My love affair with road trips goes back a long time, all the way back to family vacations 30-odd years ago, when my parents would set the alarm for 3 in the morning, pack the car for the trip up to the coast and stuff bright-eyed and bushy-tailed me in the backseat next to the cooler that held our breakfast and lunch for the road. That routine marked the beginning of adventure for me, way before I was old enough to grasp the concept of vacation.
Fast forward some decades, 3 a.m. me tends to be everything but bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but packing the car and hitting the road still equals adventure. These days, I travel with my husband, we tend to start our vacation with a flight somewhere and a rental instead of our own car, and we rarely start in the middle of the night unless we need to catch a flight, but the feeling hasn’t changed: I love road trips!
Blue sky & a desert dirt road somewhere in Arizona – one of my favorite road trip photos ever!
When my husband and I first traveled to the US together about 15 years ago, I was delighted to find out that he loved road tripping just about as much as I do, and from that trip on, most of our vacations turned out to be road trips.
You can be extremely spontaneous with your route
The first years, when online booking and mobile internet access weren’t as readily available as they are today, we booked our flights, a rental car, and accommodation for the very first night. Nothing else.
We packed tons of maps (remember those paper thingies you had in your car before you had sat nav?), and our first way after picking up our rental inevitably led us to a grocery store – water, snacks, maybe a cooler. Definitely wet wipes for sticky fingers after eating aforementioned snacks in the car, in the middle of nowhere, miles from the next bathroom.
Not too much has changed over the years. We still only book our flights, a rental car, and accommodation for the very first night, but instead of spontaneously stopping by a motel on the road, crossing our fingers they have a room available, nowadays we pull out our laptop before hitting the hay and decide where we want to spend the next night.
Middle of nowhere…
Dirt road somewhere in Big Bend National Park, TX
Wild West mountains in the middle of nowhere
When we went on our last really long road trip in summer 2012, we decided half-way in, in Savannah, Georgia that it would be nice to travel all the way down to Key West, Florida – and thus our epic East Coast Maine to Key West, FL road trip was born. Sitting on a motel bed. Just like that.
You can change locations on a whim
Hotel bed sucks? Amtrak crossing right outside your window? No worries, just pack up your car in the morning and off you go!
The bane of my husband’s existence, the Amtrak, led to more location changes than I care to remember. Once, we arrived at a hotel in Oakland, CA in the dark and failed to see the Amtrak station a bit further down the road.
We had originally planned to stay for a couple of days, cheaper than accommodation on the other side of the bay in San Francisco, but after a more or less sleepless night for the other half, we changed plans and drove on until we found another place far away from the railroad…
You see amazing things on the road
Driving down seemingly endless highways in the middle of nowhere might sound nightmarish to some people, but to me, it’s actually part of the charm of road trips.
Some of the quirkiest things we’ve ever seen are located somewhere on the side of a road. Some of the funkiest places happened to be chance findings of the “Oh, what’s that?” – “Dunno, let’s stop and find out!” variety.
Slide Rock State Park, AZ
Just a pretty barn on the side of US 93
Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX
Gotta love a pink elephant in sunglasses
Grave Digger Truck, Outer Banks, NC
Giant mossie somewhere in Texas
Planning your vacation in advance might have advantages, but unless you happen to know a lot about the places you are going or happen to enjoy some real in-depth research, I’m convinced you’d miss out on so much!
You can mix and match luxury and budget travel to your heart’s (and wallet’s) content
Some years, we booked a few nights in special places in advance, for example accommodation on the Queen Mary in Long Beach for our wedding night, or a few more luxurious nights in a fancy hotel we had heard about.
Cabin Still Room, Madonna Inn
Which other hotel has a haunted engine room you can tour?
Our room on the Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA
Door to Cabin Still Room, Madonna Inn
Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, CA
One year, we blew our left-over travel budget on two really fancy nights after a four-week road trip – was fun to have valet service after so many roadside motel nights!
Another year, we spontaneously stopped in Marathon, TX because the weather went downhill and we didn’t want to keep on driving in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm. Little did we know that the hotel we stopped at was home to a rather famous restaurant, with a rather famous chef – best food we had on that trip!
Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX
Loved that hotel room!
Our bed at the Gage Hotel
You can combine travel days and sightseeing days
One of the nicest aspects of road trips definitely is the ability to visit places while moving on to your next destination.
On our way from San Francisco to Las Vegas a couple of years ago, we stopped for the night near Yosemite National Park. The next day, we started early in the morning, entered Yosemite, spent a couple of hours hiking, then left the park at Tioga Pass and found another motel in Bishop, CA for the night. Perfect travel day, in my book!
Somewhere in the High Sierra, CA
View from first stop after Tioga Pass
Yosemite National Park
On other travel days we crossed deserts and swamps or passed beautiful coast lines:
Views don’t get much nicer than on PCH
Somewhere in Arizona…
Pretty reflections in Dismal Swamp water
Felt a little weird to follow the road after that sign!
Name isn’t appealing, is it?
Another perfect travel day on a completely different trip happened to be the day we spent on the road from Islay to Dufftown, through the Scottish highlands.
Glencoe, Scotland is beautiful even in awful weather!
So, what’s not to like?
If you don’t like spending hours in the car, think twice before going on a road trip.
If you abhor not knowing where you’ll end up for dinner or even for the night, do some serious research and maybe book accommodation in advance (good idea for Scotland, by the way!) to avoid an overdose of spontaneity.
Delicious (if unhealthy) breakfast on the road
If you hate eating on the way, dislike like snacking and/ or junk food, you might not understand my joy that comes with our usual road trip rituals – that very first trip to a grocery store to stock up on water and snacks, the coffee and Danish for breakfast on the road in the morning, stopping for a meal when we see an inviting place on the road.
What do you think – yay or nay for road trips?