Road trips — they can be fun, educational and culturally expansive.
Or they can be frustrating and downright difficult, once the rubber meets the road and your expectations do not align with reality.
In the summer, on weekends and at most national parks, it probably won’t work to “wing it.” There may be long lines to get in, waits at understaffed restaurants, detours around construction projects and fires, no vacancy signs and other unexpected roadblocks.
But many people from the North Bay who have tried it this year have returned with rave reviews. Hidden Valley Lake subdivision residents Lisa Valdovinos and husband Steve traveled in their own SUV to Tennessee and back this summer, visiting eight states in three weeks.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” Lisa said. “We have always liked to travel, and nobody could with the pandemic.”
They drove an average of five hours a day so they could stand on the corner of Winslow, Arizona; follow the bourbon trail in Louisville, Kentucky; and explore all kinds of roadside attractions and national parks like the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore.
“Even the smallest town had something,” Lisa said. “We went to the World’s Only Corn Palace” (in Mitchell, South Dakota).
Exploring a place you’ve never seen before, trying a new outdoor activity or visiting a museum dedicated to one of your hobbies — these are a few of rewards you’ll reap for all that road trip research.
In order to help readers with their own road trips, we checked in with locals who have lived to tell the tale as well as travel experts for tips on how to move on down the road safely and sanely in 2021.
See you in the rearview mirror!
Choosing your route
This, of course, is the most important decision you’ll make, so give it some time and some thought.
New Yorker Karen Gershowitz, author of the book “Travel Mania: Stories of Wanderlust” (She Writes Press, 2021), suggests you zero in on a few things you really love to do instead of a specific place.
“What gets you really excited?” she said. “It could be gardens, baseball, crafts, railroads. ... Plan a trip around something you love, as opposed to the destination.”
Gershowitz loves arts and crafts and recently planned a road trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York state around that passion.
“I had to go to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York,” she said. “And then there’s wineries up there, too. So we planned it around wineries and glass.”
If you are traveling during a busy time, she also suggests planning a trip that doesn’t include big cities. If you do go to a city, stay off the tourist route and do other fun activities that aren’t in the guide book.
“People tend to go to the places that they absolutely know about,” Gershowitz said. “And so does everyone else. So you are going to get frustrated. It’s going to be crowded and hot.”
Staying away from the crowds was part of the plan hatched by Jim and Gaylene Rosaschi this summer as they ventured out on a history tour of the West after sheltering in place for more than a year at their Santa Rosa home.
“We decided to take a road trip in our car and see some of the sights that Lewis and Clark saw when they explored territory in the western USA beginning in 1803,” Jim Rosaschi said. “This would let us see new places but not put us in crowded theme parks, busy cities or other places where social distancing is hard.”
Rosaschi suggested deciding on your route ahead of time, then figuring out how many hours per day you can manage behind the wheel. He advises keeping it under five hours so you are less tired the next day.
With the kids
Although scenic roads are more interesting, if you’re traveling with children, you might consider that this means more time in the car for them. And it gives you less time to enjoy spontaneous diversions along the way in addition to pit stops for meals, gas and restrooms.
“With children, there are always unplanned stops along the way,” Rosaschi said. “It might just be a stop in a public park to burn off some pent-up energy.”
For Gershowitz, it’s important not to drive more than 400 miles a day. Or you could tackle a long day of driving, then go shorter distances. Another strategy is to stay in one place for a couple days while taking day trips in each area.
“If I go somewhere central, what else can I see?” she said. “It’s not going to be as exhausting, especially because it is hard to find accommodations.”
Don’t be afraid to slam on the brakes and make a U-turn if you see something interesting, she said. That’s how she stumbled on a salvage yard with a collection of huge recycled art sculptures in New Jersey.