Monday, July 16, 2007

Road Trip Tips

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed for a feature in about the perfect road trip, and I realized that while in my Road Trip USA book, I’m always happy to offer advice about things to do and see along the Great American road, sometimes the most important stuff – like how to adopt the right “road trip” attitude -- is harder to pin down. I don't know if it's our national Puritan streak or what, but Americans on vacation (myself included) sometimes seem to forget that it’s OK just to relax and giggle. (Or play catch, or pose for silly pictures at some semi-historical statue...) To counteract this deeply-rooted orientation toward achievement, over the years I've tried to come up with some helpful, handy "on the road " tips for how to make the most of a family vacation, or a trip with friends.

The greatest words of road trip wisdom I’ve come across are those of the inimitable Yogi Berra, who says: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” With that in mind, here's a “Top 5” list of road trip tips, which are more like a mash-up of 25+ different ideas, all of which are aimed at helping to make the most of your time on the road.

#1: Remember that Carly Simon song, “Anticipation”, which featured the words “These are the Good Old Days?” Well, to my mind spending time planning and thinking about the trip before you set off is the single best investment you can make, and it can also be a lot of fun.

So pick up a good road atlas, or get a handful of maps from the auto club, and let the fun begin. Take advantage of computer-literate kids to cruise the Internet and research the best places to see. Trip-planning software on your home computer (like Microsoft’s Streets and Trips) can help you choose from the millions of miles of scenic, historic and fun-to-drive highways, and keep track of the different places you want to stop and enjoy along the way. Learning about all sorts of fun and fantastic things there are all over the country will help give you confidence to escape the dull old Interstate routine and re-discover the joys of driving.

Along with the essentail virtual cruises down the “Information Superhighway”, 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 great hotels to minor league baseball teams, so you can know what’s out there before you pass by. Summer in particular is full of special events and small-town fairs and festivals, and if you time it right these can also make for great memories. Years later, you’ll look back at photos you took at the “Cody Night Rodeo” in Wyoming, “Helldorado Days” in Tombstone Arizona, or a hot-air balloon festival in Vermont, and remember what fun you all had.

Another common-sense but easily forgotten thing that really helps insure that a good time is had by all is, before you go, to make sure everyone gets involved in the planning. This allows every traveler, of every age, to feel that the trip is theirs, rather than something they’re being dragged along on. When you’re out on the road, let all travelers – not just the driver! -- choose some of the stops along the way – even if it’s only a quick stop for an ice cream, to read a historical marker, or to stand up close to a giant roadside statue.

#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.

#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 specialties. 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.

#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 or take batting practice 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!”.


Blogger GTFTW said...

hey great advice, am plannin a road trip across the states next year your blogs fast becomming a bible! keep up the good work


5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great post, a must read by all road trippers! I would like to add to your list road trip planning services. I use TripWiser (see above link) which works great, but I know there are quite a few more tools out there.
My two cents...

5:22 AM  

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