Let’s hit the road! Planning for Route 66

My husband Eric, always game (to date) for every travel adventure I’ve pulled him into, and I are about to start out on our next “big” vacation – a road trip that includes most of the first half of old Route 66. We’ll start in Chicago and stop at Oklahoma City for the historic part of the trip, hopefully returning next year to finish OKC all the way to L.A. and the Santa Monica pier. Given that the “Mother Road” was decommissioned from the 1970s through the 1980s and technically no longer exists, it’s not surprising that planning this trip has been an adventure all its own. Here’s a few things I have learned:

  1. …That folks around the metropolitan DC area, where I live and work, confuse old Route 66 with Interstate 66 all the time. I can’t blame them, but the sad fact is that it’s the interstate highway system that “killed off” Route 66 and other roads like it. I-66 has the number 66 because that number was up for grabs once the old route was decommissioned.
  2. …People wonder how on earth I’ll drive on a road that doesn’t exist anymore. Once again, I can’t blame them for asking, because I worried about this myself. The route isn’t in your average map, atlas, or GPS. But my second lesson learned is that there is a TON of great information out there including enthusiastic travel guides, turn-by-turn directions, and painstakingly hand-drawn and illustrated maps. Which brings me to my third lesson …
  3. …People LOVE America’s “Mother Road”! It’s not just something that seems kind of neat to learn about if you’ve read The Grapes of Wrath or On the Road or watched the movie Cars or heard the famous song about “getting your kicks”. There is an entire community of roadies devoted to this road, there are clubs and organizations dedicated to its preservation, and there are authors who eagerly pen their own travel guides and publish gorgeous books full of pictures and memories. Folks run websites and blogs and fundraisers, and they eagerly get the word out about all the mom-and-pop businesses that have survived the years, as well as the new ones that have arrived more recently. Visitors from around the world ask “old-timers” on the forums what to plan, where to stay, and how to rent cars and buy gas/petrol in the U.S. Every year, there are travelers coming from all over the world to tour Route 66 and see our big beautiful America this way – it’s a legendary bucket list trip for many. Isn’t that amazing? You could say the road technically breathed its last breath back in 1985, but it’s for sure not dead!

For more information on the old route, check out the following for starters:

You know South Carolina’s Grand Strand. Now what’s the Hammock Coast?

If you’re a South Carolina beach lover like my family, then you of course adore the famous Grand Strand – that gorgeous 60+ miles of sand that includes the wildly popular Myrtle Beach. But you might not have heard of the part of it that has recently become known as the “Hammock Coast“.

Back in 2010, the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce voted on a new name to use in branding efforts for Georgetown’s beaches and other visit-worthy areas. The discussion came down to two names: Hammock Coast and Chicora Coast. Georgetown includes Pawleys Island, which is the birthplace of the cotton hammock, while Chicora name comes from the Chicora Native Americans. (The Pawleys Island area is also reportedly known as Chicora.) In the end,  Hammock Coast won and the marketing efforts  began.

The Hammock Coast area of the Grand Strand includes the following areas:

  • Georgetown
    • This is the city within the County and the County Seat, which has a great harbor, boardwalk, restaurants, and shops and plenty of history. My family and I visited this city in 2014 and loved it. The historic downtown area suffered a devastating fire in 2013, so I would encourage you to pay a visit yourself and lend your support to the many small businesses that remain.
  • Garden City
    • We stay in Garden City for a week at the end of summer each year and it is a wonderful place to be. Garden City straddles the line between Horry and Georgetown Counties. It’s well known for its small “downtown” area near the beach, which includes a little amusement park, delicious Sam’s Corner diner, Pavilion arcade, Painter’s ice cream, the famous Garden City Pier, and a plethora of other shops.
  • Murrells Inlet
    • This town is directly south of Garden City; you can actually see the titular inlet from many of the houses on the main drag of Garden City. We visit the inlet quite frequently for kayaking, eating, and just plain strolling around.
  • Pawleys Island
    • This is a little town that we may visit this summer.
  • Litchfield Beach
    • This is an unincorporated area north of Pawleys that sounds like a quieter community.
  • Andrews
    • This is a small town that is located in both Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

So far the marketing efforts for Hammock Coast seem to be pretty low-key. Although at one point there were plans to include a pop-up ad with a “vacation interruptor” figure that implored visitors not to visit, thankfully that gimmick seems to have been dropped as best I can tell.

I didn’t even realize there was a branded name for our part of “the Strand” until I saw the name in a guide last year! Frankly, I appreciate that. I absolutely love the name and think it neatly combines the history of the area with the true relaxed vibe of the county. However, part of the appeal of the area is that it feels like a nice low-key little beach town, and a more in-your-face marketing campaign would belie that. After all, if we wanted to go really commercial, we’d just head back up north to Myrtle Beach!

You can visit the official Hammock Coast website here.

Et tu, lodging industry?

I recently posted some updates about air industry fees and efforts to get those under control. Today I worked on something that drew my attention to the rise in hotels charging “add-on” fees for what were once basic services, such as air conditioning and housekeeping. The charging of resort fees for basic items, already common in resort towns like Las Vegas, is also becoming more commonplace. A resort fee, if you’re not familiar, is an extra fee automatically tacked on to the advertised hotel rate that is typically said to cover things such as access to the fitness center and/or pool, WiFi in your room, a daily newspaper and a bottle of water, for example. You know, things that one might expect to be included in the room rate. To add insult to injury, in my experience, the resort fees and their related services are often hard or impossible to decline. I think resort fees are complete bunk. For starters, if the fee isn’t going to be optional, then just up the advertised room rate accordingly! Other hotels are moving toward flat-out “a la carte” pricing as well for their services. I personally do not like this idea at all – talk about shady. Thankfully, the more we become aware of such practices, the more we can choose to spend our money elsewhere.

For much more on this subject, get consumer advocate Christopher Elliott’s take here.

How to Bear the Bears of Shenandoah National Park (and keep them bearin’ you…)

shenandoahbears-mvlm-7-9-2016

Mama bear and cubs, seen shortly after crossing the road outside Big Meadows Campground. (hooray for camera zoom)

(I just can’t quit the bad bear puns.)

In recent years, black bear sightings have increased dramatically inside Shenandoah National Park, that gorgeous nearly 200,000-acre expanse of land that technically belongs to every American. Personally speaking, I’ve been visiting Shenandoah since I was quite young and never once saw a bear until just a couple of years ago! I’ve since seen several more. My first bear sighting evoked pure excitement out of me – that was the last thing I expected to see by the side of Skyline Drive one October, but there he or she was. The campsite daydreams of my youth found me longing to catch a glimpse of a black bear in the wild and enviously paging through the Shenandoah “wildlife sightings” binders. Whenever I heard an animal snuffling around the tent late at night, I’d quietly hope to find a giant bear print just outside in the morning.

These days, the likelihood of finding that bear print outside one’s tent has greatly increased – especially this year – and that’s not really a thing to celebrate. Bear viewing is wonderful, but we’re talking about a powerful wild animal here – one you don’t want to get conditioned to see you as a source of food! Numerous hikers and campers have reported having their belongings or tents shredded by bears in search of human food. Yikes! A little common sense will help both you and the bears stay safe, as well as ensure we can continue to enjoy bear sightings from a safe distance for generations to come! (A bear conditioned to seek out humans will not stop seeking them out. So when bears start to become nuisances or dangers in the park, they must be trapped and relocated or euthanized.)

With an understanding of the bear facts and a simple desire to co-exist with wildlife, you can avoid contributing to the problem. Spread the word! Learn the bear etiquette for visiting campgrounds and wilderness where black bears live here: Enjoying Bears Safely at Shenandoah. You might be surprised by some of the tips, but hopefully you’re not surprised that you shouldn’t feed a wild bear, no matter how cute and cuddly and friendly he may seem. Shenandoah isn’t a petting zoo; take that mess somewhere else!

Getting your bearings at Big Meadows 

Black bear sightings in Shenandoah National Park are definitely increasing lately! (More on this in a later post) If you do spot a bear, there are at least two places nearby where you can officially record your sightings. A binder log for visitors to log their encounters can be found in the Big Meadows Lodge lobby, usually on the table by the standing bear mannequin. (Sometimes the binder gets moved to the great room just beyond the lobby.) I was thrilled to finally have the chance to record my first bear sighting a couple of years ago. I’ve seen several bears since that ursine greeter surprised us by the side of Skyline Drive, so using the “bear book” is becoming something of a tradition. Another fun tradition is getting my husband to take photos with the aforementioned bear mannequin at the lodge! He doesn’t need much prompting to do something silly, believe me.

A second place to record bear sightings is the wildlife plant and animal log at the Byrd Visitor Center (by the Big Meadows Wayside). Eric and I once realized we had met a rare Shenandoah salamander on the Appalachian Trail and we may have recorded our discovery in this very book.

I’m sure there are other places to note your sightings in the park – bear or otherwise! If you know of such a place, please leave a note in the comments!

Eric and friend:


In a fury over airline fees?

CNN Money has an article out about how air fares are declining – in fact, summer fares are at their lowest in seven years. But what about the current state of airline ancillary FEES? It seems those are increasing! (Check out this slideshow for some data on current airline fees.) I don’t have much hope that this fees trend will stop, as all the mergers in recent years have left the U.S. traveler with fewer choices and the airlines with less competition. But, some relief could be coming eventually, in the form of bills in the House and Senate. (Both are currently in committee / subcommittee.) Read the text of the FAIR Fees Act here, and the less broad Baggage Fee Fairness Act of 2015 here. And here is an opposing opinion at the Wall Street Journal, in which Rafi Mohammed argues that the FAIR Fees Act actually hurts the budget-minded traveler.

Personally speaking, at this point I will take a slightly higher air fare over having to pay more than the difference in fees, just to be able to select my own seat, get a snack, or bring a carry-on! Hey, at least Delta has dropped their touch fee, or in common speak their “talk to a human being” fee. What do you think?

Comment Policy Change

A quick note: I have been doing some “dusting” around this blog lately – cleaning up links sections, for one – and likely will do more in the next few weeks. One big change: Due to feedback from a few readers, I have made changes to the comment policy so that you no longer have to leave your name and email address along with a comment. Please do not leave comments without leaving your name (even though you can); it will go straight into my spam folder. You do not need to worry about providing an email address at all, but if you do, please use a web mail address you’re currently logged in as, or it will ask you to confirm that you’re using an address that belongs to you.

Have fun and thank you for reading and following, even though I haven’t been the best continuous updater😉