A True Road Trip & a GPS

One of the iconic American adventures is the cross-country road trip.  Americans find road trips enthralling and glamorous, romanticized by ideas of the wind blowing, music playing, taking photographs, and bonding with your road trip companions, gas stations, rest stops, the middle of nowhere, adventure, no time commitments, and freedom. So many people imagine just packing up the car, driving away from the “real world” and having the time of their lives. The automobile and the highways have always given us tangible freedom.

Begin dreaming about the open road.  Answer this: which roads would you drive? Would you take the interstate or small highways? Would you have a destination (or is the journey the destination)? Would you plan ahead? Would you know how to begin? It’s a lot to consider. What constitutes a road trip? How do you define it? To me, a road trip should be as little interstate as possible, stops off the road, sightseeing on the way, staying in a town just because it’s a good place to stop, good music, belongings packed into the car … you get the idea.

I don’t like interstates, unless there is not another option or it’s necessary to squeeze in a weekend trip and a long drive. Interstates are efficient and practical with rest stops, but generally, interstates are boring, incredibly boring. Driving across I-20 & I-85 in South Carolina & Georgia to and from Birmingham was one of my least favorite long drives (barring terrible traffic on I-95). The most exciting vision was the Gaffney, SC peach.  However, I imagine that off the interstate would be a wonderful trip through small towns, big towns, the country, and a much better meeting with the states that the two – four lane interstates with billboards and shopping strips. Keep this in mind.

So, you are any average American citizen planning to travel across the country. Most of us will get directions from Google, MapQuest, AAA (and get free maps!), or the now common GPS. Very few of us can just start driving and use an atlas as we go; hence, the directions. Plus, having directions already can you plan for stops, saving time, energy, and money. The problem is that all of these methods send you by way of interstates, even if it’s not the shortest route. My mother recalls that AAA used to give scenic routes and helpful information, but in all of our recent experiences, it’s purely highlighting the route that MapQuest offers on the computer.

How are you supposed to see the best parts of America from the interstate? What if you want to take the scenic route, but don’t feel comfortable with just a map to guide you? As soon as you veer from the GPS’ directions, it tries to get you to turn around and head back to the intended route as soon as possible.

Consider a GPS program that would offer road trip ideas, itineraries, and routes. This would give people road trips who do not know where to begin or want something different. Or it would help to fuse the journey as part of the adventure. In fact, travelers can download turn-by-turn directions for a Route 66 adventure. And there is a Microsoft software program, Streets & Trips, that allows travelers to create their full trip itinerary, stops and all, ahead of time. It is a GPS receiver that plugs into a laptop, which needs to be plugged into your car and allows for rerouting and other alterations en route. Another GPS directed trip is from the GaperGuide, which allows people to take the driving tours of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park, offering information (history, stories, statistics, facts) about what visitors see along the way.

I can’t speak for any of these programs, but at least there are options for road trippers. However, if GPS scenic routes were created and people started traveling just a few roads, then problems of traffic, infrastructure, bypassing other places, etc. would possibly arise.  Granted, there would be many issues to resolve. Perhaps the GPS programs could start with historic routes in addition to Route 66, like the Lincoln Highway or the Dixie Highway or US Route 11.

How would you plan your road trip? Any suggestions for routes? Yes or no to the GPS road trip idea?