I’m sure this has happened to you: You’ve planned your trip carefully, gone online and looked up the perfect route home. You know down to the minute exactly how long the drive should take and may even be gaming it a little bit as a consequence (“Sure 12 hours is a long day, but it’s our last day in the car – we can do it.”). Maybe in the morning everything went so smoothly that you actually made up a little time and with undeserved hubris fueled by a caffeine buzz are now thinking you’ll have time for a grocery-store run when you get home.
Then you see the brake lights stretching into what seems like infinity. It must be time for Road Trip Tip #5: Detours can be a good idea.
If you have a GPS system in your car, you may already know the virtues of this tip. But I have a feeling that even with a computer to help many of us feel like we have to stick with major roads. So we sit in horrendous traffic, the sun beating through the windows, the children who have up until now been angelic whining (and let’s face it – we want to whine with them). Someone will have to pee. Someone else will be hungry. In the space of twenty minutes you forget why you even bothered to leave home in the first place.
This happened to us on the last day of our Midwestern driving trip this summer. Soon after we crossed the border from West Virginia into Maryland we encountered a serious accident that stopped traffic altogether for 45 minutes. It was tragic, knowing those people would have to figure out how to calculate pain and suffering in a car accident, and how to recover from it, but we decided not to dwell too much. Then a little farther on, when we hit the road that would take us down to the beltway around Baltimore and then to I-95 where we would turn north and head home (there’s no direct way to drive across Maryland see) the traffic was backed up in a way that promised we’d be moving at a clip of about ten miles an hour. It was late afternoon and we’d been in the car since 8 a.m. No matter where you plan on going for your road trip, making a note of driving times you should avoid to beat la traffic, for example, could help make your journey a lot less stressful and leave you with more time to do fun things, rather than just sitting in traffic all day.
I consulted our atlas, realized how far west we still were, and made the command decision that we would drive north into Pennsylvania and take Route 30 across the state through Gettysburg to Lancaster, where we would be in familiar territory and knew the back roads back to Delaware. And here’s what ensued:
- We drove through the lovely rolling hills of central-western Pennsylvania, golden in the sun, while the kids napped because the car was moving.
- Although we had to slow down to 30 miles per hour through any number of small towns, we encountered virtually no traffic anywhere and made decent time.
- At the exact moment when all of us wanted dinner we were driving through the fields that surround Gettysburg and happened upon the Appalachian Brewing Company where not only did we enjoy a great meal (the picture below is Teddy enjoying the “appetizer” of crackers, American cheese, and Mandarin orange slices that came with his kid’s meal) but where Matt and I could each have a much-needed beer.
- The last hour of our trip was spent not in tears and recrimination but with giddy, slap-happy kids who shrieked and laughed and generally enjoyed the naughty feeling of being up late and out after dark.
Because we were on country highways and stopped for a leisurely meal, the drive home probably took the same amount of time as it would have had we stayed on the Interstate. But it was cooler, more pleasant, and we didn’t have to eat a fast-food dinner at a crowded rest stop. It was a final reminder on this trip that even with kids in the car, road trips can be as much about the driving as the destination – and that a quick change of plans can be your salvation.
This post is part of my 2009 series of Road Trip Tips. Other tips in the series include:
- Goodbye summer…but before you go a few road trip tips
- Eating on the road
- Be a little sneaky
- Music, music, music
- Don’t underestimate driving times