Road trip habits of happy travelers include enjoying the journey, knowing when to make and break rules, and finding great travel deals.
Many road trips are simply a means to arrive at a destination. Those type of road trips are not meant to be fun. Just long days of driving on the fastest route possible, stopping only for essential breaks and perhaps taking quick photos at state border signs.
This article focuses on road trips when you immerse in your current scenic surroundings and enjoy where you are, instead of driving as many miles as humanly possible.
Here are my thoughts about the Road Trip Habits which Happy Travelers possess.
Agree? Disagree? Please let me know in the Comment section below. Thank you.
8 Great Road Trip Habits of Happy Travelers
1. Set Some Road Trip Rules
You should know me well enough by now. I am a rule breaker, not a rule maker. I do not make rules that are not fun. Rules I establish for road trips result in happy travel. Some of my happy road trip rules include:
— avoid interstate highways. For me, smaller, side roads are almost always more fun, scenic, and memorable than the interstate highways. A corollary rule is I try to find roads where I cannot use cruise control. Curvy, hilly, and/or unpaved roads are my favorites.
>>> Please also read: Take Roads Trips on Smaller Roads Rather Than Highways
— fun > driving. A basic rule I have is to allow for one hour fun time for every four hours of driving. On my road trips, I tend to get distracted and stop often. So, I rarely drive for four hours in a row. I will, however, make sure that I spend an entire hour doing something fun, like a hike, sitting on a beach, going for a bike ride.
— no chains. On road trips, I will not eat at a place that I could visit at home; even if I do not visit such places at home. I have no desire (anymore) to eat mass produced food that tastes the same whether in Barstow or Boston or Boynton. That eliminates the large fast food chains, which, honestly, is better for my health. If I crave a sandwich, I will find a local deli or grocery store. Same with burger, chicken, ice cream, BBQ, and so on. For lodging, I find that independent motels offer better value, more space, and friendlier staff than large chains.
>>> Please also read: 8 Great Alternatives to Fast Food Chain Restaurants
2. Break Those Road Trip Rules
What? I just convinced you to set some rules and now I am telling you to break them. Have I lost my mind?
Happy travelers set their own rules but also will break those rules if necessary. Here are a couple of examples:
— I will drive on interstate highways if the weather is nasty or I am just not feeling it where I am. Life, and my road trip, is too short.
— Another rule I will break is eating at chains. If they are regional and places I rarely see, I will go. Chains like Pollo Tropical in South Florida and El Pollo Loco and In N Out on scenic drives along the west coast are favorites. You gotta do what you gotta do!
3. Eat Local on Road Trips
Well, I am just sort of restating one of my above rules here. Eh, get used to it.
Eating fresh food is one of the true joys of road trips. Sampling authentic food items and cuisine of another area is exciting, enlightening, and enchanting.
It is also, arguably, better for you.
Sure, that food may have more sugar, butter, salt, whatever, than you are used to. It also will not have preservatives, chemicals, be wrapped in plastic for months (hopefully), and shipped from another state or country.
While on road trips, I make a special effort to visit bakeries, farmers markets, co-ops, roadside produce stands, festivals, food events, homemade ice cream stands, popup BBQ places (especially with hand-lettered cardboard signs), food trucks, and lemonade stands.
Well, that last one is because I am a sucker for children with an entrepreneurial spirit. Support local economy, right?
See also 8 Great Amazing Fish Tacos in US.
4. Stay With Locals on Road Trips
I prefer to stay in non-chain lodging, especially independent motels, because I find it has better value, more space, and friendlier staff.
First, better value. If an independent motel has the same configuration and size room as a chain property, which will cost more? The chain property has more overhead costs, with the marketing budget for the national (or international) brand. I find that the rates at independent properties (locally owned and operated) are typically 20% less than at nearby brand name properties. Agree?
Second, more space. Bad news, most independent properties are older buildings. Good news, the room configurations were bigger back then. Today’s big brand cookie-cutter hotel rooms are teeny, tiny. Sure, you can pay more for a suite. Or you can just stay at the nearby hotel and pay much less.
Third, friendlier staff. As if the above two items were not totally subjective, this one really is. In my vast road trip experience, I have encountered countless independent hotel/motel/inn operators who are well-established business owners and longtime residents.
At a brand name hotel, the staff are usually locals, but with little work experience. They might be students or people with second jobs, while managers are likely relocated from somewhere else. Friendlier, then, is subjective.
However, I find a huge difference in the quality of information I receive. While hotel staff follows company protocol and suggests touristy places to eat and visit, the independent person will provide useful (to me) and fun information resulting in more enjoyable and memorable road trips.
5. Explore on Road Trips
What makes me happiest on road trips, I have learned after hundreds of road trips, is discovering new things. It may be a scenic view, unpaved road, shortcut not shown on my map or app, recently opened bakery not listed in Yelp, or whatever.
The act of exploring makes road trips very special and memorable for me.
I suppose you might be different. Maybe your idea of fun on a road trip is seeing how fast you can drive or how far you can go. I have done both.
Perhaps instead of saying Explore, I should say, do whatever makes your soul happy.
Is that better?
See also Uniquely American Road Trips.
6. Practice Serendipitous Travel
Think of your favorite travel memories. Take a couple of moments.
Hopefully you thought of some happy travel memories.
My theory may bomb here but I am willing to take the risk.
I believe that most travel memories arise from unplanned situations. No matter how much planning we do, our most vivid memories happen from something unexpected.
That is serendipity.
Am I right? Are your favorite travel memories from serendipitous occurrences? Or as a result of meticulous planning?
>>> Please leave a comment below and let me know if I am right or wrong about this serendipity thing.
True story, I actually planned an entire five day road trip—mapped the route, picked places to eat and stay—and chucked it all after being on the road for less than 30 minutes. I found some street that looked interesting, which took me on a detour, and the plan was blown to smithereens.
I practice serendipity on road trips. That is like saying I practice spontaneity; you can, but you really cannot. What I do, I suppose, is start each day of a road trip with a clean slate. I may have a guideline of the direction I should travel, some highlights along the way, but I leave plenty of opportunity for spontaneous exploration.
7. Buy a Pass
Buying a National Parks pass makes sense (and saves dollars) if you will visit several parks. The pass is valid for over one year so it is a nice item for a long term US road trip.
Benefits of the National Park pass include skipping the long general admission lines at some parks, saving money (depending on how much you use the pass), receiving discounts at campgrounds and stores, and supporting the National Parks system.
This is just one example of a pass you can buy. During your summer road trips, keep your eyes open for other types of passes or memberships.
8. Vehicle Deals
Happy travelers know how to save money, time, and stress. Sometimes it might mean using your own vehicle for a road trip and knowing where to find the cheapest fuel. Other times it might mean planning a road trip around a great rental car deal.
One of my favorite travel deals year after year is rental cars leaving Florida for under $10 a day. During the Spring (any year) look for me on a road trip between South Florida and Washington, DC, serendipitously exploring the backroads and sampling local food.
What road trip tips and tricks would you add to this list of Road Trip Habits?