“There is no better place in the world to pack up your van and hit the open road than America.”
If you happen to be a travel podcast junkie like me, you may have heard phrases similar to this one. I listen to Australian travelers and they go on and on about the beauty of the wide open road in America, or a great American road trip. Another guy from Norway can’t stop raving about a trip he once took from LA to NYC and how it changed his life. Professional travelers go on and on about the interesting local foods and the diversity of people, landscape and culture within the US. They sing praises of state parks and iconic roadside restaurants. Me? To be honest, I often roll my eyes.
At any given moment I need a vacation. Yes, please!! But when I dream of “getting away from it all” a long airplane ride is always involved. The airplane will whisk me away to an exotic place where the people speak a different language and move at a different pace. I dream of going somewhere where I can be a totally different person for two weeks. For two precious weeks my family and I can adventure together far away from the pressures of day to day living. There are no job ladders to climb, no SAT tests to prep for, no images to keep, no nursing home visits to make. When I travel, I want to go where life seems slower, people seem less stressed and even a little happier. As an adult, the great American road trip vacation just hasn’t seemed like enough.
You See, I Remember My Great American Road Trip
Growing up I sat every summer from 1979-1985 perched upon the middle pull down armrest in the front seat of my grandfather’s Oldsmobile Cutlass. The windows were cranked down, Crystal Gayle was on the radio, as he drove 55 mph down the interstate to Daytona Beach, Florida. We were on a quest for one week in paradise. I can still smell the mix of Cool Ranch Doritos soon followed by my watermelon Bubblicious from the gas station. I can still feel my sweaty legs sticking to that red, vinyl armrest. And I hear Papaw jokingly complain about the terrible bubble gum smell while pushing me to the back seat. “Are we almost there, yet?” Yes, I know all about the great American road trip. Fond memories. Been there, done that.
Then a Funny Thing Called 2020 Happened
This year, because of the realities of Covid-19, it seems like American’s are itching to escape their homes like never before. We got what we had wished for – no work, just Netflix. But its joys fleeted fast.. One night in the middle of quarantine I started to make a revised bucket list of all the places I want to travel when the world reopened. With all the extra time on my hands I even started researching and planning itineraries. This and wine is how I have coped.
I planned New Zealand and Croatia, Morocco and Montenegro. But to my surprise, the inability to go beyond my own mailbox prompted me to wonder once again about the possibilities of a great American road trip. All of a sudden it doesn’t seem so bad. And to be honest, the more research and planning that I do, I’m thinking it actually might be amazing! So when the world reopens and Covid-19 hopefully fades away with 2020, I think I’m packing up the van and taking my family on a great American road trip adventure. Here’s the plan.
Starting in the south and following the coast north, I began my west coast road trip. I’m pretty sure that any California beach is a perfect place to start. This adventure will be for the slow, intentional traveller. Sure, I know the I-5 can get us to our final destination of the tip of Washington state in 24 short hours. But Highway 1, or Pacific Coast Highway, seems more my style. It looks perfect for lingering.
So, my plan is to slow down a bit. We might even camp. When I travel I try really hard to just take my time and do something out of the ordinary. Adventures are not so much about the destinations. They are about the journey alongside those with whom we are traveling. So I plan to be present, bask in the sun and pay attention to the palm trees and colorful landscape. I want to savor a glorious glass of California wine, put the phone away, and actually see each breathtaking view.
In Southern California I’ll follow Highway 1 from San Diego to San Francisco. This road trip is about discovering natural beauty as it unfolds along a winding coastal highway. I hear some people think this highway is dangerous with its steep cliffs and sharp turns. That is exactly why I plan on traveling south to north. It should feel quite safe as we drive the inside lane of these high ocean cliffs. Luckily, I only get a little car sick.
Highway 1 has a way of making you feel like you have stepped back in time. I’m all in as long as I get to bypass the sticky vinyl seats and my van air conditioner blows at max cool this time. West Coast culture blended with classic Americana blinking road signs and iconic roadside restaurants does sound fun. I want to enjoy the slow travel and nostalgic stops while watching the scenery and climate change as we proceed north. Highlights of this portion of Highway 1 include Hearst Castle and Big Sur. Still, I plan to take time to park the van and wander, searching for California sea lions and the perfect sunset.
I have been dying to return to Northern California. That means next we will make our way from SoCal to Monterey and onward to San Francisco by way of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Guide books say that this small town may just be the prettiest in all of America. We shall see. If it’s true, I’ll probably get there and never want to leave. But then again, the whales will be calling. Everyone loves whales, right? So, we will stop by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and take a whale watching trip before hitting the big city.
Next is San Francisco. Who hasn’t imagined driving across the Golden Gate Bridge or riding the cable cars up and down this city’s inclining streets? The temperature will be getting cooler now and the beaches won’t be as warm. That’s okay. I’ll just be looking for DJ Tanner and reliving my Full House San Francisco dreams.
Everything will change once again as this great American road trip enters the redwood splendor of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Being from Colorado, our family loves to hike and explore the outdoors.. I think I will just want to stay and admire the wonder of the massive 53,000 acre expanse of redwood majesty. Have a picnic, enjoy the trails, laugh with my kids, and hold hands and explore with my husband. This sounds crazy, but since our kids were tiny we would tell them to bring a notebook and pencil on our hikes. We still stop long enough to draw a picture of the beauty instead of snapping hundreds of iPhone photos. Nothing slows the pace more than stopping to draw what we see. Trust me, you should try it! Those pauses have been some of our best family memories. And I’m not an artist, either.
As the redwood forests give way to the rocky beaches of Oregon, it seems like the journey just keeps on getting better. I love crisper and wetter climates, however we have to make sure we pack our raincoats and keep them handy for the rest of the road trip! I’m imagining the coastline view changing in Oregon to sea stacks, rocky crags, lighthouses and curvy roads. I hear that the entire shoreline of Oregon is open to the public. We might just stop, make a driftwood fort (because evidently that’s a thing) and just soak up some Pacific Ocean views. I also might want to visit Astoria, the first white settlement west of the Rockies, settled by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I definitely plan to stop nearby at a local restaurant for some of the best tuna, halibut, and oysters on the West Coast.
Finally, our post-Corona virus great American road trip will come to an end in Washington State. The travel guidebooks say that the highlight of the Washington coast is the 28-mile long Long Beach Peninsula. Followed by the temperate rainforest known as Olympic National Park., the adventures seem endless. I personally can’t wait to continue on to the northernmost boundary, Cape Flattery, on the Makah Reservation. You have to get a tribal lands permit to enter and then hike the long boardwalk to discover puffins, birds, whales, otters. What!!?? It is certain. I am never going to want to go back home.
Life moves at such a fast pace and I am always wishing for peace, quiet, and renewal
So, that’s why I travel. But then 2020 happened. And now here I am longing for movement and freedom once again. I think quarantine has forced all of us to reflect. For me, it has changed my attitude toward a lot of things. I feel like cherishing my moments more because they can be taken away in a heartbeat. And I have learned that when the mailbox is the furthest you can travel, the American West Coast seems quite exotic and far away. Now I can hardly wait to get there! Here’s to packing up our vans for the Great American Road Trip! I hope you’ll join me. Cheers!
Amy Colón is a freelance, content contributor and copywriter with over 20 years of experience in writing and education. She is passionate about international travel and encouraging women to leap beyond their comfort zones to intentionally explore the world.