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Road Trips
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

Since last Sept. 11th, many people have returned to taking trips by car, instead of a plane. But with traffic congestion and look-alike interstate exits, is there any romance left in taking a good old-fashioned road trip? You know, the kind where you let the wind blow back your hair as you pass through spectacular scenery. We asked The Savvy Traveler's Rudy Maxa if we've come to the end of an era.

The fact is, there are plenty of stunning drives left in the United States. And, while the cross-country driving vacation isn't as commonplace as it once was, there's no reason you can't experience the up-close-and-personal joy of a road trip by considering shorter excursions.

Here's my recipe for a great drive: scenery; history; local cuisine; and great weather. The trouble with America's interstate highway system is that you could be driving through Creole Country, or close to dramatic cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and you'd never know it. You could, at any given time, be a mile away from a restaurant serving world-class cherry pie or smothered pork chops, but all you get on the wide highway is the same fast food that's served at your local strip mall.

So, I say, why not celebrate America's great drives? Maybe there's even time for you to take one more before the kids head back to school. Some of the drives are seasonal. For example, between Duluth, Minn., and the Canadian border along State Highway 61 on Lake Superior's north shore in September, when the leaves turn gold and silver. Some are good all year around, such as one of my favorites: the coastal drive between San Louis Obispo north to Monterey, Calif. There's a reason so many of those lush TV car commercials are filmed on Highway 101 leading to Big Sur.

Check out the July/August issue of National Geographic Traveler. You'll find 12 delicious suggestions for drives as short as 33 miles -- that would be along Route 6A, one of Cape Cod's most picturesque back roads -- to as long as 195 miles, Route 100 that stretches north to south, the entire length of Vermont.

Short on time and want a great trip arranged with a few computer clicks? The Historic Hotels of America offers soup-to-nuts, 3- to 7-day road trip packages organized by theme or destination. The package includes prepaid lodging at historic hotels, admission to attractions, museums and historic sights, plus, a driving itinerary, with cultural notes, restaurant suggestions, and a reading list to enrich your journey.

Hitting the open road, then, and having a rich driving experience requires some preplanning. Any map software can get you from point A to point B. You'd do better checking state tourism Web sites that often include detailed routings showcasing the best a place has to offer. In a month or so, as the leaves begin changing on the East Coast, you can search leaf-viewing sites and get not only exact driving directions, but also advice on where to stop for, say, the very best buttermilk pancakes for breakfast. So, the great American road trip is not dead. It may be shorter, but if you do your homework, it'll be as rich as any of those 2-week drives you might remember from your childhood.

From The Savvy Traveler, I'm Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

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To learn more about the National Trust Historic Hotels of America driving vacation packages, call 877-782-2045, or visit http://www.travelingamerica.com/historichotels

You can read - and hear - more from Rudy and company at SavvyTraveler.org!

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