhood so it’s no surprise I want to replicate them with my children.

As a kid all you have to do to enjoy a good road trip is sit back and relax. It’s a lot more work for the adults. This is probably why many parents don’t even bother. My wife certainly had to be convinced to get on board with the idea. But, after making a few successful mini-trips over the past few years with our crew of 6 (and sometimes crew of 8), we’ve learned a few tricks that will help us out this summer.

Here’s a peak at our current itinerary which spans about 3 weeks, cutting across nearly every state in the south and southwest, covers 4,000 + miles, and for much of it, travels the historic route 66. Now, I’ve got it on good advice that iconic route 66 is one of best road trips for families, a must see. In addition though to some of the classic stops along route 66, I’ve added a few additional ones of my own as the girls catch a glimpse of the full experience of America. It’s not lost on me that while my family is more free to move about in the 21st century, that wasn’t always the case for folks who looked like us.

So, where are we going?

  • Atlanta, GA: We’re starting our trip in Atlanta (because that’s where we live and also because as the saying goes, when you die, whether you’re going to heaven or hell, you’ve got to connect through ATL).
  • Birmingham, AL: Our first stop will allow us to spend time at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and 16th street baptist church. The girls have read so much about civil rights history, it’ll be important to see it up close as well.
  • Memphis, TN: Next we’re off to Memphis where we’ll Visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, the place where Dr. King was slain. I’ve been here numerous times and each time I leave more inspired and determined to live up to my values.
  • Tulsa, OK: Once we’ve had our fill of Memphis BBQ we’ll hit the road for Tulsa, OK where we’ll visit Black Wall Street, Greenwood Rising and the Greenwood Cultural Center. The girls have learned about the Tulsa riots, but again, it’s nothing like being in the place where history happened. It’s also in Tulsa where we will embark on the Route 66 portion of our trip.
  • Amarillo, TX: A small historic portion of Route 66 exists in Amarillo so we plan on stopping and spending some time here. Families can drive along the mile-stretch of road and stop at one of the antique shops or cafes. We’ll also visit Cadillac Ranch, a true must-see Route 66 attraction. The art installation from the 1970s consists of 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in the middle of an empty field. The colorful cars have been spray painted over and over again, creating an ever-changing piece of art.
  • Albuquerque, NM: Home to the largest hot air ballon festival and Old Town, where Spanish families settled in the 1700s, we’ll be sure to immerse ourselves in some of the local culture.
  • Grand Canyon, AZ– this is the pinnacle of our trip. By the time we’ll arrive it’ll be Juneteenth (and Father’s day Sunday) so we’ll be excited to take in all the glory of this magnificent landmark for days. I’m not sure how much hiking we’ll do with a new puppy in tow (did I mention the puppy coming with us?), but I do plan on sleeping out under the stars for a few nights here.
  • Phoenix, AZ- No road trip would be complete without the requisite visiting family. I have several cousins, a step-brother, and an aunt who live in Phoenix so we’ll stay a few days reconnecting with family and enjoying what Phoenix has to offer.
  • San Diego or LA?- we haven’t quite figured out where the end of our trip takes us yet (I guess that’s part of the adventure). Originally before we decided to bring our new pet we had planned to fly back after a few weeks on the road, but now, we’re planning on driving both ways. Since we’ll need a week to make our way back east with plenty of days for stopping in between, we haven’t decided yet which destination to end (but we’re open to suggestions!). LA is the natural end of Route 66, but San Diego has a world famous aquarium and zoo which my daughter Riles would love to see. Both of them would give us a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, so TBD.

The other part that we haven’t fully worked out yet is our route back. Should we double back on the path we came or take a more southern route through Dallas, TX, Shreveport, LA, Jackson, MS Montgomery, AL, etc? More decisions still need to be made, including the biggest of all, how we travel. Our original plan was to rent an SUV, ultimately scrapped when we saw the rental prices. Then we looked into RVing given our friends success with it last summer (and they’re meeting us at the Grand Canyon with their RV). Ultimately we may split the difference and rent a hybrid Sienna, but do a mix of camping and staying in AirBnBs along the way. I’ve already got a spreadsheet with logistics and budget stuff all worked out with multiple options for lodging and travel so we’ll be fine whatever we choose.

Planning an epic, but successful, road trip requires some preparation and a whole lot of openness. I’m good on the first part, but the second is where I lean on my wife and the girls. They’re up for anything, and I try to be prepared for everything. Together we make a pretty good team, ready to take on our epic road trip this summer. Stay tuned to learn how it goes.


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