The Chronicle

Exploring America

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I want to take a vacation that really helps me get to know a country–our country! I’ve been to New York City and some other big touristy places, but I’d really like to spend some time this summer going more off the beaten track. I’m thinking about a road trip with my friends as one possible way to do this. The idea is still pretty vague, though, so I thought I’d turn to the experts for a little bit of inspiration. Do you have any tips for visiting “real” America? How about for road trips or vacations with friends? Thanks in advance!

Ours is a huge country, full of different subcultures and places to visit. This country spans a whole continent–in fact, the United States on its own is roughly as large as the entire continent of Europe! It’s hard to get a sense of the broad and diverse place that is the United States, even if you’ve been to its largest city (New York City) and other classic destinations.

Perhaps that’s why the road trip is such a great American tradition. As you have noted, a road trip is a great way to get a sense of the size and shape of our nation. In smaller towns and less touristy locales, you’ll get a sense of what some people call the “real” America. You’ll be able to meet interesting people, reach remote and beautiful natural spaces, and measure the time and distance between your destinations as you drive and enjoy the company of your friends. Your idea sounds like a great one! But, as you point out, it’s a little short on specifics. So let’s talk about road trips!

For starters, you need to decide how much time you have to take your road trip. From there, you can determine just how far you want to go. It may make more sense to confine your road trip within a geographic region: the Northwest, for instance, or the Deep South, or another of the country’s several large regions. Road trips are a lot of fun, but they can easily begin to feel tiring if you schedule in too much driving and not enough time at your destinations. Life may be “about the journey, not the destination,” but you won’t be enjoying the journey if you commit yourself to twelve-hour driving sessions. Besides, that’s not safe!

Once you know the time frame and the region, you can start thinking about specific destinations. Big cities are obvious choices, but remember that you’ll have to drive in and out of them and find a place to park your vehicle while you’re sightseeing. Small towns are wonderful experiences on road trips. Then there are historic sites–often found within those same small American towns, say travel enthusiasts who enjoy the many history-related experiences in Vicksburg, Mississippi. And don’t forget about the natural world: many areas of our country are dotted with national parks, national monuments, and other areas reserved for their natural beauty (and, sometimes, their historical significance).

Follow your interests and chart out a very loose itinerary. Now is also the time to think about any special needs your group might have, say pros who promote sensory friendly activities in Lansing, MI. If necessary, consider the wheelchair accessibility of the sites you’ll be visiting and any other relevant factors. Tighten your schedule carefully, building off of your loose goals and assembling a plan that will keep your driving times reasonable. You can always choose to cancel a hotel or campsite and drive further if you feel up to it later, but you do not want to be in a situation that demands you drive further than you’re comfortable with. Driving can get tiring after a while, so be conservative with your estimates!

By the way, you should also be thinking about what vehicle you’ll be driving. You could take your own car or that of a friend, of course. But you could also consider renting a vehicle: some travelers prefer to rent cars for long trips because it keeps their own cars free of the mileage and risk of prolonged travel. And if you’re thinking about buying a vehicle soon, this is a great time to get a serious test drive–you could do a little new ford vehicle research while you recreate (or check out whatever other makes and models intrigue you). Or you could eschew cars entirely and rent a recreational vehicle. If you’re up for driving a larger vehicle, an RV can give you some flexibility and save you money by opening up the possibility of staying at RV parks and campsites rather than being limited to hotels and motels.

Whatever vehicle you take on your road trip, make sure that it’s up for the journey and that you’ve taken proper precautions! Make sure you have insurance coverage for your rented vehicles (you should, by law, have it already for your own vehicles). Check that your policy covers the trip you’re taking. Know what kind of roadside assistance benefits you have through your insurance, AAA membership, or other means, and consider acquiring more coverage if necessary. Research how to change a tire and handle other basic car issues, because you may not have cell service when something goes wrong. For this same reason, make sure you have a paper map or atlas, too! And if you’re driving a personal vehicle, the weeks before your trip are your window to visit a certified mechanic, say the specialists at an automotive & diesel technology college in NY. You’ll want to make sure that your vehicle is in tip-top shape before you drive it on such a long trip, so get a tune-up and ask your mechanic if you need an oil change, fresh belts, or any other maintenance updates. This is a matter of safety, as well as a matter of ensuring that your vacation isn’t derailed by a car breakdown!

Your idea of getting to know our country on the road is an excellent one, and it’s very feasible. Road trips remain popular in the United States, and with gas prices staying reasonable (and air travel getting pricey), it’s a good time to take one yourself! We think you’ll find lots to discover and love about our complicated and fascinating nation. Wherever the roads take you, we hope you find everything that you’re looking for!

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac

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