RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Travel Guidebooks for International Visitors
Click here for more resources geared toward the needs of foreign visitors to the U.S. & Canada.
Reviews of Access Travel Guides

Drive USA
by Andrew Vincent

Andrew Vincent may have set out to write the definitive guide for international travelers intending to take a road trip across the United States, but his easy-to-read prose succeeds in delivering tips and practical suggestions that even the most experienced American road tripper will find useful. Mr. Vincent likens taking an American road trip to great adventures on a par with a trek to the North Pole, climbing Mount Everest, or crossing the Sahara Desert without the expense and logistical challenges of mounting a full-blown expedition. Some of Vincent's explanations of the cultural traditions that have arisen in the evolution of the American road trip may be humorous to US readers. Early in the book, Vincent provides a primer on the challenges of driving a left-hand drive vehicle. He also makes the case that the location of the driver on the left side of a car arose because of the proximity of the brake levers on horse-drawn wagons.

One of the best features of this book is the fairly complete listing of Web resources that can be found at the end of each chapter. Evidence of the author's sense of humor can be found throughout the book, and he ends nearly every chapter with an example of a route statistic chosen for its comical qualities. For example: "Grand Detour, Illinois to Road's End, California - 1,849 miles." Vincent also profiles nine cross-country road tours and offers his favorite sections under the headings "Highway to Heaven." Going-to-the-Sun road in Montana and the Old National Trail Highway in Southern California are two such examples.

There are plenty of guidebooks that can provide ample suggestions of places to go and explore. Vincent's book provides the nitty-gritty about how to insure a vehicle, how to make sense of a car rental agreement, the do's and don'ts of drive-away companies, tips for negotiating a sales contract with a used car salesperson, ways of manipulating auto garage mechanics, and practical tips for driving the American road system. Since most of Vincent's intended readership have never seen the range of symbols and highway signs that they will face on American roadways, he provides ample instruction about their meaning and history. There is also a rather interesting glossary that provides the contrasting English and American meanings behind such words as "pavement" and "ramp." (One error that should be corrected: Vincent maintains that a sign indicating "No Parking" in England means the same as "No Standing" in the USA. "No Standing" really means no stopping or pausing, even when the driver remains behind the wheel.)

Vincent also provides some in-depth information about drinking and driving laws in the States and how to deal with road rage. The book also provides detailed information about what to carry in the car, how to prepare for a journey, how to drive long distances, and explicit warnings regarding bears, tornadoes, hurricanes, proper driving etiquette and "fake rangers" who offer to install snow chains in winter storms near national parks.

Vincent's keen observations about the culture of road trippers was shaped during his own American adventures on the road, and this is a book that should be in the road kit of every road tripper in America, whether one's native country is Britain or not.


Access Travel Guides

As a result of his move to Los Angeles in 1978, and a lack of familiarity with the geographic layout of the region, Richard Saul Wurman began work on a guidebook that made sense to him. Access Los Angeles led to the creation of some 25 guidebooks over the next 20 years with diverse subjects ranging from baseball and medical services to attending the Olympic Games. The most popular of the "Access Travel Series" guidebooks are now updated periodically by HarperCollins.

Of particular interest to north American road trippers are the updated editions of the following travel guides released in the last two years: Access Boston, Access California Wine Country, Access Chicago, Access Las Vegas, Access Los Angeles, Access New Orleans, Access New York City, Access San Francisco, and Access Washington, DC. It's important to note that the format of each Access guide presupposes that the visitor is on a walking (or perhaps bicycling) tour of the area. The guides are organized by neighborhoods and broken into five color-coded subject headings, (Red = Restaurants, Black = Culture/Sights, etc.). Each neighborhood is further organized as if one were strolling the streets. In some of the books, there are descriptions of places that could only be found by walking down the avenues and lanes identified in the guides.

One of my personal favorites is the wine glossary and wine label deciphering chart in Access California Wine Country. All the guides have a good "how to get to…" section detailing travel possibilities from local airports, bus and train stations. Many of the guides include sections catering to gay and lesbian visitors. One of the most complete is in Access New Orleans. There is an excellent introduction to the experience of eating Dim Sum in Access San Francisco, or if you have a hankering for a kangaroo filet, check out the Saddle Peak Lodge in the Santa Monica mountains mentioned in Access Los Angeles. Each guide features maps and layouts of local theatres and other noteworthy properties like the Museum of Fine Arts featured in Access Boston. And in case you're interested or in need, according to Access Chicago, the best ladies' room can be found in Chicago at the Drake Hotel--it's extra posh, private and relaxing.

The updates have been written for the most part by local travel writers, giving much of the information a "locals" feel. This bias has the side effect that some of the well-known restaurants catering to tourists found in other guidebooks do not appear in these guides. Common to all guidebooks is the problem of businesses that have closed or relocated since the publication date. For that reason, anyone purchasing a guidebook of any type should always verify that the venue is still there prior to driving there the first time. These books can enrich your visit to any of the cities found along the path of your next road trip. There are details about little known and fun things to do and see on nearly every page of these books.


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