May 19, 2017

An Ode to Road Trips

Where and when I grew up, every single one of my friends and I took our drivers' license test on our 16th birthday.  It was a right of passage, and we did the work ahead of our birthdays (driver's education, both in class and in the car, hours with parental supervision and a driver's "permit" and whatever else they required) to make sure we could try to gain our car freedom as early as possible.
Our Spain Portugal Route
I bought myself a brand new sporty car to celebrate my first real job after college, and I loved it.  I drove it for 17 years (and on numerous road trips in the US) until I sold it last year to help finance our sabbatical year of travel.

Girona, one of many cities we never would have seen without a road trip.

It seems that the world is heading towards less young drivers (with the increased availability of car services and EU and US standards for youth driving permits being onerous and getting worse).  And, with self-driving cars, perhaps we're just moving away from human drivers in general. 

Nightime view from the entrance to our hotel in Zaragoza.

However, the mystique of the Great (American) Roadtrip exists for a reason.  I can attest that driving yourself (or being lazy and having your spouse drive you) is one of the best ways to see many parts of the world.  This year, E and I have done several great roadtrips (Northern US and Canada, Argentina, Southern US, currently in the middle of one through Spain and Portugal, with hopes for a short one in Iceland, and then the southern cross-country route from ATL back to the SF bay area to complete the full tour).

There's something very independent about a roadtrip -- you are there, in the foreign place that you are visiting, and yet, you aren't.  You are in your own vehicular bubble, with the people and things, and food and drink, and habits and language, and music or audiobooks that you've brought, which insulate you from the outside world. 

Navvare, Spain

Frankly, it's more comfortable than fully immersing yourself in a foreign place.  Assuming you've got the car, know the rules of the road, and can read some of the local language and have access to decent maps (thank you Google Fi) road trips just require way less foreign overhead than the same distance on public transit.  They also are a way off the beaten track to see sights and experience things that most travelers on the mass transit path will never see, which oddly gives you access to experiences that are much *more* culturally challenging than those available on the well traveled path.

Open road on the way to Portugal.
So far, for Spain and Portugal, because the countries are well populated, we've been able to string together visits to cities that have interesting things to see and do with something along the lines of no more than a 3 hour total drive between each stop.  This pace is very nice (and leaves time in the AM for running most driving days, which is hugely appreciated before sitting for hours).  Bonus, because these cultures enjoy *late* lunches (many restaurants don't even open until 1 or 1:30 PM) we've found that we can string together 3 driving days without any multiple night stays by arriving at the next city or a target along the way in time for a late leisurely lunch, doing afternoon sightseeing at our overnight destination on foot, an early by local standards dinner (8ish), and going to bed at a reasonable hour, and wake and repeat.

In the US/Canada and Argentina, our road-trip habits were totally different, mainly because the interesting cities were so much further apart so we had to drive very long stretches in one day, but also because of Argentina siesta culture and the ease of the US/Canada all hours eating culture.

When we look back on our sabbatical year, we will definitely think of road trips as one of the best things about it (all told, we're looking at about 16+ weeks on road trips this year).


Arvay said...

Road trips are certainly not dead in AK! We have miles of beautiful country, and no place for accommodations except for your own tent. Ironically, though, the majority of our state is not even accessible by road. :)

Angela Knotts said...

Ahhh I love road trips!! (Although, I have noticed that our car tends to get stinky after a while.)

You're never coming back, are you? ;)

bt said...

@Arvay -- a big long AK road trip is definitely one of our wish-list trips (even if we won't see most of the "flying state").

@Angela -- Our car definitely had some funk by the time we showed up in ATL (9+ weeks of US/CAN). We talked about adding on another year (or waiting 'til the cheeto is out or impeached), but we decided we will definitely come back in July as planned, replace the carpets after the renters move out, move back in and visit family, handle local obligatons, etc. What happens after that is anyone's best guess...we're definitely in *anything-is-possible* mode...