U.S. Highway 61, akin to its lateral equivalent, Route 66, is a great American road. Highway 61 tracks vertically from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico. This road recognized and honoured its diverse stretches as the “Trout Road,” the “Great River Road,” “Lindberg Avenue,” and the “Blues Highway,” running about 1,700 miles (2,736km) down the backbone of a nation. The U.S. Highway 61, one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System, was built in 1926 has also earned the distinguished title as the North-South Main Street of America.
While U.S. Highway 61 may not conjure up imageries of classic Americana kitschness; flaming skull bandanas; Rock & Roll music; Harley Davidson Motorcycles and convertible Cadillac’s as Route 66 does, it is still a highly renowned road and much celebrated for its deep and rich musical ancestry, delineating key and influential musicians like Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan and many more too numerous to mention here. The old highway has a huge literary connection, among Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the pop culture icon of Charles M. Schultz. Adding to that some of history’s greatest tipping points; Vicksburg and the Lorraine Motel are traversed by U.S. Highway 61.
My 14 day journey across the U.S Highway 61 was everything I expected and more.
Friends and family have asked me what I would recommend to others, and due to my passion for both Travel, and Travel Money, I wanted to share some key tips and tricks..
I recommend you start by pin-pointing the time of year to go, and this will help you with budget planning. Every season has its own charm and uniqueness. There are a few things that need to be considered and chewed over. The North American summer starts around late May and finishes around September. The summer heat in the southern states can be exceptionally hot and humid, so if temperatures in the high 30˚C’s (+100˚F) alarm you then you may well wish to avoid July and August. For cooler temperatures in the southern states (mid-teens to ~20˚C – 60-70˚F) a good time to centre your attention would be around the spring (April /May) and autumn (September/October) months. We began our road trip in late October hoping to catch the Fall (Autumn) Festival Season, and we did, but we also encountered the first snow falls of the season in the northern states – Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The overall cost for your road trip can be estimated over six key factors: flights, accommodation, car rental, fuel, food and attraction entrance fees. To make the most of the States, and not be hit by any unexpected costs, take the time to budget and have an idea of how much cash you need in pocket, vs underestimating the costs and then having to restrict the potential enjoyment of the trip. You view our online Travel Money Oz budget planning tool here.
Airfare costs are significant for any budget. I purchased mine through my Flight Centre Travel Expert at the Travel Expo show. I got a great deal and would recommend doing the same, especially if you’re booking relatively in advance (although no more than 1 year in advance).
The cost of accommodation fluctuates according to proximity to the town or city centre and quality. Always look for rooms with free Wi-Fi, an allocated car space and breakfast, if you want your money to go further!
Here’s a big tip if you are on a budget like we were. After you have decided on your route and the sites you want to see along the way, always try to book your accommodation on the outskirts of the town or city and advise them that you will check in late. First of all; hotel rates on the outskirts of a town or city are much cheaper. Secondly; because many of these hotels are small family business they don’t always man the front desk past 10pm but do have expectation that check-in will be around 4pm. We left notes when booking rooms that we would be checking in around 8pm and that gave us more time to see sights and not be too rushed.
After your airfares, this will be your next major budget expense. The cost to your budget will vary depending on the vehicle you rent and whether you will be required to pay a one-way, or drop-off, fee – which can be as much as (approximately) $500USD, paid at the drop off point. For example: we drove from New York to the beginning of U.S Highway 61 and when we finished our journey we drove the vehicle back to New York. But if we dropped the vehicle off at New Orleans (at the end of our U.S. Highway 61 trip) our rental company would have charged a one way or drop off fee to transport the vehicle back to New York – this is something to be aware of when planning your car rental in the US.
Please note: Ensure you have travel insurance that covers the use of your rental vehicle. You can never be too safe. I used Cover-More Travel Insurance which provided me with the cover I needed for my trip.
There are various US based web sites that will help you estimate fuel usage and pricing, gasbuddy.com is one of the best. First big tip: if you come across cheaper fuel prices it’s always best to fill up, reducing the overall cost. Second big tip: There is a massive problem with ‘drive offs’ across the nation. Seemingly millions of dollars of fuel is stolen every year by people who just drive off from service station forecourts – basically people are just stealing fuel. So, most Service Stations will make you pay first. That’s a real pain in the neck if you just want to fill up and pay by cash – essentially you have to judge the amount of fuel you need or just go short. Just about every Service Station fuel pump in the US has credit card facilities and that is how most of the local motorists pay for their fuel – at the pump. The best way around this issue for a tourist is either run the gauntlet and try and pay with cash – only if you can get the attendants attention – use your credit card and rack up a mountain of currency charges or use a Key To The World Currency Card. We put our fuel money on this foreign currency debit card in American dollars (in Australia) and it behaved like a US debit card – it worked every time at every fuel pump – even at parking meters, multi storey car parks, retail stores and more!
Eating on the U.S. Highway 61 can be fairly inexpensive because the portion sizes are huge at most diners! A simple breakfast, lunch or dinner at a small diner or restaurant is enough for 2 people. If you and your travelling partner are not big eaters, then splitting your orders and asking for an extra plate and cutlery (silverware) is the best and easiest way to go. Best places to eat: Family dinners and BBQ joints. The best franchise restaurant that serves excellent home cooked meals is “Cracker Barrel Old Country Store”. Don’t forget to budget approximately 15% for tips or just round up the bill – for example, if the meal costs $16.50, just leave a $20 bill.
I took cash, as it comes in handy for both tipping and all of your small transactions. I also took a Key to the World Currency Card. This was mainly due to the flexibility and security that came with the card. As mentioned, I used it frequently at petrol stations, but also for a lot of my bigger purchase items, such as shopping and sightseeing activates.
Another great aspect of the card was that my itinerary was loaded onto the Key to The World App, I could check my card balance, my insurance details and my itinerary in one central spot. That gave us quiet abit of peace of mind should we need to check any details out last minute.
Our U.S. Highway 61 journey took us right away from the generic tourist traps, and we’re really glad we planned our trip in advance to ensure we didn’t have any nasty surprises while away e.g lack of travel insurance, lack of budgeting, lack of payment flexibility and security. All of this ultimately lead us to have more travel money to spend on our wonderful trip.
If you have any additional questions about road tripping through the USA, or road tripping through any country – our team of FXperts will be able to give you the travel money advice you need. Click here to find your nearest store.
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MasterCard Prepaid Management Services Australia Pty Ltd (ABN 47 145 452 044, AFSL 386 837) arranges for the issue of the Key to the World Currency Card in conjunction with the issuer, Heritage Bank Limited (ABN 32 087 652 024, AFSL 240 984). You should consider the Product Disclosure Statement for the relevant product available at https://www.keytotheworld.com.au before deciding to acquire the product. Any advice does not take into account your personal needs, financial circumstances or objectives and you should consider if it is appropriate for you.