Prepping for a Route 66 road trip starts with how you’re going to tackle the Mother Road. Since there are so many alignments of Route 66, it is possible to drive practically any type of vehicle on it. People have driven RVs on Route 66 since the 1920s. However, with 15 percent of the road gone, many old alignments have been reduced to dirt and gravel. Jerry McClanahan’s EZ66 Guide for Travelers offers helpful tips on taking some of the older dirt alignments.
Since Route 66 passes through cities and along tight winding roads, RVs are not recommended for the complete route, as motorhomes can make driving and parking more of an endurance test than a fun road trip. In addition, much of the fun of driving Route 66 includes eating in roadside diners and staying in quirky motels.
For experienced motorcyclists, driving Route 66 this can be a wonderful way to see the United States. Thousands of motorcyclists have taken to the Mother Road, and there are several motorcycle tours that travel Route 66. A large community of bikers often meets up at points along the way. Eagle Riders (877/557-3541) offers 15-day tours and also rents Harleys, Indians, Hondas, and BMWs.
Adventure Cycling Association ($15.75 per map) created one of the first comprehensive Route 66 bicycle maps. Six cartographers, four researchers, and cooperation from state tourism bureaus contributed to the waterproof map with turn-by-turn directions and essential lodging information, hardware stores, grocery stores, and libraries with free Internet access.
Driving and Highway Safety
When driving Route 66, be a courteous, considerate driver. There are many two-lane stretches on Route 66; when driving on highways, stay to the right and use the left lane for passing. Earlier alignments have tight turns and slower speed limits, and require more effort and attention to the road.
Take special care when driving on American Indian lands; each community has its own guidelines, rules, and judicial system. In addition, many people walk along roads in these communities, so drive carefully and pay close attention to the speed limits.
If driving your own car, have a mechanic examine the belts, lights, and turn signals; check all fluid levels, including oil, brakes, coolant (you’ll need this driving through the desert), and power steering. Tires should have at least 2/32-inch tread, and check the tire pressure before and during your trip. Check the tire pressure when cold, as hot tires expand and can yield a false PSI reading.
If your car breaks down in a remote area, pull off to the right side of the road; if the car stalls on the road, put the car in neutral and coast or push it off to the right side of the highway. If you have cell service, contact AAA (800/222-4357) or the rental car company emergency number. Put on your hazard lights while waiting for help; if it’s night, turn on the inside ceiling light and keep the car running to avoid draining the battery while you wait for help to arrive.
In the event that you are stranded, be prepared for any kind of weather. Always travel with water, blankets, a first-aid kit, and nonperishable food items such as protein bars or jerky.
Desert Driving Tips
In an episode of Peanuts, Snoopy’s brother Spike put his trademark Fedora into a time capsule but reconsidered after he nearly froze to death on a cold desert night. Let that be a lesson to you: The desert can be deadly, so come prepared.
- Use caution when driving on dirt roads and avoid driving on soft sand; it’s very easy to get stuck.
- Watch and listen for flash floods and avoid driving through flooded areas.
- Do not rely on GPS in remote desert areas, as the directions are notoriously unreliable. It’s always best to have a print map on hand as a guide.
- Always travel with plenty of water, gas, and layers of clothing (70°F days can drop to 20°F at night).
When driving Route 66, don’t let the gas tank dip below a half tank and fuel up in major towns whenever possible. Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma have several small towns with gas stations, but in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, there are long stretches of Route 66 with limited or no services. Keep an eye on the gas gauge.