Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

17 Things You Learn on Your First Road Trip

United States Travel
by Emma Thieme Sep 9, 2015

1. You can’t see the country on six lanes of highway.

Driving the backroads have added hours to your route, but at least you’re in motion. Anything’s better than feeling your bare thighs melt on a velveteen seat while you inch through an unexpected traffic jam in Florida.

2. The random kindness of strangers is real.

When your 1982 Volvo 240 breaks down in rural MacDonald, Kansas at midnight in a rainstorm, you only have to wait an hour before an elderly man pulls over and offers to take you to the closest motel. The next morning he comes to check on you and gives you a lift to his mechanic’s house, where all three of you spend the next four days tracking down parts from all over the country.

3. Local beer and liquor laws make zero sense.

When you finally reach the Blue Ridge Parkway at sundown, after driving 500 miles straight from western Tennessee, you realize after your fourth gas station that it’s Sunday in North Carolina. You spend 15 minutes arguing with your partner (“I told you we should have stopped in Dollyland!”) before deciding to backtrack an hour to the closest county that sells beer. You can’t process the thought of lying down in the open bed of your truck and trying to sleep without a buzz on.

4. Airbnb is the easiest way to meet locals.

You thought you were just going to get a key from your host and then go your separate way. Instead he offers you a Bud Lite and shows you a music video his son made. You learn he’s a retired bus driver from Hoboken, New Jersey — here in Nashville because he loves the music and wants to be closer to his son. You go downtown together and meet that son, and his wife, and all of their friends.

5. The best roadside attractions are almost completely incomprehensible.

The World’s Tallest Easel. The World’s Largest Can of Spinach. You can’t help it, you drive out of your way to see the World’s Largest Brick.

6. After you’re on the road long enough, any place is a good place to shower.

Even if it’s a 2×2 stall in a New Orleans basement, with a rusted drain and walls painted with the hair clumps of three of your friends.

7. Any excuse to go on a road trip is good enough.

Even if it involves quitting your job at the start of the recession and driving to Minneapolis to reunite with your ex. It takes you a month to remember why you split. You leave in a record snowstorm with everything you brought except your prized possession — a Taylor that you had to sell to a kid on craigslist for gas money. It sucks, but at least you’ve seen Minneapolis in winter. On to the next thing.

8. Don’t believe the receptionist at the $30 motel in Georgia when she says: “Ya’ll are gonna love our free breakfast!”

You spend approximately 45 seconds trying to choke down some oatmeal that you suspect came out of a can. You leave at 8:03 without any coffee — it tasted like watery tar — and almost T-bone a Honda Civic in the parking lot.

9. Most people don’t want to hurt you.

You’re a little nervous when that jacked-up black GMC in Utah passes you going 80, then stops short, does a 180, and starts gunning back to your pulled over car.

A guy in a cowboy hat rolls down his tinted window and yells: “Broke down?!”

You can proudly say no, you’re just taking a break.

“Ya’ll want some vegetables?!”

He throws some squash and cucumbers out to you in a paper bag and spins out.

10. Always prepare to be cold.

You brought four pairs of shorts but only one pair of pants. You’re quick to realize that there’s a chance of hail in every state, including Asheville, North Carolina in May.

11. Never trust the motel marquee.

You splurged 50 bucks on a room at the Super 8 in Montgomery because you read that it had a pool. You didn’t read that the pool hadn’t been filled since 1993.

12. Incredible music is everywhere.

You wouldn’t consider yourself a rockabilly fan but you go to the Continental Club in Austin anyway. You can’t stop admiring the foot-high bottle red beehive of the base player and her chirping, girly falsetto. You spend the whole night wanting to be her and download all of her albums the next morning.

13. The best food is in the crummiest looking places.

You pull over on Route 231 near Pickard, Alabama, to hit a BBQ joint called Webb’s. The building looks like an abandoned gas station. It has broken pumps out front, a lone rusty Pontiac in the parking lot, and collapsed stairs leading up to the door. You’re a little unsure — you don’t even know if they’re open or have been open in the past decade — but you’re starving. And they’re neon sign is on.

By the time you’ve finished off two of the best smoky pulled pork sandwiches you’ve ever had, a line has formed outside and they’ve sold out of meat.

14. Always listen to truckers.

The trucker at that Alabama diner has just one piece of cardinal advice for you: Go to the welcome centers. There are hotel coupons and free coffee at the welcome centers.

15. Never carry a joint in the car with you.

When you get pulled over by a local cop in Mississippi — and you have to wait on the side of the road for an hour while he taps your spare tire and listens to it — you’re thankful you finished that joint back in Louisiana.

16. Some places will make you homesick.

You try to take a nap at a public park in Austin but the grass is dry and prickly and smells like souring cat piss.

17. You’ll never have enough money.

At the end of a six-month journey, you find yourself calling a friend back in New England from a French Quarter pay phone at 6am, asking her to wire you $500 just to get home.

This post was originally published on September 26, 2015. 

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