Four Ways to Make Life More Like a Road Trip

Since I got back from a six-day, cross-country trip on Tuesday, I’ve been craving the open road. Last week Darren and I left my hometown of Sonoma, California, and drove my Jetta and most of my belongings to my new home in Jackson, Mississippi. Each day of the trip was so exciting that it’s felt like a bit of a letdown to readjust to a normal routine. In order to maintain the energy of the road trip, I’ve decided to take four major lessons from it and try to apply them to my everyday life.

1. Do things that you enjoy, especially with someone who makes everything fun.

Darren, my partner in crime, was thoughtful enough to fly to the Bay Area for just a couple of days to help me pack and keep me company on the drive east. I’m glad that we already spend so much time together working from home, so there was no question that we could handle nearly a week of 24-7 together time. Even though I don’t love being cooped up in the car, we made it fun by playing cheesy road trip mixes (including “Country Roads,” “King of the Road,” and Darren’s least favorite of the bunch, “Loveshack”) and making up games.

With Darren at the Hoover Dam

With Darren at the Hoover Dam

We downloaded the Three Cups of Tea audiobook and, when we found the story fascinating but the prose overwritten, we invented a coffee drinking game. Instructions: Drink every time you hear a groan-worthy analogy, like his learning curve with climbing was as steep as the rock faces he was soon scaling,” or flowery descriptions of the mundane, like men’s snoring as “sonorous rumbling…in languid concert.” This game grew to be our favorite, and it both kept us entertained and put a lot of caffeine into our veins.

Take-home lessons: Make normally boring tasks into a game. If you have to clean the house, put on a dance mix and sing as you scrub. If you have to do your taxes, take a swig of your favorite beverage every time you complete a section (the IRS would recommend something non-alcoholic). Whatever the task, it’ll probably be more fun if you invite a friend or partner to join you. Also, find ways to incorporate more things that you enjoy into every day.

2. Choose your own exciting goals and make a road map to reach them. Be flexible, but have daily benchmarks of progress.

I wanted to see the sights of the southwest for the first time, so I chose to pass through Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Albuquerque. Texas wasn’t so much a choice; it was just what was between New Mexico and Louisiana. Darren had visited all of these places on a family road trip, but he was happy to return. One of my favorite things about Darren is that even if he’s seen something before (Lost episodes, movies, etc.) he likes experiencing it again with me.

Each day of the road trip, I enjoyed waking up with a sense of purpose. It was one of those rare occasions when I had perfectly clear goals and no question about how to achieve them. Darren and I had printed out a map and directions to each location, we knew where we were going and how we planned to get there. Six days allowed plenty of time to make the 36-hour drive to Jackson, so we could sightsee on the way and be flexible with the daily driving quota. We looked at our Google map online each night and could see our progress along the route.

Nearing sunset at the Grand Canyon's south rim

Take-home lessons: Create your own daily road map. Get a friend or partner to help, because they’ll be more objective about what you need to do. When I was feeling stressed yesterday, Darren helped me break down each of my big projects into next actions. I felt much less overwhelmed when we were done. Cross the tasks off your To-Do list when done, or use strikethrough to cross them off on the computer. Celebrate your accomplishments by rewarding yourself.

3. Listen to your body’s signals to meet its basic needs.

When we needed to eat, use the loo, or sleep for the night, we stopped as soon as we could. I knew that if I ate more than I needed during meals, I’d feel gross when I got back in the car. I tried to eat as lightly as possible — a challenge when fast food chains were the only option — and snacked on healthy foods as needed. When I’m immersed in work at home, I tend to lose touch with my body’s needs for fuel and rest. When I wasn’t distracted by other tasks, I felt more in tune with my instincts and was able to follow them.

Take-home lessons: Take breaks between tasks throughout the day and use them to check in with yourself. Think, “Am I hungry? For what kind of food? Do I need water? A stretch or bathroom break?” Meet your body’s needs, and don’t put them off. Even if sensing these signals is challenging at first, it will get easier with practice.

4. See and learn new things every day.

Throughout the trip, I sent regular updates from my cell phone to my Twitter and Facebook pages. I had endless material to share, and it was fun to see the enthusiastic responses from my friends. Here are just a few highlights from what I’m grateful to have seen on the trip:

  • View of Las Vegas at night, from our spa suite on the 28th floor of the Excalibur. The hotel looks like a huge castle, and we arrived late enough at night to get a free upgrade to an available room that was as big as our apartment.
  • Gambling in a casino. I gambled away 50 cents and felt complete. It was a relief to discover that I would never become a gambling addict.
  • The Grand Canyon at sunset, glowing pink and orange.
  • Stunning red rock formations against blue skies in Sedona, Arizona.
  • Vortexes (areas of healing energy) in Sedona. I was disappointed not to feel anything special, but perhaps we didn’t hike out far enough.
  • The night sky in the desert. I could see stars upon stars without the glare of city streetlights.
  • A bit of Albuquerque, where my parents met on a college trip in the early 70s.
  • An armadillo (dead) and a roadrunner (alive, and running across the road in front of my car. Luckily, I didn’t hit it). A large herd of elk in the Sedona woods.
  • Small-town America.
  • Hilarious or disturbing Texas billboards. One for an aptly named Big Texan restaurant, advertised a 72 oz. steak that was free if you could eat the whole thing. My status update about it: “Yay obesity! Yay wasteful cattle raising! Yay America.”
  • Changing scenery, from vast treeless plains to mountains with snow still on the peaks.
Bell Rock, at one of the vortexes in Sedona, AZ

Bell Rock, at one of the vortexes in Sedona, AZ

I had never felt so curious about the geography and culture of my own country. Every night, I looked up the sights I’d passed on the road that day. One day it was the glass Skywalk bridge over the Grand Canyon, and Roswell, the site of a supposed 1947 UFO crash south of Albuquerque. The next it was Cadillac Ranch, an art installation of cars stuck into the ground near Amarillo, Texas.

Take-home lessons: Make a point of exploring your surroundings, wherever you are. Even if you’re in the middle of nowhere, it has something to teach you. Tell other people what it’s like to be there, because they may have no idea. Wonder about the things you see, and Google them.

It’s pretty simple to take the elements of an exciting road trip and work them into your daily life. If all else fails, blast the song “Low Rider.” It will raise your spirits, every time.

Coming Soon: Slideshow of more road trip pictures.

What are some of your best road trip moments, and what have you learned from them?

Comments (5)

  1. Gilliebean

    I am a big fan of road trips. Ever since Brian and I took our first one from New Orleans to Sonoma in 2005 (with the small exception of our car flipping incident on the last day), I’ve been hooked. It’s so fun to explore new places and sample the local cuisine. I also just really like staying in hotels… even mediocre motels.

    I would definitely like to incorporate these lessons into my everyday life (I totally put on dance music while cooking or cleaning, and I did indulge in some wine while doing my taxes last year). I like the idea of being a tourist in your own town and trying new restaurants and exploring new places all the time.

    BTW, love the coffee drinking game. Bri and I listened to “The Alchemist” (read by Jeremy Irons) on a trip from San Diego to Sonoma, and it was paiiinfully repetitive and overly flowery. We started screaming every time he said “personal legend.” Good times.

  2. Mom

    I like this philosophy — a very well-written and thoughtful entry. It brought back memories of our USF field study in New Mexico and Azzarona (tip of the hat to 3 year old Brian): sneaking into the dorms at UNM to shower, sitting with Janet, Marlene, and Petey in the back of a pickup truck and singing against the wind at the top of our lungs.

  3. TaraTravels

    Melia – you’ve really nailed the essence of great road tripping in this article. Stopping at all the sights, enjoying every unique experience, playing games like the coffee game, and having some take-away lessons are all what makes road trips great. To top it off, you picked the perfect road-trip partner – which is hard to do! It’s easy to end up with somebody who has a totally different mind-set.

    The night sky in the desert is truly amazing – it’s just so bright with stars! Love your whole list of highlights.

  4. Melia

    Gill, the fact that you’ve done a couple of cross-country road trips gave me the confidence to do my own. I was, of course, nervous in Texas around the area where you and Brian had flipped. Luckily I didn’t know exactly where. I love hotels and motels, too. La Quinta rocks. We scoped out Motel 6 but declined when we heard a dog barking in the adjacent room. Pets are allowed in a lot of motels in the southwest. What? Haha, I liked the themes of The Alchemist, but I’m not big on heavyhanded allegories, either. What’s YOUR personal legend, Gill?

    Mom, I thought of you and Dad as we passed through the Navajo Nation and Albuquerque. I was grateful for that area of the country, because without it, I wouldn’t be here today. 🙂

    Tara, I wish I’d known about your blog before this trip, because we would have used your tips on games, snacks, etc. I’ll check back next time around! We’re hoping to take a trip to Raleigh, NC, sometime this year. I see that you live close by, so maybe you can recommend places to stop!

  5. Keetha

    This is great. I’m going to bookmark it.

    I lived in Arizona for several years when I was in junior high, and we made that 27-hour trip from there to Mississippi several times. I’d like a re-do now – I think I’d enjoy it much more.


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