For this blog I have talked about train travel and plane travel, but never car travel. This is highly correlated with the fact that I have not owned a car since 2009, a fact that I am quite proud of. Having grown up in the US in a mid-sized city lacking most forms of public transport owning your own car was the only option to get around.
Additionally, in the US one is brought up on a steady diet of:
turn 15 -> pass written driving test -> spend many agonising hours driving with hour parents -> deal with parents criticising -> (finally) turn 16 -> pass your driving test -> beg and plead with parents for a car -> receive car from said parents -> obtain teenage equivalent of freedom.
It’s not necessarily a logical cycle, but it happens every day in the USA and has been for years and will continue for years. When Europeans talk about the “car culture” of the US, they really don’t even know the half of it. Except for cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and DC (see the full list of the top 25 here) where public transport is extensive, usable and (mostly) affordable, the rest are ill-equipped for moving mass amounts of people about. Now I am unsure of the direction of causality, did the likes of Henry Ford and the resulting love affair with cars cause public transport to fall into disrepair and be abandoned or was it the lack of public transportation that pushed Americans to car? Either way, living without a car in most American cities is unthinkable and impossible. So America has become the nation of cars, for better or worse.
And that is how Miguel and I ended up on a road trip through the southeastern United States. Wanting Miguel to see as much of the country as possible and meet some of my family along the way, I planned this marathon road trip. We covered 9 states, 4,729 kilometers in 11 days.
I for the most part was not worries, but my most interesting observation while planning this trip were the weary looks and cautious warnings I received from friends and acquaintances. They all wished us luck and said prayers for our relationship. I became a bit worried at this point, especially since I have never undertaken a road trip like this. And to top it off Europeans and Americans, i.e. Miguel and I, have different concepts of distance. For example, if you wanted to drive from the northern most tip of Portugal to the southern most tip, it would take you 6 hours, 58 minutes and cover 708 kilometers. Where grew up that wouldn’t have gotten you out of the state of Florida! And though driving 8, 9 or 10 hours in a day is not unheard of for American vacations, I was worried for Miguel’s endurance. And for the endurance of our relationship…
The outcome? Absolute success. Not only did our relationship endure, it actually thrived, even considering the fact that Miguel met my parents for the first time, attended a cousins wedding with me, met my brother and his family, and stayed at the house of my sister and her family. So how did we do this? Well it came pretty easy to us, but I don’t know if it would for everyone else so with that in mind here are my top ten road trip tips!
10. Be realistic when planning. Do not assume that you can cover 900 kilometers in a day with only one bathroom break. Take your time. This will also eliminate the need to speed and possibility of tickets or something worse.
9. Relax and don’t give yourself solid arrival times. I think Americans, myself included, are obsessed with “making good time”. Relax. The journey really is as important as the destination.
8. Play a game. Print out a blank map of the US (or Europe) and mark off all of the state license plates you see. My dad and I use to play this game during the winter time in Florida and I loved it. You definitely get a bit of a thrill from finding a new one and it gives you the opportunity to wonder what sort of crazy person drives an RV from Alaska to Florida!
7 Bring good music. This is very important as you may be driving through the South and not be able to find anything but country music stations. Nothing is a worse hell than that. And make sure to bring a selection that varies between early morning pump-up music to after-lunch sing-a-long oldies.
6. Bring reading materials. But don’t be selfish, bring something you can read out loud to each other. Miguel picked out a book called Microtrends for out trip- each chapter was short, interesting and packed full of information. The passenger would read out the chapter and then we would end up discussing it further. You can also do this with newspapers or a book of short stories. Audio books are also a fun option – check out Audible for audio books to download to all of your devices.
5. Bring healthly snacks and plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to headaches. Even worse, no snacks can lead to the dreaded ‘hangry’ state – this is when you are so hungry you become angry. Trust me, it isn’t pretty, so avoid this at all costs. And the healthier, the better. Salty gas station snacks will also dehydrate you and the sweet ones will leave you feeling sluggish after an initial high of energy. Think of dried fruits, nuts, and wholegrains.
4. Be fair, split the driving evenly. It makes a difference and allows you both the opportunity to rest and take in the scenery while on the road.
3. Make lunch an adventure. Whether its stopping at a park for a picnic, a Diner, a Cracker Barrel or Cafe Risque (an inside joke for those who have driven near Gainsville, Florida), forget the speed eating contest, enjoy yourself and make it a time to take in some local flavor
2. Be ok with silence. Silence is never a bad thing. Don’t feel like you have to fill the void, allow the silence to exist and be ok with it as there will be times when you just don’t have anything to talk about.
1. Laugh. Whether it’s at other drivers, funny signs on the side of the road or each other. Laugh and enjoy every minute of it.
Silence on the road…
Ps. Don’t forget to stop and sleep!
Pedal to the metal,