10 Things That Will Improve Any Road Trip

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We are, once again, ready to embark on another cross-country road trip.  Our trip this year has several legs, the first taking us 2233 miles, through 8 states, in six days.  We tend to not go more than 6 or 7 hours a day when we have the pups, which we will on this trip.  The second leg will take us over 642 miles down the coast of Oregon, through the Redwoods in California, and finally to San José, California.  And lastly, we will travel from San José back home, covering 2798 miles with possible visits to Austin, TX and New Castle, OK.  The last leg hasn’t been fully formed, or planned, but at this point we’re thinking about it.  If that’s the case, by the end of our big road trip this year, we will have traveled well over 5000 miles and covered 14 states.  It’s a big one.  Our summer road trips usually are.

Since we moved from Oregon in 2011 we’ve made some version of this trip every year since.  We always try to vary our routes there and back, see new things, and we’ve always, every time, enjoyed the hell out of ourselves.  We love each other’s company, love seeing the country, love listening to music while we do it,  love the photos we take, and love the experiences we have along the way.  Small towns to big cities, vast areas of gorgeous countryside, conversations with locals in coffee shops, traveling on the road is a fantastic thing.  It’s a wonderful adventure.

As we get ready for the trip this year I was making lists of stuff to pack, trying to remember all the things we need to do before we go.  It seems like there are always a million little things, and then ultimately there’s really only making sure we have us, the dogs and their supplies, and something to wear as we hit the road.  It initially always seems complicated, but at the core it never really is.

Thinking about our trip, planning out and preparing, I wondered if some of what we’ve learned doing these road trips might be helpful, or at least amusing, to other people.  So I did what bloggers have been known to do in situations like this, I created a list.

Tips to help make a road trip successful, in random order…

1.  Make digital playlists or mix tapes or mix CDs or whatever it is you mix.  Make them long and fill them with stuff you like, but also stuff that’s slightly unfamiliar.  Make them funky.  Include music from your childhood, from different times in your life, use different genres.  It’s cool to be driving along and suddenly a song comes on that I used to love as a teen.  Next thing you know we’re singing at the top of our lungs, pounding on the steering wheel, seat dancing, and grooving like it’s 1999.  Variety is key.  The music will become the soundtrack of the trip.  And something cool will happen, you will hear a song from the playlist later, after you’re back home, and you’ll think of something that happened during the trip when that song was playing.

2.  Bring water, lots of it.  For some reason a person gets parched driving across, around,  and through the country.  I don’t know if it’s the air in the summer and the heat in the winter or it’s just all the talking and singing you do while you’re sitting there, but a person definitely gets thirsty.  Having water handily available is something you’ll want, trust me.

3. Use a camera, a lot.  It doesn’t matter which kind — high-end, point and shoot, phone.  Just use one.  Remember not to just take photos of the stuff you’re seeing, take photos of yourselves as well.  Take strange and funny photos.  Be silly.  Make yourselves laugh while you’re taking them.  You’ll laugh later when you look at them.  Try to think about using photos to “describe” your journey.  What would that journey look like.  Tell that story.  Use those photos as your travelogue.  K and I play this game with the camera.  Whoever is in the passenger seat takes photos out the window as we’re driving.  The rule is we can’t stop for a photo-op (OK, yes, sometimes we actually do stop if it’s something really amazing, but in general, no).  Some of the stuff we’ve taken has ended up being amazing.  You have to be quick, you fly by the seat of your pants, and you don’t know, half the time, if you get what you’re trying to shoot.  But later, when we look at those photos, we remember parts of the trip we wouldn’t have otherwise.  We’re reminded of the smaller things along the way.  Like that huge wine glass and bottle on the side of that hill made of wire or something.  Strange, and cool, and luckily for us, captured.

4.  Plan ahead without planning ahead too much.  When we travel we pretty much know our route, though we do detour sometimes, on a day-to-day basis.  We usually have somewhere we know we’re going to stay that night.  We’ve done the fly by the seat of our pants thing, but when we had to drive for 16 hours once because we couldn’t find a room — let’s just say it taught us a tiny lesson about preparedness.  However, being ready is one thing, spontaneity is another.  You can have your route planned, but don’t be so stuck on it and your timeline that you don’t allow yourself to stop and see something wonderful.  It’s possible to stop spontaneously and still make your room that night.  We once decided to leave the interstate (we do this often actually as we prefer smaller two lane highways so we can really see the country) and ended up finding the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  It’s an amazing place, and we’d highly recommend it.  It wasn’t on the day’s itinerary, but it was totally worth getting to our room a couple of hours later than we’d planned.  Surprises are good, and make the trip, you just have to let yourself be open to them.

5.  Bring snacks and try to be healthy-ish with them.  It will help to stop the fast food urge.  If you’re starving by the time you stop it’s easy to look at the closest burger place and give in.   If  you have snacks, it will help you to make more considered choices.  I only mention this because if you find yourself eating greasy fast food, or heavier food, while you’re on the road you won’t feel as good during the trip.  Feeling good allows you to have a better time.  We know this, from experience.

6.  Stop at roadside attractions to marvel at greatness, and strangeness, and silliness.  I use a site called Roadtrippers to help plan our trips.  It’s great because it allows you to look for different things along the route you might find interesting, like natural national monuments or the largest fork in the world.  The site has great filters and lets you really narrow down things specific to what you like.  There are the times, as well, that you just happen to come across these things as you drive.  Stop.  Check them out.  The adventure of a road trip is enhanced 10 fold by these little side trips.  We saw the fork, by the way, and it was awesome.

7.  Talk to locals when getting coffee or ordering food or just walking about.  I’ve found they are pretty friendly and willing to talk about their town and the area that surrounds it.  And locals will know the difference between which places are honestly good and which places are good only in guidebooks.  Those can be two different things.  Talking to locals will also give you the flavor of a place.  It’s what helps you realize that really, we are all the same.  It’s the part of the trip that broadens your view and expands your horizons.  It has expanded ours.  It helps if you get off the main road and go into a place, not just through it.  We try to find a funky local coffee shop every morning during our trips.  We’ve had some great brew, and more importantly, seen some places we wouldn’t have seen and talked to people we wouldn’t have talked to.  You get better coffee and better interaction at an actual coffee place than you do a truck stop.  Oh, and go in, don’t just use the drive thru.

8.  This one is a tad crude, but crucial.  Pee when you can.  There are surprisingly large stretches of road with nowhere to go.  Literally.  So when you stop for gas or snacks or to walk the dogs at a park, if there are facilities, and you feel even the slightest inkling, use them.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve not learned this lesson.   Leave in the morning after grabbing coffee from a local place, pass by some little part of civilization where accommodations can be found thinking surely there will be something up ahead only to find ourselves in total pain by the time we reach somewhere we can go.  If you can avoid the bushes along the road, that’s my recommendation.  If not, the bushes, or that small twig, might have to do.  It doesn’t hurt to have a roll of toilet paper in the car.  Just sayin’.

9.  Make the dogs, if you have them, as comfortable as possible.  We do this whole layered thing in the back of the Jeep so they can lay down, but still see out.  Additionally we give them a couple of toys and a couple of bully sticks to chew.  We also figured out a way to have a little bowl of water for them in the back.  They use it.  We’ve found that by doing all this we make them more calm, and the trip is easier for them, and consequently it’s easier for us.  It’s tough, just by their nature, traveling with pets.  Our boy dog gets car sick, but we’ve found an herbal remedy for it that makes him much more comfortable.  And as I said, when they are more comfortable, we are.

10.  Stop often enough.  Get off the main drag.  Sometimes it’s tempting to put the pedal to the metal and keep it on the road, hour after hour.  After all, you want to get there, to that next place.  But driving endlessly without stopping is exhausting, and it can become this monotonous thing.  Have you ever been on the road, driving straight through to somewhere, and once you get there you don’t really remember anything from the trip.  Small details about gas stations and drive thru windows pop into your mind, but nothing about the places you actually drove through.  Stopping every two or three hours allows you to recharge, regroup, take a breath, look around, stretch.  It makes the trip, as whole, seem more relaxed, easier somehow.  Stopping allows you to appreciate what’s there, where you are, the places you’re traveling through.  It’s so worth it.  After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?  The saying is corny, but it’s true none the less.

Now get out there, and see something.

Facing the Book of My Life

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I was sitting outside this morning, enjoying a bit of time before the heat and humidity forced me back inside.  I had a cup of coffee and was chatting with K about our trip to Oregon this year, going over some of the little details of the trip out, discussing some of the things we will do while we’re there.  During the discussion I started thinking about all of our people out there, which I often do.  I wondered if we would get to see most of them, I hoped we would.

Thinking about the people you miss sometimes leads to thinking about the life you’ve had.  Mine has been amazing so far.  Amazing, mostly, because of the people who have been in my life, either for a short time or for most of it.  It’s the people, you see, who make a life what it is.  It’s the experiences you have with those people who make the memories you hold on to, that make this journey we are all on worth the ride.

In that short time sitting outside I ran the gamut of my life, thinking about antics on playgrounds, singing silly songs in high school hallways, riding around in my Plymouth Scamp, playing frisbee in dark parks, skipping class to go to the coast, bridesmaids dresses, card games, talks in coffee shops, bike rides, racquetball, drive-in movies, travel to far away places, crying together, music shared, and laughter.  So much laughter.  So many smiles.  I have what seems like an endless litany of shared experiences.

My thoughts then turned to Facebook, which really isn’t that strange of a leap to make.  I realized, during this short accounting of my life, that I am friends on Facebook with people from all phases of my life.  I have managed to gather them there, these parts of my life, parts of myself.  I can look at my friends list and see people I knew in grade school, people I spent time with in high school, people I met in college, and people from my work life afterward. And I realized something else… I love them all.  I love them like I love those versions of myself.  The versions of me I was when I knew them.  I hold those parts of myself close, trying to remember who I’ve been, how far I’ve traveled in life, and who these wonderful people have become themselves.  Who we are all becoming, every day as we move forward in life.

It’s a deep thought, not easily articulated.  I guess I will say this.  I love Facebook.  Not for the games or the re-posting or the political stuff I seem to be inundated with every day, but for the connection.  I love it for the window into people’s lives.  For the thoughts and photos and snippets of things that are important to them.  People I’ve loved, people I still love for who they were to me,  who they are to me now.  People who have made my life what it is, who have made me who I am.  I’m grateful for this connection, for this window.  I’m blessed to have been able to renew those ties to my former self, my younger self, and to stay connected to family and friends in far away places.

Before Facebook these parts of my life were like vapor.  Diffused.  Slightly transparent.  Now, though still removed and in far off places, they are re-connected to me.  And I am, miraculously, reconnected to myself, to my past, to this life I’ve lived and am living, and to the people that have made this life.  I’m grateful for that.

 

Thankful Everyday – Day Twenty-Nine

29.  I’m thankful for travel.  I’m lucky enough to have been a few places.  K and I love to experience a new place; the people, the smells, the tastes, the culture, a window into the way people live their lives.  We love this.  I’ve loved it since I was young and our family headed out on one road trip after another.  I loved it when I went to Europe for the first time when I was 16.  I love it when K and I go on a car trip that can last a day or a couple of weeks.  I love it when we pack and bag and fly off to who knows where or jump on a cruise ship or take a train ride.  Traveling brings a sense of how large the world is, and yet it also brings a feeling of sameness and smallness.  People are people, everywhere.  Loving, searching, laughing, angry, happy, striving, living — the same.  Travel gives you a window to that.  It also gives a sense of wonder about the world. There are amazing things to see and wonderful people to meet.  This world of ours is a fantastic place.  However we travel, being out on the road with a backpack, a camera, and my honey is about the best place to be.

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Tripping

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We love car trips.  Load up the dogs, their supplies, the camera gear, the clothes, and make sure the iPod is filled with good tunes to travel by.  We choose to road trip sometimes when flying might be easier, or faster, or even cheaper.  We like the experience of it.  So much better climbing behind the wheel, music on, countryside slipping by.  We’ve seen some amazing things.

It seems no matter which route we take, its the right one.  If you have a spirit of adventure, even those small county highways can be interesting.  Strange, or cute, or decrepit, or gorgeous little hovels with one gas station, a strange restaurant the locals really appreciate, and sometimes even a hotel or even two.  Towns have a feel about them.  Some say welcome, we’re so glad you’re here.  Some say get the hell out.  You can instantly feel which kind of town you’re in.  We like that.

We like old signs and big piles of hay and wrecked cars in lots and shiny new tractors and pretty parks and statues for local heroes and strange historical markers.  We like finding coffee shops in these places and hearing the group of older dudes in the corner talking about farming or the factory or the latest business venture.  Those guys are in every town.  We like friendly people who love dogs and want to pet ours and we even like the people who might not understand or like the gay, but come around to at least liking and feeling comfortable around us.  We like gas stations for bathrooms and bad coffee and the occasional snack.  We like cuddling with the pups at hour 5 when they are sick of laying on their beds and need a little attention.  We like singing along to songs we know and making up words to songs we don’t.  We like telling stories to each other about things we see, making up details to describe things we don’t really know anything about.  We like playing the maybe game.

The maybe game — it goes like this — we see a personalized license plate with the numbers 173 on it and the game is on.  Maybe they have 173 grandchildren.  Maybe this is their 173rd car.  Maybe they’ve had 173 girlfriends.  Maybe it’s their address, their locker combo, the address of their favorite hotel, the number of hickeys they’ve had, the number of Izod shirts they own, etc., etc. ,etc.  We get outlandish.  We make each other laugh.

We love stopping at strange off beat things, like the world’s largest fork, or an enormous statue of a rabbit.  We wonder about these things and marvel at them and appreciate that they are there for us to experience.  We love finding funky coffee shops and taking our photo outside of each one to document our coffee journey.  We love beautiful countryside.

This country is beautiful. Spectacularly so.  It never ceases to amaze us.  I don’t know how many times we’ve said something like wow, look at this, it’s gorgeous.  It happens all the time. To tell you the truth we haven’t really ever been anywhere that wasn’t pretty in its own way.  You have to see it like that, but still, we find places pretty.  Our favorite thing is to take smaller roads and highways, off the interstate, so we actually drive through small towns and interesting topography.  It takes us a tad longer, but we don’t care.  The experience is worth every extra mile and hour spent on the road.

Small day trips or longer trips that take several days, both are good.  Two days ago we decided to head out on what we like to refer to as sightseeing Sunday.  Pick a spot we can drive to and back from in a day and head out.  This time we picked a state park not really that far from us.  A stop for coffee, tunes turned up, pups and cameras in the car, and off we went.  It was amazing.  That park, unexpected — beautiful.  Trees changing color, ponds and lakes, people canoeing and fishing, a big flock of birds making big noise, swans, reflections of gorgeous color in the water, picnic places, music playing, a nearby wind farm, a stop for burgers and shakes, a bit of hiking, and loads of photos.  It was a great little adventure.  So much fun.  We even took a back road to get home and ended up going through some countryside we’d not seen before.  Bonus.

The point is that for us there’s adventure all around.  Everywhere.  Close by in neighborhoods in our own town we haven’t yet explored, and far off, in small burgs and large cities we haven’t yet been to.  All that fun and “new” is as close as jumping in the car and heading out.  It’s all there for the seeing and experiencing.  We can’t get enough of it.  Can’t get enough of experiencing the “new”, together.  We’re already planning our next adventure.  I’m excited.  I bet it’s going to be a good one.