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Santa Barbara, Ca

I'm a full-time rambler and contract designer with as many skill sets in my quiver as there are plane tickets in my passbook. I've worked in ornamental iron, jigsaw puzzle design, bookmaking, glass engraving, and a variety of other mediums. I'm currently living out of a backpack as I trek my way around the world.

Blog

The Great American Road Trip (part 1)

Zak Erving

Upstanding citizens. Would you accept a ride from these clowns?

Upstanding citizens. Would you accept a ride from these clowns?

America has done much in terms of exporting culture worldwide, but there's at least one aspect of this fine country that is more difficult to ship abroad: the road trip.

True, you can make a road trip just about anywhere: Paul Theroux wrote a book about traveling overland from Cairo to Capetown, and the Adventurists host a massive trans-continental drive from London to Ulaanbaatar every year. But the love affair of the American road trip, with its beginnings in Motor City and Easy Rider, continually expands its saga through the celebration of travel-by-auto philosophy at rallies running the range from Sturgis all the way to Daytona.

There are few other countries in the world one can drive for days on end and not cross an international border, yet still have a massive variety of landscapes to cross and subcultures to experience.

And just as there are different styles of travel, so also are there different styles of road trip. Here's your vocabulary list for the week. There will be a quiz on Monday. (Was that a "monthly contest" hint?)

This is where cars gather to eat

This is where cars gather to eat

The Standard: This is the archetype of all road trips, the original close-to-the-ground travel method that evolved alongside the automobile. Steinbeck emphasizes this type of road trip perhaps more than any other writer, romanticizing the breadth and depth of the glory of the road—and this was before Eisenhower's freeway project was complete, when most highways were still roads that hugged the curves of mountains, foothills, and lakes.

Advantage: Skipping the hectic mess of the interstate freeway, and getting to see a side of the country that many people don't.

Disadvantage: You'll need a lot more time to do a trip like this…not that that's a bad thing.

Cannonball Run: One of the most famous styles of road trip, this one describes its 80s movie-namesake: a coast-to-coast all-out bomb—or, alternatively, a solo-shot that links two or more days by driving through the night. Definitely risky (fatigue leads to just as many errors as intoxication) and not at all endorsed by Zak, who has made the drive from Los Angeles to Dallas in a single leg…and he recommends against it. If you do something like this, always go with a partner, and drive/sleep in shifts.

Advantage: You get to your destination fast, and assume pavement demigod status.

Disadvantage: Not stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. Aforementioned "demigod status" is bestowed upon by bro-types and ditzy girls.

Team Challenge: All sorts of rules crop up in this homegrown-style road trip. Usually, a group of friends will compete against themselves or other groups of friends to cover a certain distance with limited funding. A famous interpretation of the Team Challenge style is the Baja One Thousand-Dollar (see video below). In short: "Maps are necessary. Plans are not."

Advantage: Objective-based adventure, team-building, and a sure-fire storymaker.

Disadvantage: If you can't handle the spontaneity, you may want to sit this one out.

Under-the-Radar: A segmented road trip that has its intervals in cities & towns where friends & family reside…only they haven't been informed of your presence. Trips like these are done out of necessity, never malice—most of the time, the luxury needed by most road trippers after a full day of driving is some peace and quiet.

Advantage: Few social obligations, with exception to your driving companion(s).

Disadvantage: If/when they find out you were in town and you didn't tell them…awkward.

Saint Christopher would have traveled by RV if there were any in his day

Saint Christopher would have traveled by RV if there were any in his day

RV Classic: One of the staples of the modern American road trip: a long-time favorite of families and retired couples alike, this puts your home on wheels allows you to play your other strengths of cooking, homemaking, and host/hostessing. Plus, there's extra room for board games, fishing gear, personal hobbies and crafts, and more.

Advantage: Leisurely road-tripping at its finest. Perhaps the definitive method by which to "see America."

Disadvantage: The turning-radius and gas-mileage gods do not smile kindly on an RV. Consider a pop-top, camper, or 5th wheel to save money.

Part 2 of this article can be found here.

Any favorites? Which style are you most likely to adopt on your road trip?