Lessons from a Road Trip...

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

This past vacation, we took what we call “The Great American Roadtrip”.  Except, we didn’t take it here in the US, we took it in Europe.  We called it that because we drove for hours and hours through countries and countries to get from the Austrian Alps to the French Coast, and that seems like the kind of thing that one would do here in the US.  If someone tells you that they just drove across ten states, I think you would hardly blink twice.  But in Europe, if you tell people you just traversed ten countries, they’re not quite sure what to make of that.  Like the gentleman who stopped us at the gas station in Switzerland, who just couldn’t believe that our license plates were from Vienna, even though we were only half way on our trip.

But despite the long hours in the car, road travel is still one of our favorite ways to really “see” a country.   The landscape, the people you meet, the dishes you have to try, the improvisation that you have do to, the strange items you can purchase at the gas station – all of that gives you an entirely different sense of place.  It’s a bit like adding salt to food – it’s still the same food you are eating, just with a flavor that becomes more alive (assuming of course, that you’re not adding too much!)

Road trips turn out the best when they’re not overly planned, but still, a few things have become good lessons for us over the kilometers and miles we have traveled, at least for Europe:

  • Always have a map and water:  Always.  Whatever fancy gadget your generation will have when you become of driving age might fail you, it might get stolen, it might get forgotten or it might get lost.  In short, nothing replaces a paper map.  Have one just in case.  And have water because you should for a myriad of good reasons, the most important one being because your mother said so.
  • Learn how to change your own tires: I’m no pro at this, but if you learn how to drive and you put yourself on the road, you should know how to change a tire.  Don’t think that you can call up Triple A anywhere in the world, and in many areas, the faster you get off the side of the road, the better, and the best way to do that is to know how to do it yourself.
  • Make time for the scenic overlooks: There’s a reason why they call those out on signs.  You probably can’t stop for all of them but make time for some – and don’t forget to take your picture in front of them! You’ll develop a fondness for them when you come home.
  • Know how to drive manual:  Often times in Europe – or nearly anywhere else in the world – there will be no other option.  You don’t have to like it, but you do have to know how to do it.  Ironically, once you learn how to do it, you’ll probably love it.
  • Go with your gut: If it looks like a fun place to stop, stop.  If you had a planned stop and it looks like a bad idea, don’t.  The more you move around, the more you’ll develop a sense for these things, so trust yourself to make those calls.
  • Always take advantage of the bathroom: This applies to travel of any kind but if you see a legitimate bathroom, whether porcelain or tree shrub, take advantage, you never know when the next stop will be.

Lots of love,

Mom