Route 66 is the most historic asphalt artery of America, an essential component of the country's DNA and of the adventurous spirit embodied by American road trips. From the bustling city of Chicago through the fields and deserts of the Midwest and Southwest, there's nothing like the Mother Road.
Much of John Steinbeck's seminal Great Depression novel "The Grapes of Wrath" follows the Joad family as they strike out from their poverty-stricken home in Oklahoma, located in America's heartland, for California's sunny promise of good work and bright days in the city of Los Angeles and beyond.
In between those two terminals, there's a universe of wonder, from the Wild West charm of Flagstaff, Arizona, to the splendour of massive canyons and gorges.
The question isn't if you should travel Route 66 at least once in your lifetime, it's how you should undertake this journey.
What's it like to travel Route 66 without a guide?
Perhaps the most immediate thought you'll have to yourself about travelling Route 66 is, "I've got this." You want to experience the thrill of the open road all on your own terms, with no timetable or itinerary to follow: pure exploration.
You'll touch down in the city of Chicago at O'Hare International Airport, pick up your car rental, and hightail it down the highway.
That's all well and good, but when you look down the map, what do you see? Is it a meandering line punctuated by the names of notable cities and towns like Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Flagstaff?
Maybe you're dimly aware that the Grand Canyon is somewhere near the route, but you're not sure where to pull off the Mother Road for it. That empty highway is filled with roadside attractions that are worth the visit, but do you have any idea which will rock your world and which are pure fluff?
If you take on Route 66 without a guide, you'll have the freedom to follow your heart wherever it leads, but you'll miss out on the inside secrets hidden in the streets.
What's it like to travel Route 66 with a guide?
Having a dedicated road warrior on your side to show you the ropes for every city you come across will kick your journey into high gear. You'll have a real well-travelled pro plotting the route for your road trip, and they could even drive you around, meaning you won't have to worry about piloting your rental car down the wrong side of the road.
Not only will a skillful guide steer you towards the most awe-inspiring views of the Grand Canyon, but they'll also know the ins and outs of every city and small town you come across.
If they've coasted down America's highway many times before, they'll know the best dives in Albuquerque, the kindest hosts in Amarillo, Texas, the RV parks with the most character in New Mexico, and the pit stops with the liveliest roadside attractions everywhere in between.
At first, it might seem to be too much to trade your freedom for a guided tour. If you want the ability to ride ahead or hold back whenever you see fit, you might be reluctant to sign up.
If you have a guide that's on your level, though, you'll lose nothing but wasted time on detours that take you away from the real experiences of the open road. Your guide will have local knowledge that opens up doors you'd never even think about knocking on.
What's it like to travel Route 66 on my own?
Whether you're riding with a guide or you're guiding yourself, you could choose to take on Route 66 with a group of fellow highway bandits and explorers or embark on the journey without fellow travellers.
Travelling on your own, or with just a guide, can leave you a lot of flexibility. Fresh off the heels of a sightseeing stop at the Gateway Arch in the great river city of St. Louis, the rest of your band might not want to stop and scope out the Meramec Caverns.
Without extra company, you can follow your heart's content. Your guide might want to stick to a schedule if you have one, and they'll steer you clear of tourist traps and overly expensive roadside attractions, but you won't have to stick as rigidly to an itinerary with a smaller circle.
From the time you touch down at O'Hare in the sprawling city of Chicago, to the moment your rental car glides through the sunbaked streets of Albuquerque, to the instant you step out on the Santa Monica beaches at the edge of the continent, you'll answer to nobody.
You'll chase your own thoughts through dark and quiet nights, as long stretches of open road roll by, just your own headlights and the periodic shine of small-town neon signs to light the way.
What's it like to travel Route 66 with a small group?
Some people want a little noise with their adventure. They want to hear another voice, not just their own echo, bouncing around in a canyon. The best way to get that experience on Route 66 might be to grab a bike, grab your best buds, and take on America together. Let your engines roar, and share this unforgettable experience with a whole crew.
The city adventures are wilder and the Painted Desert glows brighter with a small group of like-minded friends to share the experience. There's nothing like a road trip to bond you closer to an already good friend, or a recent acquaintance whom you just met on the back of a motorcycle in the first city of the tour.
All up and down this curving and swerving blacktop, there's miles of opportunities to grow closer to friends, old and new. The experience can be richer when you're sharing stories with somebody who, like you, is falling in love with the open road.
As you roll out of the Grand Canyon's visitor centre together, all struck by the majesty of nature, or as your group takes over a drive-in movie theatre outside Albuquerque or Flagstaff, or wherever you find yourself, the desert comes alive with friends at your side.
Start planning your Route 66 tour today.