“Not all those who wander are lost,” so wrote J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings.
It is so true when it comes to traveling across the continent in our motorhome.. We love to meander, to take roads less traveled, off the Interstate. But even the Interstates are fun, especially out of urban areas.
We have an absolute joy of driving.
That is so weird for me to write because when I commuted to and from my newspaper and TV jobs in downtown Detroit from my suburban home for more than 30 years, I hated driving.
But in our RV, I absolutely love to drive.
So does Jennifer.
We’ve tried to explain it to people. Their eyes sort of glaze over. But you understand, don’t you?
When we first began our motorhome adventure more some four years ago, I was so focused on arriving at our destination that I missed the adventure and thrill of getting there. I drove mega mileage, 500, 600, even 700 miles a day. I’d arrive exhausted, cranky and wanting nothing but sleep. I guess that’s part of the newbie’s RVing education, learning to slow down.
We set a couple of firm rules early on, no more than 330 miles a day and always arrive mid afternoon.
Since then, we’ve added more and we can now say that meandering is the plan.
Whenever possible, we pick two-lane roads, off the Interstate. I love the way small town America shows up every ten to 12 miles. Yeah, you have to slow down. A surprising number of them have police officers strategically placed 100 feet from the “Welcome To….” Signs. That’s okay. I listen to my GPS, which I have programmed to tell me when I am five miles over the speed limit.
We try to eat our on-the-road meals in local restaurants, avoiding fast food and chain restaurants. Truth told, some of the home cooking in those places is probably less healthy than even fast food but it’s the flavor of the towns and villages that we come to absorb, places where hair-netted waitresses still call you “darling” or “honey” and the local boys in cowboy hats or old John Deere caps have their own table and drink coffee out of cups emblazoned with ads from the local state farm agent or the hardware store.
We eavesdrop and hear them talking about high school football, farm auctions, local traffic accidents, crop prices.
Inevitably, someone spots our RV and asks us where we’re from, where we’re headed and how many miles do we get per gallon. Many times, we invite them to take a look inside. We sometimes ask what’s to see around the area and they tell us. We’ve been led to some fun things, like the annual Popcorn Festival in North Loup, Nebraska, population 747, the self-proclaimed popcorn capital of the world.
From there, we heard about the Nebraska Sandhills, an amazing 10,000 square mile region of grass covered sand dunes that takes up nearly 25% of the state – the largest area of sand dunes in the western hemisphere.
It was all back roads, far from the interstate.
Then there is Le Mars, Iowa, the self proclaimed “ice cream capital of the USA.” The little town is the home to Wells Enterprises Inc., makers of Blue Bunny brand ice cream and more ice cream is produced in Le Mars, Iowa, by a single company than in any other city in the world.
In the spring one year, headed down to Florida, we overnighted in Louisville and – at a local restaurant – heard about the Bourbon Trail, an awesome tour of a confluence of seven distilleries that produce the bulk of the world’s Bourbon. Formally designated by Congress as “America’s Official Native Spirit.” We visited them all and learned so much about history that we stayed three extra days.
In West Branch, Michigan, it was the “Lamb and Wool Festival” discovered off two lane M-55 on a beautiful autumn afternoon. We learned about spinning wool, got a tour of a sheep ranch and some great wool hats.
Besides asking the locals where to meander, we rely on technology. On my smartphone, I have a slew of RV and travel apps that help me meander.
Here are five of our favorites:
Every good roadtrip needs good fuel, right? Im talking food. To find the best places to eat we start with a Google search. A good search to try is “foodie restaurants near (whatever town you want to stop and eat). Then we use the Yelp app (www.yelp.com) to check reviews. We avoid chain restaurants and look for local spots that have at least a couple dozen reviews (the more the better). Those reviews, read cumulatively, give you a very accurate indication of what's good.
We have really gotten hooked on Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com) a web site with a cool $2.99 iPhone app that shows you what’s nearby, as you travel. Not the normal touristy stuff, mind, you, but weird, unusual and fun paces to see and check out. It knows where you are and what’s nearby and makes any trip super fun, alerting you to must-visit attractions that make for memorable travel.
As you’re driving or visiting a new place, the Around Me app (www.aroundmeapp.com) sure can come in handy. It identifies your position and allows you to choose the nearest Bank, Bar, Gas Station, Hospital, Hotel, Movie Theatre, Restaurant, Supermarket, Theatre and Taxi. AroundMe shows you a complete list of all the businesses in the category you have tapped on along with the distance from where you are. It’s free for the iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows mobile devices.
Field Trip (www.fieldtripper.com) is a great little app for iOS and Android. It's a guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you. It can help you learn about everything from local history to the latest and best places to shop, eat, and have fun. You select the local feeds you like and the information pops up on your phone automatically, as you near to those places.
One more… Tripit (www.tripit.com) for Andoid and Apple gizmos. It serves as a repository for all your travel details… all organized and presented in itinerary style in one place. It works on your smartphone, tablet or through your computer on the tripit.com website.
That’s what we do.
Slowing down, meeting people, asking questions, checking our smartphone for tips and being willing to stop and change our plans. That’s how we roll in our RV.
How about you?