One of my favorite road trip rules is to drive on smaller roads rather than interstate highways. I love the relaxed pace, superior scenery, better eating options, serendipitous discoveries, and more.
Sure, sometimes I am indeed pressed for time and in those cases I will break my road trip rules and drive highways. But I do like that interstate driving is more of an exception on most of my US road trips.
Here are some of my reasons to do road trips on smaller roads instead of highways.
8 Great Reasons To Take Road Trips On Smaller Roads Rather Than Highways
Prettier Scenery on Smaller Roads
Interstate highways were designed to shuttle people and goods as quickly as possible between destinations. Interstates are not intended to be beautiful. For scenery, I always opt for smaller roads.
For instance, on one Florida road trip I wanted to drive A1A continuously up to Jacksonville. I was next to the ocean nearly the entire drive. Ahhhh.
It reminded me of an interview with a world-class marathoner before the San Diego marathon. The organizers were proud of their gorgeous course and asked the runner about it. He said that he cannot be distracted by the scenery and only looks at the road six feet in front of him.
That reminds me of interstate driving. Mile after mile of traffic, trucks, and mostly straight functional roads. Set the cruise control and wake me in an hour or four.
I also love this quote from Charles Kuralt:
Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.
I tend to roam when I am on road trips.
For instance, on that Florida road trip A1A scenic drive, I did not drive straight up A1A but instead explored neighborhoods, found random scenic byways, and checked out historical and interesting sights.
Along A1A I found many tangent paths leading to intracoastal views, nature preserves, and the beach was always a few feet away.
Sure, it is possible to do the same from interstates but that would require advance planning (then it is not random!).
One of my favorite road trip drives was between Tifton, Georgia and Memphis, Tennessee—through Eufaula, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa. Oncoming drivers and people sitting on porches or walking or standing, almost everyone waved.
Although not as impressionable, countless other country roads, farm roads, and smaller roads offer the same experience—whether it is the index finger lift from the steering wheel or full on hand waves. Has anyone experienced such friendliness on any interstate highway?
Find Better Food
Interstate rest areas and service plazas offer the typical, demoralizing, uninspiring, and unhealthy assortment of fast food options. Exit areas are usually no better although sometimes you can hunt and find local pizza, deli, or other restaurants.
Certainly there are plenty of chains even along country roads but it is much easier to find interesting and local fast food alternatives.
You will have to work hard to find diners, drive-ins, and dives from the interstate highway but smaller roads are filled with them.
Plus, I love stopping at farm stands, impromptu BBQ joints (especially at small Southern churches), farmers markets, and local bakeries. You never know what you will find. Traveling like a local is much more fun for me than rushing along the highway.
Fewer Trucks on Smaller Roads
Again, the interstates are a functional way to move goods around the country. The interstate highways are filled with trucks. The smaller roads are not. If I am not in a hurry to get somewhere, I almost always drive on smaller roads instead of interstate highways.
Better Gas Mileage
This one sort of surprised me. I figured that driving a constant rate of speed on the interstate highways would result in better gas mileage—compared to the relative change of speed of smaller roads.
In addition, car ads state fuel efficiency such as 27 MPH City and 32 MPH Highway.
On one road trip, I spent three days on smaller roads and averaged 30.3 MPG (miles per gallon), according to the car’s electronic dash feature. After 150 miles on the interstate, the gauge showed 28.1 MPG. The speed limit for that section was 70 MPH. If it was 55 (and I drove at that speed) then gas mileage would be higher.
By the way, the further away from the interstate you go, the cheaper the gas costs. You already knew that, right? Cost2Drive also shows you the cheapest gas stations along your route!
Fewer Traffic Jams on Smaller Roads
On one road trip from Florida to Virginia, I reluctantly drove on I-95 because of bad weather. Just north of Richmond, Virginia, BAM, traffic came to a stand still. On a prior road trip, I recalled taking highway 1, parallel to I-95.
A quick check of my traffic app confirmed that it was a great option. For about 30 miles I took this bypass and I am confident that it was faster and I save a lot of time; although it is impossible to know for sure. I do know that I was moving most of the time instead of sitting at a standstill getting frustrated.
Journey versus destination
This is a catch-all bullet point to remind you to slow down and smell the roses. Fill your road trip with serenity and relaxation. Highway drives are stressful. Road rage is rare on smaller roads.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Yogi Berra said, “We’re lost but making good time.”
Robert Plant sang, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on.”
Do you have any other favorite reasons to drive on smaller roads rather than highways?