A picture of a mountains cape

Road trips seem timeless. A hundred years ago, a road trip might have been necessary to get from one place to another. Now, road trips could be a way to safely wander amidst the the pandemic.

I am currently sitting with my feet in a river that is a clear, Caribbean blue while tucked up in the hills of Wyoming. My husband is waist-deep fly fishing. My 10-year-old is whittling willow, and my 14-year-old is watching a movie on his phone. I could be irritated by his digital umbilical cord, but I am not. He has hiked, soaked in a natural hot spring and locked eyes with a cinnamon colored bear on the trail. 

Before I had children, I preferred highly planned journeys. I held fast to expectations and gripped plans with a fist. But four children later, that preference has been worn down by all I cannot control. On past road trips, I remember craving an hour to read uninterrupted or hike an easy trail with no skinned knees or crying. 

Children have taught me that joy is found, not scripted. As we take road trips now, I have learned to experience every small delight and roll with the unexpected. 

Joy is found, not scripted.

Our family road trip creed reads as follows: 

  1. Curate structure versus plans.
    Provide enough structure to feel secure but allow for the unexpected inconvenience or adventure. For example, pack a cooler full of your favorite foods, even if you think you might be stopping at local restaurants. This protects against those “hangry” car moments or if your chosen restaurant is busy or not what you had hoped.
  2. Overestimate your commuting time.
    This will allow you to explore random, scenic byways or endure traffic without panic. 
  3. Use travel apps.
    You can determine the right hike, hotel room or campsite due to creatively crafted apps. 
    We use Campendium or Hipcamp, Alltrails and Hoteltonight. A bonus tip for people traveling in RV’s or vans: Harvest Hosts allows you to stay for free at their many wineries and farms as long as you are self-contained and support the host by purchasing a great bottle of wine or local farm fare. Harvest Host costs $79 a year (and through the month of August, they have a 15 percent off code: August.)
  4. Know your trekking companions.
    Do you road wander with family or friends? Inquire about what each adventurer hopes for along the way. Make room for what is uniquely refreshing. Do not forget to include yourself!
  5. The co-pilot is navigator, researcher and media wizard.
    Have the passenger be the guide rather than requiring the driver to fumble with a phone or navigation system. Research restaurant or grocery store stops before arrival. Let your co-pilot start those road-rambling playlists. 
  6. Slow down.
    Take deep breaths. Let wonder wash over you in response to beauty. It could be natural beauty, the fascination of a big city or the quirky people you meet on the road. 
  7. Take off your shoes.
    Feel the earth under your feet. Swim in the lake. Notice what smells new, and listen to the sound of night. Our busy lives dim the ability to notice our physical world, but our bodies settle as we ground ourselves into our location. Wilderness is not required, just space outside to pay attention.
  8. Go short or long.
    A longer voyage can enhance relaxation and adventure, but do not scoff at the benefits of an overnight or weekend jaunt. Even a short time away can provide fresh perspective.
  9. Use travel hacks.
    The internet is full of hacks for every type of road trip. A personal favorite is using backpacking gear for a trip by car or Sprinter Van. Packing cubes are another proven hack. Inexpensive packing cubes are more efficient than multiple suitcases or duffel bags. Purchase different colors and let each traveler have their own color. 
  10. Consider less popular alternatives.
    National parks, historical sites and amusement parks are incredible, but they come with crowds and high prices. Some of our greatest finds are outside of the popular places. Visit the national park but also explore the national forest near the park. Ask a local friend about off-the-beaten-path favorites. Consider authentic restaurants, not flashy more publicized ones. We found amazing Acapulco cuisine in a strip mall outside of Jackson, Wyoming. It was the best meal of the trip and the least expensive.

You can still wander the roads and follow COVID-19 protocol. Our world is more nuanced than the locations we inhabit. Take this last bit of summer and amble toward vistas you have not seen, food you have not tasted and memories you have yet to make. 

Breathe in what is still possible, and breathe out the disappointment of 2020.

Have you gotten to road trip anywhere this summer? What is one fun thing you’d like to see or a place you’d like to explore in the last days of summer?

Image via Raisa Zwart Photography

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