The open road. Windows down, music playing and the smells of the countryside. Those are my earliest memories of road trips with my mom, my aunt and my cousin. But what actually makes a great road trip?
Some of the best memories of my life were those days packing up at a moments notice and going for a drive with my mom whether it was for the afternoon or the weekend. The excitement that immediately kicked in and the sense of wonder as we explored backroads and different towns has never ceases to amaze me.
I guess I was destined to not ever sit still and forever yearn for the open road. My very first road trip was while I was still in mom’s womb and we headed out to Florida in late 1967. Stopping at rest areas so mom and my aunt could sleep a few hours. Yes back then, there was really no fear of traveling and Stuckey’s were everywhere. Mom’s favorite snack at Stuckey’s was some type of peanut brittle.
As I grew up, road trips became more frequent and my eyes were opened to all these new adventures and sights to behold. I was never one to yearn for big cities, but instead for small towns, back roads and, of course, the old town cemeteries. Still to this day, I am drawn to the oldest cemeteries in each town. Always stopping to look for the oldest tombstones and wonder just who these people were and what had happened to them.
As this pandemic winds down (hopefully) and summer approaches in full force, more and more families will hit the highway for road trips. My biggest piece of advice is to focus on the journey and not the destination. Travel can provide us with so much education, dreams and relaxation when the focus is on the journey and not “how soon will we be there?”.
They are NOT vacations
Road trips, even the longer ones are not vacations, but instead personal experiences full of places, people and food that should be savored.
Enjoy the journey not the destination
Every single mile of a road trip is THE opportunity to experience the world around you. I always take an actual map with me and look for towns along the way. I look up their history and what happened in those towns. The type of background helps me explore the personality of each and every place. Look for historic places, interesting town names, different types of landmarks and, oh and most definitely the food!
Recently I drove down to Holly Springs Mississippi and as I drove thru the town I spotted this little building literally on the corner of the street. People were in line to order at the window that was about 10ft from the stop sign and I decided the food must be good. BBQ and yes pork, was the main dish and it was absolutely moist an delicious. I ate at a picnic table next to the building and just a had the best time. So, if you are ever in Holly Spring, MS please stop by the Smokey Corner. You will NOT be disappointed. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057130223394
Some of the best places that I have found have been by accident – simply by taking a wrong turn or just deciding one road looked more interesting that another. Side roads, back roads, just off the court square, so many different places to discover something interesting than the more well-known spots. I have never been one of those people that doesn’t want to stop and explore, instead wants to hurry up and get to the destination so the fun can begin. The fun is all around you in the moment, the off-beaten paths and the yet-to-be discovered places of interest.
Back in 2010, I went on a 6 week road trip, just me and my 1 year Rhodesian Ridgeback pup, Lucy. At every stop (and there were so many!), I started looking for ways to photograph the places from a different perspective than the average tourist would see them. Even if you are stop at someplace that thousands go to every day, always look for a different perspective that everyone else. You can still photograph the regular vantage point, but always look for a different one.
Eating Along the way
Food can create amazing experiences in your memory that stay with you forever. The smell of corndogs at the county fair in Mississippi, the taste of BBQ nachos at a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game, or the sensation of an ice cold Shiner Bock beer in Austin Texas. Food helps connect us with memories and people.
Planning a road trip is all about the cooler in the back and snacks you pack. But some more mouth-watering are the snacks at the road side gas stations. Road trips conjure up Snicker bars, Dr Peppers, chicken tenders (yes best chicken tenders are in small gas stations in Mississippi) and Jolly Ranchers. Also looking for those unique meals in small towns that serve the best food and have the best service.
Back in the early 90s, my sister and I went on a 10-day road trip across North Carolina and basically ate our way through every small town that we drove through. Food makes us happy and even better are meals with great company that make you smile every single time.
One of the memories that make me smile was back in 1998, in Dover, England at a Tapas bar – best calamari and sangria, but most especially the company and the conversations we had that evening, just 5 women traveling together and experiencing all that life had to offer for 6 weeks. It was like time stood still.
Keep an open mind
The absolute best road trips are those planned loosely and with no hard set agenda. Back in 2010, the 6 week road trip I took with my pup was the very first time that I did not plan out everything. In fact, each morning is when I booked my hotel room for the next night. Some of my days on the road driving were up to 12 hours because I stopped so many times to photograph everything. Knowing where I would end up for the night, but looking for the roads that had the most scenic or interesting sights along the way. I actually fell in love with the entire state of Wyoming that way and was awe-struck (and speechless) at the majesty of South Dakota’s Badlands.
No matter what kind of trip you take or where you go, remember that your experience is what is most important. Don’t stress over the small stuff!
Leave me a comment and let me know what road trip you plan to take next!
Want tips on how to plan your next road trip? My FREE Road Trip Planner Guide has great tips on getting started and planner pages. You can download the guide >>HERE<< and start planning your next road trip! Friends take the road less traveled, always!