Traveling in recreational vehicles to see the country is as time-honored as the Airstream or Winnebago, and many thousands of visitors take bus tours all over the U.S.
But a newer approach to vacation journeys that's gaining traction offers organized destination plans and accommodations from a few hundred dollars to $5,000 per person, and the freedom to customize: self-drive road trips.
Among the most comprehensive programs is Auto Tours USA, a company registered in Florida that offers hundreds of tours from 1 day to 21 days nationwide. For instance, the 11-day National Park Splendor tour starts in Las Vegas and takes in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming and attractions such as Phoenix, Denver, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Rocky Mountains National Park and Yellowstone.
Trips are available April through October, and prices range from $1,326 to $3,262 a person depending on the number of travelers. The cost includes hotel lodging and choice of cars, from a compact two- or four-door to a Jeep Wrangler, for an extra $45 a day, or a Mercedes GL450 for another $260.
On its website www.autotoursusa.com, the travel service says customers can "choose your own departure time and how long to stay in each city," pointing out that first-class hotels are available. Trips offer The Explorer Kit with detailed route descriptions and recommendations on what to see.
The tours tend to be grouped geographically. Drives in the South include a four night, three day Elvis Lives On excursion starting and concluding in Memphis, priced from $837 a person, and the 15-day Southern Heritage, which begins and ends in Orlando while swinging through New Orleans, Vicksburg, the Great Smoky Mountains, Charleston and Savannah.
Another excursion business, Mexico City-based DINKTravelers, promotes Classic Car Tours USA, which provides vintage auto rentals for road trips.
DINKTravelers promotes a handful of self-drive tours, including:
• Remembering Route 66. Drive all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles across 3,200 kilometers, and discover old-style bars and hotels that were inspired in the fifties, as well as retro cafeterias where you can order a tasty hamburger and a milkshake. The company recommends renting a 1965 Cadillac, "a true Hollywood classic that will make you feel as if you were in a movie set."
• Conquer Highway 1. The road trip follows the West Coast from the Mexican border to Washington State, driving through California and Oregon. "You can begin your trip in San Diego and rent a convertible Mustang," it said.
• Thelma and Louise Route. The film-inspired trip includes Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona up to the Grand Canyon. The company recommends renting a green 1966 Ford Thunderbird.
Once in a while, self-drive auto tours are short, day trips tied to special car shows or events.
Sponsors of the Classic Motorsports Mitty road event are offering two all-inclusive tours to the show, departing from Atlanta or Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tours cost $99 and include lunch, dinner, Mitty admittance and parade laps on Road Atlanta's full course.