Friday, May 05, 2006

Fun on the road -- Five tips for ensuring Highway Harmony

In my Road Trip USA book I give lots of detailed advice about things to do and see along the Great American road, suggesting places to stop, when to go where, and where to go when, and generally try to be helpful and enthusiastic about all the great stuff there is to see in the USA. However, sometimes the most important stuff is the hardest to convey -- trying to tell people "how to have a good trip" is a lot like trying to tell people "how to have fun" -- but it all boils down to making sure people remewmber the whole point of a road trip: which is, to HAVE FUN. I don't know if it's our national Puritan streak or what, but Americans sometimes seem to forget that it is OK to giggle. (Or play catch, or pose for silly pictures at some semi-historical statue...)

That said, over the years I've come up with some helpful , handy "on the road " tips for how to make the most of trip, whether it's a two-week family summer vacation, a long-haul RV tour, or a weekend trip with friends. So here's my “Top 5” list of road trip tips, which could just as easily be broken up into 10 or 15 or more… Yes, many are obvious, perhaps annoyingly so, but here they are, offered in the spirit of maximizing "smiles per mile"...

#1: Before you go, make sure everyone gets involved in the planning. This really helps everyone feel that the trip is theirs, rather than something they’re being dragged along on. Let all travelers – not just the driver! -- choose some of the stops along the way. Take advantage of those computer-literate kids, and get them to cruise the Internet and research the best places to see.

Summer in particular is full of special events and small-town fairs and festivals, and even a brief visit to one of these can make for great memories. For a start, check out websites like or , for music fans especially,

Also, a visit to library or a bookstore makes a great pre-trip planning session. The travel sections (at your local library, look for Dewey Decimal # 917) have shelves of books brimming with ideas about everything from hotels to minor league baseball teams, so you can know what’s out there before you pass by. Check them out!


#2: When packing, try to give each traveler easy access to his or her favorite things—maybe bringing a backpack per person for sunglasses, iPods, books and games. Pack things you won’t need for a while in deep store, but make sure you can reach things you’ll need along the way—like Frisbees and baseball gloves -- without having to dig through everything.


#3. If you’re road-tripping, make the car as comfortable as possible. Bring pillows and blankets, and have healthy snacks and drinks easily at hand. Play silly games, like spotting “out of state” license plates. Guess what crops are growing in those endless fields -- and stop at a roadside stand to buy apples and snacks for the road.

Save the video player for long stretches of anonymous Interstate, and instead talk to each other, or listen to a good audiobook. Listening to stories is something of a lost art, but a car journey is the perfect place to sit and listen--all together, without making anyone carsick. There are some wonderful stories available on tape or CD, often read by accomplished and engaging actors, and they last for hours.


#4. Once you’re on the road, take some good advice from those yellow highway signs.

Be Prepared to Stop: if you see something that looks interesting, stop the car and check it out.

Stop Look Listen: get out the car and use all you senses. Life is much more interesting up close than it is at 75 mph. It’s easy to get going again, and you don’t want to spend the rest of your life wondering about that giant sombrero standing along I-95. Being open to the unexpected, serendipitous (?) encounter is what makes a road trip a memorable experience , instead of just another long drive

Eat at local cafes, rather than the familiar chains, and sample local specialities. The whole point of travel is to have new experiences, isn't it? One summer's quest for the perfect piece of berry pie could turn into a lifetime adventure.

Go shopping: local shops, especially ones selling "antiques" or "collectibles", are great places to get a sense of a place. In small towns all over the country, these shops are like local history museums, and are often a gold mine for knick-knack collectors and for meeting local people.

And of course, the best advice comes from the inimitable Yogi Berra:

" When you come to a fork in the road, take it. "



#5. Don’t be so worried about getting to your destination that you miss out on the fun of being together with friends and family. We Americans sometimes turn things that should be a pleasure -- like a family vacation -- into something more like hard work, a task to be completed.

So remember -- vacations should be FUN. Go bowling in some middle-of-nowhere town. Be open to unexpected encounters, weird sights and roadside oddities.

Smile for the camera, and as often as possible, make sure the answer to that eternal on-the-road question, “Are we there yet?” is … “YES!”.

Happy Trails!


Anonymous ian said...

Hey Jamie,

I just stumbled across your blog. You've got some interesting tips and neat facts. I've been all over trying to find out as much about road-tripping as possible, as I have a big trip planned for June of this year. We'll be heading in a complete 360 around the coasts of the United States and are looking for all the information we can get.

Keep it up.

6:35 PM  

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