What comes to mind when you close our eyes and say the words: road trip?
When I close my eyes and breathe in the words “road trip,” regardless of how long ago it was or who I was with, I remember long stretches of highway, constantly changing scenery, cheap hotels, soft pillows, early morning light, nighttime sky filled with stars, small town diners with stacks of pancakes and melting butter, lots of coffee, and clothes tossed everywhere in the car along with candy wrappers and empty bottles.
Road trips always include great tunes, laughing, singing, and talking.
I have childhood memories road tripping with my family when I was so small, I still had to sit in the backseat. I have half-forgotten memories, from a college spring break trip, of getting inebriated with friends in Tijuana and Vegas. I once took a romantic trip with my lover, and it felt as if we were truly alone in the big world.
I remember the excitement of having a final destination, but also knowing that I’d make many good memories along the way. Each time I look back on a road trip, I see that it was all of the little moments strung together that made up the big picture.
Road trips have created some of my best and craziest stories. I wrote poems, collected inside jokes, listened to unforgettable songs, and made lasting friendships.
Road trips are good for the soul for many reasons.
They make us slow down, appreciate the little things, be spontaneous and resourceful, and find joy in the ordinary. We spend much more time in the journey phase of the trip rather than the destination. The pure simplicity of mindful travel makes time slow down. We appreciate the in-between place and notice small things. We see people in their everyday lives, as we cover a great deal of ground in a single day.
I love the unexpected things that always happen on road trips: unplanned moments, surprising connections, feeling like we’ve been in this place before, taking a wrong turn or exit and having to go miles out of our way, arriving in a small town after dark to find “no vacancy” signs everywhere, unexpected weather, or arriving so late that all the restaurants are closed and we have to get creative with what’s available from 7-Eleven.
When any of these bumps in the road occur, all sorts of good things happen.
We are forced to improvise and get creative. We suddenly have to go with the flow and drop our plans and expectations. We learn that it does no good to stress over the small things, and we unconsciously become more aware of our reactions.
One of the best things about road trips is that we don’t have to go far away or for a long time.
An overnight trip, only a few hours away, can take us out of our familiar surroundings, habits, daily stresses, and never-ending to-do list.
We feel a sense of freedom when we take a step back from the time we normally spend producing and planning.
As the landscape changes around us, it feels like we’re traveling through time. We start to just be. Suddenly we feel a little more mental space to relax and a little more physical space to breathe.
We are forced to look up and notice the scenery. We learn more about our friends while we spend endless miles traveling with them. We experience the transience of time as we journey from place to place, while spending more time outside enjoying the landscape and stars.
Last weekend I took my 17-year-old son and his best friend on a road trip.
We jumped in my car with snacks, swimsuits, and cameras and headed for natural hot springs in the middle of nowhere.
What we thought was going to be a 90-minute drive ended up being four hours, which allowed us to spend more time in the car together. Along the way, I listened to the music they liked, learned the lyrics to their favorite songs, heard their favorite jokes, and played their favorite car games.
Twenty minutes before our arrival, we suddenly saw red and blue flashing lights in the rearview mirror—I was pulled over for speeding.
I showed the boys how to be kind and calm when unexpected things happen.
Once we arrived and checked in, we headed to the hot springs.
At one point my son said, “Mom, come see the best view over here.”
We watched an amazing sunset as we sat in the 100 degree water, with no one else around. The sky and clouds became gold, pink, and purple. We saw a silhouette of birds as the moon rose in the sky, while the sun was going down—pure magic.
As I went to sleep that night I felt grateful and relaxed. I vowed to myself to take road trips more often.
Often, we feel like a vacation needs to be planned ahead of time. Taking care of the details of the vacation fulfills our need to have some control.
But when I think back, some of the best times I’ve ever had are unplanned, spontaneous moments.
Road trips give us many opportunities to make decisions about immediate needs, keep things simple, and the freedom to change plans or directions on a whim.
On our drive home, I looked out the window with the warm afternoon sun shining as the world sped by. As I listened to the conversation in the front seat, I couldn’t help but smile and think about how lucky I was.
I felt lucky that nothing went as planned.
I felt lucky to get away from all the inconsequential stuff I usually have do and made a cherished memory instead.
I felt lucky we laughed, got lost more than once, and had the chance to be spontaneously free.
But most of all, I felt lucky to do something good for my soul.
Going on a road trip is the perfect solution next time you find yourself saying, “I need to get away, have some fun, slow down, and have some soul food, even though I don’t have enough money for a plane ticket or enough time for a vacation.”
Take a road trip. Plan as little as possible. Take only what you can fit in a small backpack. Find a few good friends to travel with you, fill up the tank with gas, and go.
Author: Melissa Snow
Images: Author’s own
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock