The All-American Road Trip

Let's Go Roadtripping USA
Let’s Go Roadtripping USA covers eight classic cross-country road trips.

Good Reads

Let’s Go Roadtripping USA

Review by Kim Foley MacKinnon

Almost 15 years ago, a friend and I set off on that most American of adventures: the cross-country road trip. We had a couple months of freedom and nowhere else we had to be. So why not?

We packed up our car with AAA maps, camping gear, clothes and a copy of Let’s Go USA. We might have been better off with Let’s Go Roadtripping USA, one of the latest offerings by those hardworking student guidebook writers at Harvard University.

The guide is broken down into eight classic cross-country road trip routes, with more than 230 detailed highway and city maps. Occasionally the drives veer into Canada and Mexico.

Part of the charm of such road trips is all the strange and eccentric roadside attractions, such as the world’s largest frying pan or a giant Abraham Lincoln statue or the world’s largest totem pole. No need to worry, as this book has information on all the exciting sites along the way.

All the vital stats are included as well: where to find visitor information centers, where to log on and where the post office is. Highlights of each area are offered, with an eye to those on a budget. Low-cost options for lodging and food are listed.

A lot of your planning is already done if you choose to follow the guidebook faithfully. Here is an example (reprinted with permission from Let’s Go):


If cross-country’s the name, the National Road is your game. This route cuts across the middle of the country, from sea to shining sea. For the first stretch, you’ll follow the Old National Road, much of which is today’s U.S. 40. Construction on this road began in 1811, and the road reached its original terminus, Wheeling, WV (p. 328) by 1818. By 1833, it had been extended to Vandalia, IL (p. 344); from the start of the route to Vandalia, Old National Road Markers, as well as Madonna of the Trails (p. 328) statues, are still visible on the roadsides.

Route Stats

Miles: c. 3000

Route: Atlantic City, NJ to San Francisco, CA.

States: 14; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Driving Time: Give yourself three to four weeks to begin to experience what the road has to offer.

When To Go: Almost any time you feel like taking off for California. Go in winter and ski in Colorado (but keep in mind that driving conditions can be treacherous) or go in summer and explore the wilderness along the way (but keep in mind that prices and temperatures are higher). The bottom line? Just go.

Crossroads: The East Coast in Atlantic City, NJ (p. 91); Route 66 in St. Louis, MO (p. 470); The Oregon Trail in Independence, MO (p. 544); The North American in Ely, NV (p. 693); The Pacific Coast in San Francisco, CA (p. 941).

At this point, I should note that the Let’s Go guides are generally for those interested in traveling cheaply, not those who want four-star accommodations or meals. If you want luxury, then you’re better off with another guide book. In addition, no guide can possibly include everything of interest to everyone. If you’re of an adventurous bent and want to explore off the beaten path, then this book is a good starting point.

One added feature about Let’s Go guides is all the fun trivia thrown in. Vignettes about almost driving off a cliff or an interview with the curator of the Route 66 Museum in Oklahoma make for an entertaining read, whether you’re in the car or home on the couch dreaming of your next road trip.

Reviewing this guide made me remember my own adventures on the road. I think it’s about time for a reunion trip.

Let’s Go Publications, April 2005; US$ 24.99/CAN$ 35.95; 0-312-33569-5