8 Great Reasons Take Road Trips On Smaller Roads Rather Than Highways

OK, I constantly preach that road trips on smaller roads are more fun than on interstate highways.

Time for me to prove it.

Last week I drove from South Florida to Northern Virginia. Total driving time on the quickest route (according to Cost2Drive) is 18 hours. For one person, that would be a long two days of driving on insidious, boring highways (mostly I-95).

Instead, I spent 4 and a half days mostly on smaller roads. Note, I did some interstate driving, about 150 miles out of 1,700 miles, during bad weather (rain).

8 Great Reasons Take Road Trips On Smaller Roads Rather Than Highways

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strolling down the avenue known as A1A

Prettier Scenery on Smaller Roads

Interstates were made 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 this road trip I wanted to drive A1A continuously up to Jacksonville. I was next to the ocean nearly the entire drive. Ahhhh. It reminds 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 6 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.

Serendipitous Discoveries

I tend to roam when I am on road trips. I did not drive straight up A1A but instead explored neighborhoods, found random scenic byways, and checked out historical and interesting sights. Sure, it is possible to do the same from interstates but that would require advance planning (then it is not random!). Along A1A I found many tangent paths leading to intracoastal views, nature preserves, and the beach was always a few feet away.

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Old Griffin Road, Hollywood, Florida
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Intracoastal, Hallandale Beach
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near Hobe Sound, Florida

Friendly People

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 road, farm road, 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 offer the typical assortment of fast food options. Exit areas are usually no better. Sometimes you can 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, local places. You will have to work hard to find diners, drive-ins, and dives from the interstate but smaller roads are filled with them. Plus, I love stopping at farm stands, impromptu BBQ (especially at small Southern churches) joints, and local bakeries. You never know what you will find.

try exotic foods at Clark's Fish Camp in Jacksonville FL
try exotic foods at Clark’s Fish Camp in Jacksonville FL

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 opt to get off the interstate.

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 17 City and 23 Highway. Well, 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

Since the weather was bad, I was reluctantly prepared to continue my road trip on the interstate. Just north of Richmond, Virginia, BAM, traffic came to a stand still. I recalled taking highway 1, parallel to I-95, on a previous trip. 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 (although it is impossible to know for sure).

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Major traffic jam start.
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This is why I exited. Red means traffic is still.
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Most of my detour looked like this.

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.”


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6 thoughts on “8 Great Reasons Take Road Trips On Smaller Roads Rather Than Highways”

  1. nothing is more boring than driving I-95 from the northeast or midatlantic to south Florida. Absolutely correct that there are surprisingly few water views even on the 6 1/2 hour drive from the Georgia border to Miami. Same is true driving down interstate 75 on the West Coast of Florida. To get the best views (and food) stick to the secondary roads.

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