We are Alessandra and Leonardo from Mundi360.com.br. Welcome to our story on Route 66 – a journey we took recently which was life changing in more ways than one. Before we dive into our experience traveling on this historic highway, let us introduce ourselves so you can get to know us better and see what motivated us to take this road trip across America.
Ale is from Curitiba. She graduated in Business Administration from UFPR and has an MBA in Product and Service Management from USP. Ale worked for years in the corporate world, inside and outside Brazil. The quiet lifestyle never pleased her and the only constant was change. Over time, she discovered a love for adventure, writing and photography. Her favorite hobby is learning stories and seeing what is behind people’s happiness.
It was inevitable that she would unite these passions with Leo in the most daring project: a trip around the world in search of the different concepts of happiness that exist. Leo is also from Curitiba. He is an enthusiast of great adventures – as well as a scholar and lover of music, photography and gastronomy. Leo graduated in International Relations, alongside an MBA in Supply Chains and Specialist in Business Management.
He worked as a strategic planning executive for large companies for over 10 years and, in the midst of these achievements, his biggest decision was to go out into the world and get the Mundi360 expedition off the ground. The idea was to take a trip around the world on four wheels – in search of new people and stories, and finding out what the meaning of true happiness is.
In recent years, we have been questioning the real meaning of happiness and the way to live – going from home to work, from work to home, weekends without much energy to do the things we like and back to work. The life we led, despite being comfortable, didn’t make us completely happy. We felt that we weren’t on the right path, that we needed to find ourselves again, allow ourselves to change and rescue our dreams.
We always wondered if (in the most distant places) people shared this same feeling about happiness, or if they lived different and happy lives. There was a big need to get out of our bubble and encounter new realities, different people and learn about life. Plans all started in 2016 and the trip eventually manifested itself in 2019. Conceived by both Ale and Leo, this dream came true and has already impacted the lives of many people.
Over 60,000 kms have been covered, a book has been released, thousands of people have been touched by the Mundi360 lectures and the overall purpose of the trip – to help people create their own happiness – is gaining more and more strength. The journey so far has taken us all over the Americas – from Patagonia to Peru to Puebla, and most recently Route 66.
The Pandemic Changed our Plans
We had always known about Route 66. It’s the kind of place travelers go when they are taking a long distance road trip through the USA. But when our mission with Mundi360 began, we were thinking about traveling the world – to 80 countries over 1,400 days and to five different continents. And even on a round the world experience like this, some places just couldn’t be visited. So originally, Route 66 wasn’t part of our schedule.
Our first plan was to cross the US by taking State Route 1 in California and arriving in Alaska before the 2020 winter (we started from Brazil in June of 2019). However, in March 2020 when we were in Costa Rica, the pandemic hit and we got stuck there. Our plans to arrive in Alaska before the winter were over. The world only started to open land borders in October of 2020 and the US ended up waiting until November, 2021 for that.
Hence, we were far from our plan and totally out of season to visit Alaska. So we drove to New York and then, after spending some nice months there, we decided to cross the US on the historic Route 66. That was the best decision we have ever made! Historic route 66 was amazing and we have many special memories to share with you about this experience.
Driving 1,500 Miles of Route 66
We started on Route 66 from Chicago. One of the most interesting things about this route is that it’s no longer available on GPS. It doesn’t exist. You need to do research to find the way and see where the route passes by historic cities and landmarks. This is the most fun part about the journey, finding places one by one. We did research until we found a good app that helped us with directions and places to visit all the way west.
So far we have driven more than 1,500 miles and visited the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. We had to stop recently to reassess our situation after a big mishap – we will tell you why later on in the article. You can see details on where we have been here: polarsteps.com/mundi360. Our favorite place on Route 66 was the Sandhill Curiosity Shop in Erick, Oklahoma. This is a magical place!
The guy who presides over the shop, Harley, was a famous guitar player in the 70’s and 80’s and used to play all over the country with his wife (also a guitar player and singer). They were a team and had a career until the 2000’s. The couple stopped in their city to live. They still meet people today but now it’s in their shop and not on the route anymore. The place used to be called City Meat Market, so you might find it by that name as well.
Harley and his wife used to tell stories at the shop. It’s full of souvenirs from Route 66. Harley’s wife passed away a few years ago and now he lives alone in a house at the back of the shop, which is also full of memories from his music days and lots of souvenirs. Spending a few hours there was as if we had been transported to the 70’s. It was such a special moment to share with this legend. Like Harley and the music say: get your kicks on Route 66!
Best Places to Visit on Route 66
We traveled two thirds of the way along Route 66 and still have a third to go. For that reason, we are going to be conservative and only recommend the places that we found the most amazing. We promise to go back and select more spots when we finish this journey (hopefully one day soon). Here are some of the best places to visit on your Route 66 adventure:
- Sandhill Curiosity Shop (Erick, Oklahoma): An epic place where you can meet a legend and marvel at his array of Route 66 memorabilia.
- Chicago (Illinois): As the starting point, this city is a great milestone for road trippers to kick off the tour. Starting in Chicago was a lot of fun and the city is wonderful in its own right. You will meet other travelers who are about to embark on their Route 66 journey, which adds more vibrancy to the atmosphere. We highly recommend starting here too.
- Ariston Cafe (Litchfield, Illinois): This historic cafe has the best German chocolate cake we have ever tasted. It’s here that we also met Jeane, a friendly lady who told us her story as a missionary in Latin America.
- The Big Texan Steak Ranch (Amarillo, Texas): An iconic place in the middle of Texas where you can try the best barbecue on Route 66.
- Tucumcari (New Mexico): Tucumcari is a small town but with a lot of Route 66 history, several murals and cool paintings. The highlights for us were the Blue Swallow Motel and Watson’s BBQ Restaurant.
- Ted Drewes Frozen Custard Dessert Shop (St. Louis, Missouri): The best ice cream made with eggs you will ever try! A must visit in St. Louis.
- Santa Fe (New Mexico): A charming city and the capital of New Mexico. It’s quite different from the entire state. Santa Fe is a small, beautiful city with a lovely historic center which you can explore for hours on end.
- Albuquerque (New Mexico): For all those who are super fans of Breaking Bad, this is the city for you. The place is simply the Breaking Bad series. You can even visit the Walter White house, Los Pollos Hermanos fast food restaurant and the Octopus Car Wash – just incredible places to see!
Where to Stay on Route 66
Route 66 is full of history and photogenic places. But many of the hotels and motels that are photographed, or those which are in famous archives, no longer exist or are completely abandoned. The stretch that has the most iconic places to stay on Route 66 is in the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. We traveled by motorhome, so several times we stayed overnight in parks (there are several along the way with camping options).
We spent four days in Arcadia Lake, Oklahoma City and sometimes we slept overnight in hotels or motels. Our recommendations for lodging with character and history from the heyday of Route 66 (from the 1920’s to the 1970’s) are: Munger Moss Motel (Lebanon, Missouri), Rail Haven Motel (Springfield, Missouri) and Blue Swallow Motel (Tucumcari, New Mexico).
Old Roads & Diverse Culture
Route 66 no longer exists. If you try to look for it on Google Maps or GPS, you won’t be able to find it. It was “deactivated” back in the 1980’s as Highway I-40 was being completed. It’s currently impossible to drive the old Route 66 continuously from Chicago to Los Angeles. However, there are still many kilometers of the stretch of Route 66 that pass through historic cities, motels with neon signs, super lit souvenir shops and diners.
In order to make it across the highway, serious research is needed so that no interesting point is missed. We used a free app that helped us a lot on this journey. The name of the app is “Route 66”. In this app you can find the main historical points of the route, as well as a brief description of the history surrounding each point. It was honestly a god send!
Route 66 is perhaps the best way to immerse in the cultural differences that the US has. Chicago represents a big, modern city. The region has an extreme winter, one of the coldest in the country, in addition to being economically strong and cosmopolitan. Throughout the states of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma you can find historic landmarks, museums, hotels, gas stations and shops that date back to the golden years of Route 66.
The landscapes are greener and the distances between cities are smaller in these states. These sections are interspersed with the old Route 66 and the new Highway I-40. Between the states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona the landscapes begin to change and the desert takes over. It’s possible to travel for more than 200 km without ever coming across a city.
Indigenous reserves begin to form part of the scene and national parks also take over the horizon. Trains pass from all sides. You understand, when crossing the country, how the economy works. There are lots of cars on the road, hardly anyone on the streets (cities are not designed for walking), trucks on the road are countless and the speed on the highway is absurd.
Heavy trucks drive at over 120km/h and what is worse – this is the speed limit. Trains cross the country all the time, always with numerous wagons and loaded to the brim. The economy doesn’t stop. It’s impressive how it’s possible to notice and experience so many sensations on Route 66. You can understand an entire country and its differences by traveling along it.
The Car Accident that Shocked Us
One major moment of our trip was the car accident we experienced. It was such a sad moment and the scariest one of our lives. Like I just mentioned, Route 66 doesn’t exist anymore. Many times you need to drive on highways like I-40 and that is where our accident happened. It was June 29, 2022. We started our day at 10 am in New Mexico and crossed some nice places into new scenes of 66 – the desert. At 12 pm we entered the state of Arizona.
It was at 12:30 pm when we were just driving along and all of a sudden we felt a huge impact in the back of our vehicle. At this moment, Ale was desperate and she cried out: “Oh my god, someone just hit us”. The car behind pushed us for some 10 or 15 seconds. We tried not to lose control, otherwise our car would have rolled. After this interminable 15 seconds, Leo managed to take back control of the car and stop on the side of the road.
The driver door wasn’t opening anymore. We were in total shock, trying to understand what had just occurred. Leo pulled down the window and went to the back of the car to get an idea of what had happened and when he got there he was really sad. Leo started to cry and he couldn’t stop. He was desperate. He saw the impact and knew that it was probably total damage.
It wasn’t just a car for us. Our car is Alphonso and he is the third part of our journey. He was our best friend and without him we wouldn’t be here. Our dream was shattered – something we had been working on and planning since 2016. It was safe to say that our hearts were broken. The guy who hit us didn’t stop to talk with us or see if we had any injuries or were hurt. He stayed with his family in their huge RV and waited until the police came.
During this moment, we were lost and had no one to call. We didn’t know how to proceed. It was very traumatic – and still is traumatic because we are doing some chiropractic sessions to work on our back injuries that we suffered and we are also seeing a mental health specialist. The insurance still hasn’t paid us out for the car damage and we are waiting on a final evaluation. Nowadays, we have no plans of what we are going to do next.
It might take six months to fix the car or maybe we need to ship the car back to Brazil to make all the repairs. So, at the moment, we are just living day by day to see what will happen. We don’t want to let one bad experience stop us from living our dream but we still can’t say when or how we will finish Route 66. We hope it will be one day in the near future.
Meeting Cool People on Route 66
Even though we went through this event, we still look back on our Route 66 journey with positive memories. One of the best aspects was meeting people. Anyone who is open to playing in the world and discovering what it has to offer is likely to discover amazing people along the way. We also have a car, Alphonso – a classic Land Rover Defender – which wherever it goes draws a lot of attention from admirers and enthusiasts.
This made it easier to meet people, as many came to talk about the car and, little by little, we discovered more about the life and history of everyone who lives and crosses this iconic route. Right at the beginning of our journey, still at the start sign of Route 66 in Chicago, while we were taking a picture of the car and immortalizing this moment, a Spanish couple who were there came to us and wanted to learn about our story.
We exchanged ideas for about 40 minutes and at the end we exchanged addresses and arranged to meet in Barcelona – as soon as we get there. We said goodbye and when we got in the car to leave, two more people came to the car to ask if we were from Brazil. Two Brazilian boys saw our license plate and came to us to hug us and wish us success on the road.
Along Route 66 we met several people in the same way. Upon entering a historic cafe called Ariston, a lady approached us talking about the pies and cakes and how delicious everything was. Her name was Jeane. A nice lady who came little by little, hugging us and telling us her story. She told us that she was a missionary for many years in Guatemala, one of our favorite countries, and that there she discovered how to love other people.
She served people in need, helping with food and with her knowledge of medical care (she is a nurse). Jeane also told us that she felt sad and alone, and that she was waiting for a divine “call” to return to the path of charity. At that moment, we shivered and wondered if maybe we weren’t the “divine message” she was waiting for. We left with a new friend, with a heart full of love to continue on this route that was just starting.
Memories to be Cherished Forever
The journey along Route 66 is transformative for anyone who believes that it’s impossible to define an experience like this in just one memory. The start is a magical moment where the sign puts you so close to a dream, but at the same time you are so far away. It’s just the beginning and there are still miles to travel. Crossing the states (literally the entire US) and seeing the culture and passion of each person for their region is incredible.
The joy of the musician from Erick who still lives intensely on Route 66 even after more than 40 years of deactivation. Memories of the luminous panels of motels which are marked by the stories and memories of their owners – as it was at Munger Moss Motel where the founder’s daughter has been there for over 50 years and the hotel itself for over 75 years.
Memories of films marked with emotions such as Cars, inspired by various sections of the route. And the series Breaking Bad, filmed in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Finding people so passionate about the same discoveries and sharing the same sensations. This is what Route 66 carries – history, dreams, resistance and identity. Route 66 is just fascinating.
Tips for Traveling on Route 66
Route 66 is long and each landmark is unique. It’s essential to do in-depth research well before leaving so you know the main points where it’s really worth spending your valuable time, energy and photographic clicks. As with any place there is a lot of uninteresting stuff that, if you don’t have a lot of time scheduled for this trip, is not worth stopping at.
In fact, this point is very important – the time it takes to plan this route. It’s super extensive and literally crosses the whole country. If you want to feel the pleasure of traveling on the road and the goal is to drive, then make an average of time x desired distance to drive per day and this will help you greatly. To enjoy every moment, each detail and to get to really know the places and people, set aside at least 30 days to travel in peace.
Motorhomes are the best option, you won’t regret traveling in this mode of transport. There are several places to stop with a lot of infrastructure and you will be well attended. Additionally, you will be in the near proximity of the national parks of Utah, Nevada and Arizona (Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, etc.) where you can also stretch your legs and enjoy this journey even more.
Pay close attention when traveling along Route 66. Summer is hot and winter is quite harsh in some places (like Chicago). Choose the best time that suits you. Be open to discovering new places, local customs and cultures, throw yourself into what people say, exchange experiences and share with others. After all, happiness is only complete when it’s shared.