September 7, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy – Five Rules of Road Trips

In addition to traveling and writing about traveling, I also like reading about traveling. (I’m sort of one dimensional that way). One of my favorite blogs to read about traveling is Vagabonding Life by Greg Rodgers. Back in 2005, Greg quit his corporate job and took off for the wild blue yonder. Since then, he’s been sharing his amazing stories with us.

One my favorite posts by him is Unofficial Rules of Vagabonding. He offers brilliant advice, such as: “When life gives you lemons, throw them back at the harlot!” Inspired by him, I thought I would share my five rules of road trips.

1. Bring a Map or GPS…

Before I take a trip, I map it out on Google Maps. I figure out all the possible roads I could take there and back, what towns I will pass through along the way, and anywhere I might want to stop on the road. Once I’m on the road, I keep my Garmin GPS handy and a back up map in the glove compartment. Kansas is full of one lane highways that pass through fields without anywhere to stop for hours. One bad turn and you’re heading through Western Kansas for hours before you realize you’ve gone the wrong way. Also, some roadside attractions are small and not advertised. You have to know what you’re looking for and where it is if you’re going to find some roadside attractions.

2. …But Plan on Getting Lost Anyway!

A common mistake about GPS is that it will always work. But I can guarantee when you are out on that one lane highway that runs along the railroad tracks, you’re going to hear that annoying little chirp and monotone voice saying, “Lost satellite reception.” This also assumes that your GPS is completely updated, which also seems to rarely happen. Roads change over time and there will always be construction and detours blocking your path. You can keep your GPS on and try to negotiate around it, but it will keep trying to take you back down the road you can’t take and all the while saying, “Recalculating… Recalculating…” At that point, the only sane thing to do is turn it off.

Without a GPS, you can turn to your map or just trust your inner sense of direction (both of which are highly fallible). On my way back from Oklahoma to Kansas, I spent a good half hour driving around little towns, following a detour that never seemed to end through a torrential downpour. It was unpleasant, but it was an adventure. And isn’t that why you take a road trip in the first place?

3. Talk to Locals…

When you stop in a town of less than 1,000 people, you have to ask yourself one question: Where can I eat that I won’t get food poisoning? Food poisoning and even indigestion can make a long car ride pretty awful for you and anyone who might be in the car with you, so I always take some care with where I eat. But at the same time, I don’t really want to go to a fast food chain. I may know what I’m getting, but where is the fun in eating the same thing at the same place you could go to at home? That’s when its time to talk to locals. There’s always someone friendly around who will tell you where the good greasy spoon diner is. Locals are tour guides: they know what there is to see and how to get there. And you can make some interesting new acquaintances.

4. …But Know When to Keep Your Mouth Shut!

The first time I drove through Atchison, Kansas, I was shocked at some of the bumper stickers. It seems someone had been handing out bumper stickers that expressed political views in the most volatile and violent language possible. That was one of those moments when I knew it was best to keep quiet. If you are on a road trip to voice your opinions and beliefs and every stop, then you’re taking a road trip for the wrong reason and you’re going to spend most of your time in heated arguments. At a certain point, you have to know when to shut up and keep your head down.

Also, know when to walk away. I met a very friendly guy in St. Joseph, Missouri who gave me directions to some places I was looking for and told me a great place to grab dinner. Of course, then he wanted to buy me a drink and wasn’t too interested in taking no for an answer. I made some quick excuses and then I made my escape. Locals are friendly…sometimes too friendly. So know when it’s time to walk away.

5. Be Flexible!

This is the greatest rule of road trips. No one likes the driver on a road trip who won’t stop for food or bathroom breaks, who keeps insisting on sticking to some pre-ordained schedule, and who won’t let you turn the radio up as loud as it goes. Also, if you’re not willing to stop or explore now and then, you’re missing out on some great adventures! My best road trip stories with friends all came about because we were willing to stray from the narrow path. Be willing to take the risk or the long road or the short cut. Be willing to have something go terribly wrong because at least then you’ll have a great story to tell when you get back on your way. As Greg Rodgers would say, “When life gives you lemons, throw them back at the harlot!”


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