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What Do You Look for When You're on the Road?


Ellen Shapiro
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The TravelCenters of America (TA)--those mega-multi-purpose installations found on so many American highways--just released a list of the 5 things people look for when road-tripping:

According to TA, people on the road want five basic things, whether they are traveling for business or pleasure:

- Clean Facilities. Highway travelers demand cleanliness, especially in

  restrooms.

- Convenient, One-Stop Shopping. Travelers want to fuel up, enjoy a meal,

  buy whatever they need for their trip, relax and possibly even check

  e-mail -- all in just one stop.

- Dining Choices. Travelers want a variety of meal choices, both in terms

  of the way they get their food (fast food, food to-go, or a full-

  service restaurant) and the food itself (from traditional fare such as

  burgers, sub sandwiches and steaks, to more exotic choices such as

  Cajun and Chinese). Meal choices are especially important to families

  on vacation, where what appeals to Mom and Dad might not be what Junior

  wants to eat.

- Low Fuel Prices. With the volatile nature of fuel prices, consumers are

  always shopping around for the best deal. TA has found that

  consistently offering among the lowest-priced gasoline has contributed

  to its popularity among motorists.

- Friendly staff.  Travelers have a choice in where to stop when they're

  on the road, and they prefer to stop at places where the staff

  appreciates their business and lets them know it.

I personally almost never have a meal at a place like this--I use them mostly for snacks (sodas, chips, candy; mmm...candy), gas, and bathrooms. What about you?

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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The Trans-Canada Highway is pure magic if you happen to love Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Harvey's, Tim Horton's, Swiss Chalet, or increasingly, some combination of the above. Given the choices, there are two things I look for most: restrooms, and my destination.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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First and foremost in Northern Minnesota would be deer wandering in the road or jumping out in front of you. Can make mincemeat not only out of the deer, but also the front end of one's car.

Otherwise, it's White Castle in this family. True road food.

And, the A & W in Orr, MN, now that Sue's Sweet Shop in Cotton (home of the Cotton Fiddle Fest) is no more.

Places and things with character.

Restrooms? If we don't need gas, we tell the kids to cross their legs tighter, and failing that, pull off on a gravel road, look to make sure there's no traffic, and squat (or stand).

No food in the car. With three kids, it's a huge mess. We don't have a mini-van, so our kids shoulders actually touch each other's.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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The Trans-Canada Highway is pure magic if you happen to love Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Harvey's, Tim Horton's, Swiss Chalet, or increasingly, some combination of the above. Given the choices, there are two things I look for most: restrooms, and my destination.

I'm amazed they can get away with calling it a highway, especially the approximately 93 million kilometers of one-lane crap roads in Ontario.

We found that the most popular pairing was Subway and Tim Horton's. Every town, even the really small ones, seemed to have both. In the West, it seemed there was usually an A&W packaged in there too. According to the Subway site there are 1,782 Subway stores in Canada. Tim Horton's has 2,200. The Wendy's numbers are down more in the 300-400 range, I think.

I've got to say, for long-haul driving, Subway is a great rest stop. You can get a salad made with fresh vegetables of decent quality, and there's always a clean bathroom. It gets you through the day. I don't much go in for the huge travel plazas. It's almost universal that the chain restaurant outposts in the travel plazas will be inferior to the standalones. I also find travel plaza mega-bathrooms scary, no matter how well they are maintained.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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On the Trans-Canada Highway, Tim Horton's has saved me more than once. While the coffee nowhere near rivals Dunkin Donuts, it'll get you through in a pinch. There were a few times last year on our cross Canada drive--I can't tell you how happy I was to see a Tim Horton's on the horizon.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Clean Facilities - Yes! I like clean facilities... however, when my eyeballs are floating, I can manage an interstate rest stop. I guess that's what those antibacterial wipes are all about these days.

One Stop Shopping - I do not stop at those everythingallinoneplacegetithere places unless there is no other option for miles and I need to get gas and food immediately. Or I'm on a turnpike, and would have to pay a toll to get off and back on.

Dining Choices - I tend to try and find a little local place near the gas station I find when I get off the interstate. I much prefer to find a little sit down diner where the locals eat for a 45 minute meal, than to go to a one stop place, get gas, get drinks for the road, find food, deal with cigarette smoke (no offense to smokers intended!) wait in line for the pimply faced teenager to check me out all on one ticket with the meal that has just been rewarmed in the microwave. YUCK! what's the point of vacation if you are all pissed off on the road trip getting to the final destination?!

Low fuel prices - DUH! who doesn't shop around for low fuel prices???

Friendly staff - DUH DUH!! that's not to say I walk out of the pimply teenager places because the kid is having girlfirend anxiety, but every experience is better with friendly service.

Recently had the pleasure of taking a 10 hour drive for vacation and stopped for meals at local places and was very pleased with my trip to my destination, my vacation, and my trip back home. I am however fortunate enough to be at the time in my life where I can take my time getting to my destination without any kids asking 'are we there yet?' and my boyfriend and I are rather careful with our food in the car, but if it spills, it spills!

:blush: Just my long winded thoughts and opinions!

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Last May, my brother and I moved from Halifax (him) and Fredericton (me) to Regina (it was a mistake and we'll never, ever do it again); so over the course of five days, we got to see 4300km of the Trans-Canada. The whole raison d'etre of the trip was to stay in shitty motels and hit every tourist trap that looked remotely interesting along the way.

Anyway, being guys in our early twenties, restrooms aren't exactly...well, let's just say that actual 'facilities' are unnecessary when you're surrounded by trees, so we didn't wait. I also showed I was the talented one of the family by managing to pee my name into a snowbank - first and last (and with a name like McGillivray, you're saying something).

So, bathroom aside - what we looked for when we stopped:

a) A casino. Seriously. We made enough at the blackjack tables to pay for our hotels and food. The Thunder Bay casino was exceptionally good to both of us; so was Sault St. Marie. Winnipeg, however, is the kind of place where you'll end up splitting five aces and watching the dealer hit to 21 (sigh). Clean facilities (can't always pee!) and cheap beer.

b) A mom n' pop style diner; always fun in Northern Ontario. That'll be the kind of place where everyone's named Fred (even the waitress), most folks have more tattoos than teeth, and the coffee can be used to skin a hog. Had the best meatloaf in my life (sorry, ma) in...god, I don't know where. Northern Ontario is a magical land of snow and ice, and it all blends together. Marathon, maybe, or Wawa...

c) A Robin's Donuts. Timmy Ho-ho's is desperation indeed, and Robin's isn't much better, but I'd take the latter over the former every time. I'd usually wait until we hit a town big enough to have a Chapters, because that usually means there's a Starbucks and I can get some real stimulants thermosed up and laid into reserve. Note I didn't say "good coffee" - I was usually just looking for the hit by that point.

But to be fair - last month I pulled a 3300km trip to Washington State for a golf tournament, and the only thing I looked for was food I could take in the car and where I was gettin' to. Coffee, occasionally. Threw a case of bottled water in the back and I was good to go. Must be gettin' older...

Todd McGillivray

"I still throw a few back, talk a little smack, when I'm feelin' bulletproof..."

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If the road is an Interstate or a Turnpike the first thing I look for is a reasonable alternative route on a state or US highway. For example, just drove roundtrip from Chicago to Philadelphia. After the Pennsyvania and Ohio Turnpikes I had to escape the monotony. US Route 20 pretty much parallels the Indiana Turnpike. I got onto it just after crossing the stateline and stayed on it until just before arriving in Illinois. Along the way, a couple amish communities, many downhome non-chain/plastic eateries, a smokehouse specializing in Jerky and a guy selling "The Best Popcorn in Indiana." Had to slow down going through towns, added maybe an hour to my time in Indiana, got stuck behind the ocasional truck. Didn't bother me at all. Took the same route on my way home.

Insterstate rest stops are pretty much gastronomic disaster areas. Only decent sustinance beyond bottle water are the Starbucks now found in many of them. Nothing like a tripple tall latte to keep me going til I can escape the Interstate.

Along the road, come meal time, I always look for non-chain restaurants. (Egads FatGuy, Subway? Say it ain't so.) As I say on my site, I check out the parking lots. I look for the full parking lots, preferably more filled with dusty, rusty pickups and old chevy's than shiny buicks and volvo's. Hand painted signs are encouraging, as are a promise of home baked pies. Along the road I have asked police officers, firemen and, unintentionally, a convict work gang for local recommends. Hotel/motel desk clerks are the worst possible source.

As to the TA summary, Cheap gas is good, but convenience and sparkling clean rest rooms aren't all that important. Nice but not critical. With the exception of turnpike rest areas, friendly is rarely an issue.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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(Off topic for just a sec!) Hey, snowangel, have you been up to see the bears at Vince Shute's? And the Soudan Mine State Park?

I drive a lot, and I am usually in a hurry, so the all-in-ones are ok. A fill-up, potty break and snack, in and out in 10 minutes.

I also have a tendency to hit the drive thru window, and just keep going til I get there.

sparrowgrass
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1. Clean facilities.

2. A well-placed parking space so we can watch the passing parade while we eat what we brung.

-- Jeff

"I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members." -- Groucho Marx

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I'm an epic road tripper and have travelled almost every interstate in the country, loading up the Jeep or the Porsche with a couple of changes of clothes, a gas burner, and a bag of groceries. I obtained a commercial driver's license (though I've never been paid to drive) so that I could use the free showers and hang out in the driver's lounge at the truck stops along these great roads...

I'm that guy that you see in the back corner of the rest stop, backpack burner on the picnic table, sending the scent of mushrooms being sauteed in butter into the air...

What do I look for on the road?

State highways for one. Interstates are dangerous and mind numbing, the road tripping equivilant to eating frozen burrittos at the 7-11. Staying on the Interstates leads you to chain truck stops, which are good for gas, a clean bathroom, and a quick sugar fix, but not much else. You don't want to eat off of those buffet tables, or at the fast food places that are increasingly wrapped around these places. It's bad for the soul.

State highways give you local flavor, and local flavor comes from local eateries and roadside farm stands, ingredients to fill that pan you pakced. There's also mom-n-pop motels, which are still out there, and beat the pants off a Motel 6 any day of the week. Travel should be about adventure, not predictability (my philosophy, your milage may vary with your personality & values).

I used to travel from Boston to Long Island about once a month over a two year period, always driving. The first couple of times I made the trip, I took bumpy I-95 and the lack of diversion it offered. Then, one day, I found the ferry across from CT to Orient Point, with the county road trek through Long Island wine country, amazing farm stands dotting the way. I stopped taking I-95 all together, and planned my trips around the ferry and the two extra hours it added. Took longer, but I remember each of those trips (the only trip I remember vividly on I-95 involved a drag race through Hartford and gaggle CT state troopers - I can't drive in that state legally until 2005, but that story's for a different thread).

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Along the road, come meal time, I always look for non-chain restaurants.  (Egads FatGuy, Subway?  Say it ain't so.)  As I say on my site, I check out the parking lots.  I look for the full parking lots, preferably more filled with dusty, rusty pickups and old chevy's than shiny buicks and volvo's.  Hand painted signs are encouraging, as are a promise of home baked pies.  Along the road I have asked police officers, firemen and, unintentionally, a convict work gang for local recommends.  Hotel/motel desk clerks are the worst possible source.

Bravo! I am particularly interested in what the convicts suggested!

Although I do take interstates over state routes most of the time, I do LOVE the mom and pop places. My trip 2 weeks ago brought me to Carl's Frozen Custard (See THIS link as critiqued by Holly) and right up the road on Princess Ann St. is the 2400 Diner who serves up a great steak and cheese with fries that were the crinkle cut grocery store kind, but fried perfectly, and not overly greasy!

My ultimate fear is driving down the road where there are ONLY big chain restaurants with neon signs and standardized menus, and for some reason it's acceptable!

Edit: Holly, hope you don't mind me using the link to your review of Carl's! :sad:

Edited by Gastro (log)
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When I drove the length of I-90 westbound, I looked for clean facilities, particularlly ones with a fair amount of green space to stretch and take a stroll. Cheap fuel prices were not always an option to browse for as I had a schedule to catch a Blue Canoe that I was lucky to gain a lucky car space reservation. I found I became a Mountain Dew junkie at all of those Exxon monster plazas. My favourites were the well kept and very pleasing stops all throughout Minnesota.

Other than that, I looked for my exit to complete my plotted length of travel for that day and the pillow on my motel bed!

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Bravo!  I am particularly interested in what the convicts suggested!

Although I do take interstates over state routes most of the time, I do LOVE the mom and pop places.  My trip 2 weeks ago brought me to Carl's Frozen Custard (See THIS link as critiqued by Holly) and right up the road on Princess Ann St. is the 2400 Diner who serves up a great steak and cheese with fries that were the crinkle cut grocery store kind, but fried perfectly, and not overly greasy! 

My ultimate fear is driving down the road where there are ONLY big chain restaurants with neon signs and standardized menus, and for some reason it's acceptable!

Edit:  Holly, hope you don't mind me using the link to your review of Carl's! :sad:

I've told this tale before on eGullet, but that never stops me. I was staying the night in a small town in NC, off I-85. Drove around looking for BBQ. No luck, but knew there was some nearby. In NC there is always BBQ near by. I drove past the sheriff's dept. Bunch of guys standing around in khaki uniforms. Figuring these were deputies I walked up and asked them for suggestions. They gathered round and we hashed it over for about 5 minutes, settled on a couple of places. I thanked them and, as leaving, saw a couple of real deputies heading my way. Turned out the guys I was talking to were from the county jail on work detail waiting to be picked up after cleaning the sheriff's office and the courthouse.

Of course no problem using the link. Always looks better when someone shills my site for me. :biggrin:

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Low fuel prices - DUH! who doesn't shop around for low fuel prices???

I'm curious, you've been driving on the interstate for 5 or 6 hours and decide you need gas. How do you "shop around?"

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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I had a schedule to catch a Blue Canoe...

:wub:

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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(the only trip I remember vividly on I-95 involved a drag race through Hartford and gaggle CT state troopers - I can't drive in that state legally until 2005, but that story's for a different thread).

You gonna start that thread, mcdowell?? :wink:

Myself, I look for road construction sites, particularly in warmer weather. Guarantees a gaggle of perspiring shirtless men for me to, um, "observe" . . .

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loading up the Jeep or the Porsche

A Porsche is load-bearing?

Shame on you!

My husband, when he worked at the local porsche dealership, had a customer who had a trailer hitch on his 911...

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Last year during a coast to coast 20 day road trip (not enough time) I became a connoisseur of beef jerky. The best I found was just outside of Yosemite at a Texaco and in Wisconsin at a place called Held's. Both were handmade or "artisinal" or whatever --I mean not slimjims.

Edited by dave88 (log)
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Myself, I look for road construction sites, particularly in warmer weather.  Guarantees a gaggle of perspiring shirtless men for me to, um, "observe" . . .

What a great idea! Makes me want to hop in the car and go somewhere. :biggrin:

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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