Alongside continued developments in auto manufacturing and road travel, the AAA TourBook series has come a long way since its modest beginnings. As motorists warmed to improvements like electric ignition and paved highways, road travel thrived, creating a demand for touring information. And as traveler accommodations continued to grow, the need for more and varied data eventually transformed three simple print volumes into a library of dynamic travel content.
In the early 1900s
AAA offered members the Automobile Blue Book Publishing Company’s volumes as its official road guides, despite demand being minimal. The content consisted mainly of route descriptions. With no highway numbers or street signs, directions included landmarks, such as stone walls and water troughs, along with illustrations and advice. In one example, drivers attempting to ascend hills were advised to have a member of the party follow closely behind the vehicle. They were to be ready to insert a log or fence rail behind the wheels should the car stop. Elsewhere, the importance of keeping left was stated as, “Avoid any tendency to turn right”! It’s no surprise the publications are credited with the birth of the back seat driver since the directions required a dedicated passenger to navigate. During the next decade AAA began forming ideas for a travel publications program of its own.
The association published its first hotel and garage directory for the U.S. and Canada, listing hotels and recommended garages in popular resort areas and cities with populations over 5,000. Content included hotel recommendations and a range of options with minimum room rates to help travelers select the best fit. Miami boasted eight hotels, with room rates starting at 50 cents.
With close to 1 million members, AAA launched the first version of the present TourBook series. AAA published three titles, covering Northeastern, Southeastern and North Central states, including parts of Canada. Enhancements included hotel rate ranges, instead of just the minimum rate, and restaurant information. These books included a digest of motor vehicle laws, advising Connecticut motorists to offer an “unmistakable signal of intention”. It cautioned Illinois drivers with “not more than seven passengers in the open country” to maintain a prudent 35 mph.
Following the Depression, AAA brought continued improvements. AAA added books to cover national parks and, in 1937, AAA hired its first field inspectors to report on hotels and restaurants. Content was selective and only those hotels considered “suited to the patronage of our members” were included. Descriptions, illustrations and pictures gave more life to the listings. Topographic, historic, economic and recreational descriptions gave extra state-level information.
Travel decreased and circulations went down after the early war years. Content expanded to reflect the phenomenal growth of the motor court or motel industry. Sections divided the books into accommodations, descriptive material and routes, and fell into town, and zone organizations for larger cities. Then, stars designated Outstanding attractions. Across the years, the series improved with each annual update and periodic major revisions.
Today, TourBook guides continue to be one of the most popular benefits of AAA membership — available in a choice of formats. The printed TourBook guides — up-to-date and easier than ever to use — are available free, exclusively to members, at AAA service centers. Travelers can also access the listings on AAA.com using the searchable Travel Guides and TripTik Travel Planner.
AAA TourBook guides have helped generations of members make the most of their travel time and dollars. Before your next trip, visit your local AAA service center to pick up the new TourBook guides and more. Or visit us online at AAA.com to use or download digital travel resources that fit the way you travel. What’s next? We can just imagine!