-Guest Blog by Jen Roche-
Traveling often feels like a waiting period to get somewhere else. We don’t get out of the car unless we have to in an effort to get there faster. But there is a great, fabled significance to the road trip that is sung about, written about and occasionally even lived. Often this legend does not have a final destination, but a vague idea of where to go and the intent to see as much as possible.
I learned how to road-trip from my father who traveled regularly for work. He taught me the value of enjoying the trip itself. During my childhood, my father told me whimsical stories - like the time he took a break from driving to fly a kite in the middle of nowhere, much to the amusement of at least one state patrol officer. As I got older, I traveled with him in the summer and learned to enjoy the road trip.
When I graduated college, I was given the old pickup-truck that made most of the trips my father and I had shared. We had driven that old pickup-truck almost 300,000 miles, none of which were empty. Even now, every road trip offers endless opportunities to experience the rich and unique cultures of every county and city.
1. “Class Joints”
Pictured: Classy Restaurant. CC0
My father had a collection of “class joints” as he called them, and some were classy indeed—if you are ever in York, NE be sure to stop by Chance’s R for some very elegant dining. My father’s class joints ranged from small cafes to steakhouses, all of which had excellent food and were familiar places to rest. Every city has these, and finding a spot that is comfortable and friendly is vital for a good trip.
2. A Place to Stay Along the Way
Pictured: Pickup truck bed in Onawa, IA. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
Deciding where you will stay along the way can be a challenge. Places to rest start with convenience and are easily worked into habit when traveling to frequent destinations. My father would visit the same hotels along the road. I am a fan of camping out under a pickup camper shell; I have transformed the old pickup-truck bed into a cozy bunk to curl up into at night. I also appreciate being recognized when I walk into Bon Paul and Sharky’s Hostel in Ashville, NC.
3. Extracurricular Eating
Pictured: Sykora Bakery. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
While snacks are often packed for trips (thank you Aime’s Love in Longmont, CO for always making sure I leave town with a delicious sandwich as well as a few cookies), you may need to replenish the supply while on the road. Discovering a local grocery store with the oddest flavors of candy or a buzz worthy bakery is always exciting. I once convinced a car full of fellow students to stop at Sykora Bakery in Cedar Rapids, IA. They quickly realized why we should stop there once they heard the stories and tasted the pastries.
4. A Little Bit of History
Pictured: Grass Valley Library Royce Branch. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
Every town has a story or two to tell. From the right source, those stories from the early days (or last week) are fascinating. Every city and town has legends about people, places, machines or ideas that strike the imagination. I once travelled to Grass Valley, CA and learned the story of American philosopher and historian, Josiah Royce. Driving down Main Street, you can see how the old mining town transformed into the modern community that Grass Valley is today.
5. A Place to People Watch
Pictured: New Orleans scene. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
There are towns that are quiet and there are towns that are not. Settling in at a class joint with a view of the local scene can be one of the most interesting ways to relax, because when you don’t have your own conversation to be a part of, watching others can easily be just as entertaining. One of my favorite cities to people watch has to be New Orleans, LA. There is no shortage for places to sit back and enjoy some tasty food and watch life happening all around you.
6. A Place to be Alone
Pictured: Bridge at Eno River State Park. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
Even if you are not a solo traveler, it is always worth the short detour to find a peaceful place that lets you reflect on your journey. Be it grand scenery or an empty rest area, taking some time for yourself helps keep your journey in perspective. It also allows for discovery - like the hanging bridge at Eno River State Park in Durham, NC and Cadillac Mountain near Bar Harbor, ME (my father’s recommendation for a stop on my first solo road trip.)
Pictured: Carhenge. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
Not every place has a City Museum like St. Louis, MO with ten story slides and giant ball pits. But most places have oddities that are worth a visit. Nebraska in particular has made oddities a state specialty - from the world’s largest Kool-Aid stand in Hastings to Carhenge in Alliance.
8. A Place to Take a Break
Pictured: Bridges in Maine. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
It can be easy to fall into the habit of not stopping while driving, especially when the roads are monotonous. The easiest cure for this is to seek out spots that interest you. You might follow a sign for an attraction such as the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN or return to a place you haven’t seen since you were a kid. I love taking a break at the National Greyhound Hall of Fame in Abilene, KS to pet the resident greyhound speedsters.
9. A Place to Take Your Breathe Away
Pictured: Manistique Lighthouse. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
Having grown up in Colorado with majestic views both commonplace and extraordinary, I still seek out places across the country that are different and beautiful. I find water particularly interesting and lighthouses oddly beautiful. Manistique, MI and the Manistique East Breakwater Light capture the strangeness and beauty that I find in large bodies of rolling, blue water.
10. A Place that Makes You Smile
Pictured: Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden. Courtesy Jenn Roche.
This might be the feeling of home as you find yourself back on familiar roads. It might be a place that you have dreamed of going to for years and are finally visiting for the first time. (I always wanted to see the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden in Springfield, MA and I finally went there on my first solo road trip.) For most of us, visits with friends, family and new acquaintances bring the best smiles and memories. Perhaps the greatest secret to an excellent trip is to feel welcome in someone else’s hometown.