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Road-Tripping 101: Themes A Good Idea At The Time

16 10 2009

Early on, I mentioned that I would talk not only about camping and hiking, but also about road-tripping as a solo female.  So here we are, at the inaugural post about road-tripping.  Today’s topic: themes.

Klum and Gunn

see FN1

Before Project Runway, Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, I paid no attention to the world of fashion design (like, I’m guessing, most of America).  I had never been to a fashion show, so the idea of a designer’s “collection” was a foreign concept.  I quickly learned, thanks to the wonders of reality tv, that the best collections, aside from actually containing attractive and interesting clothing, are the ones in which all of the looks are tied together by some common element(s), such as a print, a style of draping, a fabric, etc.  Without such common elements, collections are just a bunch of varied looks.  The common elements, or the theme, unifies these looks and makes the collection work together.  The theme is what makes the collection memorable — without it, we aren’t likely to be able to retain memories of so many different and disjointed looks.

We look for themes in everything, in everyday life, even if we aren’t doing it consciously.  It helps us sort through all of the information we are constantly bombarded with.  (“Oh, that’s a news website.  There’s a reality show.  Here’s another vampire movie” and so forth.)  We’re always looking to compare the new information with old information so that we can tie it up in a neat little bundle and remember it more easily.

So what does this have to do with planning a road trip?

The first thing you should consider when planning a road trip is a theme.  First of all, there is a lot to see and do and experience in the world, and it would be impossible to see and do everything you might be interested in during a single trip.  Even if you define your location somewhat narrowly, and even if you have a fairly lengthy bit of time to explore, there will never be enough time to do everything.  And that means you’re going to have to pick and choose your stops, sights, and activities, and with so much available, the planning process can seem an insurmountable obstacle.

Moreover, if all you do is an assortment of disjointed activities, you’re likely to end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.  You’re having to work too hard to remember all of these unrelated activities and bouncing back and forth between too many different activities that require different moods requires a lot of “shifting gears” which can be frustrating.

stress

see FN2

To counteract this, and eliminate the stress of planning, choose a theme.  It can be anything you’re interested in: vineyards, gourmet food, architecture, local bands, wildlife, history, etc.  Most longer road trips can withstand multiple themes — for example, on my six-week trip I chose National Parks, hiking/camping, and visiting friends.  I have a couple of friends who take regular road trips together, and they once chose a theme of “beer.”  (They were road-tripping in Ireland.)

Having a theme will help you focus your planning.  So, for example, when I decided I was going to “drive around the United States,” I was able to focus that rather massive endeavor by scouting out National Parks that I wanted to visit, and then mapping out a route between them that also took me through areas where I had friends I wanted to see.  If you want to road-trip through, say, western Nova Scotia, a theme of nautical history could work quite well, and help you figure out which towns to visit and which to skip.

Of course, not every single thing on your trip has to relate to your theme.  And this is not meant to discourage the spirit of spontaneity and discovery that is so much a part of a successful road trip.  On my long trip, for example, I spent some time in Memphis and Nashville, even though I wasn’t going to either place specifically to hike or camp or visit friends.  My route — which I planned using my themes — naturally went through these cities, so I decided it was a good time to check them out.  I went to Graceland, ate BBQ, saw bluegrass and blues performances, visited old plantation homes and cemeteries, and countless other things that seemed interesting.  A theme is not meant to be a restriction, merely a way to help organize and manage your planning.

One final note: some folks would question whether choosing a location first makes more sense.  It can, if you’re positive you want to road trip in a particular area.  But if that’s the case, then that’s already been decided, and so the planning really begins after that with the theme.  If you don’t have a specific location in mind from the start, choosing the theme will help you decide on a location ( i.e., if you want to tour vineyards, I’ve heard that there’s this place in California that might be good for that).

Do you choose themes for your trips (road-trip or otherwise)?  What themes have you chosen?  How have you worked your theme into your planning?

FN1: This image is licensed from A Continuous Lean on flickr using the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

FN2: This image is licensed from skampy on flickr using the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license.

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4 responses

17 10 2009
Dad

My next trip theme: “Monkeys!” Shh, don’t tell your mother.

4 11 2009
Mom

I can HEAR you!!!!
(Forewarned is forearmed – thanks for the tip, Bob!)
🙂

19 10 2009
Jane Kastner

I was on a roadtrip where the theme was “kitsch” – our journey included Walls Drug Store in South Dakota, Paul Bunyon and his Ox, The Land of Make Believe (just because we liked the name!), Louis Lee’s Rock Garden and other wonderful oddities like giant gnomes. Makes for great tales and even better photos! Enjoy.

19 10 2009
joanarc4

“Kitsch” is a theme that works it way into my road trips without planning…yes, I stopped at the Jolly Green Giant in Minnesota…and the Corn Palace in South Dakota and…you get the idea. I wanted to stop at the Spam museum (yes, it exists!) but I didn’t make it before it closed…

In other words, I fully support “kitsch” as a theme.

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