Road trips: a survivor's guide
"Now is the time to fling dietary restrictions to the wind. Do you think Kerouac carried a baggie of pre-prepared carrot sticks while he was on the road?" Photo: Sean Murphy
Ahhh, sweet road trip season is upon us! It’s time to roll down the windows, turn up the stereo and eat so many Cheezels your fingers turn more orange than Garfield with a beta-carotene overdose. I consider myself a mild veteran of road trips having done many Aussie music festivals with friends and I even spent last year on a ten-day road trip with my partner from New York to Memphis. It was a wonderful trip, one of the highlights of our two months in the USA, and we saw many tiny towns we’d never have known existed otherwise. One of the joys of road tripping is that it gives you a glimpse into places that never would’ve made the cut for your itinerary and you also get to meet locals who’ll share their favourite hometown diner tips and lavishly compliment you on your accent.
But it was not all sweet tea and anecdote-providing locals. Our occasional low-level bickering did become a noise as familiar as the hum of the road beneath our wheels. At one point I was giving my partner the silent treatment WHILE HE WAS DRIVING DOWN THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. My desire to not die finally outweighed my decades-long stubborn streak and I casually informed him of the fact he perhaps might want to move back into the right lane before another car came along. Oh, the yuks we had! So to hopefully help you avoid car-tastrophe, here are a few road trip road rules to live by...
Nostalgia is not always your friend: While you may have fond memories of I Spy, you must realise it is a game designed for the tiny, virtually noun-less brains of children. If you try to play it as an adult you will do annoying things like “I spy something starting with ‘E’” and after twenty minutes when you finally reveal your answer is “Ennui” your friends will quite deservedly hate you. Instead you should play a game like Categories with the broadest possible category like bands. Not only will you feel like a cultural genius for knowing so many groups but two hours will pass without you noticing. Finally there is no fun game involving licence plates so if anyone suggests one simply pretend you can’t hear them.
The driver makes the rules: Being the driver is terrible. You have to concentrate on the road for hours at a time, no one ever thanks you enough for being what is essentially an unpaid taxi driver and the only way you can eat something is if whoever is riding shotgun feeds you like a llama in a petting zoo. The only way to make it enjoyable is to wield your power like a despot intermittently yelling out things like, “Let’s only listen to AM radio now!” or “Everyone be quiet, I need to concentrate!” So if you are the passenger and your driver wants to play their 'Best of Tool' CD you may mutinously mutter to yourself, but eventually you should acquiesce.
Make a playlist: Speaking of music, a good mix tape is a road trip essential. I like to theme mine, so if it’s autumn I’ll use the iPod search function to choose every song with the word ‘fall’ in it. It’s also very pleasant to choose a classic band like Fleetwood Mac or The Replacements and listen to every song you own by them to while away the hours.
Make time for convenience store cuisine: I don’t care if you're diet out-hippies like Pete Evans in terms of kale, quinoa, chia seeds and activated almonds, now is the time to fling dietary restrictions to the wind. Do you think Kerouac carried a bag of pre-prepared carrot sticks while he was on the road? Unlikely. So even though you might avoid fast food outlets the other 51 weeks of the year go to that drive through and eat that hash brown WITHOUT SHAME!
Get maps or better still a GPS: Okay, you may have holidayed at Sussex Inlet when you were six, but that doesn’t mean you still remember the way there. Don’t try to be a hero and just buy the goddamn rip-off map at the service station. And don’t use a Google Maps printout as your only navigational tool, they tend to tell you to go left when they mean right and before you know it you’re stranded on a deserted highway like someone out of Wolf Creek.
Don’t be a slave to the odometer: If you can get to your destination in six hours or alternatively stop off at a little country town but it will make it an eight-hour ride, definitely pick the latter. It’s all about the journey not the destination, maaaan. But seriously, road tripping is all about the unexpected finds, so if a township catches your eye do pull over and explore it.
Don’t get hung up on the small stuff: While Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”, it seems that in my experience a journey of a thousand kilometres must begin with me realising that I’ve left behind at least one essential item behind (contact lens solutions, any socks, the cord to recharge my phone...) every two hours. This stuff happens and if you have a ruminative personality you can easily let it ruin the trip with your constant whines of, “Why is this happening to me?! Whyyy?!” That said if you find a pale blue bra in a Super 8 Motel just past Baltimore please return it to me. I really miss that thing.