Ok, I’ll say it first: I miss my friends. After over a year spent in relative social isolation, human connection is decidedly lacking across the collective consciousness. Still, if this is the worst problem you have, it’s really not a bad one. Things like being healthy or having a home and gainful employment are all elements of life to be celebrated but in the absence of both travel and genuine human connection, I know that, even if we have all of those things, most of us are feeling like something is...missing.
If I’ve learned anything in the last year and half, though, it’s that making the best of a situation is one of our most critical survival skills. So, how does one maintain a positive attitude with limited resources? It’s simple, you work with what you’ve got. Necessity is the catalyst of innovation as they say.
When the travel industry came to a screeching halt last March, many of us got whiplash from the realization that we were all, well, stuck at home. If you managed to stay alive and healthy, it very much felt like being grounded except all your friends were grounded as well. And like a teenager, some of us started looking for creative ways to bend the rules.
As flights were out of the question, many people started exploring a classic American pastime. No not baseball. Road trips. And before you go ahead and declare yourself to be “ahead of a trend” or whatever because you’ve always liked road trips or something, it doesn’t matter because you were decidedly in a minority. Some people get off on that level of staunch unpopularity but the reality is that air travel made vacations more luxurious and exotic. You could actually put yourself in a new time zone, on a different day entirely if you wanted to. You could be in the clouds. That’s magical! And something that ended up eclipsing the magic of automobile travel, which became quite passé. Another factor is that kind of magic never comes cheap. Air travel is quite literally expensive and the environmental consequences of frequent fliers are not small either. But without this option, the quintessential road trip had a resurgence.
For a long time, I was all about the destination and definitely not the journey. I wanted to get wherever I was going to in the most direct way possible and spend the shortest time on the voyage as was feasible. However, suddenly, with nothing to do and nothing to rush back to, a journey that stretched out for hours or perhaps days became increasingly more appealing.
The first road trip I took last year was from NYC to Cape Cod, where a friend had generously offered to shelter my sister and me at her family’s summer house. Though this was a hugely lucky break, I would have been just as content to do something even half as glamorous because the cabin fever was that real.
Having had limited to no road trip experience though, we did a slight amount of research beforehand and that, coupled with a few life lessons that only come from jumping into the deep end of an adventure, has led to me to provide this unofficial guide to domestic North American road tripping.
I want to present some caveats before we get into the nitty-gritty of these tips. The first is that, like I said, I was never someone who understood the appeal of the open road so I am somewhat of a reluctant road trip convert. Secondly, as a Black woman, I have no illusions about safety or that the idea of “packing up and going” is a privilege for a certain percentage of the population. To that end, I am not too keen on buckling up to bounce along a scenic route never intended to carry me. Hollywood films, television and classic literature somewhat convinced me that road trips were limited to opportunities for white men to find themselves (a la On The Road), or white women to lose themselves (a la Thelma And Louise), or for white families to bond over zany disasters (a la National Lampoon’s Family Vacation or Little Miss Sunshine). For a lot of people of color, speeding head first into the unknown of the American landscape is not a no-brainer type of activity. You can never be really sure what to expect, but I would start by doing sufficient research on any destination you plan on driving to or through. This is simply a safety concern that, like wearing a seatbelt, you won’t regret. So all of that said, here’s how I recommend embarking enthusiastically on the greatest road trip of your life.
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