Anatomy Of A Road Trip….or, Living Out Of A Car

This is my car. There are many others like it but this one is mine.
This is my car. There are many others like it but this one is mine.

On September first of 2009 I set out on a 3 month trip of the American and Canadian West. In those three months I put on about 13,000 miles and visited 2 provinces and 25 states.

On July 28 of this year, I headed out for a month to visit the Canadian Atlantic Provinces. On this trip I visited 6 provinces and 16 states and drove over 6,000 miles.

At some point during this last trip I realized that I had spent 4 months of the last year traveling and living out of my car. An entire third of a year road tripping.

Toss in over a month and a half of driving through Australia and three weeks of driving around New Zealand, and I’ve spent almost half a year of my last three and a half years of traveling in a car.

Why Travel By Car

I have difficulty doing anything for an extended period of time. I’ve done my share of backpacking, and I enjoyed it and will certainly return to it, but I also wanted to do something else. I would meet people traveling around the world to told me they were planning a visit to the US and wanted suggestions on where to visit. The problem was, most of the places I would recommend (Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite) I had never visited. The road trip was my attempt to visit the places in my own country that I had never been to.

One of the many, amazing things I've seen from the window of my car.
One of the many, amazing things I’ve seen from the window of my car.

Transportation systems such as buses, trains and planes are designed to take you from point A to point B. They don’t do a very good job at letting you explore the places in between. The problem is, those places in between are often the best places to visit.

In a country the size of the United States (or Canada or Australia) a car is really the only way to properly explore the country. There is too much space, too many small towns, too many places which are not serviced by bus, train or plane. Whenever I speak to someone who is thinking about visiting America for a few months, my suggestion is always to buy or rent a car. You will find that gas is cheaper than most other countries in the world and you can get a motel room in many places for the price of a hostel dorm bed in Switzerland.

The other primary advantage of a road trip is the ability to travel at your leisure and go exactly where you want to go. It is certainly the freest and most liberating form of transportation available. The one thing I enjoy most about driving is the time you can spend just enjoying the road, thinking listening to music.

Why I’m Never Doing A Road Trip Like This Again

The North American road trips I’ve taken during the past year have been the sort of trips you take when you visit a place for the first time. They were large, expansive and very broad in ambition. I visited many places but didn’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time at any one place.

I totally screwed up my most recent trip to Canada. At the start of the trip, things were delayed and screwed up by the passing of my father. On the back end of the trip, I had a pretty hard date to be in Minneapolis for the wedding of a college roommate. My estimates for how long I’d be driving and the distances I’d have to drive were off. I spent far more time driving than I did actually exploring and seeing things. I don’t regret going on the trip, but I also have no desire to spend so much time driving again.

In addition to just the sheer amount of time spent sitting on my ass in a car, the other major downside to that much driving is all the junk food you end up eating. There are few options for eating well off the highway. Fast food and junk food found in truck stops are your primary options. The bad food combined with the sedentary nature of driving will probably lead to some weight gain. I can live without that too.

My Future Road Trips

I’m planning on making an American road trip an annual event, but I’m not going to do the grand, epic style like I have been doing. They will be more focused with less driving and more…..doing stuff. Next year I’m thinking of driving to the Grand Canyon and doing a rafting trip and/or doing a rim-to-rim hike. Another trip I’d like to do is visit Yellowstone again, but spend a full week there taking photos.

I’m also going to put more thought and planning into my trips. The fact is that my normal method of seat-of-my-pants travel just isn’t working anymore, especially for road trips. I had dozens of people who wanted to meet me when I passed through their town, and there were dozens of people I wanted to meet. It is hard for people to schedule time when you have no clue when you will be there. Lesson learned.

I view this as another step in my attempt to add some variation to how and where I travel. I figure it will be a never ending process.