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How to Plan a Summer Road Trip

New York

Ah, summer! that balmy season when the normal rules don’t apply.  The daylight is long; the weather is warm.  The clothing is casual, and so is the attitude.  It’s a time of reward, the few weeks’ sabbatical when we can relax, buoyed by the accomplishments of the past nine months.

And it’s a fine season for the freedom of the road trip.  But summer’s uniqueness means that the season requires special strategies for reaping the best from road travel.  I recently returned from a 12-day summer road trip in the northeast.  Here’s what I learned:

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Make reservations early.

Room vacancies at suitable hotels are hard to come by.  I also missed out on lunch at the 1606 Restaurant and Oyster Bar at the Beauport Hotel in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and a day at the Roosevelt Baths and Spa at the Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs, New York, because they were fully booked.  And several big museums state on their Web sites that advance-purchased tickets are required.  Do yourself a great favor and sacrifice flexibility for the comfort of knowing that you have attractions and accommodations booked.

Arrive at popular attractions early.

I came to the Corning Museum of Glass shortly after its 9 a.m. opening, and felt almost as though I had the building’s vast collections all to myself for a few hours.  But at noon, it was as though somebody pulled a switch, and suddenly the place was awash with families, and seeing the displays, snacking at the café, and browsing at the gift shop required long waits dodging short visitors.

Look for lesser-known attractions.

While in Corning, I discovered the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate featuring beautiful native American art, as well as three Remingtons.  I was able to spend a quiet afternoon hour enjoying the small museum among a few other visitors.

Avoid long drives on Fridays and Sundays.

These are heavy and unpleasant travel days in the summertime.

Pack for the full range of summer weather.

In the East, summertime tends to be hot and humid, cooler on the water, and punctuated with thunderstorms.  In the West, it tends to be hot and dry, and cooler in the evenings.  For a road trip of a week or longer, I recommend adapting the following list to your own style and preferences:

Summer is also a season when you might not want black for your go-to accessories.  I recommend selecting a palette of three colors suitable for the season and choosing a large tote in one color, a medium cross-body in a second, and a small cross-body in the third, 1-2 pair of comfortable shoes in each color, with a mix of sandals and closed-toe shoes, and one belt in each color.  I chose rose, white, and navy as my base colors.

Where are the best places to go on a summer road trip?

WalletHub recently released a study of the Best & Worst States for a Summer Road Trip.


As it happens, I’ve road tripped across each of the top five more than once:

1. New York

New York State is nothing like New York City.  It’s beautiful, bucolic, peaceful, pastoral, and pleasant.  The people are friendly and polite.  Upstate New York is laden with mountains, rivers, lakes, springs, and falls.  It’s the only state on both the East Coast and the Great Lakes.  It spans early American history, as the 18th-century sites in the eastern part of the state give way to the 19th century as one travels westward, following the path of America’s expansion.

2. Texas

The largest state on the list also spans regions, as the southeast opens up to the southwest.  Texas offers intriguing history and fabulous Tex-Mex cuisine.

3. Louisiana

If you wish, you could continue driving eastward from Texas to Louisiana.  New Orleans is a fully unique city, and the rest of the state is sultry and sparkles with wetlands, with sensational seafood and Creole and Cajun cuisine, and people who exude all the welcoming warmth of the Deep South.

4. Maine

There’s no place like Maine in the summertime, with warm days and cool nights on rocky beaches.  Acadia is easily the best National Park in the East, and nothing beats lobster, although the clams are a solid second.

5. North Carolina

The remaining southern state on the list also is populated with warm and welcoming people.  Raleigh and Charlotte are both fun cities; the Outer Banks are one of the most beautiful spots in the eastern United States, and the pulled-pork barbecue, with cole slaw and hush puppies, is comfortingly indulgent.

a note on hotel accommodations in the wake of lockdown

Hampton Inn has long been my go-to road-hotel brand, but parent company Hilton‘s recent announcement that it is doing away with daily maid service has upended that.  I stayed at four hotels on my recent trip through the northeast, and found a wide range in service and cleanliness.  With the on-going labor shortage, hotels (as well as other businesses) in many areas report having trouble finding people willing to work, and are cutting back on services like cleaning.  I noticed that hotels that fail to provide daily maid service tend to perform thoroughly inadequate cleaning otherwise as well.  My experiences are as follows:

Best Western Burlington Inn, New Jersey

the good:  The hotel has a convenient location off Exit 5 on the NJTP.

the bad:  Check-in was painfully slow.  Breakfast was the same bowl of oranges that had been sitting out when I arrived the night before.

the ugly:  The hotel does not offer daily maid service, and my room was the filthiest in which I can ever remember staying.  There were strands of someone else’s hair in the dryer, grime on the shower knob, and muck in the corners of the bathroom.  I mentioned all this in the satisfaction survey and received a boilerplate email back insisting that the hotel was “among the first in the industry to roll out standards and best practices to enhance our cleaning protocols at the start of COVID-19 [and] prides itself on embracing BWH Hotel Group’s We Care Clean™ initiative, and our trained staff are committed to ensuring the highest cleanliness standards recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.”

Saratoga Casino Hotel in New York

(affiliated with Stash Rewards)

the good:  My one-bedroom Bostwick suite was clean and very nice, with a view of the race track and a pair of binoculars provided.  It also had a contraption that dispensed wine on tap.

the bad:  Most of the restaurants were closed, and the hotel is in an isolated location.

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Cooperstown, New York

the good:  My room was clean and bright, and service and amenities are restored to pre-lockdown standards.  Daily cleaning, hot breakfast, evening cookies, and all-day coffee and tea are back.  There is a small shelf of books to take or leave.  There is also a small laundry room with only one washer and two dryers, but I had no competition for them.  And I earned 10 percent cash-back via Rakuten.

the bad:  The hotel’s location is so isolated that I couldn’t order food delivery or ride-share transportation.

Radisson Hotel Corning, New York

the good:  The hotel has a great location easily walkable to the quaint Gaffer District.

the bad:  The bar/restaurant was rarely open, and the local Gewürztraminer I ordered the night it was came served in a stemless glass and barely chilled.

the ugly:  The hotel is run-down and does not offer maid or room service.  My room was not as filthy as the one at the Best Western, but it was dark, and there was a lipstick stain on one of the washcloths, and a dirty wine glass left on a piece of furniture in the common hallway remained throughout my visit.

Travel always has challenges, and even so it was great to be back on the road again, and I hope my experiences help you take an enjoyable road trip this summer and in the years to come.

Bon voyage!

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