After an incredibly busy six weeks of traveling to celebrate bachelorette parties, the birth of our very first niece and more, T and I are officially considering ourselves road warriors. We’ve made multiple trips to Nashville and Lexington, and just last weekend drove north to Gainesville for an SEC football game in the Swamp. (Yes, we were present for the 45-7 smackdown the Florida Gators inflicted on our beloved Wildcats. No, we do not want to talk about it.)
And while we’re happy to have a few weeks of calm after all the traveling, the truth is I’ve always been a fan of a good old-fashioned road trip, and they seem to mark important chapters in my life. Some of my favorite childhood memories take place in one of our family SUVs, all of us piled in and excited about being on our way to the beach or the mountains or some other fun destination. One of my best college experiences was road tripping to Charleston to spend Spring Break with 20 of my closest friends. And T and I spent a good part of 2015 driving around the country so that he could visit various residency programs.
Through all of that, I’ve learned that there’s a certain art to planning and executing a successful road trip. And our past several weeks in the car inspired me to think about the five key ingredients to enjoying the ride:
Have a plan…sort of. It’s obviously important to have some semblance of a plan for how and when you’ll get to your destination. But it’s equally important to not be so attached to an itinerary that you miss out on opportunities to make memories along the way. If you love schedules and to-do lists as much as I do, this can be especially difficult. That’s why I like to build in time to deviate from the plan, from the very beginning. I’ve never really been a “go with the flow” kind of girl, but I’ve learned that road trips are always more fun when you’re flexible enough to take the scenic route, or allow your husband to indulge in his breakfast obsession with Cracker Barrel.
So, make that schedule. Research the fastest route. Assemble that folder of all your important travel documents. But then, stash all of that hard work neatly in the back seat, roll the windows down and enjoy the journey.
Expect the unexpected. For my 16th birthday, my parents agreed to let me invite four of my best friends on our annual spring break road trip to Florida (yes, they were incredibly generous and possibly a little crazy). Like every year, we left around midnight, with a plan to drive all night and arrive at the beach around noon the next day. But on this trip, we blew out a tire sometime around 2AM, forcing my dad to pull over on I-75, unload the luggage of five teenage girls (most of whom slept peacefully through the entire debacle), and change the tire by the light of a single flashlight while semis zoomed by just inches away. Despite all of this, my dad didn’t utter a single complaint (and somehow survived a 15-hour car ride with all of our insanity).
Moral of the story: Surprises happen. Embrace them, and refuse to let them rain on your parade. After all, that flat tire incident ended up being one of the most-told stories from that entire trip, and is one of the things that made that vacation feel like an adventure.
Bring along an extra dose of grace. A road trip is one of the best ways to learn new things about the people you think you know well. Sometimes, those things you learn will be endearing and sweet. More often, they’ll be quirky (somewhat annoying) little habits that come out only after too little sleep, too much coffee and hours of quality time.
In those moments, a little grace can go a long way. If your co-traveler loves to sing in weird voices late at night, go with it. (T performs an odd, operatic rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home” every time we cross over the Kentucky state line. In case you were wondering, he also has a song for Tennesee.) If it’s discovered that your passenger seat navigator has zero sense of direction, remain patient and laugh about the U-turns. And if you’re travel buddy requires an unreasonable number of pit stops because she accidentally downed that entire bottle of water, save her the indignity of begging and just. pull. over.
Speaking of pit stops, choose wisely. In my experience, this is an area in which men and women are fundamentally different. When in need of a pit stop, men take the first available exit and pull into the nearest gas station or rest stop, with no regard for the appearance or cleanliness of the establishment. Women, on the other hand, are actually bothered by grimy door handles and sticky floors, and seem to have some sort of sixth sense about determining which restrooms are acceptable, even from afar.
So fellas, when it comes to pit stop choices, defer to your female companions. If they ask you to drive past the station with the outdoor entrance restroom or go across the street to use the Chick-fil-a facilities, trust their instincts. Because nothing can put a damper on an otherwise successful road trip like a ladies’ room that looks (and smells) like it was last cleaned sometime in the 1980s. (Plus, Chik fil a has delicious milkshakes, so everyone wins.)
Learn to love podcasts. T and I first discovered our love of podcasts during our “Tour of the South” vacation last summer, when we spent 10 days visiting different southern cities and listened to the entire first season of Serial along the way. Since then, we’ve made sure to stock up on some of our favorites before every road trip. They’re especially helpful after you’ve exhausted every possible conversation topic, and are the perfect cure for interstate boredom. Podcasts we love: This American Life, Southland Weekend Messages, Kentucky Sports Radio, Invisibilia, Pursuing Health and my newest favorite that would be perfect for a girls’ trip: The Megan and Rachel Show.
In the end, I think we all fall victim of taking ourselves and our plans too seriously from time to time, and road trips always seem to serve as the perfect reminder to let go and step away from normal life. So, cheers to keeping the tradition of the road trip alive, and to enjoying the journey and whatever it brings!
Until next time,