Planning the Perfect Road Trip This Summer

Despite constant news coverage of rising gas prices, the call of the open road remains strong in this country. The allure of the summer road trip speaks to all generations. For recent graduates, it’s often a rite of passage. For retirees, it’s a way to revisit old feelings as well as familiar places. And for families, sometimes it’s easier to drive than to pack the kids onto a plane, letting the hum of wheels over asphalt lull the young ones to sleep.

Last summer, I took time off to go on a road trip with a friend conducting research for a novel. We only had a week, so we tried to cram in as much as we could, covering 11 states in 7 days. I’m not sure I’d recommend the same sort of trip to anyone else, but I learned a lot on the road. Whether you like to plan everything in advance or fly by the seat of your pants, here are a few tips on what it takes to plan the perfect road trip and record the memories so you can revisit them years later.

  • Pack light. Unlike a vacation with a fixed location like a hotel or resort, on the road you’re unpacking and re-packing every time you stop for the night. The easier you can make this on yourself the better. It may seem minor, but managing your clothes and toiletries can quickly become a source of frustration, even as early as the second day into a trip.
  • Pack only what you need. Try to keep things to one bag, duffle or suitcase. Pack more of the essentials like underwear and socks, but keep the rest to the minimum of what you need. The more outfits you pack, the more you have to unpack and keep neat and organized. (It also means more to wash, if your road-trip stretches longer than a week.) You’ll be in the car for a while, so don’t plan on wearing the same clothes you do in your day-to-day life. Think of your travel wardrobe as being divided into two classes: “in car” and “out on the town.” You’ll be more comfortable driving for hours in loose-fitting clothing like shorts or skirts than you will in jeans.
  • Plan reasonable routes. Aim for 6-7 hour driving days. After all, you need time to stretch your legs. Sometimes it’s tempting to drive on through and push toward the next destination, but that pace is usually unsustainable. It’s unhealthy for body and soul, and once crankiness sets in you risk turning your road trip into more trial than travel.
  • Don’t be afraid of the road less traveled. Interstates can get you where you need to go faster, but don’t be afraid to peel off onto the old state highways to stop and smell the roses. If you’re approaching a major city around rush hour, state roads offer a pleasant respite from commuter traffic. They also take you past roadside gems like mom ‘n’ pop diners or oddities, like the World’s Largest Office Chair (Anniston, Alabama).
  • Keep the memories alive. The novelty of recording memories of your adventures can wear off in the middle of a trip, but stick with it. You’ll appreciate having a complete record later. An easy way to keep up the momentum is to photograph each Welcome sign every time you cross into another state. These photos can also serve as chronological “chapter” headings in a future album or series of blog posts.

Traveling the highways and byways is an intrinsic part of American culture and a great way to see all the many regions that make up the US. It’s not hard to make even a short road-trip into a memorable one. It doesn’t have to be about just getting from one place to another. Make it easier on yourself by packing light and giving yourself plenty of time to see all the sights. And don’t forget the camera. Later, you might find you remember more about the journey than the destination.


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