A road trip, to me, is an excursion that is primarily about travelling by road to visit lots of places – whether that be one day out visiting three or four spots, or a week travelling along an iconic route or stopping off in a different place each night. Exploring Great Britain’s nooks and crannies by car and motorcycle – and other vehicles on the occasional opportunity I might get – is by far one of my favourite ways to spend a long weekend, week, or even longer.
Over the years I have been fortunate enough to road trip all over the UK, through Europe, and over in North America. I often combine my love of road trips with my love of hiking and camping, and do my best to head off exploring in this way as often as I can. Travelling is my release from the routine of everyday life, in which I have the pleasure of working a full-time desk-bound role in corporate communications. I never shy away from saying that I work so I can live. Being out on the road is a liberation from my normal, while also speaking to my childhood desire to see everywhere and try everything.
My favourite kind of road trips are the ones where we decide where we are going, in a round about kind of way, and when, so we can book time off work, and then worry about the bit in the middle as we go along. I called it credit card touring in this blog post about riding to Italy; the idea that instead of booking everything in advance and pay off the balance before leaving home, you pay as you go. We chat over dinner each evening about where we might go the following day, choose somewhere to stay, and then see what else the day brings. This isn’t always the way we do it, sometimes we choose to follow a set route – such as the North Coast 500, which is iconic for very good reason – or for reasons such as only having a couple of days or having a very set idea of the things or people we want to see while we are away, we will plan in greater detail. But in the main, my favourite trips are the ones that evolve naturally from an idea into a memory over the course of a few hundred miles.
But why. What do I get from it? And why do I bang on about wanting more road trips in my life? Here I present to you five reasons why I love road trips…
My number one reason for enjoying a road trip is all about freedom. That’s both the promise of freedom when I’m planning a trip, and the actual reality of freedom I get when I’m on the road. Being on the road, out and about, on a journey, is all about living one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time. It’s about feeling the freedom to go where you want, when you want. And most importantly – not if you don’t. Road trips generally don’t come with a set timetable, but rather they are about breaking the routine of diaries and schedules, and setting your own pace. That isn’t to say I have no plan when road tripping, because oh boy am I a planner; there will be lists and annotated maps and a whole host of research on things to see and do. But there is a freedom within in that plan – I choose when I leave, where I go, how long I’ll stay, and what music I’ll listen to on the way.
I’m not completely naive, I know there is never complete freedom in life; road trips require roads, of sorts, cars and motorcycles require fuel, humans require food and sleep. I also know all too well that annual leave and spare money are finite resources. But as far as travel goes, there is freedom in road tripping. You’re not confined by bus and train timetables, you aren’t booking a whole week in one place in one go, and you can make as much or as little of what you find when you get to any given location as you like. The key thing for me is the freedom to find a natural rhythm and routine, to allow my body and mind to set the pace, and to make decisions along the way.
As I mentioned, I am a huge planner. I find that being organised, writing lists, and planning ahead helps keep anxious thoughts at bay. By planning ahead I feel prepared and, assuming I have a plan, I can generally cope with the unknown and unexpected in a much better way.
One thing road tripping has taught me over the years is how and when planning is great, and how and when being spontaneous is the better option. I am now a dab hand at knowing the difference between being instinctive, which is fun and exciting, and simply being unorganised, which would send me into complete decline. It’s actually very easy to be spontaneous when travelling in this way, and sometimes it can absolutely make a trip.
Being spontaneous is about the simple act of just stopping when something catches my eye, or following a random sign to see what’s there. You can come across some absolute gems, things that you didn’t find in all your research, or that you missed when studying the map. I am a sucker for a sign that says “to the beach”, for example, I’ve followed a fair few of those over the years.
Being spontaneous can be about driving away from bad weather towards the good, giving up on a bad choice of campsite or hotel and moving elsewhere, or heading home early if life needs it. It’s about changing your mode of transport if one breaks down or the weather isn’t playing ball, or turning around and going a completely different way if the quality of the road surface dictates that. Some of this is ingrained in the freedom that road tripping brings of course, but last minute decisions are certainly spontaneous.
Being spontaneous can also be about asking the locals for recommendations of where to go next and trusting their advice. We’ve found some lovely cafes and great views thanks to speaking to hotel owners and bar staff – never under estimate the power of pointer from someone who knows the area very well.
Moving onto the third reason I love to road trip my way around Great Britain, and further afield, and this one is all about exploring – discovering new places, revisiting places with good memories, and uncovering the best castles, food, views or whatever else you’re interested in. I’m not sure I subscribe to the idea that every road trip is an adventure in its own right, but I certainly believe that every road trip is an adventure waiting to happen if you want it to be. The biggest thing for me is being able to explore places in my own way and style, not just the area around the hotel or a prescribed set of views on a set itinerary. It’s about being able to choose when and how to do that exploration; getting up early to get a head start on the crowds, or doubling back because the café at the side of the road had a sign saying it has the “best carrot cake in the world”. It’s like climbing up a hill just to see what is on the other side, or walking down an alleyway just to see where it goes.
When road tripping you can choose to spend lots of time in one area doing it in detail, or visit a whole load of places for just a few hours each. Both are equally great ways to explore, and both make for amazing road trip memories. There is no competition, I enjoy either – I’ve just returned from two weeks exploring the deserts, mountains and towns of Spain, but I equally loved short trips here travelling just 100 or so miles each day along great roads, doing short hikes, visiting cultural sights, and seeing some of the best scenery Great Britain has to offer.
Ask me why I love to hike, or why I like to ride a motorbike, or why I like to go camping, and my answer is almost always the same – for the views. I find my heart sings and my soul grows when I am stood facing an amazing view. Whether it be from the top of a mountain, of the sea, a flat landscape with a big sky, or even from a high point overlooking city streets, I am genuinely awe inspired. It’s like being stood in the middle of a remarkable view takes over my being, widens my eyes and my mind, and fills me with a sense of all the good things in life.
And so my fourth reason to love a road trip is very simply the scenery. I am a sucker for a good view, especially if the sea is in it. Did you know that nowhere in the UK is further than 70 miles away from the sea? There’s a road trip right there.
My love of scenery is one of the reasons I like to road trip by motorcycle. Scenery is just so different when you’re on a bike. Not only can you see it, but you can also feel it and smell it; you become part of it rather than just looking at it through a window. This is particularly obvious when you’re in the mountains, here or in any other country for that matter. Go up a few feet and it gets much cooler; head in to a valley and the heat is always stronger.
Of course, if you have a campervan, and boy do I want a campervan, you can set up with amazing views for your bedroom window. Even when it’s raining. What more could you want in life?
05. Personal Development
Lastly on my list of five reasons I love road trips, I’m going to mention the idea of personal development. That is, road tripping being a way to improve myself and my life in general.
I believe that we all need to spend time outside to keep our body, mind and soul healthy. I whole heartedly subscribe to the idea that a little bit of time outside every day keeps us strong, helps us make decisions, and is an excellent and important antidote to the stresses of everyday life and routine. For me, road trips provide a huge amount of opportunity to be outdoors, and to discover more of the countryside both at home and abroad. I consider road tripping an outdoors activity, especially when it’s by motorbike, and I get a huge amount from it personally.
Apart from anything else, the open road clears my mind and allows me to relax and unwind. Assuming I manage to miss the traffic, one of the reasons I tend not to road trip through cities, and the weather is average or better, I can practice mindfulness when road tripping. Road trips are about everything and nothing, and as such allow me to live completely in the moment, to enjoy each twist and turn as well as each straight and narrow. Road tripping is like hitting my reset button. I don’t know about you, but I love travelling in this way because it makes me feel good. And I’m not sure there is a better reason out there.
I live by the ideal that life is all about the journey – and a road trip is more than just a metaphor for this. I’m not here to tell you that road tripping the better than any other kind of travel or adventure out there, I’m rather partial to a weekend city break, a Center Parcs holiday, thoroughly enjoy a guided tour, and love a luxury hotel with time to chill as much as the next person, but for me this has easily become my favourite way to travel.
If I could live life as one massive road trip, then I would.
This blog post is based on a talk I gave at CarFest North on Saturday 27 July 2019. I’ve not included all my tales and ramblings here, but I thought you’d like to read my five reasons here too.