Our Ibizia rental car had come to a stop, somewhere close to the Czech Republic and Austria border, on a country road in the middle of seemingly nowhere. There was nothing on the horizon in our 360 view except fields of dead flowers, somewhat symbolic of our cell phone data reception at that moment, which had also died, rendering Google maps useless. My daughter snapped this photo finding it all quite amusing, until she became the navigator with a paper map all the way to Vienna. It was this picture and story posted to social media that popped up recently on a Facebook memory, which brought the whole trip back in focus. We had started in Paris with Bastille Day celebrations and a France World Cup win all in one weekend, and ended in Venice three weeks later, with stops in Prague, a pub crawl with millennials, endless Czech and Austrian small towns and countryside, Vienna, hiking and camping the Dolomites, Tuscany and the Italian Riviera. It wasn’t just the places, it was all the people we met on route, and the rhythm of road tripping, knitting together a mother and daughter relationship along the way. Our accommodations were as diverse as the sound tracks we played that summer two years ago – quaint city walk up hotels, hostels, pensions and camping. Kind of like classical, rap, new releases and oldies mixed in with country and folk. We lived out of the Ibizia, rented once away from the big cities, with our life scattered on the seats an in the trunk. But it wasn’t just the memories of that trip that came flooding back, it was memories of other roads trips as well, and what had made them so special.
Maybe it’s the appeal of something currently denied, or the sadness of taking freedom for granted, but I’ve found myself reflecting on past international road trips with nostalgia recently. Those auto adventures have been many between 2015-2019, including New York city and state as well as California, Colorado and Europe with my son in 2015 while he competed on the International Downhill Skateboard World Circuit. We also did parts of Australia, New Zealand and Vermont in 2016 together, which is likely why in balancing the sibling travel ledger, my daughter got Ottawa and Ontario for Canada’s 150celebrations in 2017, and our grand Europe trip in 2018. There was a Route 66 and Grand Canyon motorbike trip with my husband in there too in 2018, and solo trips to upstate New York in 2018, and several grand adventures on my own in 2019, including Australia, Spain and Montana. In 2019 alone, I racked up over 6,000 km behind the wheel of a rental car abroad, singing like nobody was listening and exploring with loosely made plans wherever the road lead me. The independence and ability to take advantage of serendipity while on the road, can’t be beat. It’s with that same attitude that I hope many others will discover this summer, while exploring closer to home.
Traveling by car, motorbike, or even reliving past adventures on the road through photos, seems an ideal antidote to the gloom and restrictions we find ourselves in with the daily and nightly news about the pandemic. While local travel is the favored option this summer, I thought it might be fun to reflect on the magic of what makes these journeys special. And along the way, experience a fresh take on our planet right now, a vivid and delightful testament to just why the world is in essence a wonderful place, how its people are inseparable parts of the experience, and how travel is just wonderous fun.
Who would have thought we’d be making statements such as “road trips are so 2020” just a year ago? And yet here we are, on mass, finding refuge in our own private four-wheel spaces, safe from the threats of the outside world, and not plagued by the worry of air travel and shared confined spaces bottled up in a tin can in the sky. While many have switched holiday plans to domestic road travel by choice, others confined by border restrictions have had the decision made for them. Whatever the case for how we arrived here, heading off in a car, campervan, trailer or motorbike is hardly a consolation prize. It’s an opportunity to see and appreciate things closer to home with a new set of eyes.
There is something very freeing that comes from the trio of you, a vehicle and a destination unknown. Traveling the open road is first and foremost about exploration. The full tank of gas and thirst for adventure that touches the soul and ignites freedom and independence like nothing else can, is at the heart of any road trip. While many trips, those taken by plane in particular, are about the destination. Road trips are just as much about the journey. It’s about where you go, where you didn’t plan to got but went anyway, who you are with, the characters you met, the music that was playing, and the stories that were shared by only those along for the ride.
Freedom changes the mood. And since freedom on some level has been denied this year by the pandemic, reclaiming it on the road is a psychological win. Seeing the open road stretch out before you and what lies around the next bend, creates a special atmosphere like few other activities. Having your own vehicle offers independence to go where you want to go, but also have your own healthy space, which has become a whole new benefit this year. Plus, at the wheel, there’s a certain liberty you just don’t get on guided tours, no matter how small or intimate they may be. Independence drives exploration, and holds ever present the possibility of serendipity, which often makes for the best travel memories.
Take what you want in a vehicle. There’s no need to pack your life into a suitcase, or measure and weight it. With a car, if it fits, it can go. This not only allows more creature comforts, but also the possibility of including some passions along the way. Want to golf, sketch, fish, kayak, hike, or bike during the trip? It’s all possible when you’re a turtle with a shell.
Whether you choose to tow a trailer, pack a tent to camp, drive an RV, or plan to stay at on route accommodations, the options of being self-contained certainly hold appeal in 2020.
Pick your company
Road trips can be solo, pairs or groups. Family, spouse or friends. The magic is in the company, the conversations at the wheel, and the shared experiences along the way.
The people you meet
It’s next to impossible to not interact with locals on a road trip. From the local diner, to gassing up, buying groceries at a market, or conversations on a hiking trail, there’s nothing like getting a sense of a place through meeting the people who live there. While this can happen without being on the road, it often doesn’t, or not to the same extent. When ambling along and living as you go, the pace of grace takes over, and day to day needs merge you into the lane of locals.
You know what they say, “It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey.” That’s a feeling you’ll only truly appreciate once you’ve completed your first big road trip. Why not make it this year? Let’s rebrand 2020 with road trip memories, instead of the pandemic. But let’s also be thankful for the opportunity it has forced upon us.
Somewhere on the Czech/Austrian border there are likely fields of dead flowers again this summer, far from the city centers of Prague and Vienna, absent of tourists and crowds. My daughter and I won’t be seeing them, but hopefully locals there will be experiencing their countryside the way we did, with curiosity and newfound appreciation – and perhaps cell phone coverage.