The Road Trip

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”–Mark Twain

Late afternoon somewhere between Arkansas and Tennessee

Summer vacation time is almost upon us.   A lot of people have made plans by now.  Some haven’t.  So, here’s a suggestion for those who haven’t:  Plan a road trip.

Road trips are not universally appreciated.  These days people consider the journey the odious part of the trip.  They just want to get through TSA at the airport, suffer the waits, delays, and discomfort of travel and just get to where they’re going.

Not me.  I love the journey, whether it be by plane, train or automobile.  The destination is just a necessary ingredient:  kind of like the stake that holds the tent up.

So, road trips are great for me.  Just give me the destination to aim at and I’ll be sure to get there–eventually–after I’ve hit up a few diners; meditated on a few vistas; let some loud sing-songs waft out the car windows and chanced upon a few happily unexpected meetings.

Here are a few rules for enjoying road trips

  1. Accept that the journey IS the trip, not the destination.  Slow down.  Look around.
  2. In order to appreciate the time (notice I didn’t say “kill” time, or even “pass” time), listen to your favorite songs and sing along.   Listen to some great podcasts.  Listen to great audiobooks–a good suggestion is any of Bill Bryson’s books, but particularly his travel books, like the hilarious A Walk in the Woods.   Chat.  Be silent.  Look around.
  3. Get out of the car frequently.  When I went on a road trip with my Uncle Bill along the Mississipi in Minnesota/Wisconsin, he would pull over periodically and announce, “THERE’s a nice vista!”  And we would just stand there and soak it in–the sight of a  farmhouse nestled in a valley, cradled by the green hills around it.
  4. Snap photos on the way with an app like Momento and keep them private or share them.
  5. Go with like-minded travellers–nothing is worse than to be trapped in a car for hours with someone who is bored and/or impatient.
  6. Plan to drive only 5-6 hours a day, so you have time to relax and sightsee.
  7. Have a flexible itinerary:  half the fun of a road trip is the unexpected.   Map out things you’d like to see between Point A and Point B, but don’t be too rigid.  Go with the flow.
  8. If you can, work in visits with relatives on the way that you don’t get a chance to see much
  9. Be adventurous. It’s nice to see the standard tourist stuff, but it’s even better to be surprised by an experience you didn’t expect.  When I was in London one year, we missed the bus to Haworth, site of Wuthering Heights, and so we didn’t get there until after dark.  Rather than succumbing to the disappointment of not being able to see the heather on the hills in the pitch dark, we trudged up those hills anyway, until the lights of the village was below, the purple sky was above, and we were knee deep in heather that we picked, but didn’t see, until we got back to town.  It was an awesome experience.

One of My Favorite Road Trips

One time my daughter offered to drop off a friend at his home.  She lived in Washington DC at the time.  He lived in Texas.  I thought that was pretty considerate of her, going a mere 1500 miles out of her way to bring him home.

I heard about this when I was on the road, and when I asked how she was getting back to the East after dropping him off, she said, “I’m driving home myself.”  “Oh, no you’re not” I told her.  In a stroke of providential serendipity, I just happened to be flying on business for two days to the friend’s home town.  So I cancelled the last leg of my plane itinerary and told her I’d meet her and we’d drive home together.

This was such a last-minute decision there were no big plans, no building up a lot of excitement and anticipation.  It was what it was–and it was wonderful.  I have such great memories of my daughter and I bombing across Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia and up the East Coast in the little VW Beetle.  We had a loose itinerary; we decided we were going to enjoy the trip and not just try to fly home quickly.  We didn’t book hotels until we got to where we were going, and we just had fun.  Take a look at the pictures.

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