What are the qualities of a road trip that make it memorable?

Since starting the US Route 89 project some ten years ago, Barbara and I have spent many hours and covered thousands of miles together. In reflecting on these trips, I have been trying to identify the qualities that make a trip stand out for me. Of course, as a photographer, the moments of sublime beauty when light and landscape come together are the highlight of every trip. But a few intangible qualities are what make it truly memorable.

Road Trip SerendipitySerendipity
I tend to plan a trip carefully. I usually know where I want to be when and for how long. Planning satisfies the control freak side of my nature. It means I’m often in the perfect spot for a sunset or in a campground near the best view for sunrise. However, it can also lead to tunnel vision that blinds me to places in between my planned destinations. I’ve learned over the years that when I relax and let go of the plan, good things happen. Taking a side road with an intriguing sign like “California Condor Viewing Site” or stopping at the Apple Hollow Artists Co-op undoubtedly enriches the road trip experience.

Road Trip DisasterDisaster
This is the flip side to serendipity. I’m not talking about the kind of life-threatening sorts of things like a serious car crash. I mean things like having the car break down and needing to be towed to some small town garage for repairs. More than once, that has happened and has necessitated an overnight stay in a town I never thought to explore which has turned out to have an interesting museum or a great little cafe. Or the time I picked a campsite that was the windiest spot on Earth and lead to a sleepless night hoping the tent wasn’t going to blow into the nearby lake with the whole family inside. It may seem horrible at the time, but believe me years later disasters will be the spice that makes the trip remarkable.

Road Trip CompanionCompanions
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to Barbara, “Remember the time…” which sets us off reminiscing about a trip we took years ago. Through these shared memories you strengthen the bonds with our spouse and children and friends. There is always the chance that sharing the space inside a vehicle for many hours will tax the strength of a relationship. There is nothing like a road trip to help sort out and come to appreciate those little quirks of personality and to get past the superficial. Years later they produce a laugh and a warm feeling for having worked through a rough spot.

Road Trip GrowthThis is the hardest quality to define but it is one of the best reasons to take a road trip. For me getting out in nature, especially some place I’ve never been before, produces a sense of wonder I can’t get any other way. I always feel like my life has expanded. I enjoy seeing a new landscape and learning about the geological forces that created it. For others, growth may come from visiting historic sites or testing their limits climbing a mountain or rafting a river. Whatever you choose, getting out on the road and experiencing new places and doing new things is bound to enrich your life and add to your storehouse of memories.