The art of the American road trip


Matthew deGrood, Contributing Writer

With the Japanese co-opting baseball and the United Kingdom importing several NFL games, it can be said that the road trip is the last truly American pursuit. It is in the road trip that one finds freedom – exhilarating, open and innovative. Movies, books and literature since the dawn of cars have praised the virtues of the road trip. Tragically, however, few today really recognize the difference between a good road trip and a great road trip.

Photo courtesy of Brad BerhorstGood company (longtime roommates, Brad Berhorst, Matt deGrood and Peter Raia), skilled travellers (went to Canada last spring), great destination (L.A.).
Photo courtesy of Brad Berhorst
Good company (longtime roommates, Brad Berhorst, Matt deGrood and Peter Raia), skilled travellers (went to Canada last spring), great destination (L.A.).

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” Anatole France is right. Though much emphasis is placed upon a sort of German level of efficiency, the beauty of the road trip is actually found in a sort of inefficiency – otherwise known as wandering.

Now that the decision to wander has been made, what guarantees one road trip a spot in the “Did I tell you about the time I …” category, and what causes another to end with the road-trippers not speaking to each other for hours, days and even years? In no particular order, these are the things that make a road trip either memorable … or regrettable.

First, road trips are communal experiences. Each traveler is crucial. The tasty stew created by combining a variety of distinct personalities flavors the trip and creates a gourmet adventure. Road trips, like food, are made better when both kindred and dissimilar elements combine in a pleasing flavor. But, when one of the travelers goes rogue, donning headphones and listening to his own music or playing games on his Nintendo DS, the trip is certain to tank. Omitting one ingredient is a recipe for disaster.

Speaking of music, prepare the trip’s playlists before the trip begins. Almost any music can be used. Classical, rock, country, jazz, even rap. However, never – let me repeat – never create a playlist consisting of a lengthy succession of folklore-ish tunes. A continuous sequence of droning melodies is worse than a professor who lectures by reading his notes. The monotonous sound begins to dull the listeners’ senses and lull them to sleep. No one remembers the trip’s sights and sounds because they spent most of the time sleeping.

Many road trip meals will be fast food. This is unfortunate, but it is reality. So, don’t make matters worse by supersizing. Face facts: sitting in a car doesn’t require high caloric intake. Yet many travelers consume more while traveling than they do when being more active. Supersizing while traveling is guaranteed to result in indigestion and countless momentum-killing rest stops. And who wants to travel with antacid-popping travel mates?

A road trip is more than simply driving from point A to point B and back. The time in the car is almost more important than the time at the destination; however, unless time is of no consequence, some schedule is needed. It shouldn’t be too rigid, or you’ll miss discoveries along your route. But it shouldn’t be so lax that your road trip never develops any momentum. If possible, develop a schedule that is goal-oriented and not time-oriented.

I want to return to the issue of sleep that I mentioned earlier when discussing music playlists. Although all travelers are discouraged from sleeping, the passenger riding “shotgun” is forbidden to sleep. If you are the front-seat passenger, you are responsible for keeping the driver alert and engaged. Under no conditions are you to sleep.

Now you have all the information needed to be successful “on the road again.”



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