It was late at night and my husband and I had been on the road all day. We were both exhausted by the time we arrived in the town of Santa Maria, California. It was too late to check into a campground, so we drove down the main drag seeking the familiar glow of a Walmart store. After awhile though, the businesses became fewer and far between and it was apparent that we were headed into the middle of nowhere. After a sketchy U-turn on a dark, narrow road and a stop at a lonely gas station to ask for directions, we pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot. By that time, we were tired, cranky and frustrated with one another.
Most of the time, pulling into a new town is an exciting experience. However, there are times when it can be wearisome and disorienting like when we arrived in Santa Maria. On that particular occasion, we broke all of the rules we tried to set in place to keep us from getting to that point. Below are the five rules we like to stick by to keep pulling into a new town as stress-free as possible.
Rule #1: Arrive During the Day
Always do your best to arrive in an unfamiliar location while there is still sunlight. Itís so much easier to find everything during the day. Oftentimes, we get ďin the zoneĒ and try to squeeze an extra hundred miles of driving in, but is it really worth the frustration? If you get settled early, you can enjoy the evening much more and probably get a better nightís sleep. Then, you can hop back on the road in the morning in a much better state of mind.
Rule #2: Google Before You Go
Before you head out, Google your route! Do your research on the restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, the post office, campgrounds, etc. Find as much information as you can before you go. Even if you only discover one restaurant where you plan to eat, thatís one less thing you have to worry about when you arrive in town.
Rule #3: Take all the Help You Can Get
Donít rely on just one method of navigation--especially if your internal navigation isnít so sharp or if reading maps isnít your forte. Have your smart phone (or other GPS device) and a road atlas and use them both. The large road atlases are great for the larger highways, but often arenít detailed enough for local street information. GPS is great for both, but itís not always perfect, so having a good backup is a smart idea.
Rule #4: Visit the State Welcome Centers
If you are crossing state lines, stop at the state welcome center and get local maps of the towns you plan to visit. Sit down with a cup of coffee and skim over the maps. This way you have a general visual impression of a townís layout long before your arrival. Once you start roaming around that new town, youíll start to connect the dots by recognizing a few street names, the location of a museum, or city hall. Any little bit helps and can save you some headaches later on.
Rule #5: Make Friends with the Visitorís Information Center
This is usually one of our first stops in any new town. The folks at the visitorís center can help you find almost anything you need, from campground information to the best veg-friendly restaurants in the area. You can also find out about any upcoming events, local attractions, and merchant information. Want to know where the locals hang out? The visitor's center can guide you in the right direction.