Summertime Road Trips

We don’t have time for any extended trips at the moment, so we have been taking shorter, weekend trips for the time being. It is a great time of year to hop in a car and find places near you that you have never visited before or perhaps haven’t gone to in a long time. Since travel is often more expensive during the summer months when many families are taking vacations, driving to local destinations is also a nice way to keep costs down. The downside, of course, is often spending hours upon hours stuck in the seat of a vehicle.

Colorful Scenery
Different Geology
On the Road Again

We never used to take photos from the car when would travel to places, but now we often do, just like we now take photos from the window of a plane when flying to a different country. Taking photos through the windows of a moving vehicle doesn’t always produce the greatest results, but capturing the changing scenery is actually a nice reminder of how beautiful some of the places are that you travel through on your way to your final destination.

Plateaus in the Distance
Winding Through the Mountains
Storm on the Horizon

Another drawback to traveling during the summer can sometimes be the weather. First of all, it can be quite hot, which likely means that the windows are rolled up and the air conditioning is on instead of enjoying the fresh scents of nature. Another issue can be rain or, even worse, hail. Driving through torrential rain storms with water standing on the highway can be as much of a white-knuckle drive as driving through a snow storm in the winter. We certainly ran into a little bit of everything during our drive from Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico, this past weekend.

Very Menacing Clouds
Heading Towards the Storm
Nowhere to Hide


What is the Best Way to Get Around Europe?

Europe is relatively easy to get around, especially when you compare it to the United States. There are many airline options that are reasonably priced, traveling by car is pretty convenient, and trains can take you almost anyplace. So, which option should you choose if you are spending time in Europe? Clearly there is no one-size fits all solution and there are definitely reasons why you might choose either one of them.

Flying over the Swiss Alps
  1. When Time is of the Essence – When you need to get some place on a very specific schedule and you have limited time to get there, location will likely determine your selection. If you are traveling from one relatively major city to another, then traveling by air might be your best bet, but be sure to shop prices and compare reliability as the cheapest flight isn’t always the best option when you need to get there on time. If flights are not available, then a high-speed railway would likely be your second best option, but those aren’t always available depending upon where you are going. Finally, traveling by car provides you the opportunity to control your route and how often you stop, but you also need to consider other things such as weather and road construction. It might turn out that even a commuter train is a better option than traveling by car depending upon the circumstances.

    Riding a Train from Frankfurt to Strasbourg
  2. When You Want a Relaxing Trip – For us, if you really want to sit back and enjoy the trip, not just the destination, there is no better choice than traveling by rail. Sitting back and watching the countryside go by while reading a book, catching up on social media, or having a conversation with your other travelers can make for a wonderful experience. There are some considerations, though, such as whether the train serves food, are there private cabins, is it a busy commuter train where people pack in to make their daily work commute? Under some of those circumstances, you might arrive at your destination more worse for the experience. If you can’t get trains that meet your travel criteria, then perhaps renting a car would be a better solution. Air travel is usually our least relaxing option, but there is something to be said about a little bit of hassle getting through an airport for the benefit of arriving at your destination and starting exploring more quickly.

    Driving Towards Gibraltar
  3. Do You Want to Explore? – If you want to be on your own schedule, stop at places when you want, and perhaps take a sudden, unplanned, diversion, then traveling by car is likely the best solution for you. There is something to be said about driving around with a map in your hand and making decisions about when and where to go on the fly. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do the same when traveling by train. If you purchase certain rail passes, they allow certain numbers of days worth of travel with no limit on how many trains you take during that day. This means that you can check out train schedules the day of your trip and suddenly decide to add in different stops and side trips as long as it fits in with your total number of travel days.

    Cargo Train at the Station in Romania

At least in Europe, you have many more travel options than we do in the United States. We have used each of these at different times and we have made the most of each option during our travels in Europe. At the end of the day, we love rail travel because of its convenience, not having to check bags, and the somewhat romantic style of travel. Traveling by car is also nice, but insurance can be expensive, although it opens up places that no other option might provide. What is your favorite way to travel?

Flying to Athens


Road Trips are an American Tradition

Most people who grew up in the United States have memories of strapping themselves into the backseat of the car and taking a road trip to someplace for vacation. Unlike Europe, there aren’t convenient transportation options, so the only affordable way to get anywhere is to drive. We certainly took our kids on many different road trips, whether to Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Carlsbad Caverns, or Disneyland. We used to tease the kids that it was survival of the fittest, whoever survived the trip in the back of the car would get to enjoy the vacation, that we would leave with three and arrive with two. We used all sorts of tricks to keep them entertained on the long drives, like the license plate game, count the number of different animals that they could see, or handheld games (this was before the world of smart phones, DVD players, and true gaming systems). If we had the time, we would stop at some of the odd places that you find along the way, the aligator farms, bug museums, and other tourist traps that are just there to take your money, but provide a diversion on a long drive.

Driving South on I-25
New Mexico Rock Formation
Arizona Mountains

With that in mind, we decided to drive to Scottsdale, Arizona, this weekend to spend a week discovering what the city has to offer. Oddly enough, we have not been to Arizona, other than to drive through a portion of it, so we were looking forward to seeing something different. Unfortunately, it was a twelve hour drive without stops and we decided to power through and make it with limited breaks for food and bio-breaks. So, hop in the car with us and join us for a road trip from Colorado to Arizona through the American Southwest.

View from the Car
Driving Through New Mexico
Arizona Border

We drove south through southern Colorado, which was very scenic as most drives down along the front range are. There are parts of Colorado that are not particularly interesting to see, but driving down I-25 towards the New Mexico border is actually a fairly pretty drive, but there are few towns along the way. Once you reach Trinidad, you are almost out of Colorado and you are leaving the majority of the mountains behind you. At this point we have been on the road for about two hours and it is an hour to our first driver change.

Heading to Southern Colorado
Bear Crossing – Only in Colorado
Last of the Colorado Mountains

Once you enter New Mexico, you head down to lower elevations and the scenery becomes more stark in general. The drive takes you all the way from the northern border of New Mexico to the southern border, so you will get to see a wide variety of the natural beauty that the state has to offer. Instead of the large mountains of Colorado, there are colorful plateaus along side desert scenery. Instead of passenger trains, you will see freight trains carrying cargo, coal, and livestock across the country. Once you reach the southern border, you enter Arizona and we are now only four hours to our destination having driven an exhausting eight hours since getting on the road.

First View of New Mexico
Just Desert and Highway
Freight Train

The drive through Arizona is fairly boring as you leave New Mexico and there isn’t anything but prairie desert land until you get near Flagstaff. From there you have some mountains once again, although nothing like those that you find in Colorado and Utah. As we near the Phoenix area, the sky turns dark with a combination of smoke and clouds. There is a wildfire burning in the area and we spend part of the drive covered in smoke. Then the famous Saguaro cactus made their appearance, which are so big that it is hard to explain what they actually look like in-person versus just seeing photos of them. Finally, we reach Scottsdale after twelve and a half hours and we were definitely tired of sitting in the car. It certainly didn’t take us long to fall asleep once we reached our room.

Arizona Desert
Mountains, Clouds, and Smoke
Saguaro Cactus

Road trips might be a badge of honor, something to brag about having survived, but they can also be times for families to bond. Given our time in Europe, we prefer the ease of travel there and wish that we had the same conveniences here, but it is what it is. Since we don’t, in order to truly see this wonderful country, road trips will continue to be a necessity, whether you view them as a blessing or a curse.

New Mexico Plateaus
Smoke Rising Above the Desert