Road Trip Memories and Wisdom

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Great road trips take a variety of forms as I learned when I asked the Amateur Traveler community about their road trips. Thank you to everyone who responded. I was not able to use all the responses I received because of length but I appreciated them all. Special thanks to:

  • Kelly Bowers who taught me the 3/4 rule for road trips
  • Darrell Hickman who had the best Amateur Traveler tie in
  • Emanuele Dal Carlo who had to make the hardest decision

What was your best road trip?

  • Scot – My son and I in the convertible touring the west: Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Yellowstone, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon.
  • Emanuele Dal Carlo – Venice ( Italy ) to Manchester and back during the Christmas season. I just got my driving license only 4 months before and I thought about having a rocket start chewing a 4.000 km trip through Alps, Austria, Germany, Benelux, France, UK and France, and Switzerland back. The car? A sporty Alfa Romeo 147.
  • Jordan Oram – 2 years working for a traveling university program where I drove a 15 passenger van and got to lead/mentor 30+ students with a couple of great co-workers. Traveling around Western Canada and then 3 months in South Africa my first year, and 3 months around Guatemala my second year. Each school year-long adventure living out of a backpack, exploring, learning, growing, sharing. Glorious.
  • Kirk Crawford – Los Angeles to Washington DC in 13 days in an MG Midget with my mom. I was 18 years old.
  • David Elwood – My best trip was from NJ down through the Blue Ridge mountains. I stopped and camped out every night, sometimes just at the side of a highway. I visited a Cherokee heritage site, Monticello, Jackson’s house and ended up in Asheville, NC at the Biltmore house. It was an amazing trip where I really met a lot of people and felt close to nature at the same time.
  • Erik Smith – In 2009 I did a 16 day, 8,500-mile road trip out west (I live in Michigan) and my dad came with me for the first half of the trip.
  • Betsy Fullagar – Desert Southwest in January. Amazing light, freezing cold, few tourists and a promise not to scare each other with our driving.
  • Kelly Bowers– 2002: spent 30 days driving from Washington DC to Portland and back by myself. I called it BART — the Big Ass Road Trip (or if there were children present, the Big American Road Trip). Mostly I discovered
    1. that the US is waaaaaaaaaaaay bigger than I thought it was,
    2. that there is no highway that goes straight from Chicago to Portland no matter how convinced you are that there should be
    3. that a Jeep Cherokee is a terrible car for a long road trip!
    4. the 3/4 rule: never let your gas tank get more than 3/4 empty or your bladder get more than 3/4 full.
  • Mary Myers – Criss-crossing Arizona. There are so many varied places to explore in this state. Cities, architecture, art, caverns, desert, mountains, canyons, history…the list goes on. I spent 2 weeks there and have plenty to explore on future trips. I highly recommend taking along the book Roadside Geology of Arizona. It is an excellent resource for interpreting the landscape.
  • Jeanette Irwin – From Lake Panajachel, Guatemala to San Francisco back in 1999 with my father and a family friend. Despite the scary roads through Mexico, where we got stopped frequently by the Federales and nearly run off the road numerous times by big trucks, this is one of my favorite memories.
  • Laurence – Keeping this on an American theme, my favorite American road trip was a three-week jaunt I did around California, with the highlights being the Pacific Coast Highway, Death Valley, and the Joshua Tree National Park. The variety of the scenery on offer changed all the time – from ski fields to desert to lush coastal forest. Truly a memorable experience.
  • Erika Muller – A road trip to Yellowstone. We had both ups (driving along the river to the East Yellowstone entrance with Miles Davis Kind of Blue while snowflakes decorate the windshield and sunset a Brice Canyon) and downs (motor home engine troubles paused the drive back, conveniently it was in Las Vegas). We stumbled onto most of the animals in Yellowstone and blooming cacti in the Arizona desert. Long haul, but memorable.
  • Gabe Taviano – The final drive to California from Ohio that was the last leg of our family’s 52 Zoos in 52 Weeks tour.
  • Chuck – between Christmas 1993 and New Year’s Eve. I and 4 friends rented a minivan, packed it with SCUBA gear and headed for Key Largo and Key West to dive, with orders to be home in time to Kiss my wife at midnight on new years. We made it back with about 2 hours to spare. did a lot of diving and made it to Sunset at Malory Square one day. I really wish we could have streamed it, we shot the whole trip on VHS C videotape. I would have made a great netcast if it were today.
  • Darrell Hickman – 8 week cross US/Canada trip we did in 2007. The reason why we found the Amateur Traveler was that he had the only podcasts out on the Canadian Rockies at the time and the ones that were the most visible
  • Brian Setzer – Texas to Alaska to San Diego on a motorcycle in 2010. 23,000 miles over 5 months.
  • Eric Mohl – Almost every moment of the two day trip up the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks, past the Arctic Circle, over the Brooks Range and across the tundra of the North Slope to Deadhorse. Think of it as driving through your own private animal-filled Wild Kingdom episode.

Flat Tire 1

What was your worst road trip moment?

  • Emanuele Dal Carlo – Just after one day from the start there was a detour just out of Innsbruck that took us out of the safe motorway in the middle of narrow Alpine ridges between two 3 meters tall walls of snow. Just after a bend there was the road went downhill abruptly and the snow hadn’t been removed. At the bottom of the road, there were binmen with their trucks occupying half of the carriageway. I tried to gear down slowly but at the end, I had to brake and the car went straight toward the binmen. I had to choose between murder and the car and, notwithstanding my love for my Alfa, I steered harshly in the snow wall. The car got stuck and part of the grill broke, I had to be helped by some other driver and quickly gain my composure to get back on the road and head north.
  • Mike Cotton – Stayed in some rotten motels. Also, any motel which asks how long you want the room for is a moment to ponder why am I staying here.
  • Jordan Oram – After being cyclically ill in Guatemala for a few months I ended up being so dehydrated and broken physically and emotionally that my body started cramping up and I basically lost the will to live. That was a bottom low…. that has gone on to teach me so much about perspective and awareness and the beauty that exists in every day.
  • Kirk Crawford – the same trip fixing a broken choke in 30 mph wind at a truck stop in the midwest.
  • David Elwood – On a road trip with my family in California to the Redwood forests up north, we hit a man dressed in dark clothing riding his bike on the road at night. I was young but I remember everyone being very concerned. He did survive but I remember that trip was pretty sad.
  • Erik Smith – I got a flat tire on my pop-up trailer in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming during a driving rainstorm. I had to leave it on the side of an exit ramp, drive to a hotel an hour away, and come back get it the next day.
  • Betsy Fullagar – Mongolia: Lost in rain and fog, no road, no GPS, no map. Finally found a corral for reference. (In Mongolia, door and gates open to the south.)
  • Kelly Bowers– Pulling into Sioux City Iowa at 10 pm after my first 10-hours-of-driving day, exhausted and realizing that
    1. 10 hours of driving was too much by myself
    2. I had a bunch more 10-hours-of-driving days because I’d messed up the planning so much.
  • Mary Myers – When everyone got a little too tired on a 15 hour overnight drive from Pennsylvania to Florida. Danger, short tempers. Ugh. Lesson learned: don’t plan an overly aggressive schedule.
  • Adam Klopfenstein – A friend and I were driving to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas when one of the tires on his van was pierced by road debris about 25 miles west of Barstow California. It happened late enough in the day that by the time we got the spare in place and rolled into Barstow, all the tire shops were closed. Wal*Mart was still open, but they apparently don’t stock tires for the Honda Odyssey mini-van. Took us about five extra hours to get to Vegas driving at 45 miles an hour on the spare. While we made as best of the situation as we could by listening to great music (Dr. Horrible) and having good conversations, we still arrived at our hotel substantially later than we cared for.
  • Laurence – My partner getting travel sickness which, due to a serious miscalculation involving a plastic bag and a motorway, ended up all over the interior of the car. And me.
  • Robin Noelle – When I thought the plainclothes policeman waving me over was trying to sell me chiclets so I drove off. We were chased by 5 cars full of federales. I explained the misunderstanding – he was not amused but let us go. Or maybe when it was 2 am on the drive back to the States and I couldn’t find a hotel that took pets so I ended up in a scary sex motel outside of town.
  • Chuck – After a night on Bourbon Street, when I was 20 years old getting pickpocketed on the way back to our room.
  • Carlos – Taking a detour to visit Tombstone, AZ, what an overrated tourist trap. Also, being unprepared for the below-freezing temperatures at the Grand Canyon and camping there anyway. For my wife, it would have been my insistence of visiting the Cadillac Ranch at night and not realizing it was located in the middle of a cow pasture. When we got there it was pitch black and we could see a thing, I raised my flashlight after a few mins of walking only to see the eyes of dozens of cows reflecting back at us.
  • Brian Setzer – 5 flat [bike?] tires in one morning the day I crossed from Canada into Alaska. It was the same hole each time and was too big for the tire plugs to keep it closed. I ended up hitchhiking 90 miles to get more plugs, got back at 11 pm to patch it, and drove 30 mph over those same 80 miles the next day to get it repaired.

What is one item you require to take with you on every road trip?

  • Scott – map, GPS, and iPod [iPod was the most popular answer by far, but Scott said it first]
  • Jordan Oram – my sense of wonder
  • David Elwood – Snacks! fruit, bars, and drinks save time stopping for food.
  • Kelly Bowers – something to listen to for hours at a time! Recorded books and podcasts are by far my fave. Music doesn’t do it for me like books and podcasts.
  • Mary Myers – Just one? Hmmm…someone that is up for an adventure and can carry on an interactive, entertaining, and intellectual conversation.
  • Jeanette Irwin – Lots of healthy, vegan snacks. Restaurants near highways in the U.S. are just terrible!
  • Erika Muller – AAA Triptik. They are not as good as they used to be. Before they were great for estimating the distances to gas, food, campgrounds, and fuel. The new version are not cumulative but bound mapquest segments. Not good for RV travel where the cumulative information helps maximize the large gas tank and the traveling with your own house.
  • Gabe Taviano – A cooler.
  • Chuck – In years past, a radar detector. Now a camera, both still and video.
  • Darrell Hickman – laptop so I can always up to the minute research on anyplace I go to
  • Brian Setzer – A tent. I love to camp and be able to stay where ever I want.
  • Eric Mohl – Trader Joe’s unsalted dry-roasted almonds. They’re the perfect on the go snack: mess-free, filling, and nutritious plus they’re uncrushable so a bag can literally be tossed into the car.

If you could do a road trip with one person (living or dead) who would you take with you and why?

  • Emanuele Dal Carlo – My girl, she’s great fun and I love to see the world reflect in her eyes.
  • Mike CottonHunter S Thompson – the good doctor would up for ANYTHING.
  • Jordan Oram – Steve Martin. He seems like a very intelligent, insightful, and humorous man. He also plays the banjo extremely well which would be entertaining.
  • David Elwood – It might be Charles Darwin or a similar figure because I envy folks that have a great knowledge of the natural world. I think he would be very informative and also would be the type to be shooting out ideas and theories all day.
  • Erik Smith – Merriweather Lewis. I hear he was pretty good at ‘road trips’.
  • Betsy Fullagar – Anderson Cooper. I can’t bear to be bored and like to travel on the edge.
  • Kelly Bowers – So many choices…..probably my friend Kitty because she’s so much more extroverted than me, so she’s much better at meeting people. Also, she’s got a native curiosity that makes travel fun.
  • Mary Myers – One of my girlfriends. Because we can talk for hours without missing a beat. We can get lost and consider it an exciting part of the adventure. We can adjust our itinerary on a daily basis and nobody feels slighted…in fact, it improves the whole experience.
  • Adam Klopfenstein – My fiance Jillian makes for a great traveling companion, but if she was un-available, after reading Neil Peart’s travelogue books, I bet he’d be a great company to take on a road trip. [yes, you better say Jillian!]
  • Jeanette Irwin – My father. He did a lot of traveling in his life (particularly by car) and was a great travel companion, up for any adventure and full of endless energy.
  • Laurence – Jesus. I’d love to know what happened there.
  • Erika Muller – Leonardo DiVinci – I would never run out of questions.
  • Gabe Taviano – I would enjoy driving the apostle Paul (from the Bible) around in a vehicle and hear all of his stories from traveling across the middle east in a much older fashion.
  • Hanjié – with my best friend, cause he’s good with maps
  • Carlos – This is a hard one, so many interesting people that I would love to spend some time with. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Brian Setzer – Jack Kerouac would be sure to lead to an adventure and interesting to hear how the world has changed in such a short time. [seriously, someone had to say Kerouac]

Road Trip Sing -a- long

How do you pass the time in the car on a long road trip?

  • Mike Cotton – Listen to music, drink, more music and sining [sic, seriously I am hoping Mike meant singing. Music was easily the #1 answer]
  • David Elwood – When my kids were young, we collected license plate states and sang songs. These days we all get plugged in (I listen to Amateur Traveler podcast of course). [of course]
  • Betsy Fullagar – When traveling alone, my duets with KD Lang are the best! With my husband driving, I flip between online “words with friends” and seeing how well I can shoot with my shutter speed set to 1/320.
  • Mary Myers – Look at tour books to learn more about our destinations, talk with my traveling companion(s), listen to music and podcasts, play 20 questions, sleep, talk some more…
  • Adam Klopfenstein – Depends on who is driving. If I’m behind the wheel, there needs to be music playing, or stimulating conversation going on. The person riding shotgun is not allowed to sleep when I’m driving. If I’m in the passenger seat in the back, either napping or reading. [some sort of double standard]
  • Erika Muller – Reading all the road signs, planning the upcoming stops, and now XM radio.
  • Gabe Taviano – iPods and funny games with the kids (would you rather, a-z, etc.)
  • Eric Mohl – In Latin America road trip drive time is usually passed by looking out for concrete and stone topes (the Spanish word for “bumps”) which have been placed across the road. This is surprisingly time-consuming since there are thousands of the things on the roads–often completely unmarked.

Finish this sentence, “you know it’s a great road trip when…”

  • Scot – You can’t seem to wipe the smiles off your faces and talk about it years later.
  • Emanuele Dal Carlo – You are sad when you are close home [the #1 answer was “you don’t want to go home”]
  • Mike Cotton – You leave a place wearing flip flops and arrive needing thermals.
  • Jeanette Irwin – You get to your destination without a flat tire, running out of gas, or killing the person you took with you!!
  • Robin Noelle – when you can drive barefoot in the summer with all of the windows down and the radio up.
  • Gabe Taviano – You finish under budget and want to take it again soon after returning home.
  • Chuck – When it takes a week to get the crick out of your neck from sleeping in the car.
  • Darrell Hickman – I’m exhausted I have tons of memories tons of pictures and all of my hotels were paid by hotel points
  • Carlos – after years have gone by, you still talk about the trip and not the destination.
  • Brian Setzer – you end up somewhere you didn’t expect to.
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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

4 Responses to “Road Trip Memories and Wisdom”

Jeremy Branham


This isn’t the best or worst trip but the most memorable. In 2001, I set out on a road trip where I moved from South Carolina to California. I was in a 20 foot Uhaul with a car attached to the back. The radio in the Uhaul didn’t work so I used a portable CD player for music. I understood what it was like to be a trucker on that trip as I bonded with them on the road, flashing lights to let me in, and helping me out on the road. I remember many, many hours driving through West Texas and seeing nothing. In Arizona, I got food poisoning in the middle of the night. That was a rough night. In the desert of southern California, someone tried to steal my car. Finally made it in just 6 days.

I can’t say the journey changed my life but the destination has.

David Elwood


Great post Chris! I really enjoyed reading all the comments. How about the same questiuons for foreign travel?



I will definitely do this again, although it is surprising how much work it takes to organize this. I might need to write some scripts if I plan to do this much.

lara dunston


Great post and great tips/anecdotes. Love a good road trip and the vaster the country and longer the drive, the better. Just did a wee road trip in Thailand’s Isaan region as though it was wonderful, it wasn’t quite the same as, say, crossing Australia. Nice to read everyone’s different experiences here.

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