When I decided to move from New York to Los Angeles, I had no doubt in my mind that I would be flying across the country with tons of luggage. That was the way that I moved to New York from California at age 18, and I’ve traveled back and forth to visit family countless times since. The long, 6-hour flight was something that I was used to and comfortable with, even if it became tedious at times. But my boyfriend announced that his father was giving us his car—something we didn’t have in NYC but that was crucial for our new life in LA—and suddenly we were planning for a cross-country road trip.
Packing the car with everything imaginable was extremely hard work, but I can gratefully say that it was the hardest part of the trip. While I had never previously been on a road trip that lasted more than seven hours, the distance from my parents’ house to my grandparents’ house, I truly enjoyed the cross-country, 5-day, 4-night, 12-state road trip. Unlike the other parts of moving—the apartment hunting, the goodbye-ing, the packing, the planning—the road trip required us to live completely in the moment. We were out of the planning phase and in the living phase. Were we going to make it to Indiana the first night or Ohio? We had to just wait, live, and find out—and it was a blast. Of course, we fought over the podcasts and music we were going to listen to, but deciding where to go for our next meal, motel, or excursion meant that we had to be perfectly in the present.
I certainly didn’t do everything perfectly—I didn’t leave on time (according to the schedule I created for myself), I didn’t eat at all the exciting places on our list, I didn’t pack the right road-trip snacks, and I didn’t wear all the right clothing. But I can tell you what I learned and what I wish I had known going into such an endeavor, so that on your next road trip, whether it takes three hours or three days, you can have the greatest time possible.
Ashby’s Top 5 Road-Trip Tips:
1. Dress comfortably yet presentably.
When you’re in the car all day long, comfort is key. It’s important to make sure your clothing doesn’t dig in so you can sit comfortably, but wearing pajamas the entire time won’t make you feel great either. The first day in the car for our cross-country road trip was about 11 hours on the road, and while I was too exhausted to put the effort into my outfit, I wished I had worn something that didn’t make me feel as sloppy as I did in the gym shorts I borrowed from my boyfriend. For me, the perfect option was activewear because it never wrinkles, it’s stretchy, it’s moisture-wicking, and I could easily remove layers if it got too hot. The best parts of road trips always happen at the stops, so make sure whatever you’re wearing makes you feel good enough to get out of the car, snap some photos, and do a little twirl.
2. Eat at the local hot spots—just don’t overdo it.
For my boyfriend and me, the most exciting part of a road trip is the opportunity to check out the local cuisine. So yes, go to the legendary chicken-wing place your friend told you about! Try the signature Ooey Gooey Butter Cake while traipsing through St. Louis! Just keep in mind that, unlike at home, you can’t lie down or walk off a full stomach when you’re trapped in the car.
When we were eating somewhere special, I would get so excited and would eat it with so much enthusiasm because, finally, it wasn’t fast food or another boring sandwich from Subway. But sitting in a car with a stomach that is too full left me feeling uncomfortable. With our car packed to the brim, reclining the seats wasn’t an option. My boyfriend and I put into effect what we called “The Road Trip Rules of Eating” to remind ourselves that no matter how uniquely delicious, those last bites could always be saved for a little farther down the road.
3. Plan one destination to get dressed up for.
Though I had never been to Colorado before, I have two friends in Denver that wanted to show us the city. So we made sure that our stop in Denver was the one where we would live it up, eat at yummy restaurants, stay at a hotel and not a motel, and go out with friends we hadn’t seen in far too long. I showered, blow-dried my hair, put on makeup and accessories, and, for once, wore clothing that wasn’t activewear. Getting to explore a cool new city was a blast. I felt great doing so in an outfit that was comfy enough for the bit of time we were in the car, but cute enough that I felt like I fit in when we were walking through the arts district in search of a rooftop brewery. After many days sitting in a car and wearing activewear, this was such a welcome change.
4. Make room for spontaneity.
You can plan out your road-trip days down to the minute, but there are always unforeseen bumps along the road and eye-catching roadside attractions that might slow you down. When you see a sign for an exit that promises the World’s Largest Rocking Chair (shoutout to Casey, IL!), give yourself the flexibility to pull over and spend 20 minutes sightseeing and snapping photos. I even whipped out my phone and FaceTimed my family to give them an update on the progress we’d made on our trip—they got a kick out of seeing me at the World’s Largest Rocking Chair. Random attractions are everywhere along the way, and they’re what makes a road trip so much more fun than simply flying over all of the small thrills you’d otherwise miss.
5. Plan at least one activity that requires you to move.
For us, the one physical activity we made sure to plan was a hike at Zion National Park. When I was looking on the map of our route, I didn’t see much to do near highway 15 in Utah other than Zion and Bryce Canyon. But I had never been to Utah before and Zion was such a gorgeous spectacle that I knew I had to stop there to check it out. Plus, most of our stops were for food, bathroom, lodging, and gas—not purely dedicated to stretching our legs. Not only was our stop at Zion incredibly stunning and memorable, but it allowed us to use our muscles in a way we hadn’t for the four days prior. It felt so good to get out of the car, explore, move our bodies, and see new sights. Starting our morning off with a physical activity also gave us the energy to make it to our evening destination!
Once we reached Los Angeles, we rejoiced. But, shortly after arriving, the planning, unpacking, working, and obligations started up again. I realized that the road trip gave us the gift of a fun journey and a moment to breathe and live at the time we needed it most. Our destination would have been the same whether we flew or drove, but if we had flown, we would have missed out on this incredible journey.