Skip the Vacation. Take a Road Trip Instead

Vacation in the desert

Take a vacation, and you’ll be bored after a week. Take a cross-country road trip, and you’ll never want to come back.

It’s interesting, and even mesmerizing to look at the contours of the map, watch as the deep green forests of the east yield to tan mountains of the west and red rocks of the Southwest, and think that you know America. But as anyone who has driven its open roads will tell you, it’s not until you immerse yourself in the details of the map that you actually begin to appreciate its vastness, its diversity, and its majesty.

It’s interesting, and even mesmerizing to look at the colorful pictures of snowcapped mountains, watch amazingly vibrant drone video of the great canyons and rivers on YouTube, and think you know America. But as anyone who has experienced its grandeur and beauty firsthand will tell you, it’s not until you remove the borders of the TV screen or the picture frame that you actually begin to appreciate everything an immersive experience has to offer.

It’s interesting, and even mesmerizing to dream of vacationing on a tropical island, complete with the warm breeze and an ice-cold margarita in hand. But once you understand and truly experience the difference between travel and vacation, you’ll never yearn for a vacation ever again.

Vacation vs. Travel

Vacation, as I’ve come to know it, is just a brief respite from a life of stress and the infinite list of tasks we have on our daily to-do lists. It is an escape. And it is usually to places society has deemed safe and acceptable to enjoy. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with vacationing. But it doesn’t harbor the qualities of an experience that will bring one alive-truly alive.

Travel, on the other hand, is defined not by escaping life, but leaning further in to life. It is characterized by the wonder of encountering new places and people, the curiosity of wanting to see what is beyond the mountain range, the adrenaline and excitement of venturing into the unknown.

On a vacation, we’re taught to cease learning, cease growth, and cease pushing ourselves forward. We’re taught to get stuck in the sand and forget everything else. Travel, on the other hand, forces you to confront yourself, your comfort zone, and your preconceived notions. It teaches you that getting stuck in the sand is not fun, especially if you are in the middle of the vast openness of Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante. Travel inspires you, and cultivates a fuller and more vivid imagination. You are forced to grow, learn, and expand your outer limits.

Travel teaches you not to run from unfamiliarity, but to embrace it wholeheartedly. Immersion in the experience of travel beats anything you could ever read in a book, watch in a video, or see on a map. It is why I will always choose the open road over the crowded beaches. And maybe when the open road ends, and the body and soul are weary from exploration, it will be a good time to enjoy a marg on a sunny California beach.

11 Days on the Open Road

It has been over a week since hitting the road on a cross-country road trip that has taken me from quarantine headquarters in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania to the scorching hot desert under the Arizona sun.

Through over 4,000 miles driven, hundreds of songs, dozens of podcast episodes, endless cornfields, tornado warnings, snow-capped mountains, 800-acre forest fires, amazingly breathtaking views, magnificent starlit and moonlit nights, incredible southwestern food, and so much more, it’s truly astonishing how much one can see and do in the span of one week on the open road.

Here are just a few of the best pictures I could get with my smartphone over the past seven days (arranged by state):

Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa were cloaked in the darkness. Sorry, no pictures.

Nebraska

Vacation on the road
Nebraska at sunrise. Good first impression.
At least these clouds weren’t vertical.

Colorado

Vacation in the mountains
Snowcapped mountains in June.
Rocky Mountains, 12,000 feet up.

Utah

Ominous skies over the La Sal mountains outside of Moab
Breathtaking view of the Utah sky.

Arizona

Monument Valley at dusk. The perfect way to spend an evening.
Vacation in the forest
Kaibab National Forest fire. 800 acres and growing. Billowing smoke blocking the sun (that orange dot in the middle).

There is a fine line between vacation and travel. Vacation, while it may be much needed respite from the sorrows and the stresses of the daily grind, doesn’t come nearly close to the therapeutic benefits of traveling off the beaten path.

Debating on doing a long roadtrip? Here are some common misconceptions, faulty thinking, and excuses you might have come across:

  • It takes forever to drive across the country.
    • Depends on your definition of forever. Eastern Pennsylvania to central Colorado took under 24 hours. It’s even easier when you have multiple people in the car.
  • Driving is boring.”
    • Maybe overnight, but that’s what great podcasts, music, and audiobooks can help with. But if you think a road trip across America is boring, you’ve never done it. The journey IS the destination.
  • You need a real camera to get good photos.
    • It would be ideal to have a camera, but you don’t NEED a camera. Judge my smartphone photos for yourself.
  • I can just see all of it on TV.
    • That’s exactly right. You can see it all on TV, but you can’t experience it. You can’t touch the red rocks, you can’t taste the food, you can’t smell the aromas of the forests, you can’t feel the nervousness of getting up close to a forest fire, you can’t feel the shortness of breath on a 14,000ft mountain. You just simply cannot enjoy the three-dimensional aspects of doing something and seeing something in person.
  • I’d rather not take my car.
    • Okay, rent the cheapest car at Enterprise (they also tend to have the highest fuel efficiency). You can drive 10 miles or 10,000 miles with no extra charges.
  • But what about COVID?
    • Don’t let COVID-19 suppress your dreams of travelling. With massive amounts of time and the rise of the work-from-home lifestyle, this is as good a time as any to get out and explore. It doesn’t have to be by plane, it doesn’t have to be abroad, it doesn’t have to involve crowds of people, and it doesn’t have to wait. Be responsible, wear a mask, use hand sanitizer religiously, and wash your hands any opportunity you get, socially distance from others, and you will be perfectly fine.

You can come up with a list of reasons why you can’t travel. But when you really examine those reasons, they only amount to excuses.

Live life, drive 90+ on open roads, breathe the fresh air, take in the sounds of waterfalls and warm desert winds, explore new frontiers for yourself, expand your mind, raise your heart rate a little. It’s so much better than seeing it on TV.

Next week:

Nevada, California, the Mexican border, New Mexico, and more…

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