The Basics: Road Tripping On Your Own

I’ve traveled so often with groups of people that once or twice a year, I have to- I MUST- do something on my own. This usually takes the form of a trip for a few days to a week.  I’ve spent a week in Paris, a few days in London, time in Canada, and even a trip throughout Florida, exploring the world on my own schedule.   When I say that I was “alone,” I don’t mean that I spent the entire trip locked in my own head.  I’ve met some truly amazing people, who I would never have crossed paths with had I been with someone.  I can honestly say that I would never have met an Australian in Canada who was learning French, and I would never have crossed paths with a Norwegian in Amsterdam.  There are so many people that I wouldn’t have gotten the privilege of getting to know and have become friend with.

A couple of weeks ago, after a grueling few months at work and in life, I decided to take a road trip through the southeastern U.S.  I basically drove a in big circle, exploring the Appalachian mountains and meeting up with old friends along the way.  I visited a few cities I hadn’t been through before (Augusta, Charlotte, and Asheville), got a little touristy (I spent a crowded afternoon walking through the Biltmore Estate), and I met so many great people.

The whole experience gave me time to reflect on how to have a great time when it’s nothing more than you and the road.  I’ve pulled together a few helpful tips for all the road warriors out there.

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1.  Have A Plan

You don’t have to have a strict, minute-by-minute itinerary (but you can , and if that’s who you are, plan with gleeful abandon), but do have a rough idea of where you are headed and when.  Make sure that you’ve done enough planning to know that you are going to break up the trip, and have an idea of where you will be stopping.  You don’t want to burn yourself out by spending days at a time behind the wheel.

I laid the trip out so that I could stay with a different friend each night, and each was roughly four to six hours apart.  I could get up each morning, and get on the road mid-morning, and by early afternoon I was meeting up  with someone new. I didn’t overstay my welcome anywhere (I hope).  It wars actually really nice.  In each new city,  I got to do a bit of socializing with an old friend, have dinner and few drinks, and then head out knowing that more great company and conversation awaited me.

2.  Do your homework ahead of time. 

There are so many great websites and books today that there’s no excuse not to have a idea of what cool attractions are “out there.”  Have a list of what you want to see and do.  This makes the unexpected side trips even more fun and random.  You may plan to travel to Atlanta, but then you see the sign for the “World’s Biggest Chair,” in Anniston and you know you have a detour in your future.  Go with the flow when moving from points A to B, and don’t be afraid to deviate away from the plan.

I did this in Asheville.  I was excited to check out the city, but at the last minute decided that it might bring back some memories to visit the Biltmore Estate just outside of town.  I went there as a kid, and I’m glad I went, but I was surprised by how much of it I remembered, which was a bit of let down.

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3.  Take the Scenic Route

The interstates are great and they are quick but they aren’t always the most spectacular.  Don’t be afraid to travel along the highways and byways and off the beaten to really get a chance to see the beauty of the world around you.  Pull over when you see a sign for a “scenic view.”  The sign is there for a reason.  It will be worth the time.

4.  Apps, Mapps, and a Cooler

Travel smart.  Always.  In this day and age, it makes sense to use the resources available to you.  Sometimes I still have to break out a good old fashioned road atlas to keep my map reading skills sharp, but more and more I rely on “Madame” Garmon.  She’s never let me down, but every once in a while she does get confused and she does sometimes seemingly get upset with me when I miss turns.  Increasingly, though, I’ve been using an app on my smart phone- WAZE.  It’s very accurate and can even guide me around jammed roads.  The best feature about it though is that you can use it to text a live map of your current location and your ETA to someone.

It’s also a good idea to carry a small cooler with you.  Let’s be honest drinks and snacks at a road side store are a rip off. Carry a cooler and save yourself some money.  It adds up.

 

5.  Don’t Be Afraid.

The secret of humanity, I believe, is that people love to talk, and their favorite topic is themselves.  Strike up conversations with the people you encounter. Ask them about themselves (don’t get too invasive, of course), but then really listen to what they tell you.  You can learn a  lot about them and about yourself through their experiences.

On my trip, I was went to a diner in Charlotte my last morning there for breakfast.  I overheard the waitress tell someone she was from Michigan.  I told her I have family from there.  We started chatting.  The owner came over, and he joined in and started to talk about his coming from Greece.  I shared that I was from Alabama, which lead to a discussion of Alabama football.  I told them I was headed on to Asheville, and it turned out his brother-in-law had a restaurant in Asheville.  A phone call later, and I had dinner plans that night for a complimentary meal.  It was completely random, but happened only because I initiated a conversation.  It’s happened so many times in my life with so many people.

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6.  Be Present

Don’t allow yourself to become consumed with the idea of making the trip only about getting from A to B.  Consciously and constantly remind yourself to take it all in.  Really look at the beauty around you, and I’m not merely asking you to consider the geography.  The people you meet, the experiences you have, the good and the bad, all add to the experience to make it memorable.

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Categories: Advice, My View of Things, Thoughts

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