Planning a retro road trip

Traveling in style

The Astra Dome on the Union Pacific

Right now Austin, Texas weather is in the sweet spot: warm enough to open the windows, but not too hot to need the air conditioner. No longer being a newbie to these freakishly hot summers, I have learned to fully appreciate this sacred time of year. Being this connected to nature – hearing the birds tell of their news through song – makes me want to travel and feel the breeze in my hair.

Ah! To simply hit the open road, go somewhere fun, unplug, and enjoy. But is there an art to embarking on a vintage-centric adventure? After all, when I look at mid-century travelers they all look so fashionable, relaxed, and posh. (Take a good, long look at the people in this railway car photo – aren’t they the picture of transportation bliss?) Maybe there’s something we can do to achieve their zen through planning a retro road trip…

Where to go

Naturally one of the first questions you may ask yourself is where to go? Of course you can decide by throwing darts at an atlas or spinning a globe, but how about a nice list of American highways and byways to get us going. Fodor’s Travel published a list of the top ten classic road trip options. While it’s tricky to pick favorites, I find it tough to beat the majestic drama of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Route 66 is another groovy choice. We have two intrepid businessmen to thank for putting a bug in our government’s ear about Route 66. They were passionate about creating a link between Chicago and Los Angeles and by 1926 that dream was a reality. The path carved out for this major artery was determined not by simply setting a straight course, but by connecting as many farmers and merchants as possible to this lifeline.

Let's hit the road!

Family Trip, 1956

We’re so spoiled by connectivity today. I couldn’t imagine not being able to get somewhere easily and I know I take that freedom for granted. Mobilization is so important to us now, but perhaps it was even more so during the aftermath of the Dust Bowl or the WWII years. The twisted journey this route takes gives you a slice of Americana and you can’t experience that online – ya gotta go forth and do. Fun fact: did you know John Steinbeck called Route 66 the “mother road?”

Obviously this country has a rich transportation history, so nearly every path you’re on can be a portal to retro adventures. But I think the best way to make your journey vintage is to slow down and be spontaneous. Check out the wacky roadside attractions, stop and read the historical markers for Pete’s sake, visit some vintage shops, and if you need ideas on the go – check out this cool blog. (Mod Betty is my new hero!)

How to go in style

Next on the planning agenda: mode of transportation. We all know about trains, planes, and automobiles – but how about Airstream? These quirky beauties (which always make me think of baked potatoes in foil) have a lot of retro personality and charm. This icon is about as old as Route 66 (the first prototype was made in 1929) and quickly became popular. The torpedo model – which influenced every subsequent Airstream design – sold by the thousands per year.

Image by PunkToad

The 1958 Airstream – a classic

Soldiers returning home settled into their new ranch homes with picket fences, and rediscovered the joy of camping. Their parents set the tone for the modern camping rituals we know and love today, as this generation fully embraced all the freedom and flexibility automobiles could offer. Keen to escape the nine to five grind and experience nature, the masses hit the road (Airstream in tow). Another fun fact: The National Parks Service was established in 1916 and in 1933 many of our treasured sites became part of this network. It’s probably not a coincidence that contemporary camping took off around the same time!

If you would prefer to relax and let someone else do the driving, you will want to check out this list of amazing railway options. Most are half-day ventures, but you’ll find some longer journeys too. Which is pretty nice if you only have time for a mini-sized retro getaway.

What to wear and bring

As you know, one of the things we most admire about a retro vacation: people really knew how to keep a classy travel wardrobe going. But understandably it can be cumbersome to pack all your favorite threads, so here’s a quick overall guide:

Care to join us in the observation room? :-)

Playing cards on a train. How chic!

Think layers, pack light, and let your accessories mix up your look. Cardigans and bolero jackets over your dresses are great for those cooler summer nights on the town. Brooches, necklaces, and dress clips help take a basic outfit to the next level. And scarves are a road trip essential. Not only can you use it to cover up a camping hair day or tame the blustery winds, but you can accessorize your outfit or purse to make your style pop.

But as any vintage fashionista knows, be sure to add one great party dress to your bag. You never know when an amazing cocktail party is about to go down (after all, you’re in the world of retro adventure). Here are some great packing tips to keep everything looking fresh while you’re on the open road.

Beyond your attire, pack some fun picnic ware, a deck of cards (or other vintage board game), a playlist of your favorite tunes, an atlas, and a journal to document all the stories about your wonderful trip!

Cause A Frockus would like thank the people who post their imagery to the public domain.

For our readers: What classic American highways have you been on? Have any advice for planning a retro road trip – share in the comments!

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