There's something so quintessentially American about driving cross-country during the summertime. The open road, the endless nights, the mountain views, the desert at dawn ... It's the kind of thing that looks great in pictures, and the Great American Road Trip has a long, storied, rich history in film.
We're approaching the halfway point of summer, so we thought we'd comb through some particularly memorable road movies to see what lessons we could glean -- both what to do and what not do when you finally buy that sky-blue convertible you've been dreaming of and hit Route 66 on a magical trip of discovery, Americana and, of course, wacky hijinks.
Here are seven tips to make your road trip the best it can be.
Tip 1: Plan ahead.
Movie: 'National Lampoon's Vacation'
One principle we need to state right away: A road trip is about the journey, not the destination. However, it's important that you know where you're headed and that where you're headed will, in fact, be there and be open when you arrive. When Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase, in one of his Mt.Rushmoreroles) and his family finally make it to Walley World only to find that it's closed for repairs, the disappointment is palpable. It's enough to make you want to punch a moose in the mouth:
Tip 2: Learn how to read a map.
Movie: 'Dumb and Dumber'
Yes, we know you probably have some sort of GPS-enabled smartphone, but technology isn't necessarily all that reliable the farther you get into the middle of nowhere. (Also, finding the Middle of Nowhere is a good goal for any proper road trip.) Certain areas of the country will always have terrible cell-phone reception, if they have any at all, so it's best to bring that 20th-century relic known as a "map" along with you for just those situations. Even the sense-of-direction-impaired can grasp that, on maps, as in real life, mountains are generally easy to spot and make good landmarks to aim for. If you can follow basic rules like that, you won't end up driving a sixth of the way across the country in the wrong direction:
Tip 3: Be willing to open up to your companions.
Movie: 'Almost Famous'
This is one of the tougher lessons on our list, as it requires a certain amount of personal confidence and a comfortability level you may or may not have with your fellow road-tripper(s) at the start of your travels. A great journey that you share in a car with someone will inevitably be one of bonding and sharing, and as time passes it's only natural for you to feel less guarded, more willing to reveal parts of yourself you normally close off from your fellow man. A road trip provides an optimal time to unburden yourself of any secrets you've been locking inside for so long that have yearned to unfetter themselves:
Tip 4: Eat something you've never tried before.
Movie: 'Road Trip'
It's a big country -- with a range of cuisines to match, from Southern-fried to Tex-Mex to the freshest salmon you could ever find. As you make your way from state to state, be sure to take advantage of this. Americans tend to be very proud of their particular region's culinary specialties, and it would be a terrible mistake not to indulge. Who knows, you might discover that you're a huge fan of bison steak or alligator sausage. But do keep this in mind: Always, always be nice to those serving you -- both as a matter of simple manners and to avoid potentially undesirable seasonings:
Tip 5: Be a courteous travel partner.
Movie: 'Midnight Run'
Everyone has personal habits that risk impinging upon those around them. Perhaps you're a nail biter, maybe you have a particularly loud on-the-phone voice. Regardless, make sure that what you're doing -- as innocuous as you may believe it to be -- isn't slowly driving anyone else in the car into a homicidal rage. You're in a small, confined space together, with no real outlet except for the occasional rest stop, so even minor annoyances tend to be magnified. Above all, if you smoke, do be certain to clear that with those sitting in your immediate proximity:
Tip 6: Don't lose your rental agreement.
Movie: 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'
If you ever traveled abroad as a student, your parents probably reminded you ad nauseam: Don't lose your passport! Along those lines, if you're renting a car for your big trip, you're going to want to hold on to all the necessary documentation. Car rental agencies are typically not the most user-friendly places to begin with, and if you somehow lose track of your paperwork -- even in today's Internet age -- it can lead to increased levels of frustration:
(Warning: Clip is very NSFW for language.)
Tip 7: Good music makes all the difference.
Movie: 'The Blues Brothers'
We cannot stress this enough. It doesn't matter if your trip has a noble purpose (like, say, saving an orphanage), if you don't have a good soundtrack, you will get bored. So take the time before you leave to build a solid, lengthy playlist. In fact, encourage everyone in the car to prepare one; that way, you'll have many times the number of songs, plus you'll probably hear something you've never heard before. And like we said about trying out new foods, a road trip is a perfect time to dabble in the glorious musical variety that is one of America's greatest treasures:
Enjoy your trip!