Into The American Heart On Route 66

19 Nov 2015

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Will Rogers Highway; the Mother Road; the Main Street of America. It's known by many names, but you'll likely know it by its most iconic: Route 66.

One of the very first highways within the US, it's been crisscrossed by many a tourist, idolised in songs and immortalised in Hollywood movies. Those yet to cross this iconic route should consider a journey along its 2,448 miles (3,940 kilometres) between Chicago and Los Angeles for the ultimate holiday in the USA.

Established in 1926, Route 66 is actually no longer part of the official US highway system, having been removed in the mid 1980s. Nowadays it's one of the most famous road trips in the world and seen as a quintessential American experience, taking in the such states as Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Your Chariot Awaits

Firstly, you need to decide your mode of transport. The classic image of Route 66 is of a troupe of bikers cruising down the highway, but the route is more commonly completed by car.

A competitive car rental market makes finding deals easy, but remember to consider gas consumption before choosing your ride. You'll be covering some serious miles and certain American models can be real guzzlers, so research your car options.

Many people also complete Route 66 in a camper van, which provides a bit more freedom. If you go with the camper, be aware that Route 66 is designed to accommodate tourists with motels, cafes and trading posts, and is still aimed at those wanting to stay in vintage motels and dine in vintage eateries.

Campgrounds do exist along the route, but they may be harder to find.


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Planning The Trip

Route 66 is a long haul. Most spend a minimum of two weeks completing it, but if you want to truly experience the journey, you need a whole month.

There are no rules when plotting out your path, but the traditional route is from east to west with the first port of call Chicago. Most travellers book flights into Chicago and out of Los Angeles.

Navigating Route 66 can be a bit tricky. It enters certain localities and vanishes, merges with interstate highways, or simply disappears, but that's half the fun. Souvenir hunters also snatch up the iconic Route 66 signs, making it harder for travellers to find their way. Buy a quality, detailed map before departing, but ideally use a GPS first.

It's best to avoid the trip between late July and August, when the schools are on summer break. This route gets busy and prices go up. It also gets quite sweaty out there -- temperatures can hit above 40 degrees Celsius. Winter can be rough as well, getting a bit too cold for comfort. Late April to early July is the ideal time to visit.

Highlights

Part of the charm of Route 66 is making your own stories and finding unique highlights. Most of the must-see stops are of the 'Roadside Americana' kind: old-style motels, drive-ins and quirky restaurants.

  • The Cozy Dog Drive-in in Springfield, Illinois is home to the original hot dog on a stick and has been serving eager customers since 1949.
  • Fans of American group the Eagles can stop in Winslow, Arizona, which was immortalised in Take It Easy and now features a statue in honour of the famous song.
  • The route contains some truly epic scenery. Admire the beauty of the Grand Canyon in Arizona or the gigantic, 50,000-year-old meteor crater located between Winslow and Flagstaff, also in Arizona.

In reality, the only way to learn about the best that Route 66 has to offer is go and find out for yourself.