Ah summer! Nothing screams freedom more than driving on the open road, windows rolled down, tuned in to your favorite radio station. With a little bit of planning, a road trip is a great way to see many parts of America. Sometimes, it is the most cost effective and efficient way, if you intend to visit places outside of big cities, or many cities within a geographic area. Here I will discuss some observations and tips that I have picked up from the road trips I’ve taken in the past years.
* You get to see how the geography of the US fits together, and how the landforms and topography change over state lines.
It gives meaning to what you learned in geography class because you can see, for example, how the terrain changes when you drive on coastal plains or at the beginnings of a mountain range. You don’t all of the sudden find yourself in the middle of a mountain range like you’d picture in a textbook. The terrain gets hillier gradually, and the hills get steeper.
You get to see rivers, lakes, oceans, and other bodies of water. Seeing the bustling and highly industrial mouth of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, for example, gave greater meaning to what I had learned in social studies class about the Mississippi being a major industrial waterway for trade in the 1800’s steamboat era. Today, still, it plays an important role in trading and industry.
You realize that the states that looked small on a map are not actually that small. It gives you a sense of physical distance and how big a place really is.
* You start to think about weather in terms of distance instead of time.
Usually: “Gee, it’s been raining since this morning.” or “Gosh, it’s been humid since Friday.”
On a road trip: “Man, it’s been hot since Louisiana and we’re in Alabama.”
or: “it’s been cloudy since Tennessee and it’s getting cloudier. I think it might rain.”
It feels like when you watch the news and the weatherman gives you a regional overview of the weather on a weather map, only you get to drive through the weather map.
* You get to see how the regional cultures change as you drive through the country.
Undoubtedly, you’ll see some houses or buildings off the highway, or the highway signs that tell you what restaurants are available at the next exit, and you can get a feel for what some of the popular chains or foods there is in an area. You’ll also probably stop for gas/food/hotel along the way, and will get a chance to interact and talk to locals. To me, that is always interesting. The vastness of the country lends itself to regional cultures. There is always regional slang to be picked up on, or that delectable local “must try” dish that you can’t get anywhere else.
1. Pack the day before so you don’t forget important items and are ready to go the next day.
2. Check tire pressure and fluids in your car beforehand so you don’t waste time the next day doing it.
3. Pack essentials- toiletries, pj’s, change of clothes, etc in a separate pack to bring to the hotel so you don’t have to dig through the car for your toothbrush at 9pm when you need to brush your teeth.
4. When traveling through climate zones (ex: from Florida to Maine) bring along appropriate clothes to anticipate weather changes. Yes, it will be cooler in Maine than in Florida even if it’s May.
5. Write down the major highways you’ll be taking on a piece of paper and key cities where you’ll need to change highways so you have a good idea where you’re going. On the same token, turn the GPS off. You’re driving on the same road anyways, no turns or complex navigation or anything.
6. Pack some snacks and beverages for at least the beginning of the trip. Saves money stopping at restaurants. In the winter you can pack more because it will keep. Ex: chocolate will melt in the car in the summer.
7. It is possible to spend under $10 a day/person on food but fast food is not the healthiest choice. Buying from the prepared foods section of the grocery store is a money saving alternative to fast food and meals out. Remember to bring utensils in case none are provided.
8. I usually plan on taking a break every 2 hours or so to stretch my legs and stay refreshed and fill up on gas. gasbuddy.com is a good place to get an idea of what gas prices are for an area.
9. The brochures and flyers at the hotel lobby have alot of information on what to see and do in a city.
10. Plan a loose itinerary, and have the flexibility to work in things you want to see that you come across. HAVE FUN!!!