Vacations should be all about fun and adventure, but all too often they can become more like a military campaign, with every stop preplanned and every minute already accounted for.
If you find yourself exhausted after a preplanned vacation, it might be time to take a road trip. In the book “Blue Highways,” William Least Heat-Moon captured the essence of an archetypical road trip, planting a seed of wanderlust in all who read it. But while he was prompted to make his trip in response to a series of personal setbacks, ideally a road trip should be a rolling celebration that allows you to find yourself in the process.
Pick a spot on the map: The first step is to decide where you want to go. The amount of time you have available will play a large role in planning the trip. The entire idea of a road trip is to spend time relaxing as you visit places that you’ve previously only flown over.
If you can find one, using a paper map that you can spread open on a table provides a better perspective than an online map and lets you make notes directly on the map as you examine it to find potential side trips. The map adds another dimension to the planning process and, together with photos taken on the road, makes for a cool way to remember the trip afterward.
When you choose a destination, use your phone or computer to access an app such as Waze to determine the drive time based on going there directly. Add time to make spontaneous, unplanned side trips. If you only have time to go straight to the destination and back, it’s not going to be as much fun and defeats the purpose of a rolling adventure. Road trip destinations can be subject to change; if you plan to visit Dahlonega, Georgia, the site of a gold rush in the early 1800s, but end up in Nashville, Tennessee, home of mouth-watering barbecue since forever, that’s OK. Dahlonega will still be there when you do the next trip.
For your first road trip, start slow. Pick a place you can get to and come back from in a day, using two-lane roads rather than interstates, and pack the car with a cooler full of snacks and drinks. Make sure the car is in tip-top shape for a long drive, with good tires and no lingering mechanical issues that could have you doing the trip behind a tow truck.
Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes so you’re ready to experience unique opportunities such as the Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, Texas, with vintage Cadillacs planted hood-first into the ground, or Sliding Rock, a 60-foot-long joyride down glass-smooth rock into 60-degree water located off the side of the road in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina that most passers-by don’t realize is there. Many two-lane roads have memorable sights and adventures for you to discover, so don’t be shy to ask the locals and use the internet to add them to your itinerary.
A short road trip teaches you what to bring, ramping you up for longer, multi-day highway adventures. Speaking of multi-day trips, Waze and websites such as Pinterest, Roadtrippers, Rand McNally TripMaker, and Google My Maps make it easy to find overnight accommodations. These may range from five-star resorts to scary motels, so do your research before you get there. Mapping apps and Waze can be very helpful for finding rest stops and restaurants along the way.
It’s likely that most road trips are done in a car, but an SUV offers more room for coolers and supplies while also allowing you to stretch out and take the occasional nap. Those seeking a bit more adventure might choose a motorcycle. Harley Davidson and Indian both have cruising models that provide the best view of passing scenery; riding a motorcycle, you also smell freshly mown grass and the aromas from roadside barbecue spots. Planning your route in advance means there’s a hotel or motel with a hot shower at the end of each day’s ride. Alternatively, you can do the road trip in an RV, bringing a bed and all the other comforts of home with you.
In addition to road-tripping via car, RV, or motorcycle, you can also ride the rails. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad in New York runs from Utica to Lake Placid along the Hudson River, with many scenic towns to explore along the way. Richard Branson’s Brightline in South Florida currently runs from Miami to Palm Beach, with plans underway to extend to Orlando, making its many theme parks viable day trip destinations. Most trains allow you to get off along the way, catching another later to return home.
Regardless of how you choose to travel, be open to adventure, taking that interesting side road to see where it leads.