Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Route 66 Brings a Change of Pace

Would you rather make a long trip in three hours or 30? How about three weeks?

It’s about 2,000 miles from downtown Chicago to the Santa Monica pier in California. The drive takes about 30 hours on interstate highways. But if you’re in a rush, you could book a direct flight from Chicago to Los Angeles. That would last about three hours from takeoff to touchdown.

Or, you could take the scenic route — literally — and make the trip along the backroads and byways that formed historic Route 66.

Traveling Route 66 would be slower, of course. Experts say it takes about three weeks to drive the Mother Road from end to end, especially if you intend to see the sights along the way. But I have a feeling the Route 66 trip would be far more enriching and enjoyable than interstates and airplanes. (You can learn more in our Route 66 articles on Centennial Celebrations, Public Art Stops and Natural Wonders.)

If I’m honest, I have done most of my travel in a hurry. That’s due in part to the nature of publishing, because in our business there’s always a deadline to meet. On top of that, a part of my personality will always look to maximize efficiency, so I often end up extracting as much travel as I can from a limited amount of time and money.

But I think some my travel habits also come from the greater culture we live in. Americans like things fast — fast food, fast cars and fast trips. And compared with much of the world, our vacation time is scarce, so we move quickly to make our trips worthwhile.

It hasn’t always been this way, though. In the first half of the 20th century, before the development of the interstate highway system and affordable commercial aviation, traveling around America meant going slowly. People took road trips along Route 66 and similar highways. And the speed limit maxed out at 55.

Now, in an ironic twist, that leisurely pace is making a comeback. Thought leaders throughout the tourism industry have begun to advocate for “slow travel” — an intentionally unhurried approach that emphasizes deep and authentic local experiences.

Slow travel is better for destinations and for the environment, they say. Could it be better for travelers too?

In March, I decided to see for myself. My wife and I went on a three-night getaway, leaving our kids at home with grandparents in Lexington, Kentucky, and escaping to a mountain resort in the scenic town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. We took our time getting there. We drove slowly for miles along the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway. We went on meandering hikes, indulged in the resort amenities and lingered over meals.

The result? It was one of our best trips ever.

In tourism, there are no perfect formulas or one-size-fits-all recipes for success. Slow travel may not be right for every trip or every traveler. But in an age where hurry and stress are contributing to record-high anxiety levels — especially among young people — slowing down a bit may be just the ticket for more satisfying travel experiences.

How do you do that with a tour group? I can only guess. But if you’re up for trying, Route 66 seems like a pretty good place to start.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.