Freedom has always been linked to road trips. Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and “Vacation” were both inspired by the fact that anything can happen on the open road.
But even though the road should be freeing, road trips don’t always do what they’re supposed to.
Road trippers plan too much and don’t see enough. They try to get to places instead of taking in the miles in between.
When a road trip is done right, every bump and groove is treated as part of the adventure, unexpected places are found, and there’s time to stop and put your toes in a cool mountain stream.
We won’t say we’re experts on road trips because sometimes we just need to get where we’re going like everyone else. However, after years of road trips, some of which were great and some of which were just okay, we think we’ve figured out how to do them right.
Here are our best tips for making a road trip the kind of freeing adventure it should be.
1. Ditch the interstate.
It might be obvious, but unless you’re driving in some places out west where the interstate fits in so well with the landscape that it looks like it was built by wind and time alone, there’s nothing you’ll miss on the interstate.
But you’re missing out on a lot if you don’t take those side roads.
Get out your map and start Googling, is what we say.
Find out where you want to go and what small towns are on the way.
Plan your road trip around fun things to see and do or the road you want to be on, like Route 66 or the Pacific Coast Highway, not the easiest or fastest route.
Sometimes, the things you want to see and do may lead you back to the faster roads, but don’t let that decide where you go.
2. Give yourself plenty of time.
How much time you have to stop along the way may be the most important thing that makes a good road trip a great road trip.
On a road trip, pushing your daily limits is the worst thing you can do.
When you try to drive too many miles in one day, you end up stepping on the gas instead of enjoying the ride.
Give yourself four to five hours of daylight after your drive time, which is what we recommend.
During the winter’s darkest nights, this could mean that you can only travel a couple hundred miles a day.
That’s all right.
With four to five hours, you’ll have plenty of time to stop for a leisurely lunch, get out of the car and stretch, and stop at those random roadside attractions.
The best part of a road trip is the time you have to relax while driving.
And if you get to your destination early, you’ll have more time to see what it has to offer.
3. Plan the essentials.
I’m not a big fan of homework, but if there are popular places you want to see along your route, you should really do some research before you go.
There’s nothing worse than driving across the country to get to an amusement park, only to find out that it’s closed for repairs. (Go ahead and ask Clark Griswold.)
Check the websites of every attraction you’re sure you want to visit. Note when they run and if you need to make reservations.
You might be surprised by how many random things are closed on Mondays.
4. Find the other essentials.
This goes along with avoiding the interstate and planning your trip around attractions, but it’s worth saying again:
Try to find the things you didn’t know were there.
If there’s one thing that’s almost as bad as getting to your destination and finding out it’s closed, it’s getting back home and realising you drove within a mile of the world’s largest fork (in Springfield, Missouri) and didn’t stop to see it.
Our advice is to find out more about every town you’ll pass through or be close to.
On a road trip, everything and nothing is a destination at the same time.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s the only way to find those gems you’d miss if you just drove by.
And if all this research makes you feel anything but free, you can always pull off the road every now and then and see what you find.
5. Stop at the unexpected stuff and crazy attractions.
This is why you need to give yourself a lot of time on a road trip.
On a road trip, some of the best things you’ll do are the ones you don’t know about yet.
In our crazy world, there are some really strange and crazy things out there.
Our advice is to always get out of the car and leave time for weird things.
6. Enjoy the scenery.
A real road trip is one where the focus is on the road and what’s around it.
It’s not just about going from one place to another. It looks at the space between places.
It’s rolling through the bright fall colours and watching the mountains block the road in front of it.
The point is to drive down I-70 through Western Colorado, Upstate New York, over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, or through the Swiss Alps and into the Dolomites.
Our suggestion is to go the minimum speed limit when there are no other cars on the road.
So, take it easy and have fun.