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Route 66 at 66: A retirement road trip

Ever thought about travelling in retirement? For me, this was a scary prospect, but four weeks and 5,000 miles was a brilliant way to kick off my retirement.
I wasn’t planning to retire quite yet – indeed, I wanted to go on past 65 if that was possible. I suppose I was a bit anxious about what retirement would be like, having been in academia since I was 17.
But then two things happened at about the same time – I had a minor stroke and the university where I worked announced a voluntary redundancy scheme. I believe it’s called a no-brainer in modern parlance, but it only really hit me at my leaving do.  I’m leaving. What do I do now?
There are many things to do in retirement, but this was my wife’s idea. I’m aware that travelling in retirement is what many people do but I had never really thought about it. I’d only discovered the United States quite recently, and liked the place a lot, so my wife said ‘go on, drive across it. You’ve got the time now’.
So, a bit of planning, but not much – car hire, travel insurance, air miles to book the flight, and the first night in a hotel next to Los Angeles International Airport. I was on my way.
It actually felt like when I went to India in the early 70s – exciting and a bit scary at the same time. I’d never really thought about travelling in my retirement… and definitely not on my own… but there was always Skype if I got into trouble.
My wife said ‘go on, drive across it. You’ve got the time now.’
My first task in LA was to choose a car, so I chose the ultimate road ‘veehickle’ – a VW Passat. Maybe I should have got the Ford Mustang. Anyway, time for a guided tour of LA, Hollywood Heights and all, and then a deep breath and off I go.
The steering wheel’s on the wrong side, and so’s the traffic – and the satnav is out of date, so I’m immediately lost in rush hour LA. A bit alarming, but I try to stay pointing to the sun, and eventually find the way out.
First stop, the Hoover Dam, which is pretty impressive, and I find a hotel nearby. This will be the pattern for the next few weeks – decide where to go the next day and book a hotel on the internet after checking Trip Advisor reviews. This is great – I can decide where I’m going every day and even then I can change my mind. And I do, as it turns out.
On to Monument Valley – a jaw dropping experience, especially as I get an individual tour with a Navajo chap after haggling for 20 minutes. Shy bairns get nowt, as they say in Durham.
Three hours of spectacular and totally silent scenes followed because I was there at dawn before the tourists (I’m a traveller, not a tourist).
Then it’s on to Route 66, with Canned Heat on the stereo, punctuated by different versions of Route 66. The early Stones’ version is best. Through Arizona – just spectacular mountains and desert.
At one point I just pulled off the road in the middle of nowhere to marvel at the scale of the place. New Mexico was a bit odd – you can understand why they developed the atom bomb there.
I discover Jagger is singing ‘you’ll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico’. Always wondered.
Gallup’s a bit disappointing, actually, so on to Texas, and the Cadillac Graveyard in Amarillo. I found it all right and didn’t need to ask anyone to show me the way – turns out the song features Amarillo because Neil Sedaka wanted a place to rhyme with ‘pillow’.
Then it’s on to Route 66, with Canned Heat on the stereo.
On through Oklahoma and Arkansas, before hitting Tennessee. Memphis first, and there’s a curious frisson about crossing the Mississippi. Hotel’s in a slightly dodgy area, but nonetheless I spend a couple of days here, visiting the place where Martin Luther King was killed, and then a whole day bus tour of the city.
The nice lady guide announced over the PA that I was an English ‘Mayan’.  I even went to Graceland, and that was amazing. You can buy Elvis suits. This was the only time I thought about work – I would have loved to turn up to Academic Board in one of them.
Turns out Nashville is full – some kind of music festival – but who cares? Look at the map and pick somewhere else vaguely to the east. Chattanooga – I’ve heard of that, so let’s have ourselves a little detour. I’ll get to New York eventually. Tennessee is lovely, but then Virginia is breathtaking in places. I drove along the Blue Ridge Mountains with Laurel and Hardy on the stereo.
Washington next – I like Washington. By American standards, there’s a lot of history. My ghoulish curiosity takes me to the theatre where Lincoln was shot, and I visit Arlington for Remembrance Day. Brilliant Viet Nam vets.
And then on to New York to give the car back and meet up with the wife. Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show is brilliant. You can have a photograph taken with a Rockette, but my wife feels my Benny Hill impersonation is too good and advises against it in case I’m arrested.
So that was it! Four weeks and 5,000 miles. That was the way to kick off retirement, and the wife wants me to do it again when she retires. I assume with her this time. Yee haw, as they say in Texas. Start as you mean to go on.
Ever thought of travelling in retirement? Please share your experiences and let us know how it was for you.
This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.


I have been to the US, done all the tourist stuff, but this sounds more like a trip I would enjoy Since I have retired I have done plenty of overland trips in a big yellow truck, West Africa, Sth America, India, back to Africa, doing a complete circuit of Africa, start in the UK, finish in Cairo, When I finish my next trip (Cape Town to Cairo) I am going to have a break and save a few bob, this trip has given me a few ideas, it sounds like you crammed a lot of miles into the four weeks, I think I'd like to spend more time doing it (and hopefully see even more) Derrick
Well done you .I wish my husband was as adventurous .Do you mind me asking roughly what your budget was? We are hoping to go to India but hubby wants to join an organised trip which isn't my idea of fun but I am still working on him, maybe if I show him your blog it will change his attitude
Can't quite recall. Hotels were about $60 on average, and I think with flights (posh economy)to LA/NYC I think I estimated about £4000 would be plenty. In the end about £3200. If you do India, it would be brilliant, but don't don't use budget hotels, and be prepared for culture shock which organised travel tends to protect you from.
I completed this trip, took me nearly 4 weeks, I did a couple of side trips as well, Monument Valley, Death Valley It was a good trip but route 66 does finish in places, the road just ends with an end of road sign I would do I again as well, there is always more to see no matter how many times you do it, lots of museums to visit, some really great hotels

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