It goes a little something like this:
Roll down the window
Turn up the radio
Hit the gas
As for how long until you reach your destination… who cares? (*Unless there are kids in the car.) You’ll get there when you get there. (*Unless there are kids in the car.)
Ah, yes. The road trip. More than that: the American road trip.
A quintessential rite of travel passage as embedded in the national consciousness as mom and two other equally important, life-affirming things depending on your background. Celebrated by the likes of Kerouac, Steinbeck and Miller with characters such as Sal Paradise, Charley the French poodle, Thelma & Louise and more, its enduring hold on the imagination of travelers everywhere is legion.
While he first “official” American road trip took place in 1903 with H. Nelson Jackson, Sewall K. Crocker and a dog named Bud along for 63 day, $8000 dollar ride from San Francisco to New York, the notion really took off not long after the first “Route 66” (aka the Will Rogers Highway, aka the Mother Road) signs went up in 1927.
Sure, times of changed -- looking at your crumpled iPhone on the side of the road doesn’t quite evoke the same kind of feeling as looking at a crumpled map on the side of the road, does it?
Yet the that intoxicating combination of freedom, nostalgia and spirit of the unknown that the road trip represents is still as strong as ever.
AAA projects 35.5 million Americans will hit the road this summer.
Part of what makes both the idea and execution of a road trip so pleasurable is that, at its core, it’s a fairly simple proposition. All you really need is a functioning conveyance, fuel, and music.
A map is good, but only if you have somewhere specific in mind.
Obviously, great food is a must as well -- but only if by that you mean all things bunned, huge, fried, decadent, caffeinated, and carbonated.
When it comes to planning a good great road trip, there are two schools of thought:
In terms of the former, here’s how we do it:
In terms of the latter, there are four essential things to think about prior to heading out:
Obviously, this is the big dog. Highways or byways? Big cities or small towns? Clockwise or counter-clockwise?
2) Sightseeing Necessities
Nature, historical landmarks, or Carhenge and the like?
Back seat, tent, Motel 6, or The Ritz.
The radio. Sorry, we've made that decision for you. While we’re utterly confident that your cray-cray good iPhone mix is rockin’ beyond belief, giving yourself up to the whims of the road is not only part of the road trip adventure... it’s integral to it.
The point is that in this modern word of ours, where technology often trumps leaving things to chance, it’s imperative that we do just that from time to time. Otherwise, we risk Calculator Syndrome, i.e. the loss of ability (and fear?) of doing even the most basic things the “old fashioned” way.
Losing one radio signal and having another crackle in… with the sound of a new DJ, local ads, and perhaps even a Friday night high school football game… that's all part of what makes a road trip special.
Now, at this point, we could spell out for you our top five road trips around the country that would knock your socks off – and someday we will -- but for now we’re going to leave you with this:
Designed by Randy Olson (the genius behind the art of searching for Waldo), the “optimal road trip across the U.S.” as he calls it is the shortest way to take in at least one national park, monument, historic site or natural landmark in each of the lower 48 states in one fell swoop.
Definitely worth a look.
Know this, however: planned out or not, multiple states or not, multiple days or not… whatever you choose, there is no right answer. Ultimately, what's a great road trip?
Whatever you make it.
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."Travels with Charley: In Search of America" | John Steinbeck