Huzzah indeed.


Somebody went to Philadelphia this past week.  And that somebody had a grand old time.

The last time I was in Philly, I believe I was 18.  Didn’t really get to do a whole lot of tourist stuff – was mostly there to see my brother march in the Thanksgiving Day parade in the freezing cold.  I did get to see the Love statue, though, and chow down on an authentic Philly Cheesesteak.

This time, however, I was there to be a straight up tourist.  And I touristed the heck out of my trip there.

We – my dad and I – mostly stayed in the Independence Mall area of Philadelphia, basically the equivalent of the Mall in DC.  I finally got to see the Liberty Bell in all of its cracked glory, toured Independence Hall, and got to see where Benjamin Franklin got buried (sidenote: apparently, it’s a tradition to throw pennies on his grave for good luck, and who am I to quibble with that?).

Of course, me being me, we had to see the Art Museum, which was the first thing we did.  Literally, we had been in Philadelphia for all of 20 minutes and we were pulling up into the parking lot.  I love a good art museum, and this was pretty good.  Lots of impressionists – my personal favorite art movement – along with quite a few of my personal favorites (Paul Klee, for one).  Had quite a few rooms set up from whatever time period they were from – the furniture, the decor, those were pretty awesome.  The modern art wing was…well, modern.  Went from 0 to weird very, very quickly, capped off with a urinal.  Thank you, Marcel Duchamp.

My personal favorite parts of the trip definitely had to be the Museum of the American Revolution and Franklin Court.  I learned a ton from the MoAR – stuff that I never learned about the Revolutionary War (the Battle of Cowpens, for example), plus stuff that I’m pretty sure I forgot (the Battle of Trenton, the fact that Philadelphia had been captured by the British for a time).  Got to see George Washington’s war tent, in all its glory, which had a pretty epic reveal.  And it had the best gift shop of them all, plus a nice little cafe where apparently, Alexander Hamilton translates to a chicken salad sandwich.

Franklin Court was a surprise.  It is the former site of Benjamin Franklin’s house, complete with a museum and working print shop.  The museum was fantastic.  They had this little cartoon collages, illustrating writings from Franklin himself, which were hilarious, particularly his conversation with Madame Gout.  They talked about his science experiments, his writing, his life as a politician and diplomat, which happened much later than I thought it did (after he retired from printing at age 42), complete with a little squirrel mascot modeled after his pet squirrel.  Snagged a couple of postcards as well as a real printing from the shop.

Overall, Philly was a great and much needed trip.  It was something of a throwback to the trips we used to take when my brother and I were kids.  Spend a few days in a city, seeing 2 or 3 museums a day, and heading back home.  The only downside is that I know have a pretty severe case of wanderlust.  I just want to go places now.  But that’s going to have to wait because money, mostly.  But yeah.  Really enjoyed Philly.

Oh – and we did get to see the Rocky statue.  At a distance, though – there was a line in front of it, because people need to make the Rocky pose in front of it.

ALSO – the title of this post comes from the Benjamin Franklin museum.  The phrase was thrown around quite a bit, in particular after taking part in the matching games in the exhibit.  Had a moment of “Where the heck is that coming from – ohhhh…”  After that, it sort of became the phrase of the trip.


Drew’s Steps to Road Trips: Epilogue

Eliza's doing what I wish I could've done post-trip: nap for hours.
Eliza’s doing what I wish I could’ve done post-trip: nap for hours.

Yes, yes, I know.

Technically, the road trip is over now.  The car has been unpacked for the final time, the AC is working overtime to cool down the house, and you’re actually sleeping in your own bed tonight.  What more is there to be done?

As it turns out, plenty.

It’s time for the Post-Trip stuff.

First of all, you need to unpack.  Now, depending on who you are, this could take a while.  Like, maybe a month.  And maybe your duffel is still upstairs and still has stuff in it that really needs to be put away…

So if you are this lazy, it’s best that you at least unpack the important stuff.   Stuff like:

  • Dirty laundry – because that’s gross, man.  Don’t just leave it in there.  Plus, you’re going to need those clothes later on, so make sure those manage to get to the hamper.
  • Bathroom stuff – again, you’re going to need that.  Not going to do you much good if you need to brush your teeth and WHOOPS your toothbrush and toothpaste are still in your backpack.
  • Anything electronic – cell phone, iPod, anything that needs to be charged.  Please see above.
  • Books – especially if you checked them out from the library.  They’ll need to be returned eventually.  Also, I know you weren’t able to read all of them.  So, keep the ones you are definitely going read in the near future and return all the ones you managed to read/probably won’t get to.

Anything else – eh, it can wait.  For now.

Next up: laundry.  If you’re self sufficient enough, you may have already done a load or two when you were at your relatives’ house.  In which case, good thinking.  But you’re still going have some to do when you get home.  And if you do decide to wait until you got back to your own washer and dryer, DON’T PUT THIS OFF.  Do it sometime in the next couple of days after you’ve gotten back.  Otherwise, you might just find that you’re short on socks.  So get to it.  Throw it down the chute, sort that stuff out, and get your clothes nice and fresh.  Although you may have to wait, if someone has already staked a claim on the washer before you.  Not a problem – just pester them repeatedly to see when they’re finished.

Then there is the matter of picking up the pet that you dropped off for boarding.  This also needs to be done rather quickly, as boarding ain’t cheap.  So grab whomever’s handy to help and swing on out to the Vet, where the pet will be (hopefully) patiently awaiting your arrival.  They’ll be no worse for the wear and tear, although you’ll notice that they have been avoiding their log, recently.  You’ll chalk that up to the Vet having moved it too many times to pick them up for a checkup.  But that’s fine – as long as they’re healthy.   Which, according to the good doctor, they are, thankfully.

Now that all this is done or at least is in the process of getting done, the one thing you definitely want to do is relax.  You might’ve forgotten how exhausting travelling is, and you’ll just want to take a moment to recover.

Well, you can’t.  You have to get back to work, almost immediately.

I know, I know, you’re probably whining to yourself, hiding underneath your covers praying that it’ll go away.  But it won’t.  You’ll need to go back eventually.  And besides, you took a lot of time off to go on this trip, so you’ve got some time to make up.  So, put that relaxing on the back burner, straighten up, and head off to work.  You’ll find that you’re quite refreshed from being away for a while, remembering how tired and cranky you were pre-trip.  It may take a couple of days to get over vacation brain, but you’ll get back into the swing of things.  Once you do get an opportunity to relax, though, take it.  You’ll need it now more than ever, to get over both travelling and working.

And there you go!  Everything you’ll ever need to know about taking a road trip, from the first days of packing to the Post Trip.  So get out there and start trekking.  There’s a whole country to see, with people to meet and things to do.  Travelling truly is an experience, and an important one, as well.  Gets you out of your little sphere and away from it all, giving you a chance to reflect on yourself and this big wide world that we live in.  Take this opportunity.  Go exploring.  Life’s too short not to.  Lord knows if I had the money, I’d be going all over the place.  But hey – this road trip is here, and it’s ready to take you places.  So go for it.

Happy travelling, and happy reading!

Drew’s Steps to Road Trips: The Trip Home

The two things you do on the way home: sleeping and anticipating being at home.
The two things you do on the way home: sleeping and anticipating being home.

It’s been a few days now since you’ve arrived in Colorado.  You’ve partied it up, bonded with your relatives’ dogs, and basically been having a grand old time on vacation.  But now, as with all things, it must come to an end.  And so begins the final part of your road trip: the journey home.

Once again, you’ll need to get up pretty dang early to beat traffic.  So throw yourself out of bed, have some breakfast, freshen up a bit and finish packing.  Just like that first day, which will feel like ages ago, at this point.  Help pack up the car once again, this time with some extra boxes that your grandmother handed to you guys.  Try to remember how the hell you packed your car the first time, and see where you can shove this new cargo in.  You might have to get creative at this point.

Once that’s all settled, it’s time for hit the road.  Give some final goodbye hugs to your aunt and uncle – and the dogs, don’t forget the dogs – and thank them for letting you stay at their house*.  Then park yourself in the backseat wherever there’s room, snuggle under your Ouija Board blanket, and head out towards home.

For the most part, this journey is very similar to going to your destination.  Stopping at rest stops, trying to find food, keeping yourself busy in the back seat, so do refer those posts in case you need a quick refresher – only now, the situation is reversed.  And destination is now home sweet home.

You’ll be super excited to go home, that’s for sure.  You’re fairly certain that you’re allergic to something out in the Midwest at this point, and that wasp sting behind your ear is giving you some trouble.  But patience is key here.  You’ll have to get through a few more states before you’re back home.  Besides, the thought that you have to go back to regular life – work, laundry, trying not to worry about the future – will be rearing its ugly head, and you’d rather not think about it, to be perfectly honest.  So just sit back, relax, and and try to finish up that last book as you roll into Kansas.

Surprisingly, Kansas will be a bit more hilly that you’d might expect.  Still be prepared for lots of corn and cows, though.  This is the Midwest, after all.  You will have some weird moments of deja vu driving through – it’s been a long time since you’ve been here, and yet there’ll be that little tickle at the back of your mind, reminding you of how weirdly familiar it all is.

You’ll stop a couple of times – first at Eisenhower’s birth place, then to meet some friends for dinner – before you come to your final stop for the day: Ft. Leavenworth, where you spent 3 years and have most of your earliest memories.  This is where the deja vu will really start kicking in hardcore.  And you will NOT be ready for it.  There’ll be the library where your mother used to work at and you spent a great deal of time yourself.  Over there will be where that Chinese restaurant you went to all the time used to be.  It’ll be crazy – and will only get crazier as you go on post.

You’ll spend the night at the hotel/lodge dealie on post (please refer to the post on Hotels for further information on how to stay at a hotel properly), ready to take a walk down memory lane tomorrow.  You’ll be surprised what you can remember.  For example, you’ll remember that Burger King, for some reason – it’s the first place you stopped at when your family first got there way back in the day.  You’ll know that where you stayed the night before was where you saw the fireworks just before you left for Germany.  Those old red houses are still there, as is your old elementary school and the gazebo where you got your picture taken for the newspaper during Christmas, which was on the front page.  Gone, though, are your old quarters, replaced with new, sleek quarters for its residents.  This’ll damper your spirits a bit, even as you walk through the old park with the Buffalo Soldier monument, which you can remember clear as day.  Plus, that stupid sting will be aching even more.  It’s time to head out again.

You’ll go through Missouri, stopping off at the Grant House outside of St. Louis, even catching a glimpse of the Arch.  But don’t stay too long.  You need to motor to your next stop in Indiana, where there’s a house opened up for you by those very gracious friends mentioned in the Visiting Friends post to stay for the next couple of days.  A perfect place to get some more relaxation in, as well as to see your aunt and her family who are in the area**.  Again, this trip is all about taking opportunities when they are handed to you, such as being able to visit family because you’ll be there.  Don’t miss it.  You’ll enjoy walking through IU, where your Aunt and two of your cousins work, as well as attend or had previously attended.  Make sure to stop off and see the Art gallery that they have on campus, while trying to shake off that feeling of “Oh God, I’m on a college campus WHY IS THIS WEIRD.”  Relax.  It’s just a school.  Enjoy yourself.

You’ll have a lovely dinner that night, chatting and reminiscing.  It’ll be a great time.  But alas, as before, it’ll have to come to a end, as you find yourself in that same pattern of having to wake up early to pack the car once more.  You won’t miss this.  Trust me.  You’ll be stoked when you’ll be able to unpack the car and leave it unpacked.  Anyways, say some more goodbyes and go forth into the Indiana wilderness.

As the day goes on, things will start become familiar.  You’ve driven here before, haven’t you?  Why, yes you have.  West Virginia.  Pennsylvania.  Maryland.  All of this means that you are on your way home.  Try to contain your excitement.  You’re almost there.

Cross over the Potomac and – ta-dah! – you’re in Virginia.  Make sure you don’t push the driver to go too fast, but, I mean, home is around the corner.  Just keep going, keep going, a little further now…

Boom.  You’re back in the neighborhood.  You’re turning down your street.  And there it is.  Still standing***.


Your road trip is over.

Time to unpack the car, turn on the air conditioning because the house feels like a bazillion degrees, and be thrilled that you had such a wonderful vacation.

*Seriously, thank you guys so much.  I know I’ve already said that, but it needs to be said again.  It was lovely.

**Great seeing you guys!

***Come on, you know you’ll have thoughts that something terrible happened to the house while you’re gone.  A tree branch falling or a burglary occuring.  But it’ll be fine.

Drew’s Steps to Road Trips: Your Destination!

Potato salad, dogs, and birthday parties. Yep, that just about sums it all up.
Potato salad, dogs, and birthday parties. Yep, that just about sums it all up.

4 days.  9 states.  Who knows how many miles.

You drive across the scrubby Colorado landscape, the Rockies rising out of the mist to greet you.  You wind your way through a brightly colored neighborhood, pulling into your aunt and uncle’s driveway.  Exhausted, you drag yourself and your luggage out of the car – which you don’t have to repack for a few days, thank God – and prepare to collapse in your aunt and uncle’s house, which they have very graciously opened up to you and your family to stay at during your time out here*.  You’ve done it – you have finally reached your destination.

But don’t think that this is time for you guys to just sit around or anything.  No no no.  Now it’s time to get ready for the main event (after dinner and a good night’s sleep, of course): your grandmother’s 80th birthday party.  After all, that’s the main reason you came out here.  And you will be lending a hand in the next day or so of preparing.  These preparations will mostly consist of ogling at the sheer amount of jello salad that your aunt has made, trying to mentally prepare yourself for meeting a bunch of relatives that you’ve either never met or haven’t seen in ages, and helping make the potato salad.

The potato salad.  Sweet mercy.  20 pounds of potatoes, 4 dozen eggs, and 4 quarts of pickles, all blended together with mustard, mayo, and who knows what else.  You will be put on pickle duty, motoring through those jars as fast as you possibly can, lending a hand with the eggs as soon as you’re done.  Your grandmother will stop in, just to say hi, bringing with her your great aunts – one of whom you’ve never met but is a delight, the other who is still as awesome as ever – and her cousin, who all came down from Minnesota for the party**.  Say hi, give some hugs, and relax a bit – they’re relatives.  No need to get wound up.

This will also be the day where you’ll take an impromptu trip up to Wyoming, just so you can say that you’ve seen it.  Please refer to the rest stops post for further information about the awesome Welcome Center outside of Cheyenne.

Once you get back, settle in for some dinner, and celebrate your cousin Kelsey’s birthday with some presents and ice cream cake.   Be prepared as well to greet the Oklahoma branch of your family, and marvel over how long it’s been since you’ve seen them.  For the record, it’s been at least a decade.  Or it will certainly seem that way.

That next day is the big one: Party Day.  Help your Aunt Cindy finish up those snack cards (cards labelling little snack baskets that’ll be set on the tables throughout the party), then help pack the cars and head out with your dad and uncle to pick up some watermelons and the cake.  It’s a huge cake, and you will wonder how much will be left over at the end.  Spoiler: none – that’ll probably be the biggest shock of all.

Go over to the party location – a lovely little center on the edge of a lake – and help set up the party!  The theme of the party is Life on the Farm, so get ready to see cows and chickens galore, complete with a photo booth corner expertly set up by your cousins Suzanne and Shannon with farm related props.  You’ll be on food duty alongside your cousin Tayven, which basically means that whenever something runs out, you need to refill it.  Thankfully, there’s plenty of jell-o and potato salad to go around.   Your aunt was very well prepared.

Soon enough, the guests will start pouring in.  You’ll mingle a bit, do some people watching, and be introduced to your grandmother’s friends and a whole passle of relatives.  Feel free to hop from snack bowl to snack bowl.  No one’s judging you.  Also be free to note that a certain member of your party has been given the job of being the Welcome Table – a job that you’re sure she did not object to at all.  Another member will be the MC of the whole event – a job that he actually volunteered for.  Wonder how you might be related to these people.

Finally, it’s time for food.  Fill your plate and tuck in!  And keep an eye on the food if it needs to be replenished.  Which really means have your mother keep an eye on the food if it needs to be replenished so she can remind you.  Then get ready for a game of Two Lies and a Truth, all about your grandma.  You’ll actually learn some things about her that you never knew, like she really enjoys square dancing, which will surprise everyone, including her children.  It’ll be fun times all around.

Soon, it’ll be time for some cake.  You might hover around, ready to take a piece when the time calls for it.  You’ll also be asked to join in with some family pictures, decked out in farm animal props and cowboy hats.  As the party winds down soon afterwards, help take some things down, saddle up the cars and head back to your aunt and uncle’s house for the after party.  All the relatives will show up for some brats and leftover jell-o (there will be plenty for days.  DAYS).  You will end up going upstairs from time to time to recharge a bit, but you’ll always show up for food.  All in all, the party and the afterparty will be rousing successes, and your grandmother will be thrilled to pieces.

The next couple of days will consist of hanging out with your grandmother some more at her house, having some lunch with even more jell-o salad, which you’ll realize is definitely a midwest thing, as well as meeting up with some other family members on your mom’s side for breakfast at the Egg and I, which will also be a great time.  You’ll also get to bond with your aunt and uncle’s dogs Cali and Blue quite a bit.  At first, Cali might not be sure what to think of all these people intruding in her house, but she’ll warm up to you and your family.  You’ll find a kindred spirit in this dog, what with her people avoiding tendencies and all.  You might wonder if this will be the time to pester your parents about getting a dog, which you’ve only been doing for the past couple of decades.

OH – and you and your Uncle Steve may or may not discuss a very big huge honkin’ thing for your website which might be happening very very shortly!  Stay tuned for that update!

Overall, you’ll have a great time out there, and be really glad that you were able to share in this experience.  After all, it’s not every day some one turns 80, and you’ll be happy to help your grandmother celebrate hers.  But as with all things, it’ll come to an end.  Soon, you’ll have to start thinking about packing the car and making the long trek home.

*Thank you guys so so much!

**A lot of people at the party will be from Minnesota or the Midwest in general.

Drew’s Steps to Road Trips: Visiting Friends

Don't lie - you'd be acting the exact same way if you got to hold a baby sea otter.
Don’t lie – you’d be acting the exact same way if you got to hold a baby sea otter.

Aside from checking out new places, road trips are a great time to reconnect with old friends who you haven’t seen in ages.  You may have been merely chatting with them on whatever social media platform you were on when – ding! – the idea hits you.  You might ask, “Where are you guys?”  Upon discovering that you will, in fact, be passing through their neck of the woods on your way out, you realize that why not take the opportunity to meet up with them?  You know, actually see them in person as opposed to just having Facebook conversations with them?

So, you make plans to meet up with them.  Again, something you should probably do before commencing on this journey across the country.  And it should be really exciting!  Or really nerve wracking.  After all, you might not have seen these guys since you were in diapers, playing with their own kids.  Or they were your old piano teacher who managed to get you through your last year of piano lessons before you said you were done forever with that blasted instrument.  Or maybe they’re friends of your mother, who you’re not exactly sure if you’ve met before or not.  They may recognize you, but you don’t recognize them.  Just chalk that up to the fact that they all probably religiously follow your mom’s Facebook page.

Please note that as with most things in life, it is best to involve food in this equation.  So make plans to meet them at a restaurant, because all conversations are better over a meal.  This can also help with any awkward silence: shoveling food into your mouth.  Or perhaps these friends will offer to make you breakfast at their house.  Take this offer.  It’s free food, people.

Now is the time to play catch up with your pals.  After all, that’s why you’re there, right?  Find out what they’ve been doing in the decades that you haven’t seen them.  Ask about their kids that you may or may not vaguely remember; see who’s getting married or who’s in the process of starting a family and making you feel slightly behind the curb.  And most of all, don’t forget to take a picture with them, because somebody will want to remember this moment.

There is the chance that they’ll offer their home to you to stay at for a couple of days on your way home.  Like the free food above, take it.  Hotels will get old after a while, and this requires no money at all.  Plus, it’ll give you more time to catch up with them, and maybe even visit them at their job, which might be a school that they literally started all by themselves, which you will be thoroughly impressed with.  You might also get to see some more of their own family, like the new grandbaby, who will be super cute and remind you of how much you do, in fact, like babies*.

You’ll be amazed how much you can pack in on one trip, from visiting chums to checking out museums to seeing just how long you can wait between rest stops.  But let’s not forget, you’re on this road trip for a reason: reaching that destination.

Side note: did you know that male sea otters bite female sea otters on the nose when mating?  The things you learn when you look up “sea otter nose.”

Side side note: no, I don’t know what sea otters would be doing out in the Midwest.

*Babies.  Not children.  There is a MASSIVE difference.  Trust me.

Drew’s Steps to Road Trips: Food

Panera's local enough, right?  All those eating clean and fresh ads...?
Besides, Panera’s local enough, right? What, with all those eating clean and fresh ads…?


You’ve been on the road for the while now, and everyone’s starting to get a little cranky.  A bit of snapping here, a little sullenness there – the mood has definitely taken a turn.  This can mean a couple of things.  One is that you guys have grown sick of each other.  The other is that you’re all gettin’ hungry.  Most of the time it’ll be the latter.  Better fix it right quick by finding a place to eat.

You can go one of two ways in regards to this.  One is the obvious – stop at the nearest fast food establishment that you can and nosh down on some nuggets.  No one will blame you for doing so, especially if you’ve been driving for what seems like ages.  Besides, you’re on vacation – it’s not like eating fast food is something you do all the time back home.  So take advantage of this and go grab some Chick Fil-A, because waffle fries are clearly surperior to all other fries*.  Or swing on down to that Panera’s, which you’re still trying to decide if it’s fast food or not**.  I mean, technically it is fast, but it’s also all sandwiches and soup and bread, distinctly non-traditional fast food fare.  So, maybe not.  But I’m getting off track.  Fast food: it’s there for you when you need it.

The other option is to try a more local establishment.  A place where the natives go, so to speak.  These will be easier to find when you’ve stopped for the day or night in a certain town.  For example, that Chinese restaurant that is literally across the parking lot from the hotel.  Watching the table next to you be familiar with the hostess and the entire waitstaff will make you realize that you have indeed found a local hotspot.  In terms of food itself, be sure to try out their sesame chicken, kind of like how you always try a breakfast place’s french toast.  See how it compares to other places’.  You’re gonna enjoy it, regardless.

That same “go where where the natives go” principle will also apply to the restaurant in Cantigny Park.  It’ll really just be a huge dining room, but it’ll be a beautiful day, and the locals will definitely be out there in droves.  You’ll surmise that it is one of those places people go when the weather is just right.  And their BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich will be amazing.  A little messy, but amazing.  And you really won’t care, because barbecue sauce makes everything better.

There will also be that tiny hot dog joint that you’ll pass three times before you finally find it, tucked away.  Technically, it’ll be a glorified hot dog stand, but hey – you’ll be so hungry it won’t even matter.  And their ice cream will be amazing.  Feel free to look around and realize that you are indeed in the heart of Bear Country, because this place will be hardcore dedicated to the local high school.  Perks of being in a small town.  Also do some people watching, seeing how a small town interacts.  It’ll be fascinating.

You can go check out a regional restaurant chain, too, such as the Egg and I, which appears to be exclusively in the Midwest.  It’ll be solely a breakfast place, which will please you immensely if you’re the type of person who loves breakfast food.  And yes, you will get the french toast.  And it’ll be worth it.

Also, a quick note: if somebody says that they’re not hungry and just want to sleep, they’re lying.  Yes, they do want to sleep, but that’ll be masking their true hunger.  You’ll notice this as they demolish their soup, then chow down on the appetizer as well.  This only serves to prove that skipping food is never a good idea.  Because Lord knows how they’ll be later if they didn’t actually eat anything…

Like rest stops, food places play an important role in the whole road trip plan.  They are places to get out and walk around a bit.  A chance to see some new scenery besides the inside of the car.  And an opportunity to blend in and do what the locals do, in the cases where you go to a local establishment.  They are also a fantastic place to do something else that you can do whilst you’re on the road: meet up with friends.

*You know it in your heart of hearts that this is indeed true.

**”It’s not fast food – it’s real food!” – My mother

Drew’s Steps to Road Trips: Museums

First Division Museum at Cantigny: if you're out in the Chicago area, GO SEE IT.
First Division Museum at Cantigny: if you’re out in the Chicago area, GO SEE IT.

If you’re planning a road trip, please keep in mind that not only are you heading off to some set destination, but that you are also giving yourself a massive opportunity.  A chance to stop at places along the way that you ordinarily wouldn’t have the opportunity had you not decided to undertake this trip.  So I highly recommend taking advantage of this and plotting in some stops to see some super cool stuff, like museums.

Now, if you’re not into museums, well, I suppose this could apply to a number of other attractions.  But for the sake of this blog post, let’s stick with museums and historical sites in general.

Planning is the key word when it comes to these types of excursions.  What day will you be arriving at this spot, in regards to the trip as a whole?  How much time do you have to look around the place?  These are the important questions to ask yourself, especially if you have a somewhat rigid schedule to stick to.  But not too rigid, now – you do want to enjoy yourself at these museums.  And you’re going to hitting some awesome museums.

The type of museum may also matter, depending on the interests of you and your companions.  For example, one of your crew might be a Military Historian, and has passed on this love of history and learning about the past to you as well.  So you might decide on the second day of your trip to stop by the First Division Museum in Cantigny Park, just outside of Chicago.  It’s going to a gorgeous place, with some lovely gardens and rolling green hills, a perfect place for a picnic or a day camp to be set up.  The museum itself will have actually have what is essentially a tank playground – model tanks that can be climbed on, and will be swarming with children.  You might want to see if you can do so as well, just to assure yourself that you’re not that old yet.

After a moment of terror where you see a closed sign outside the museum, only to discover that yes, it is open, someone forgot to switch the sign around, you will find yourself in a very well done museum concerning the First Infantry Division.  Seriously, with life sized displays that take you through a destroyed World War I town, complete with an underground bunker and fallen timber and barbed war defenses, into the ending days of World War II and the jungles of Vietnam, with artifacts aplenty detailing the Division’s part in these battles and the people within it, you’re going to be blown away.  You will definitely understand why the Military Historian of your group wanted to stop by here.  You’re also going to be very glad that you’ve got most of the day to tour the place, as it’s only a short drive (in comparison) to your next place.

Going along, you might decide to stop off at some historical sites devoted to certain presidents, like say Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa.  You might see the two room house where he grew up, in the center of his own childhood world, with his schoolhouse and the Quaker Meeting House not too far away.  You’ll get to see the statue of the egyptian goddess Isis, donated by the children of Belgium, grateful for all of his help during World War I.  Proceed then to the museum, where you will learn more about Herbert Hoover than you ever thought possible.  Like the fact that he was orphaned by the age of 10, or that he was a self-made millionaire who journeyed to Australia and China on mining trips, refusing to take a salary as President.  You’ll learn of his nickname “The Great Humanitarian,” stemming from how he and his wife Lou helped those struggling in Europe during World War I, especially in the aformentioned Belgium, as well as those who had suffered from flooding in the Southern US.  In the end, you will feel a bit bad for him concerning his unfortunate presidency, and thankful that he managed to rebuild his reputation post-World War II.  Again, another place you’ll be glad you took your time, having all morning at least.

Now you might not have this opportunity of leisurely walking around at other presidential sites, like those of Dwight D. Eisenhower in Abilene, Kansas or Ulysses S. Grant just outside of St. Louis, mainly due to the time that you’ll arrive there, or the heat itself.  Still, take a look around, see what you can, learn that Eisenhower was one of 6 boys who all went on to do great things or that Grant was good at two things: being a General, and being a familyman, but not much else.  Really, it’ll be worth it.

There might a chance, though, that you’ll come across a place that wasn’t necessarily planned, but someone in your party will really, really, REALLY want to go see.  Maybe it’ll be the John Wayne Museum in Winterset, Iowa, because that same Military Historian is also a huge John Wayne fan.  Go see it – that John Wayne fan will be thrilled.  Even if you haven’t actually seen an entire John Wayne movie, which is surprising considering this fan’s love of him, you’ll still have a good time.  You’ll see outfits from different John Wayne movies, or donated articles, like Maureen O’Hara’s shawl and the cart from The Quiet Man.  You’ll get a close look at the house where he was born, as well as his own car and address book, with Ronald Reagan being on the same page as the Repair man.  The workers will be lovely, and you’ll wonder how they manage to watch the same movie on repeat for three months without losing their minds*.

All in all, you’ll have a great time stopping along the way at these places.  You’ll take away some memories, as well as a couple of postcards and a keychain.  Plus, they’re great places to walk around before you have to hop in that car again and drive some more.  Always be ready, though, to stop for another necessity along the way, one that might be slightly more unplanned: food.

*Seriously, they’ll pick one of John Wayne’s movies and play it for THREE MONTHS in the gift shop/lobby.  Oof.

Drew’s Steps to Road Trips: Hotels

She takes up a lot of room for being all of 11 pounds.
Sheet stealers and bed hoggers: there’s always one.  Or in this case, two.

It has been a ridiculously long day of driving.  You’re all starting to nod off, when finally, you turn the corner to see that beautiful Best Western beaming down the block.  You have reached your next destination: your hotel.

Now, if you’ve planned accordingly, you’ve managed to already book a hotel/series of hotels prior to the trip itself, which is a smart idea, as it means you don’t have go from hotel to hotel seeking a room.  Plus, it gives you a set destinaton for the night, with a definitive travel time for that particular day.

You’ll stagger out of the car, pulling together whatever odds and ends you can drag onto your person at the moment and wander into that sweet air conditioned bliss.  Best to nominate one of your crew to talk to the almost always very helpful staff member at the front desk, preferably the one who has made the reservations.  Take one of the card keys, then look around to see if they have a trolley to load all of your luggage onto, to avoid multiple trips.  Sometimes they’ll only have one, sometimes they’ll have a whole fleet.  Yet you will invariably get the one with the wonky wheel.  Ignore that.  It’s better than trying to drag all the bags in yourself.  Just push it outside, load it up with all of the bigger bags, then politely ask one of your comrades to direct you to your room.  If it’s on the first floor, celebrate.  If it’s on the second or third floor, groan inwardly as you search for an elevator and attempt to steer that suitcase laden monstrosity into it.

Either way, you’ll end up at the room.  That blessed, blessed room.  Open up the door, unload the trolley, keep the trolley in your room if you don’t feel like going through the process of having to take it back to the lobby, and proceed to unwind.  After, that is, you make the important decision of picking which bed you want.  Might depend on certain needs of your fellow travelers.  Still, if you’re kind of hot, pick the one closest to the A/C.  It will inevitably release an arctic blast every so often.  Restrain anyone from changing it – it’ll feel so good after the hot car.

Like rest stops, hotels can vary dramatically.  Some will be quite nice, with gleaming bathrooms, tastefully decorated interiors, and plenty of outlets for everyone to share.  Some will be…not as nice.  These can be recognized by the lack of lighting and peculiar smell that seems to permeate the hotel.  Also, they may have some really weird taste in bedspreads.  And by weird, I mean “kinda ugly” and “who thought big brown flowers were a good idea?”  But you might not have a choice in the matter, because it is literally the only hotel in town, and you need a place to crash.  So you can’t be picky.  Be prepared to actually have to share the one free outlet to charge your phones/iPods/laptops.  You might also have unplug a few unnecessaries, such as the digital clock all hotels have.  If it’s of the nicer variety, you’ll have those super covenient lamps with the outlets built into it.  So cool.

This is also a good opportunity to take in all your snacks and water bottles to store them in the mini fridge that your hotel will invariably have.  Better to have them there than melting in the car.  Or in the case of the fruit you didn’t eat, get really moldy and squishy.  Might be a bit late for this.

Once you’ve settled down, there is a number of things you could do at this point.  If it’s early enough, find something to eat, preferably nearby.  If it’s late, which it might very well be, just hop into your pajamas, and relax.  Maybe see what’s on the TV – or rather, try to find which channel is Nickelodeon and pray that SpongeBob Squarepants is on.  That requires zero thinking to enjoy.  Break out that book you’ve been reading.  Or feel free to turn in early.

Sleeping in a hotel can be an experience.  Sometimes, you’ll be so exhausted you’ll conk out immediately.  Other times, it’ll be harder to fall asleep.  Yes, you’ve got plenty of pillows, and the bed is super comfy.  Yes, you’ll be smothered beneath bed spreads and blankets aplenty.  But it’s not your bed*.  You may toss and turn a bit before finally zoning out – then proceed to wake up every couple hours or so afterwards.  But whatever, it’s still sleep.  Also, if you’re traveling with people who have sleeping needs, such as oh say, sleep machines, hope that they brought them on the journey.  Like, all the pieces.  Bother them to make sure that they check and doublecheck before you leave in order to ensure that they won’t keep you up with their chainsaw snoring everyone has a pleasant night’s sleep.  And if you have to share a bed, be wary.  Your bedmate could end up stealing all the blankets, or take up the bed for themselves.  Or they could possibly roll in their sleep alot and snore**.  Who knows.  Just be ready for whatever happens.

The next morning will see you having to get up a bit on the early side, in order to get ready for the day as well as repack everything (told you this would happen).  If you can, hit the continental breakfast.  Came with the room, after all.  This will again vary.  Some will have huge spreads, complete with a omelette station, a waffle maker, and an assortment of baked goods for your choosing.  Others may just have a few stale doughnut holes.  It’ll depend on the place.  Just be sure you’re fortified enough for the next leg of your journey.  And avoid the TV, because they will have it on the news.  You’re on a news-free vacation.  You do NOT want to worry about certain events in the world***.

After all this is done, it is time to roll the luggage back outside, pack the car – told you you’d have to do this again and again – and hit the road, ready for the next stop.  This will depend on what leg of the trip you’re on, but in some cases, it just be a museum.

*Or it’s a couch bed.  Could be comfortable, could have a spring poking you in the back.

**I may have personal experience being this person.  Many apologies to my brother, who dealt with this for years.

***Whole other rant entirely.  Trust me.

Drew’s Steps for Road Trips: Rest Stops

...why is it so damp? Why are they always SO DAMP?!
…why is it so damp? Why are they always SO DAMP?!

So, you’ve been on the road for a while now, making pretty good time, when all of the sudden – uh oh.  All that water you’ve been guzzling down is starting to make things pretty uncomfortable.  You need to pull over, and quick.

Thankfully, you manage to catch a glimpse of that blessed sign: Rest Stop – 1 mile ahead.  It’s time to make a pit stop.

You bolt down that short stretch of road and careen into the parking lot – hopefully the right one, as some rest stops have different lots for cars and trucks, so you want to make sure that you don’t end up face to face with an oncoming eighteen wheeler.  Please note: if you have a handicap sticker, use it.  That’ll get you some primo parking right up next to the building.  You might find yourself thanking your dad’s back surgery more often than not on this trip.

Before you go dashing into that bathroom, however, you might have to prepare yourself for what you’re going to find on the inside.  The, um, hygiene levels will vary from stop to stop.  If you don’t feel comfortable taking that gamble, you might want to wait until you reach a restaurant or your hotel/place you’ll be staying.  There are times, though, when you just can’t wait, so be ready.

Some rest stops will be…less than clean.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Or smell it, in some cases.  That unpleasant, urine-like odor mixed with antiseptic cleaner that hits you right as you walk into the restroom.  You might wonder why on earth there’s toilet paper on the floor, and why everything’s so beige and damp.  Ignore it – it’s best if you do.  Just swat the flies aside and make your way to the nearest stall.

Another thing to ignore is why the hell some people have never heard of flushing.  Nothing is more gross than walking into a stall and looking down into the toilet only to see…stuff.  Best guess is that those people think that the automatic flusher will take care of that.  Never think that, because those little buggers have a mind of their own.  They’ll either start flushing before you’ve ever started or when you’re only midway through.  So always be sure to hit that little button on the panel once you’re done as a courtesy for the next guest*.  Otherwise, you might cause them to go from stall to stall to find one that is emptied.  And they will take that one, even it has a broken lock.

Note: if you find yourself in a situation with a door that won’t lock, be diligent and make sure nobody enters.  Also hope that they notice your legs underneath the ridiculously high spaces that don’t hide much.

Full disclosure: not all rest stops are gross – especially not as gross as the one in the cartoon pictured above.  Some are actually quite clean.  You might be surprised at what you’ll find in there.

Please note that stopping at a rest stop is not just for using the bathroom.  It is also primo time to get out of the car and stretch your legs, maybe throw out some garbage that’s been accumulating over time.  Pro tip: do NOT sit in the car.  Take advantage of this opportunity.  You won’t know the next time you’ll be able to unfold yourself from your seat, and you will get cramped.  So, leave the car, even for a minute.  Your body will thank you.

Also, some rest stops boast some rather interesting amenities, especially if they’re Welcome Centers.  If you’re into maps, they’ll have those aplenty for you to take for whatever reason.  They’ll have charming little displays, telling you more about the state and what you’ll be able to see.  Or in the case of the Wyoming Welcome Center just outside of Cheyenne, really big displays featuring a full mastodon skeleton and an amazing western town set up, complete with jail and full sized teepee.  Seriously, if you’re ever out that way, you need to stop by it.  It’s mind blowing.

If they’re a super fancy rest stop, they might have a full food court or a place to get some snacks.  These tend to be attached to gas stations, which is a good time to get that out of the way as well, if need be.  Get fueled up and hit the road again, so to speak.

Some rest stops will have some interesting designs.  Yes, a lot will blur together in a sea of squat brown buildings.  Some, though, will pique your interest and have you asking questions, like why is there a nautical themed rest stop in the middle of Iowa?  Answer: something about their proximity to the Mississippi River and the importance of that to that particular area.  You’ll learn a lot if you stop to read what these rest stops have to say.  They’ll mostly be Welcome Centers, but they will be chock full of interesting information.

After a while, though, you’ll need to hit the road again.  So wash your hands, hope they have paper towels or at least decent hand dryers, finish up reading that plaque, and hop back into the car.  You’ll want to hit that destination before long, which, in most cases, will be your hotel.

*Technically, if you’re a guy, you could always use the urinals.  However, if you’re like me and you have issues with using those, then yeah.  Just go for the stall.


Drew’s Steps to Road Trips: Driving

The four things you can do in the backseat: sleep, eat, read, and be annoying.
The four things you can do in the backseat: sleep, eat, read, and be annoying.

It’s finally happening.  You’re packed, prepped, and now off on your road trip.  It’s time to talk about the most important and central part of this entire endeavor: the actual driving/riding in the car.

First of all, there is the matter of the driver: the person whose job it is to actually get you all to your destination.  Now you could simply switch off in shifts if you wanted to – or if the driver will let you do so.  Or you might end up with a driver who so thoroughly enjoys driving that she’ll be doing the entire way there and back, without letting anyone else even think about touching the steering wheel.  You’ll be okay with this.  More time to hang out in the back.

Now, what can you be doing in the back?  Well, if you packed smartly enough, you’ll have brought with you an entire backpack full of stuff to keep yourself entertained.  Things such as:

  • Your cell phone – To covertly make sure that the driver is on track/play Candy Crush until your eyeballs fall out.
  • Your iPod – Your own personal soundtrack to the trip.  Also giving you the opportunity to listen to the same albums over and over again without driving everyone else in the car nuts.
  • Nintendo 3DS – Because you really need to finish that Pokemon game before the next one comes out (side note: you won’t).
  • Books – Feel free to overdo on this part.  As mentioned before, you might bring too many, but hey.  Gives you more of a variety to choose from, and you’re not sure how fast you’ll be reading through them.  Also, bring books that you’ve never read before, but have been dying to read for a while now.  Perfect time to start on them*.

Being in the back seat also gives you prime access to the snack box: a treasure trove of goodies, ranging from homemade cookies and M&M’s to Chex Mix and Pistachios.  So munch away, my friend.  And revel in being the Snack Master as people will be asking you for a cookie or two.

Now, even with all this stimulus surrounding you, there is one thing that will probably be weighing heavily upon you: the urge to sleep.  Multiple days, it will be ridiculously early when you head out.  Or you’ll just get kinda drowsy, watching the landscape go by.  Feel free to take a nap.  Grab one of the pillows your dad brought with him (great idea, by the by), snuggle under the Ouija Board blanket you brought with you, and catch a few z’s.  Most naps can last anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours.  So there is a chance you could wake up in a completely different state, and be mildly disoriented.  Don’t worry; that’ll wear off sooner or later.

As you’re driving across the country, take in the scenery around you.  Depending on the number of states you’ll be going through, you’ll be seeing a variety of landscapes passing by you.  Some will be more…interesting, than others.  Pennsylvania, for example – you might drive through the Alleghanies, which boasts some gorgeous views.  Which is in direct contrast to Ohio, which will be a bit grungier than you remembered, depending on where you’re going through.  Then there is the Midwest, which will have a tendency to blur together.  Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska – all very, very flat.  You will be seeing lots of corn.  And cows.  Corn and cows.  Not much else.  There will be lots of sky, though, where you’ll think to yourself how great it would be to be out there at night, watching the stars.  Other than that, though, this is prime Nap territory**.  Still feel free to get excited every time you cross a state border and see that sign that welcomes you to that state.

Iowa will be surprisingly hilly, so feel free to roll along there.  And Colorado can be best put as a “moonscape” – weirdly scrubby with an almost crater like terrain.  Also has some amazing vistas of the Rockies.  Literally, you can see straight across and see every mountain for miles.  Take this all in – you won’t see this back home.

There are a couple of more annoying aspects of driving that need to be covered.  Traffic, for example.  God willing, you’ll only hit minimum patches of traffic, mostly due to construction or some terrible accident.  Best advice: wait it out.  All you can do at this point.  You might get antsy, but unless you can magically fly over the rest of the cars, or pull a Moses and clear the highways, you’ll have to sit tight.

Also, hope to have good weather.  Driving in the sun is a lot easier than having to slog through the rain.  If you’re lucky, it’ll only happen a couple of times, and even then, it’ll be when you’re staying somewhere and don’t have to move your car.

Then, there are the tolls.  If you were paying attention to the first post about packing, then you’re already prepared and have brought plenty of change.  Because the moment you see those purple signs screaming “TOLLS” and feel those bizarre little ridges under the car, you’ll have to start fishing around for any amount of money to get you through.  And they are not exactly cheap, ranging from a dollar or two to twenty.  All total, toll booths may be one of the most expensive parts of the journey, aside from gas and food.  Just hope you brought enough for the trip.  Or, alternatively, find a route that will take you away from the toll roads.  Might be your best bet.

You will be spending a lot of time in the car.  So make the most of it.  Different legs of the journey will vary in length, from 3 hours to half a day.  So be ready and be a good passenger.  Keep the whining to a minimum.  And if you’re the driver – get a good night’s rest.  And have a good navigator in the passenger’s seat.  Preferably one with an afffinity for maps.  Plus, have a stash of audiobooks on hand.  Something to keep you occupied.

All in all, sit back and enjoy the journey!  And, if need be, be prepared to stop at another integral part of the road trip: the Rest Stops.

*Highly recommended: the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trilogy by Ransom Riggs.  So good.  The second one, Hollow City, might be my personal favorite of the three.  Yes, the photos are a little creepy, and the romance feels a bit shoehorned at times, but still probably one of the better YA trilogies I’ve read in a while.  Tim Burton better not screw this movie up too much.

**Apologies if you live in these areas.