Meandering off the Interstate: Why and How We Enjoy It

 Meandering off the Interstate: Why and How We Enjoy It

“Not all those who wander are lost,” so wrote J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Here's what we've seen and helpful apps for the wanderer.

Tolkein's quote 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?

3 of Our Meanding Rules of the Road

When we first began our motorhome adventure several 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.

1. (Our popular) Rule 330

We set a couple of firm rules early on, no more than 330 miles a day, and always arrive mid-afternoon, which I remind myself of with my Rule 330 coffee mug.

Since then, we’ve added more and we can now say that meandering is the plan.

In fact, we've written about this many times, each post with new information. Here are a few recent on this topic to explore:

2. Stay off the Interstate Whenever Possible

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.

RVing off the interstate: Popcorn Days in Nebraska
North Loup, NE, and the Popcorn Days Festival

3. Eat Locally (& Talk to the Locals)

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.

Take a look at some of our favorite places to eat – many well off the interstate.

The Nebraska Sandhills
The Nebraska Sandhills a few years ago in a Class B travel van.

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. It's the largest area of sand dunes in the western hemisphere.

It was all back roads, far off 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.

More ice cream is produced in Le Mars, Iowa, by a single company than in any other city in the world!

The Jim Beam Distillery on the Bourbon Trail

In the spring one year, headed down to Florida, we overnighted in Louisville and – at a local restaurant – heard about the Bourbon Trail. It's 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.

Use Helpful Travel Apps and Tools – Here are 6 to get you going.

Mike Wendland's apps on his phone
Name the year of this phone… 🙂

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 a few of our favorites:

1. Yelp

Every good roadtrip needs good fuel, right? I'm 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. 

2. Roadside America

We have really gotten hooked on Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com) a website 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 places 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.

3. Around Me

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.

4. Harvest Hosts

Almost every Harvest Hosts location is away from the interstate. We love and use this service all the time.

Harvest Hosts is one of our very favorite places to overnight. It is a unique membership service that lets RVers camp overnight FOR FREE at lovely outdoor venues such as wineries, breweries, museums, farms, orchards, and creameries (it is recommended that you patronage these venues that you stay at).

There are more than 2,000 such places across North America to choose from.

There is also an upgraded membership where you can also camp overnight at golf courses!

Using this link and the discount code: HHFRIENDS15 you get 15% off Harvest Hosts annual membership.

5. Tripit

Tripit (www.tripit.com) for Android 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.

For more great travel apps, check out: 41 Really Helpful Apps for RV Travel.

6. RVTripWizard

RV Trip Wizard is now part of the RV LIFE Pro suite of tools! Now all subscribers have access to RV Trip Wizard + Premium features of RV LIFE – RV Safe GPS App + Maintain My RV!

Planning an RV Trip has never been easier than with RV TripWizard. It is a comprehensive tool that Jennifer and I use whenever we are planning a trip. It works seamlessly with all our devices and gives us access to the info we need on where to stop, what camping is nearby, and what we should do in an area.

Best of all, you can try it for free to see how it will fit into your trip planning process.

See all the information you're looking for on your devices. The RV Trip Planner is set up so you can do everything from one screen. Your trip on the left panel, your map centered, and your research panel to the right to find campgrounds, points of interest, and potential hazards.

Use this link for a discount: https://rvlifestyle.com/rvtripwizar

Share Your Experiences Off the Interstate

Meandering.

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? Please share your experiences and unique places you've found off the interstate. See the comments below.

Looking for more Expert RV Trip ideas and RV Travel suggestions?

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Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

3 Comments

  • Funny you have the popcorn story in Nebraska. I have a cousin (born in Iowa in 1942) who played professional baseball with the Orioles in the 1960s and 1970s, moved to Nebraska (where his wife is from), then coached minor league teams for many years, and eventually retired from baseball completely. During the off-season in his coaching years, when he got bored, he started working part-time temp for the popcorn processing company and enjoyed it (and learned a lot about popcorn). Now he’s completely retired, golfing, and living with his wife in her childhood home in North Bend. I hadn’t thought about Nebraska popcorn in years until now!

  • Love traveling along with you all,great stories, great places .My grandson is stationed at Eglin, hope to see you sometime. Happy birthday to you both.Regards Bob in Md

  • Hey Mike,been following you since your 1st used b,R.T
    One question I have is did you and Jennifer have someone that made you want to start the rv lifestyle?
    Keep up the good work,safe travels.
    R.P.

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