Sunday, August 14, 2016

Budget Road Trip: Don't Do This

Highway 36, Colorado. May 2016.

I don't think I'm being immodest when I say I'm an expert at budget road trips in the US.

I am very clear here about the worth of back-up paper maps on road trips.

In May, I embarked on a two-day, single-destination road trip from Missouri to Longmont, Colorado.

In past road trips to a single destination (versus open-ended, meandering trips), it was my habit to:
  • Plot out my route online, print the instructions, pop them into a crisp colored folder, and lay it on the passenger seat next to me; 
  • Carry an atlas in my car; and
  • Stop at the state welcome centers and pick up their respective road maps. 

Now that I'm in possession of a smart phone with a mapping app, all of the above are Plan Bs or ancillary tools to enhance the mapping app.

But for this trip, I suffered from everything I caution other road-trippers about, delivered in a cascade of fails:

Highway 36, Colorado. May 2016.


The extent of my pre-trip route plotting consisted of a quick look at a map a day or two in advance. I noted that I could take I-36 almost all the way to my Longmont destination, and that I'd jog up a secondary road at some point before the metro-Denver traffic snarls. I saw a road that looked pretty good for that purpose, and tucked into my mind that I'd nail that down when I picked up a Colorado map at the state line or via my phone. [Note the foreshadowing via the bold orange text.]

I counted on "just-in-time" intel. Didn't even think about taking five minutes to nail it down right then and print off directions to my final destination address.

This would have been OK if I'd had an atlas in my car. But I didn't. 


Assumptions that didn't pan out


Unpleasant surprise #1: There are no welcome centers on Interstate 36 in Kansas or Colorado.

NWNM Visitor Center. Grants, New Mexico. December 2012.

Unpleasant surprise #2: System failure

Inexplicably and without warning, my phone shut down my data access. Meaning: No mapping application, no texts, no google searches.

This occurred in Colorado just about at the point where I was wanting to know where I'd cut loose from Interstate 36 and jog north. Of course it did.

Fortunately, the phone feature actually worked, so I used two "lifelines" who talked me into my final destination. But damn, I was flying blind, and I didn't like that.

(After I arrived at my destination, I remembered I have an old-timey GPS device in my glove compartment. It's been gathering dust there for a couple of years, at least. Doh.)

Lessons learned AGAIN

  1. Follow the basics
  2. Remember that systems fail
  3. Fail smartly

Grand Canyon warning poster. Credit: National Park Service

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