I’ve been wondering this aloud recently. Ok, not aloud, but pondering it all the same. Below are some thoughts and musings that may help you the next time you’re planning to hit the road.
It’s easy for me to get excited about any opportunity to about get into a car (excluding any Toyota Solara or Chevrolet Malibu Maxx), and head out onto the bi-ways and scenic roads to discover or experience something new. I enjoy it so much in fact that as I’m typing these words, I’m already thinking about my next road trip. Ah, pure bliss.
The 5 components that make a good road trip great; vehicle, route, schedule, purpose, and companions. Some people may argue time is an important consideration, but I disagree. Establishing a purpose will establish the time needed. I’ve spent as many as 8 days, and as few as 8 hours on the road, from planning a trip weeks in advance to rising on a Saturday morning and jumping in the car. Committing to a specific amount of time for time’s sake doesn’t guarantee success. Whether my trip lasted 1 day or 1 week I came away with the same result, a great experience.
It all starts here, what do you want to accomplish on your trip or as I like to say what’s your departure intention? Are you on a mission to see the 12 biggest pieces of Americana (largest non stick frying pan, largest ball of twine, biggest Paul Bunyan, etc…), you should they are all awesome. Maybe you’re finally ready to begin checking off national parks from the list of 58. History buffs may be keen on retracing some famous/historic route. How about seeking out the best twisty roads (my personal favorite). Whatever it is have an agenda whether it be an overall theme or concrete plan spelled out to the last detail get it down on paper, napkin or smartphone app. Once you have that sorted out you’ll be ready to tackle the next step, vehicle selection.
The biggest factor in making a road trip great relates to vehicle selection. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a pogo stick or an RV, the chariot you choose will be awesome on your road trip if it meets three simple criteria: 1) comfort, 2) reliability, and 3) suitability or think of it as an acronym CRS. Working from back to front we’ll start at #3, Suitability: You wouldn’t take a GT car to check out America’s campsites/national parks, and conversely you wouldn’t take an RV if you wanted to experience twisty roads while avoiding a rollover, right? Does it have enough storage for you and your companions? Can it Number 2, Reliability. It’s sort of self explanatory, right? If the vehicle is something archaeologists would need to use protective gloves and brushes to unearth and preserve chances are it’s not going to thrive on the drive turning your epic road trip into a “stay-cation”. You should ask me about those sometime, I had 2 back in the summer of 2015, and they both sucked. Moving onto the number 1 criteria when selecting a vehicle for road trip duty is Comfort. Sure it’s awesome that your Mitsubishi EVO shreds lap times and tires, but how will you fare in that track beast over the course of driving for several days? Probably not that good. In case you want to know what it would be like to drive an EVO on a road trip, rest assured it’s like driving something that’s actively trying to kill you. And that’s not good unless the purpose of the trip is performance driving with the “in car” portions limited to more than a few hours. Then it would totally rock. My personal chariot is a 2016 VW Golf R, and it’s been good for the distance trips of 2,000 miles, and the short adventures lasting no more than a few hundred. It’s comfy for counting the miles, easy to live with on a daily basis, and has just the right amount of performance.
You’re really cranking through this! You’ve already made it through 50% of the process, now we get to the fun part. Winding your way through the foothills of a mountain range, making the passage across on one of America’s iconic byways, trekking across a high plains desert or simply taking country back roads choosing a route is an important step in the process. Just ask Lewis and Clark or Donner and Reed, a good route is a good thing. Investing mental energy on this phase will pay huge dividends on the road. Trust me on this one, you don’t want to have to be fiddling with maps all the time trying to find the next turn or maybe you do because you’re a cartophile (Noun: someone who like maps a lot), and you like the feel of the unfolded atlas at your fingertips or two finger shifting of the map on your smartphone. You’re the boss!
With the other three items selected There are three kinds of planners, and I’ll briefly discuss them is descending order from most controlling to most free spirited. After reading through the simple descriptions may identify with one. The first “planner” is not so much of a planner as a controller or a benevolent dictator with a map and a set of car keys. These planners have the route planned down to both the last mile and what you’ll be doing the entire time you’re on the road. “Allotted 4.5 minutes to observe a vista overlook”, it’s scheduled. “10 minutes to refuel in Acmeville”, you can bet your bottom dollar that’s going to be listed on the itinerary! Some people will need this structure to fit in all their objectives, but for those of us raised without OCD it may smack of being too suffocating. Next down the totalitarian planning scale there’s the person who has identified the purpose, and general routes, but isn’t too consumed about the specifics of tackling it. They’re just happy to be going to Hidden Valley, and they’ll enjoy a random route, thereby making that randomness part of the trip. Finally we arrive at the “Go with the Flow” planner whose plan extends no further than the idea of taking a road trip West. “Details, it’s just details…we’ll wing it”. I’m sure many of our forefathers probably also used a similar plan, they heard that (insert cardinal direction here) was ripe with opportunity or favorable conditions. That’s why they were called settlers, they traveled in one direction, got to one place, and settled.
I think it goes without saying, but not without typing that you should travel with exceptional people. Good friends make for good trips, and good memories.