1. You’ll get to know your own backyard.
A former road trip copilot once told me she yearned to drive across the country after spending college on the East Coast. For four years she had flown back and forth across the US without ever knowing what existed in the composite of the countryside below her. Most of us are eager to travel abroad without even knowing what adventures await in our neighboring states.
2. America is wonderfully weird.
From Salem Sue, the “world’s largest Holstein cow” in North Dakota, to the Cockroach Hall of Fame in Texas, there are startlingly bizarre sites in this country. Embrace them. Just pull out your bible (a Rand McNally atlas) and let it guide you to all the quirky eccentricities your mind could never even dream up on its own.
3. You can tackle multiple national parks…
The easiest way to see the diverse landscape of our beautiful country is to set your destination as the nearest national park. From the Mars-like terrain of the South Dakota Badlands, to Yellowstone’s Mordor-esque geysers and the mind-blowing contours of the Grand Canyon, you can experience the America’s versatile natural beauty and feel like you’ve traveled to another world.
4. …and check “traditional” sites off your bucket list.
Before I went to Niagara Falls, I imagined it to be one big kitschy bathtub — a Water World for adults where lost souls Honeymooned. How wrong I was. I was floored by the impressive natural power of the falls. Mount Rushmore, on the other hand, proved to be one landmark I’m now relieved no longer compels me to visit. It felt more like the gimmicky backdrop of a casino town than the powerful historic façade eighth-grade history class built it up to be.
5. People you meet at American watering holes (commonly known as gas stations) will change your perspective on your fellow patriots (or at least give you a good story).
You’ll come across all kinds of characters when refueling. Plus, after being trapped in a vehicle for some odd hours, you feel a sense of liberation at a gas station that makes you more inclined towards interacting with your fellow travelers. The beauty of it is you’ll almost certainly never cross paths with said folk again. So that conversation you had with the leathery biker dude that just rescued a part-time bartender kidnapped by her boss? Yeah, totally normal.
6. You’ll enlighten yourself on stereotypes.
A road trip is a pseudo history lesson. The next time you meet someone from the Midwest and automatically think of Fargo or your roommate’s fun-to-mock Chicago accent, maybe you’ll be less inclined to jump to such stereotypes after a day spent boating on a Wisconsin lake with the down-to-earth locals.
7. It’s still a relatively cheap form of travel.
While we now live in a tragic world where a gallon of gas is much more expensive than a bottle of Charles Shaw, a road trip still leaves little burden on your bank account. Make your meals from local produce bought at roadside food stands and take advantage of campsites along your route. You’ll have an incredible travel experience at half the cost of a flight to Europe.
8. Without actually doing much, you’ll feel an immense sense of accomplishment.
It’s hour nine and you’re starting to wonder if you’ll ever lie prone again. Yet, you don’t resent your circumstances. Just by sitting all day and playing “which cloud looks most like Marge Simpson,” you’ve crossed three state lines. The best part about a road trip is you’re always moving forward. Revel in it.
9. It’s a good lesson in learning to go with the flow.
A road trip gives you the freedom to change your mind, make mistakes, and follow your daily whims. When you abandon any desire but that of just driving forward, you open yourself up to all kinds of unexpected adventures.
This post was originally published on June 9, 2014.