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Robert Niles

I took four cross-country roadtrips with my wife and two kids - Ask Me Anything

Published: June 7, 2014 at 10:08 PM. Edited: June 7, 2014 at 10:08 PM

Planning a summer vacation? Our family (I, wife, two kids) have taken cross-country (from the LA area to the east coast) roadtrips in our Prius four times over the past five summers. So if you've got questions about summer roadtrips, I'll do my best to answer them below. Questions (and answers from other readers) welcomed!

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Replies (26)

Daniel Etcheberry

Published: June 8, 2014 at 1:34 PM

Where did you find the worst drivers?

Which road was the most fun to drive when it comes to roadside attractions, sightseeing, etc?

Orrin Carstarphen

Published: June 8, 2014 at 1:45 PM

My question is this.....Are you Nuts?
Robert Niles

Published: June 8, 2014 at 1:47 PM

I'd vote Ohio for worst drivers, but roads in Ohio seem to have a pattern of merging middle lanes together rather than ending the far-right lane at a merge, which creates some nasty situations. So I'd be inclined to blame road design as much as the drivers in Ohio.

As for roadside attractions, let me mention a few places that we discovered on our trips that we hadn't planned to visit or visit for very long, but ended up either staying longer for, or planning to stop at on future trips. Tops was Fredericksburg, Texas, a charming Hill Country town on US 290 west of Austin. We also enjoyed the Williamsburg, Virginia area more than we expected, and wish we could have spend more time exploring Vermont.

Two other gems? We highly recommend the Wine Country Inn in Palisade, Colorado for a great hotel, and we thought that Buc-ee's on I-10 in East Texas is the best Interstate gas station anywhere in America.

Robert Niles

Published: June 8, 2014 at 1:51 PM

The golden years for taking kids on road trips are the years between getting out of the car seat and starting puberty. Eliminating car seats eliminates quite a bit of hassle of long distances in the car (you can switch seats more easily, etc.) and after kids hit their big growth spurt, it becomes tough to spend too long in the back seat unless you have some big, gas-guzzling SUV, which makes the economics of the road trip quite a bit more difficult.

But we all like each other, and with my wife and I publishing websites, we can take weeks (even a month-plus) off at a time to travel, provided we stop at places with excellent WiFi connections, where we can do our work.

Eric Malone

Published: June 8, 2014 at 2:00 PM. Edited: June 8, 2014 at 2:01 PM

How many times did you threaten to kill your kids, and why was it twenty?
Robert Niles

Published: June 8, 2014 at 2:02 PM

Threats are for losers. A true Ninja attacks without warning.
Daniel Etcheberry

Published: June 8, 2014 at 5:11 PM

Robert, if you liked Fredericksburg, then I assume you like German towns. Have you ever been to Helen, Georgia? If you don't, I recommend you going there next time you come to Florida by car. It's a beautiful German town on the hills of North Georgia. River tubing is very popular there.

I love Williamsburg. I went there in the auto train from Florida.

Middle lanes merging? CRAZY!

For me the most boring road in America is Alligator Alley; its a very long stretch of Interstate with nothing (not even gas stations) but just swamp. So boring that even the alligators don't hang out over there.

Robert Niles

Published: June 8, 2014 at 5:51 PM

Never heard of Helen, GA, but I'll put it on the to-do list.
David L.

Published: June 8, 2014 at 8:07 PM

Helen is pretty charming to walk around for a few hours and maybe go tubing, but the nearby parks/forests are the true gems with hiking galore!

Any places/roads to avoid?

Robert Niles

Published: June 8, 2014 at 9:23 PM

We're not big fans of I-10. We try to avoid big national fast-food chains as much as we can, but there just wasn't a whole lot of vibrant local business along the very empty stretches of I-10.

One of the nice things about roadtripping is... if you don't find anything you like, just keep driving on until you do. That's when you make the good fast time on the road!

Jonathan Guire

Published: June 8, 2014 at 9:38 PM. Edited: June 8, 2014 at 9:39 PM

What, in your opinion, is the most scenic part of the country?

(Hawaii and Alaska don't count)

Robert Niles

Published: June 8, 2014 at 10:12 PM

Just my personal favorites: California coast, Vermont, western Maryland.

Bark beetles have decimated the scenery in the Rocky Mountains, I'm afraid. That used to be among my favorites.

Jaiden Cohen

Published: June 9, 2014 at 4:40 AM

Worst drivers: New Jersey
Robert Niles

Published: June 9, 2014 at 7:34 AM. Edited: June 9, 2014 at 7:40 AM

For the record, here are our four trips:

Trip #1: LA to Denver via I-15 & I-70. To Bloomington, Ind., then to Holiday World. to Cincinnati, then to DC. To Williamsburg, Va., then Durham, N.C., then Pigeon Forge, Tenn. On to Orlando, via I-95. Then up to I-10 and return to LA.

Trip #2: LA to Vancouver via I-5. Then to Salt Lake City, Omaha, Chicago and Cedar Point. On to Cleveland, Cincinnati, then to Orlando, returning again on I-10.

Trip #3: The "short" one. I-10 east from LA to Orlando, Then I-75 north to Georgia, cutting across on state roads through Alabama and Mississippi to Memphis. On to Little Rock, then to Tulsa and Wichita to I-70. Through Denver and Boulder to Estes Park, Colo. Then returning on I-70 and I-15 to LA.

Trip #4: Out on I-15 to I-40 to OKC. Then on I-44 to St. Louis, picking up I-70 to Indianapolis, then to Columbus. Switch to I-71 to Cleveland, then across I-80 to Albany, NY. Then state roads through Vermont and New Hampshire to I-95 in Maine, up the coast to Wiscasset. Then back to Boston, through Rhode Island and Connecticut to I-84 into Pennsylvania, taking I-81 to Hershey. From there, back to I-70 to Columbus, I-71 to Cincinnati ad Louisville, I-64 to St. Louis, then I-70 until it ends at the I-15, then returning to LA.

I've been to 45 states in my life so far, but never to New Jersey, so I can't comment on their driving. (FWIW, the other four I've missed are North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Alaska.)

James Trexen

Published: June 11, 2014 at 5:55 PM

I was saving this for a later thread, but here's as good of a time as any.

Over the summer, I'm going to make my first trips to Dollywood and Holiday World as part of a series of road trips . Do you have any tips for a novice to these parks? Also, since I'll be departing from Chicago for both visits, are there any other places worth visiting along the way?

David L.

Published: June 11, 2014 at 7:05 PM. Edited: June 11, 2014 at 7:06 PM

James, for Dollywood, take advantage of the "after 3, next day free" deal. It can get you a lot of extra time in the park. It's hard to have a bad time at Dollywood.
Robert Niles

Published: June 11, 2014 at 7:34 PM

Both parks offer exceptionally friendly employees, good food and solid attractions. I'll defer to people who've visited them more often for specific trip advice, though I will say that I've found finding a place to stay near Holiday World to be tough. We've always ended up sandwiching it between other stops on our trips (Bloomington, Ind. and Cincinnati), rather than staying somewhere nearby.

Another question for Dollywood fans, what ever ended up replacing Sha-Kon-O-Hey in the big theater there? I've lost track of the entertainment at that park.

Anon Mouse

Published: June 11, 2014 at 7:55 PM

How many hours a day of driving? Do you reserve hotel rooms along the way? Have you driven to the Grand Canyon?

Frankly, an SUV is more comfortable than a sedan. The gas mileage for some SUVs are quite good like the Toyota Highlander (25 mpg). Just a suggestion.

Robert Niles

Published: June 11, 2014 at 9:03 PM. Edited: June 11, 2014 at 9:04 PM

Yeah, but our Prius gets 45mpg. And with relatively little kids in the back, there was plenty of room.

We drove up to 900 miles and 15 hours in a day. (Early starts are essential.) We always had a hotel reservation or a friend or family members to stay with planned in advance each night, though we sometimes changed plans during the day. I've done long roadtrips without reservations in hand, but not when traveling with other people, only when going alone.

We did visit the Grand Canyon once, but not on one of our cross-country trips.

David L.

Published: June 12, 2014 at 10:23 AM

Robert, during the International festival, Dollywood had a show called "Mother Africa" with dancers, musicians, and acrobats. Currently, I believe that they are rotating artists and short term shows in that theater.
Daniel Etcheberry

Published: June 12, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Have you ever driven to Yellowstone? There is a section of the road between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone with a center lane that can be used in both directions to by pass trucks. It was scary because cars going the opposite direction use it at the same time.

Inside the park we had to drive behind a bison that was crossing a bridge.

Robert Niles

Published: June 12, 2014 at 4:03 PM

We've had Yellowstone scheduled on two of our trips, but it's been the last cut each time. That's our top remaining priority if we ever take another big trip again.
Daniel Etcheberry

Published: June 13, 2014 at 8:36 AM

Yellowstone is the Disneyland of the national parks, so go there next time. It's great for families.

Is the Grand Canyon worth the long drive? When Barbara Streisand asks Seth Rogen in 'The Guilt Trip' about how long is one supposed to look at the Grand Canyon, and he answers 10 minutes because less than that would be disrespectful, makes me think that there is not much to do there besides an amazing view that doesn't last long. Remember 'National Lampoons Vacation' when Chevy Chase looks at the Grand Canyon for a few seconds and then tells his family that it's time to go? Very funny scene by the way.

Robert Niles

Published: June 13, 2014 at 11:54 AM

Our Grand Canyon trip was in the middle of a Vacation-style car-breakdown disaster, too, so, yeah, that's not really a highlight I look back upon fondly.

If all you're going to do is look at the Grand Canyon from the rim, yeah, that's a short trip. I'd recommend instead doing something in in the canyon, instead, and booking some sort of trip that lets you actually explore the place. If you're not into that, though, the canyon ends up a stop during a trip through Monument Valley/Four Corners rather than a destination unto itself.

steve lee

Published: June 14, 2014 at 7:48 PM

My trick for Holiday World has always been to stay in Louisville. First off, Louisville is a pretty cool town (and with Kentucky Kingdom back alive, you can grab a few extra credits while you're there). But the beauty trick with Louisville is that it's in a different time zone than Santa Claus. You can get in your car at 9:30, drive an hour and a half, and be at the park in time for a 10:00 opening.

Of course, your tolerance level for driving that much before hitting a park may vary. That just gives me enough time to wake up.

Robert Niles

Published: June 23, 2014 at 8:46 PM

Agreed on Louisville as a good place to stay for Holiday World. I keep forgetting about that time difference.

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