11 Tips For Having The Road Trip Of A Lifetime

by Justin Olson

Road trips are awesome, so why aren’t people taking them anymore? Road trips may have become less common, but there was a time, not long ago, when they were an essential part of American culture.

Jack Kerouac wrote about epic road trips. Cormac McCarthy wrote about “the road” in his apocalyptic novel of the same name. Countless movies, songs and poems are written about the open road.

No other country has such a fascination, and almost mythological appreciation, of the road and what it means to the American psyche.

It’s time to re-energize the idea of a road trip, because there’s nothing like heading off for a few days to connect us to what it truly means to be alive.

Though there are no rules to taking a road trip, there are some tips to make your adventure on the road better than average, and dare I say, a life-changing experience. Here is your guide to road trip philosophy for an insanely epic journey.

1. Give yourself plenty of time 

The reason people don’t enjoy road trips is largely due to how they set them up. They have X amount of time to get to destination Y, and therefore, they lose the best part of a road trip: the trip itself.

A road trip is not about the destination; it’s about the journey. When you make that switch in how you look at, your road trip will suddenly become vastly more enjoyable.

You have now given yourself permission to stop at the random view you stumble across that takes your breath away. You can now go hang out in a roadside cafe for two hours and relax and write or read.

Don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere. The best road trips often don’t have any destination in mind.

2. Take the highways – better yet, take the backcountry roads

This tip ties in closely with the first one. Ever notice the views when on the interstate? Yeah, they usually suck.

Interstates were built to get from point A to B in the fastest, most efficient way possible. And since we’re all busy 24/7, the interstates are jam-packed with people hardly moving at all. Interstates are anti-road trip material.

The best road trips use the highways -- you know, those old roads that weren’t as big, or efficient as the new ones. The roads that wind are preferable. Backcountry roads, the ones barely found on a map, are the best for road trips.

Those are the roads that go through unheard-of towns. The roads themselves have no shoulders, and right next to the road is a marsh, or a field or a mountain. Those are the roads that should be used for your road trip.

You’ll wonder why all the suckers are stuck on the interstate as you breeze around and breathe in the views.

3. Ditch the GPS

I’m not about being unsafe; the perfect road trip is all about safety. However, there’s something much more serene and enjoyable about using an old-fashioned map as opposed to some robotic woman shouting to turn left in 100 feet.

Besides, where you’re traveling, Siri would have a hell of a time following you. Maps might not even be completely accurate. But you’re passing through small towns, so why not stop, look around and ask for directions?

4. Why take a car?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m being serious. Cars separate us from our surroundings. In other words, they take us out of the picture. That’s not what road trips are for.

You are not a passive viewer on a true road trip; you are an active participant, so leave the car at home and use a motorcycle. Don’t have one of those? Rent one.

Too expensive or don’t want to be bothered? Use a bike. You might not go as far, but we’re going for quality miles over quantity miles. (Besides, people ride their bikes across the country all the time.) You’ll also save money on gas using a bike.

Both motorcycles and bikes allow you to be a part of the picture. They allow you to experience America, as opposed to just seeing America pass by through a pane of glass.

5. Bring good company (sometimes that might just be yourself)

This should go without saying, but sometimes we’re so anxious to have company that we end up bringing someone who is toxic to our adventure. Whoever you end up bringing, make sure they understand what you want to experience and do on this road trip (no surprises on your guests).

They need to understand road trip philosophy, and if they agree, you should be set. But... if you can’t find someone who wants to join, go at it alone. I mean, why not?

There’s something to be said about going by yourself, discovering America as you discover yourself. That can be life-inspiring.

6. Bring your best camera

If that’s your phone, well, okay. But truly, there’s nothing like having a piece of equipment made for the sole purpose of taking pictures. You want to document this adventure.

Even if it’s just a picture-a-day of something random, a picture of every town you visit or pictures of helpful strangers, document your journey visually. This will also help with the next tip...

7. Bring a journal

This isn’t a homework assignment, so don’t worry about covering a page or even writing in it every day.

You will want to write some things down: addresses and names of the best restaurants, names of people you befriend, etc. Even more, as you’re traveling and thinking to yourself, you might spark a great business idea or uncover a solution to a looming problem.

You might watch the sunrise at the top of a mountain and decide to write a poem. You may even get your next novel, play or screenplay idea. Bring a journal, tell yourself to use it and let your creativity and imagination go wild. No rules, just use it.

8. Stay out of the big cities

Cities are also anti-road trip. You're not exploring life away from the daily hustle and bustle, and you're likely not removing yourself from whatever you were trying to get away from. So when planning your road trip, steer clear of big cities.

9. Be prepared for the unexpected

Road trips never go 100 percent as planned. But when you think about it, nothing in life goes 100 percent as planned. So be prepared for the unexpected on your trip.

Construction might close the road you were taking. Or maybe the highway you were planning on using doesn’t exist anymore, your engine dies or you drop your phone in a swamp. Let's hope none of these things happen to you, but expect the unexpected.

When you do so, you are less likely to be caught off-guard and more likely to come up with a solution when things go awry. On your road trip, just go with the winding road flow.

10. Be a local

Small, quiet towns on backcountry roads operate quite differently than big cities. The people view life differently. I would know; I’ve lived most of my life in small-town Montana.

You are not advised to use your competitive, macho office attitude on the road or with the locals. Instead, be friendly, calm and approachable.

You’ll get much more help from the locals if you fit in with them. After all, road trips are about getting rid of the idea of strangers. They are where everyone could potentially be a friend or, at the very least, someone to lend a helping hand or a friendly smile. Besides, you’ll have a more enjoyable time when you feel like a local instead of a stranger in those small towns.

11. Fall in love

I don’t necessarily mean with a person; I just mean with something. Fall in love with the open road, fall in love with a town you never knew existed, or maybe you’ll learn to love and appreciate yourself. Hell, go ahead and fall in love with someone.

Find something new on your road trip to love; love makes all the bullsh*t worth it.

You might not have noticed, but most of these tips are metaphors for life itself. You don’t even have to follow every tip; just do what works for you. As long as you have a road trip philosophy in mind, you can’t go wrong.

Save some money, avoid the city congestion and tourist traps, and add some spark to your life as you enjoy the backroads of this beautiful country. Don’t be surprised to come back a changed person. After all, that’s the true definition of a trip.

Bon voyage.

Photo via We Heart It