People fuck up opportunities to have great experiences all the time. I want you not to do that.
I’m a road trip fiend and I think I finally cracked the code.
We have a romantic idea of road trips. The wide open road and all your worries behind and having those life experiences that you need to have before you’re old. We ruin these romantic ideas by acting unromantically (trying too hard).
These were my rules for my most recent cross-country road trip and they made it a life-changing experience. For the first time, I had a road trip that was everything it was cracked up to be.
1. Plan extra time
If you feel pressed for time then the whole thing won’t work. The wide-open road becomes another check on your to-do list. What could be a freeing experience becomes a practice in practicality.
Not having enough time by itself will ruin a road trip. It kills every chance of wandering and every feeling of freedom.
2. Don’t use a map
Digital maps are even worse than the paper ones. Google Maps will constantly remind you of your progress. Didn’t you want to leave progress reports at home? You will be looking forward to getting to the next green dot. You will watch the time go down. You will be blind to all the amazing shit that you’re passing by.
It’s exhilarating to be driving without knowing exactly where you’ll be. It throws you into a sense of wandering that is so important (more on that later). It may be scary at first. Then it will be scary again when you are 15 miles down some Texan dirt road and you’re not sure if you’ll be able to get to the other side and your phone has no service so you couldn’t get directions even if you tried. It will be liberating though. It will give you the sense of adventure that your childhood was probably robbed of. The same sense of adventure that our culture aims to kill with comfort. You’ll get that. And it’ll be amazing.
Figure out whether you want to head North or West or East or South and then follow the compass. You’ll get where you want to be.
3. Stop as much as you want
I pulled over for every idea that came through my mind. I wrote half of a screenplay and a book of poems doing this.
Pull over when:
- You have an idea that you want to write down.
- When you have any inclination to stop. This is better than meditation. Just follow what you think will be the most interesting thing to do. The most interesting times in my life have been thanks to chasing a whimsy.
- You see somebody that would be interesting to talk to. You don’t even have to talk to them, but it will be more fun if you do.
- You see anything that looks interesting.
- You get bored. If you’re bored then you’re fucking it up. Pull over and look at a rock. Write in a journal. Take a picture. Introduce yourself to a stranger. If you get bored, think about what it means to be bored.
I stopped in the middle of the desert and experienced one of the most perfect moments of my life sitting on top of my car writing a (terrible) poem. Driving up the west coast on Highway 1 I stumbled onto Big Sur. Stopping randomly in the Olympic Peninsula taught me what hitchhikers smell like… and that they aren’t all as interesting as you’d like them to be.
4. Drive slow
Drive the speed limit or slower. 55-60 MPH max. Slower is better. When you get up towards 65-70 MPH you can’t take in the scenery, and the shifting landscapes is one of the coolest things about traveling on the ground instead of the air.
Driving fast signals to yourself that you need to be somewhere. You’re on a road trip, damnit! You need to be on the road. When you slow down you appreciate the whole thing more. It’s another way to stop worrying about getting somewhere and throwing yourself into being where you are.
5. Don’t think about destinations
A road trip is a perfect place to practice focusing on the journey instead of the destination. In this metaphorical microcosm of life you will be able to instantly feel how different your experience is when you’re focused on the destination instead of where you are.
You’ve got your compass. You’ve got your speedometer. You know you’re moving West at 45 miles per hour. You’ll get to that other coast eventually, chill out. Stop worrying about checking things off a bullshit list. Stop worrying about getting your picture in front of things you’ve seen on postcards. (Postcards!? Fuck me, just other people’s Facebook walls.)
Stay focused on where you’re at.
6. Your trip is not a trophy
Nobody gives a shit about your picture of Mount Rushmore. Or your story of how big the Grand Canyon is. Or anything else that we’ve all heard and seen a million times before. That doesn’t mean that those things aren’t worth seeing. The Grand Canyon will give you a sense of awe that no space video ever could.
The point is, you’re going to have a terrible time if you take a trip with the goal of impressing others. You’re going to get to the top of some mountain and feel compelled to report it to your social networks.
If you think your trip is a trophy then it’s already ruined. There’s no way you’ll be able to think about anything but destinations.
This trip is for you.
You need to be open to weird serendipities and roads that nobody has been on before. You need to be open to doing embarrassing things. You need to be open to meeting strangers. None of these things scores high on the Facebook Impress-O-Meter.
Your trip has the potential to change your entire life. Don’t poison it by considering anything besides your own sense of exploration.
7. Do Drugs
I smoked marijuana on the top of some mountain in Yosemite with a pretty girl. She was wearing a fox-tail and I kissed her. It was one of the greatest things of my life.
Maybe this should be “kiss somebody”. But then I also got really drunk with a few different people and it was amazing. We shot off fireworks upside down and shot pistols. I shotgunned a fucking cactus in half.
There is no better way to learn about somebody’s most elevated ideas of life and their deepest fears than drinking with them. You’re on the road, you’re not going to be spending weeks with these people. Be drunk with them. Be high with them. Find god with them.
Exploring the road is better when you’re exploring your mind, too.
(Notice that you don’t really need to do drugs to get any of these benefits… and I classified alcohol as a drug. Whatever.)
Fill up a journal. Not so much because you’ll revisit it later but because you’ll deepen your experience on the road by doing it. Write about the things you did that day. Write about the things happening around you. The fucked up people you met. The lady you met who paints because her daughter died of cancer. The meth-addict who’s okay now but his daughter is in jail for selling grenades.
Write a shitty poem. Draw a shitty picture. Pen a shitty story. If you’re good at those things then do them well.
There’s no better time or place in the world to reflect than on the road. The new environments are stimulating your brain. The fact that there’s nothing you need to do gives your brain the freedom to wander.
9. Have a kiss
Human intimacy allows you to soak in a new environment in a totally different way. If you’re single then things are more exciting because the people in different towns are different. If you’re a couple then you’re kissing automatically gets spicy by new environments.
10. Have an “I can die now” moment.
There has been no better source for me of “I can die now” moments than wandering slowly on my road. Looking at a traffic light. Going down a mountain in the rain. Sitting on the back of my truck in the desert. Staring at a tree. Kissing on the mountain.
These were some of the best experiences of my life. They were these transcendental moments that may never be revisited, and they don’t need to be. Knowing they happened is enough.