As someone who went on a road trip with my family every summer until I was in my early 20s, it’s safe to say that I am somewhat of an expert on road trips. Although technology has made jumping in the car and taking off for the great unknown easier (thank you, Google maps, wi-fi and online reservations) there are still some basic tips that come in handy. Here are my top four:
1. Be prepared. Okay, yes, this may be obvious, but it’s a good place to start. Being prepared includes having a route in mind, and possibly even calling ahead to book a room for the night. The most interesting night I spent on a road trip was at a truck stop in Alaska, where my family (including my aunt) slept in our minivan because we got into town too late to get a hotel room. This was in middle school, so my younger brother was skinny enough to sleep on the floor between the front seats and the middle seat of our minivan, but it wasn’t the most ideal set-up for any of us. I’m not knocking being impulsive, but if “roughing it” isn’t your style, plan ahead.
2. Be open-minded. I learned this lesson one year when I fell asleep on Interstate 90 through South Dakota on the way back to college. My parents were fascinated by the many signs advertising the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell, and to my dismay I woke up just as they were pulling into the parking lot of this random place. To spare you the trip, the Corn Palace is a building decorated with large murals made yearly from corn and native grasses. My favorite fun fact: the Corn Palace was apparently the first indoor ice skating rink in the U.S., but only because the main building flooded one winter in the late 1800s and then froze over. Though I am pretty sure I will never visit the Corn Palace again, it makes for a fun conversation starter, and I am always surprised when I meet someone who have also had the pleasure of visiting it.
3. Be adventurous. One of the best trips my family and I took was when we drove to the Artic Circle and back (in our trusty minivan, of course). We drove down more dirt highways than I’d ever been on, and the back of our van was covered in mud, but the scenery and sense of adventure were well worth it. Another great adventure was the year my brother planned a trip around Civil War battlefields, including Gettysburg and Appomattox. It was amazing to get such a vivid sense of history, and while I may have grumbled at the outset, it was a journey worth taking.
4. Keep in touch. With Facebook, it’s much easier to “check in” and let people know what fabulous places you are visiting, but don’t forget that a lot of folks love real mail, too. When I was writing for the “Let’s Go: USA” travel guide during college, my editors enjoyed the many postcards I sent them along the way. Postcards are an inexpensive way to say hi from the road, and your friends will appreciate getting something more fun than junk mail in their mailbox. Use your best Twitter skills to write a short “wish you were here” message.
Hitting the open road is a great way to enjoy the summer, and regardless of where you end up going—whether it’s down the coast or across the United States—you’ll definitely create some memorable moments.
—Blackburn, a guest writer, is The Oracle adviser.