The Secret to a Great Road Trip

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.

Jack Kerouac


Author Jack Kerouac has captured the essence of road tripping in his quote: the freedom, the chance to leave it all behind, the possibility of new adventures.

One option for a successful trip is to take a tried-and-true path. Geo tab recently released its list of the 50 Best U.S. Road Trips for 2019 based on everything from how bad the traffic is to how good the food options are.

These are the top 10 from that list, offering a little bit for everyone (except for you East-Coasters – must be the traffic?).

1) Monument Valley Trails (The Southwest)
2) Yellowstone and the Tetons (Rocky Mountains)
3) Mesa Verde and San Juan Mountains (Rocky Mountains)
4) Along the Missouri River (Great Plains)
5) Blue Ridge Parkway (Florida & South)
6) Oregon’s Pacific Coast (Pacific Northwest)
7) Colorado’s Rockies (Rocky Mountains)
8) Grand Canyon Road Trip (The Southwest)
9) Hells Canyon Scenic Byway (Pacific Northwest)
10) Bryce & Zion National Parks (The Southwest)

We’re not knocking the list, but there is another perspective on what makes a good road trip. Take it from traveling buddies Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, nature writer John Burroughs, and tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone, some of America’s first road-trippers.

“[W]e were a luxuriously equipped expedition going forth to seek discomfort, for discomfort in several forms—dust, rough roads, heat, cold, irregular hours, accidents—is pretty sure to come to those who go a-gypsying in the South,” Burroughs writes in his 1921 book “Under the Maples,” describing one of the foursome’s excursions. “But discomfort, after all, is what the camper-out is unconsciously seeking. We grow weary of our luxuries and conveniences. We react against our complex civilization, and long to get back for a time to first principles. We cheerfully endure wet, cold, smoke, mosquitoes, black flies, and sleepless nights, just to touch naked reality once more.”

Of course, there weren’t any recommended road trips for these guys to take in the early 1900s because cars had just been invented. Instead, the thrill of adventure and discovery led the way.

Starting in 1914, the four explored previously almost-impossible-to-access parts of the country, including the Everglades, the Adirondacks, California’s coastline, the Catskills, and the Smoky Mountains.

Burroughs describes one instance where the Model T broke down. They took the car to a repair shop, only to be told that a part would need to be ordered. Ford stepped in and jury-rigged the repair himself, and off they went.

The four slept in tents under the stars, stopped to hike through forests and fields they came upon, and made a point to talk to local people along their journey.

“An added interest was felt whenever we came in contact with any of the local population,” Burroughs writes. “Birds and flowers and trees and springs and mills were something, but human flowers and rills of human life were better.”

Their friendships with each other strengthened during these excursions, and they made annual road trips a tradition.

But only after getting off to a rocky start. Burroughs initially called the Model T a “demon on wheels” for its potential to find even the most secluded corner of the forest “and befoul it with noise and smoke.”

But the naturist’s mind was changed shortly after the business magnet sent him a new Model T as a gift, touting the automobile’s ability to provide access to the American wilderness and increase the population’s appreciation for it.

Ford then introduced his friends Edison and Firestone to Burroughs, and soon thereafter, friendships were formed and road trips mapped out.

They left behind a few pointers for successful excursions.

1. It’s the journey, not the destination.

The internet and Siri make it really easy to plan every detail of your drive – where to eat, where to rest, what sights to see. This can make for an achingly boring trip. What we can learn from Ford and friends is that it really is the getting there that makes the whole trip worthwhile; otherwise your adventure can turn into a checklist of “must-dos.” The four set out with a destination in mind, but beyond that they took the adventure as it came, sometimes stopping to buy apples from a girl selling them along the road, sometimes stopping to help a farmer with his work. They engaged with people and with nature and let their experiences, rather than their plans, shape their trip. Certainly the type of surprise encounters on road trips today will differ from those of 100 years ago, but surprises they still are!

2. Bring a friend or two.

Burroughs describes himself as a quiet man, so traveling with the more outgoing Ford helped expand his experience. “Those who meet him are invariably drawn to him,” he says of Ford. “He is a national figure, and the crowds that flock around the car in which he is riding, as we pause in the towns through which we pass, are not paying their homage merely to a successful car-builder or business man, but to a beneficent human force, a great practical idealist whose good-will and spirit of universal helpfulness they have all felt.” Meanwhile, Ford, Edison, and Firestone were treated to the best education in aspects of the natural world from Burroughs. Imagine how different their experiences would have been had they gone it alone.

3. Don’t forget your notebook (& your phone).

This is for taking notes and shooting short videos – not for checking the internet and social media. Leave those two behind for the duration of your trip so that you can stay focused in the moment. Burroughs (not to mention Kerouac) published books based off his road adventures; connect with your creativity to capture and share trip highlights later.

We want to know: Where are you road-tripping this summer?

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