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.


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.

Carpe Diem

8 09 2009


Buffy 2Willow: Carpe Diem.  You told me that once.

Buffy: Fish of the Day?

Willow: Not carp!   Carpe!  It means “Seize the Day.”

— Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Surprise”


During the summer of 2004, I received a letter that changed my life. Having recently graduated from law school, I was studying for the bar when the engagement letter from the firm I would be joining arrived. “We are excited to welcome you on Friday, October 15th, 2004,” it said. October 15th! I was scheduled to take the bar exam at the end of July. I would have over two months free before I had to start working.

Immediately, I started to think about traveling.

The idea that floated through my mind first was to take The Road Trip. You know, the one that a bunch of my guy friends had taken at one time or another, sometimes solo and sometimes in groups, driving cross country to “find themselves.” Since I love hiking and camping and the outdoors in general, and had lived my whole life in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, seeing the rest of the country was very tempting. But I dismissed the idea.

First of all, I had no one to go with. My friends all had jobs and other obligations and didn’t have such a lengthy span of free time. I had never traveled alone, and the idea frankly scared me, less because of safety and more because I was worried I would be lonely or bored without anyone to share the experience with.

Second of all, I was a woman. Sure, my guy friends had packed up their cars and driven around the country, camping and hiking and meeting people, but surely I couldn’t do that. I liked to think of myself as independent, but that independence included not being dependent on the approval of others for self-worth, and being able to make decisions about my life without needing someone to confirm the wisdom of those decisions. It fell short of knowing how to build a fire, or lift heavy objects, or get myself out of sticky situations. That’s when I called friends and family — or a boyfriend — for help. Right?

Ironically enough, it was my then-boyfriend who convinced me that those two reasons were bad reasons for not taking The Road Trip. He had done it a few years before and said it was one of the most important experiences of his life. “Look, you’re smart, you can handle yourself,” he said. “You have friends all over the country. I promise you won’t be bored, not with everything there is to see and do. When are you ever going to have this chance again?”

I decided he was right. I decided that being a woman, and having to travel alone, was no reason not to do it. I took a deep breath, plotted my route, packed up my car, and drove west. Over the course of six weeks, I drove through twenty-six states, visited fourteen National Parks, and saw and did so much that I’m still in awe of that time in my life.

Of course, it wasn’t really that simple. There were a lot of preparations and precautions to be taken before and during the trip. There were bad moments along with the good. There were mistakes I made, and also some very good decisions.

And that’s what this blog is about. Because camping and hiking as a solo female can be safe, and it can be one of the most incredible experiences a woman can ever have. I still do it, and it still affects me the same way as it did during those six weeks. If it’s something you want to do, then Seize the Day…or Fish the Day, if you must…but don’t hold back out of fear or uncertainty.

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.