Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Wed June 17 2015

Zen and the Art of the Road Trip: How to Enjoy the Journey Off the Beaten Path

Features & Advice | Tom Bastek | June 17, 2015

Zen and the Art of the Road Trip: How to Enjoy the Journey Off the Beaten Path

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Each year, millions of us go on road trips. A significant number of these long car rides are made as quickly as possibly with as few stops as possible. 

Let's take our foot off the gas and put it on the brake for a second.

In a saying that is based upon an idea by Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy we learn that, “It is not so much the destination, but the journey getting there.” Here are a few ways that you can take the roads less traveled and enjoy the trip getting to wherever it is you are going.

Avoid the Highways

This seems like an easy step to take, but it definitely isn't convenient. If you are driving from point A to B, there might not be a direct route to your destination that doesn’t involve a major highway. Sure, there are some modern interstates that parallel old U.S. roads, but not always. This is the time to get out the old school map and plot your own way. Some GPS navigation systems even offer an “avoid highways” button. Use this button to keep yourself off the beaten path.

Seek Out the Unusual

Now that we are traveling on our own little two-lane road at 35 miles per hour, let’s find a roadside attraction or strange piece of weird Americana to keep us interested along the way. There are plenty of great websites out there to help you in your search, with Roadside America and Weird U.S. being two of the most popular. Ask around your circle of friends if anyone has been to some smaller cities that are along your route. Compile, research and choose to get to the world’s largest ball of string or that haunted closed-down psychiatric hospital that you saw on TV and have some fun.

Get Away From the Chain Gang

This is probably my favorite part of road-tripping, especially on off-highway journeys: Eating. Chain restaurants are great go-tos for when you need something quick and consistent. But when you have the time to enjoy the ride, force it upon yourself to never pull into a fast food joint anytime on your trip. The mom-and-pop places are where you are going to get some of the best food, cheapest prices, and down-home service. Find the hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint or the hotdog stand that has been around since the 1940s. 

And split everything with your fellow travelers. If you only eat half of everything you try, there's room to try a few more places. Done properly, you can plan your day just going from restaurant-to-restaurant, eating your way down the open road.

Play Games

Everyone thinks that games in the cars are just for kids. Not true! Make a game out of the entire trip by trying to hit every county in the state of Ohio. Or maybe you have to get a picture at every state line sign that you across (incidentally, this is much easier and safer to do on the smaller roads than on the interstate highways). Maybe the game is to talk to one local in every town you stop in and write down one story from them. Or to grab a photo of every different state license plate you can find. Wouldn’t that make a great collage when you get back home?

Follow A Beaten Path

So far we have talked about ways to get off the beaten path, but sometimes a well-beaten path is a worthy journey. Why not trace Historic Route 66 across the country or follow the Oregon Trail? There are plenty of sites like Road Trip U.S.A. out there to get you started planning a route to follow.

One of the trips that I have been hoping to do is one from my childhood, with my parents driving. Even on highways, we never went too far in one day because of how young my brother and I were at the time, so it would afford a lot of cool stops.

These are a few ideas to get you slowing down and enjoying the journey instead of thinking, "quicker," "better." Who knows, maybe this slow travel trend will catch on...


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