Summer Fun: Roadtripping, AAA-style
Nostalgia for TripTiks and roadtrips amps up during summer
By Kate X Messer,
11:00AM, Wed. May 20, 2015
My inherent nerdiness – devout consumer of newspapers, the dictionary, the phone book, and maps by age 5 – can be traced back to my dad and our preparations for family road trips. For as long as I can remember, AAA has been a part of my life (re: Virgo, nerd, planner) on the road.
Each year, when the glossy, new Florida AAA Tour Book would come out, I'd earnestly scour the listings of hotels, check the ratings, look at the maps, and plan my fantasy vacations (again: Dork!) to Disney World (fun!), St. Augustine (educational!), or Daytona Beach for Spring Break (creepy!).
Real family vacations, in my experience, took planning, too. After creating a nest for my mom in the backseat of our big ol' Bonneville, dad would plop my skinny little 7-year-old butt down in the passenger seat and put an atlas, a pile of maps, and a AAA TripTik on my lap, bark orders to buckle up, then ask, "OK, where’re we going? Tell me where to turn."
Days before all that, we had to get our maps. The annual pilgrimage to the office of the American Automobile Association to acquire our summer vacation TripTik held the same excitement as that yearly trek to JM Fields or Sears to get a new lunchbox for the school year. Dad would always take me with him to the auto club and get me to tell the clerk our destinations.
For a number of years, this meant charting a course almost the entire length of Florida, up through the Deep South, across the Great Smoky or Blue Ridge Mountains, depending on our trajectory, over to Kentucky to see family on his side, passing through our nation's capital, and eventually landing in either New Jersey or Pennsylvania to spend time with my mom's side of the clan.
The clerk would write down all the places we wanted to hit along the way, slap on one of those rubber thumb grips, turn around to face what seemed to me to be a massive wall of mail-sorting cubbyholes, each loaded with folded map sections, then deftly thumb out each section required to cobble together our totally customized flip book map for our trip: Our TripTik.
(Pausing here for my own personal ode to TripTiks: Sure, we live in the digital age, but I'd be the wrong person to argue the outdatedness of printed map media. Do not breathe the words "relic" and "TripTik" in the same sentence around me, or I shall regale you with: 1) Everytime I bring a friend with me to a local AAA office, they marvel at how crowded the office is with folks in line to have them made. Also, 2) my trip through Cajun Country last month found me without phone signal on many an occasion. Say what you will, but man, was I happy to have all those nerdy maps.)
After stacking the sections in the proper order, the whole thing would be run through one of those plastic comb binders and brought over for us to check. As he or she turned each page, unfolding each map layer, the clerk would stamp a red arrow showing the direction to go.
So when I got on the phone with Doug Shupe, Senior Public Affairs Specialist at AAA Texas, a big grin stretched across my face when he answered one of my first questions: "My dad’s family is from West Virginia," he told me, "and I remember as a child when we’d go get the TripTiks. How exciting it was to watch them stamp that arrow page after page. You knew you were going somewhere! When those trips were being processed, you knew this was a done deal, and off you go."
Turns out Shupe and I have a few more things in common. We were both given AAA memberships regularly for our birthdays as young adults. His family's trips would also begin in Palm Beach County, Florida, and he also studied at University of Florida, eventually landing gigs in Austin media. Shupe's name may sound familiar to Central Texans, because before his AAA position, he spent time in front of cameras at a few local news outlets, including News 8 Austin. He still spends time in front of the cameras across Texas as AAA's defacto automobile safety czar.
He's also spent a lot of time behind the wheel, so we had a little road trip chat and he shared some advice.
FAVORITE ROAD TRIP MEMORIES
AC: Favorite family road trips as a kid?
DS: Great Smoky Mountains – the mountains and the foliage – because it was just such a different experience from Southern Florida, which is flat with beaches. Of course, with Disney World being just two and a half hours away from West Palm Beach, that was a regular road trip for us.
AC: First road trip taken on your own, with friends?
DS: A friend of mine in college and I drove from South Florida to New Orleans for New Years.
AC: Favorite over-all road trip?
DS: I love driving across Texas. There’s something about driving down to the rivers in New Braunfels and San Marcos. Or from San Antonio to the Hill Country. I love traveling across Texas; I do a lot of that with my job with AAA Texas.
AC: Favorite road trip vehicle?
DS: My friend and I rented a convertible – top-down, Miami to Key West. That’s a beautiful road trip! You’ve got the Gulf of Mexico on one side, the Atlantic ocean on the other side. So many great seafood restaurants, and cool little shops, and places where you can just pull off to the side of the road and put your feet in the water.
ROAD TRIP PLANNER: THINGS TO TAKE & DO
• A pre-trip car inspection: Have all systems and tires checked.
• General maps and mapping tools
• Specific map of your trip: Map out your destination [manually or on a mobile device], have your TripTiks all done beforehand.
• Cell phone and a car charger
• Emergency road kit: flashlight, some extra batteries, jumper cables, warning devices or flares
• First Aid kit
• Drinking water and snacks
• Basic tool kit
• Phone number for your roadside service provider. For AAA members: 1-800-AAA-HELP.
• Download AAA Mobile on the smartphone
ONCE ON THE ROAD, BE SURE TO
• Secure loose objects inside the vehicle. In the event you are involved in a crash, objects may become projectiles
• Keep anything of value in the trunk, or a covered storage area
• Get plenty of sleep the night before you travel
• Schedule breaks ever 100 miles
• Make sure everyone is buckled in
• Have a plan for passengers to assist with cell phones and maps. Or plan to pull over to use maps or devices.
• Safety First! Again, make sure to have your car, especially tires, inspected before any road trip.
FUN AAA FACTS
• AAA is a not-for-profit, tax-paying, member service organization, founded in 1902, with 55 million members in North America.
• In addition to emergency road service, maps, guide books, and TripTiks, AAA offers member rates on car, home, and life insurance as well as full travel agency services.
• AAA member cards unlock discounts at many hotels, restaurants, and attractions.
• AAA Texas began as the Dallas Automobile Club and affiliated with national AAA in 1904.
• AAA's Diamond Rating System diamonds are awarded by a team of inspectors who make unannounced, on-site evaluations and rate properties on a one-five diamond scale. The field inspection practice was established in 1937, and the rating system began in 1963.
• The diamonds are awarded for a variety of standards relative to price of service. One diamond ratings in small mom & pop motels, for example, serve as seals of approval – that the property has passed the muster of AAA's requirements to earn a "Good" rating.
• And yes, despite keeping the noble tradition of print maps and guides alive, there is also an App for that: AAA Mobile.
This is Part 1 of our Summer Fun series with AAA. Click here to read Part 2.Read more Summer Fun stories at austinchronicle.com/summer-fun. Our special annual issue, Summer Fun 2015, celebrating Austin's sunniest season, hit the stands Thursday, May 14.