Every once in awhile, even the best traveler needs to stop and ask for directions (although some might be more hesitant to do so than others). Luckily, state tourism associations typically have manned stations at various highway entrances to their states to help tourists learn more about area attractions and, of course, to put them back on the right course.
But with thousands of visitors passing through every week, there are bound to be some oddball requests and questions.
Thankfully, the tourism folks in around the country have compiled a few lists of their favorite -- and most outrageous -- questions they were asked during the past year. Let's just say that folks sometimes come in looking for more than just directions, brochures, maps or some rest before continuing on their way.
We start in Minnesota, where a woman walked into one of the Gopher State's 11 visitor information centers seeking a bridge, a very special type of bridge.
"I want to see the bridge in Minnesota with the two arches. It's the only reason I came to Minnesota. Where is it?" she asked the attendant at one visitors' center.
A very patient host went through all the great bridges of Minnesota, showing pictures of them all. The woman just became more and more frustrated. Then it was suggested that maybe, just maybe, she might be in the wrong state. That wasn't the right thing to say: Her frustration started to turn to anger.
But at last a photo of her two-arch bridge was found: the St. Louis Gateway Arch. And yes, you can stop scratching your head. The arch is in Missouri, some 600 miles -- or a nine-hour drive -- from Minnesota.
The woman wasn't too apologetic, but she needed directions to drive there the shortest way possible. When she left, the tourism authorities reported, she seemed happy that she had a clear, direct way to get where she wanted to go.
That's OK, because the folks in Missouri's travel centers are often asked: How far is it to the golden arches?
Bridges seem to be a common theme with travelers.
In Michigan, one motorist asked how far it was to the Mackinac Bridge. When they were told 306 miles, or about six hours under normal diving conditions, the traveler responded: "You're lying! It is only 2 inches long in the atlas."
A lot of people are just confused about where they are.
Again, in landlocked Minnesota, one traveler asked: "Where do we go to do the whale watching?"
In Washington, D.C., the tourism authority there once had someone ask for a hotel with a room with a view of the Empire State Building. They also get a lot of requests for information on whale watching and Seattle, presumably from tourists looking for Washington state.
(The folks in Washington, D.C., said that a lot of visitors also don't understand that the National Mall isn't a shopping center. They also got a call once from a Norwegian journalist who wanted to be put in touch with George Washington's publicist.)
But that's not as painful as what happened one late night in New Hampshire to Betty Gagne, who oversees that state's 17 welcome centers and visitor information centers.
Three travelers (two men, one woman) came into the Seabrook Center on Route 95, 17 miles from the Maine border. "How far are we from Baltimore?" one of the men asked as he rubbed his tired eyes.
"Baltimore, Maryland?" Gagne asked.
"Well, can I ask where you came from?" Gagne said, just wanting to know.
"We came from New York," the woman answered.
"Well, you're in New Hampshire," Gagne told them. "That's a long way from Baltimore, Maryland."
"But they said to take Route 95," the other man said.
"Yes, that's right ? 95 south. You came up 95 north," Gagne said.
The three people eyed each other in disbelief. Then the woman turned to Gagne and said: "Are there any hotels around here?"
Other travelers are just confused about how the world works.
Visitors heading to Cumberland Falls in Kentucky -- known as the Niagara of the South -- have been known to ask: "What time do you turn the falls off?" Other travelers to the state often ask if they can get samples of gold if they tour Fort Knox (the Army doesn't even allow tours of the gold repository, let alone samples).
Kentucky's welcome center also has a sign out front announcing it as the "Port of Entry." Confused travelers often ask: "Where are the boats."
In South Dakota, people have been known to ask, "Where do they put Mount Rushmore in the winter?"
Sometimes, people take advantage of the help staff's hospitality.
A man came into a center in South Dakota and said he wanted to buy his wife a diamond, since she had just got him a new truck. The travel counselors at the center gave him a list of different names and addresses of jewelry stores, and he went on his way. It turns out he took that information and robbed those jewelry stores. The staff ended up having to give statements and almost had to testify in court.
People have also been known to vent their frustration to the tourism officials.
A woman called the folks in Wyoming to complain about getting a speeding ticket. The visitor center staff asked: How fast were you going? The woman replied: 92 miles per hour, but I don't think that's why I got the ticket. I think I got it for mouthing off.
But just to prove that being nice pays off, in Minnesota a traveler from New York once came to witness the state's annual owl invasion. On the way up from Minneapolis, where he had rented a car, he was stopped for speeding and was issued a citation. The police officer asked why he was here, and when the New Yorker explained, the police officer gave him a tour of some owls in that area. So despite receiving a ticket, the fellow was happy for the service above and beyond the call of duty.