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Seven Simple Rules for Making the Most of a Road Trip.

The thing I love about road trips is their fluidity.

Remaining untethered to some airline’s asinine rules and sordid idea of an itinerary–

Since passengers who boarded before you carried all of their worldly possessions onto the plane in order to avoid paying our exorbitant checked baggage fees, we’re going to have to place your expensive and beloved DSLR camera in the hold…

We’re experiencing a delay either because of inclement weather in Denver OR because the flight crew is busy getting hammered in the employee lounge…

Flight 136 to Atlanta has been overbooked because we enjoy collecting your money for a service we never intended on providing.  Please come to the desk if you are willing to reschedule.

is a freeing feeling.  One that can only be fully understood if you know what it’s like to throw your clothes into a suitcase or bag in your trunk, only to realize you’ve forgotten a great pair of shoes, your leather jacket, your tripod, and a bunch of CD’s you burned in the late 90’s, so you toss those into the backseat along with a cooler full of water, caffeinated beverages, homemade trail mix, and several haphazardly assembled chicken salad sandwiches and finally, unrestrictedly, hit the road.

You can pack what you want, as long as there’s still leg room and the windows can open.

(Okay.  So the Tracker has limited leg room by default and only 3 of her electric windows still operate, but she’s in incredible working condition — especially considering we met back in 2002, just 3 years after her birth, and since then we’ve had the longest, closest, mutually caring, non-blood-related relationship of my life — with the exception of Alaina, who may as well be blood — and have traveled well over 150,000 miles together.  We’re kind of in love.  I’ve known her longer than my husband, and she’s never tried to start a fight with me via text message because she knows I hate that.

It’s almost like we’re soul mates.)

Even so, there are some”rules” for road-tripping that, while are certainly less restrictive than the spoken (no electronic devices during take-offs/landings, buckle your seatbelts while seated, don’t pack more than 50 pounds worth of crap) and unspoken (the passenger in the middle seat gets dibs on both armrests, hold all farts until you’ve exited the plane, feed fussy babies pre-flight cough medicine cocktails) rules of air travel, should be abided — or at least acknowledged — in order to guarantee an enjoyable trip for all involved.

Even if it’s just you.

1)  Break it up, man.  Sure, I could’ve driven directly to Philadelphia to meet up with Justin and his family in an easy, less-than-9-hour day trip.  But really?  Where’s the fun in that?  I have people, you know.  People I like to see whenever the mood strikes or when one of us feels like making the effort.  And a couple of these people just happen to be living along the general path I had to take to reach Philly from North Carolina.

So I did what any plan-hating, inconsiderate domestiphobe would do — I messaged them on Facebook and told them to get their guest rooms/futons/air mattresses ready, because I’d likely be needing them either sometime the week before or the week after Easter.

Whichever turned out to be more convenient for me.

Or them.

Or mostly me.

This is not the exact path I ended up taking, because I’ve found over the years that U.S. interstates are grotesquely dangerous freaks of infrastructure overcrowded with semi trailers and minivans and repeating clusters of national and regional fast food chains that only serve to make you feel ghastly and bloated and pimply when you finally reach your destination.

Which brings me to:

2)  Take the road less traveled.  Cross the bridge uncrossed.  For real.  You see a fork.  The left prong takes you on a whirlwind tour of rest stops, gas stations, and enough deep fry oil to sink the Titanic.  The right prong takes you to sleepy towns, privately owned restaurants, and probably still enough deep fry oil to sink the Titanic.

But the food it fries, 9 times out of 10, is much, much better.

Let’s see McDonald’s bring you this.

The streets are emptier.

The roads have less potholes.

And the views are… well… they smell better than the back end of a truck stop.

3)  Eat well.  Seriously.  Feed yourself.  Feed yourself things you can’t/don’t/ wouldn’t dare cook at home.  Discover new places.  New dishes.  New tastes.

After all, who says the vacation has to start when you’ve reached your destination?

4)  Don’t pack light.  I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but just in case I do, here goes:  You’re in a car.  You know, that mobile vehicle with wheels, massive in comparison to a single airline seat and quarter of an overhead compartment, so use it.  What are you afraid of?  That someone will judge you?  Elbow you?  Stare at you creepily while you try to absorb yourself in The Hunger Games because you’ve become completely obsessed even though it’s a heinous storyline semi-ripped off from or at least probably partially inspired by Richard Bachman’s (aka. Stephen King’s) little-known gem The Long Walk, and you didn’t even know this latest book craze existed until a few weeks ago when everyone started talking about the movie and murderous children and a Peeta that wasn’t a bread/sandwich (pita) but a character in this book that was supposedly so good or disturbing or mind-numbingly twisted that you wouldn’t be able to put it down so you bought it and didn’t actually put it down for 3 days not including sleep and socialization and pee breaks?

Are you afraid that will happen?

Well, I have news.

That only happens on airplanes.

In the safety of your car, no one judges.  No one nudges.  And no one stares except for when they pass and catch you singing along to Billy Joel’s greatest hits with more enthusiasm than Peeta would show if he were told he could finally have consensual sex with Katniss and she’d actually like it.  (I’m only partway through Book 2, by the way, so if you ruin this for me I might have to hate you forever.  Or at least for a couple of hours because I have a short attention span, but even so, spoiling plotlines would truly be an evil undertaking.)

The good news is, if you do forget anything, it’s not a big deal to stop somewhere along the line and buy it.  But the more you pack, the more money you save, and the less guilty you feel for buying that completely-awesome-yet-unnecessary dreamcatcher from a Pueblo roadside gift shop in Nevada.

5)  Bring good music.  This is completely subjective, believe it or not.  And while modern music is acceptable, anything that inspires nostalgia is better.  Billy Joel?  Go for it.  Avett Brothers?  Have at it.  Toadies?  Go ahead and send me a copy.  Because no one judges.  (See #4.)  And if anyone who happens to be with you does, you can accidentally-on-purpose forget him at a truck stop off the side of I-95.

Or, if you’re nicer and have been paying attention, at a diner off the side of Highway 301 within walking distance of a riverside park and an all-you-can-eat Maryland crab shack and a sign for RedNex sporting goods.

6)  Be flexible.  Okay.  So you want to avoid the interstates, especially around busy cities, but there’s this truly amazing sandcastle competition they hold every year in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and you know there’s no way you’ll make it in time if you completely avoid I-84.  Not to mention the fact that sometimes the interstate is just safer, especially while traveling solo, in the way of providing the occasional modern convenience or (hopefully) friendly passerby in case you run into trouble.

So if the situation calls for it, take the interstate.  If you have time to peruse a used book store in a quaint seaside village, do it.

Basically this rule means that there are no rules.  Kind of like Fight Club, except we get to feel free without having the crap beat out of us.

Good deal, no?

7)  Earn Your Keep.  This has more to do with the stops between times on the road.  When someone’s putting you up for a night (or two, or three, or however long you plan to leach from their generosity while enjoying their company), they’re doing more than providing a bed.  They’re providing water, food, hygienic facilities, and a place far more comfortable than your car for stretching out with a good book.

Usually, they’re sharing their home.  Knowledge of the place they live and love.  Absorb it all, whatever they want to show you, and pay it forward.  For our relatives in Philadelphia, I have a gift planned.  To Erin, I brought olives and wine.  And for Angie?


Angie opted for manual labor.

So on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we took her front lawn from this:

To this:

And while I may have taken the occasional break to sip water on her fabulous front porch and point out spots that could use improvement, (I was on vacation, after all), I also managed to help a little, and all-in-all felt pretty great about squeezing in some physical activity between wine and food samplings.

So there you have it.  Seven rules for road tripping that are subject to change without notice as I become older, crotchetier, and take in more of what this world has to offer.


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Bex Hall

Loved this! We road-tripped in 2004; from Ohio to the Grand Canyon and back in 12 days. While the GC was spectacular, the journey was even better. Had a prank pulled on us when the trunk of the car popped open in the middle of the night in St. Louis (because my husband hit the opener accidentally) and someone saw fit to stuff a pair of jeans in the suitcase with socks, hang the legs out of the back, complete with shoes, then shut it as if a body was in the back! What a thing to wake up to! And they didn’t even steal the laptop or anything else.

Stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, listening to the Eagles blaring from the outdoor speakers. Only because we needed new windshield wipers; it’s why we stopped initially. Traveled on parts of what’s left of Rt. 66. Ate at some hometown eateries. Antique malls, seeing rivers I’d never seen, seeing Indians dance at Four Corners, Treasure Falls…

Nothing was planned.

Road trips are so much better than airlines.

The journey is much more fun, if you’ll allow yourself to relax and take it easy. (Gratuitious Eagles reference.)

Thanks for the reminder of how good it is to take that road trip!! Well written!


Thanks, Bex!

That prank is hilarious — I love when you meet good-natured people on the road. The people around you – and your attitude towards them – can make or break a vacation, that’s for sure. Much better to wake up to a (fake) dead body in your trunk than to find out someone has stolen all of your packed possessions, I always say. ;)

I also love it when certain music triggers memories of specific trips, like the Eagles do for you. To this day I can’t hear the song, “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound Gang without instantly getting transported back to my college Spring Break, freshman year, and our road trip down to Daytona, FL. Or “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake without thinking of all of the 13-hour drives I made by myself between my college and my parents’ house.

Good times, good times. :)

Solitary Diner

Oh…this post makes me want to abandon my job and hop in my car. I went on a fabulous road trip to the mountains last year, and I’m still dreaming of going back. I will definitely follow some of your advice when I get the chance to hit the road again.


I think that way a lot, too… then I remember that I need the job, or I’d run out of gas. Catch 22. :)


Those don’t look like yard-work boots to me! ;-) I love your road-trip rules. My parents taught me to love car rides, local sight-seeing or longer trips, and rules similar to those help a lot. Although, we bring our own goodies, as stopping anywhere with even a portion of our crowd breaks the bank. I particularly love the less-traveled roads, which are always more scenic and with a place to pull out of the way if someone impatient and unappreciative of the views wants to zoom on around.

My grandpa didn’t get letting the travel be part of the fun. He once told my dad he wanted to see Mount Rushmore, so Dad got out the map and planned a 3-day trip to get there. My grandpa said, “No, no. If we leave at 4 AM we can get there to see it and be back the next night.” Yikes. 1300 miles each way! They didn’t go.


Ha! Those are my “whew-I-made-it-back-home-in-one-piece-and-can-enjoy-a-beer-on-my-back-deck-after-work” boots. ;)

I definitely mentioned that in the intro — bringing your own goodies is great! You don’t have to spend tons of time stopping, and you don’t feel guilty for cramming McD’s into your tummy. Especially when you can get that anywhere! I am curious, though, how you all managed to fit in one car. :)

I’ve known people like your grandpa — can’t STAND that kind of travel!


We used to have a 15-passenger van. Not that many want to travel with us anymore, so we have our 7-passenger van instead… Or we take 2 vehicles, which is a PAIN, and loses some of the fun.


Yeah, it’s definitely not as fun to travel separately. I can’t imagine how awesome (and sometimes terrible) your vacations must have been with that many people!! :)

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