1. Never say No to a full tank of gas (NEVER!)
This is very important, but I also say, “never pass a toilet without using it” comes in very handy on some of those endless interstates and toll roads. And remember, your AAA roadside service card is useless when you don’t have cell coverage! So, fill up the gas tank and empty your bladder whenever you stop!
2. Be nimble?
Jack be nimble? Yes, allow time for unexpected stops, along with the most important stops along the way. Just do not get burdened by your “must do or see list” at the cost of something unexpectedly wonderful and memorable.
3. Always take a respite.
Travel, especially by car, can be tiring, boring, and agitating. Take some time with a cocktail or coffee break or breaks, or a day spa, or both! In other words, take a break!
4. Take lots of photos!
Never regret the shot you should have taken. The great thing about digital cameras and cell phones: the delete button, of course! Ah, easier to delete than to regret! Oh and keep your camera and cell phone full charged. Always carry an extra thumb drive or memory card. And make sure that you are in some of them!
5. Get off the Interstate!
Yes, the back roads of America are worth side trips and excursions. Read the books by William Least Heat-Moon, it tells the story of America (blue highways). You can be like Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) in “Vacation” and find the world’s largest ball of twine, or Buffalo Bill’s grave. But remember the speed limit, and lack of toilets.
6. Eat locally.
Avoid fast food completely. Stop at roadside fruit stands and “Ma and Pa” diners and dives. A nice huckleberry pie is better than a soft serve ice cream at McDonald’s. Just be ready for an adventure, as the food may not be up to your standards.
7. Pay attention to what truck drivers do in bad weather.
If they pull over, I would do the same. Also, my trip to LA on New Year’s Day was foggy and icy. So, a group of four of us took turns leading the way down south, convoy style, the valley of fog. It was so much easier to drive this way!
8. Find the right partner.
First, the answer is NO, you cannot have Mr. Mike. Also, make sure someone likes to drive, and someone likes to navigate. Ideally, try to find a travel mate with the same size bladder (just kidding). Of course, this brings to mind Thelma and Louise.
9. Pay attention to all the local signage.
10. Have some good sounds, either through your phone, or satellite radio since your regular radio will not work at least 50% of the time.
11. Have a good story to tell the locals.
12. Don’t overpack.
13. Go grocery shopping.
14. Buy a real map or go to AAA.
15. Trust your instincts.
16. Know your limits.
17. Savor your destination.
And this from a dear friend: I (aka Thelma) made a lot of declarations when I set off on a ten-day road trip from New York to San Francisco with my friend G (Louise) this past summer.
We would see Mt. Rushmore, we’d finish the audio book of “Go Set a Watchman,” we’d stop in road side dives and talk to interesting people, learn about the “real” America and we wouldn’t eat any fast food.
We fancied ourselves a modern-day Thelma and Louise with less drama and the same amount of red lipstick.
When you make a choice not to eat fast food you instantly become mindful about where you do eat. Quality inherently matters more and you invest more time into scouring the options rather than accepting the next empty calorie.
G put it best when she said “non-fast-food restaurants were written in invisible ink, and once we decided to stop eating fast food it was like they all magically appeared and were everywhere.”
Food is so essential to the American story that we had to make it part of ours.
We also agreed to say no to chain restaurants, to forces ourselves to seek authenticity. We had to define the terms. Was Cracker Barrel ok? It wasn’t. We ate at a lot of diners and had more red meat than we probably should have, but when driving through country where cattle are actually grazing alongside of your car and you know where your meat is coming from, ordering a burger feels like an OK thing to do.
It was day one. Dark was falling and we were just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, nearly out of gas, daylight and patience. We’d assumed it would be simple to find something to eat that didn’t involve golden arches, but each rest stop laughed at us with its neon options and every time we left the highway to track down real food we discovered nothing but acres of cows and restaurants that had long been shut down.
At our wits end before the trip even began, we finally spied a sign that promised little more than a “Family Restaurant,” which took us to the New Fork diner, a sweet little spot right on the Turnpike service road whose motto was “where our cookin’ is better than home cookin’.”