Indie Travel in America – Road Trip Style

Indie travel doesn’t necessarily have to focus on visiting exotic, far away places. In fact, you can be an indie traveler practically in your own backyard. Road tripping is inexpensive, fun, and a quintessentially American way of travel that quickly gets you in touch with the character of people and places across the U.S. To get you started, here are some reasons to get in the car and drive – and discover what makes road trips uniquely American, and uniquely indie. (For a review of our indie travel ideals, click here).

1)The character of small town America is so different from the big cities.

Let’s talk about replacing broad expectations with nuanced realities. Just as visiting Paris doesn’t constitute getting to know France, going to New York or Los Angeles tells you very little about American people. From coast to coast (to coast – the third coast!) opinions, cuisines, culture, accents, and more change drastically. Consider something as simple as what people call a fizzy drink: coke in the South, soda in the Northeast, and pop in the Midwest.

Just as visiting Paris doesn’t constitute getting to know France, going to New York or Los Angeles tells you very little about American people.

For better or for worse, America is so huge that the spaces between its cities aren’t really open to exploration by anything but a car. There’s no interstate train that can conveniently shuttle you to small town America. And that’s what keeps the spaces in between the cities so interesting.

2)Road tripping is a relatively inexpensive way to travel.

As much complaining as we do about gas prices, we still have it pretty good. Yeah, our prices are high… compared to Saudi Arabia or the UAE. The rest of the world looks at us with envy, as we continue to fill up the tanks of our massive 4.8L engines. I once asked a guy from Norway what his dream car was. He didn’t want a fast sports car or luxurious sedan. He wanted a Chevy Tahoe, but that size vehicle was a pipe dream to him. Same with another guy I met in Romania – in a country where diesel Mercedes are taxis, his dream car was a Dodge Ram. Take advantage of our crazy gas prices while you can – cheap gas is definitely not sustainable.

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Numerous roadside diners and cafés make eating while on the road plenty affordable, and a great way to get in touch with local color. As for lodging, there’s always roadside motels, and for those who don’t mind spending a little time setting up a tent, the time honored tradition of car camping. Speaking of which, road trips are a great way to pack light and keep things simple. You won’t need much entertainment on the road, so leave your Gameboys and fancy clothes at home. Instead, enjoy the changing landscape. It’s breathtaking to go in one day from flat desert scrub to stunning canyon country.

3)Discover our pioneer history.

This might sound silly, but it’s true. While road tripping, you’ll drive across the land that was discovered by the pioneers back in the day. Some roads were even built over worn wagon ruts that were traversed by countless settlers.  Especially when out west, where you can go all day without seeing another car on the road, you start to envision how those first explorers must have felt. I’m often filled with a sense of awe and respect for the early settlers who ventured into this unknown territory. How brave they must have been, and in many ways, how desperate. Seeing this land first hand brings this home in a way no history book ever could. In this way, a road trip is the perfect way to experience discovery over escape.

4)Freedom of the road.

Having your own form of transport is the best way to take advantage of local information over received information. You’re able to change itineraries on a whim, going wherever the locals recommend and rearranging your trip goals as necessary. It makes it easy to adapt as you go rather than micromanaging in advance because you’re not tied to any particular reservations or destinations. There is great freedom in knowing you’re not on the trip to check off “things to see” numbers 1, 2, and 3, but rather to get to a particular area of the country and explore it. Even the trip “itineraries” I’ll write more on later will give more of a general suggestion of things to do in an area. The day to day planning is up to you.

Seeing this land first hand brings this home in a way no history book ever could.

I could go on and on about the indie travel ideals that go hand in hand with road tripping. Options over possessions. Dynamic possibilities over static goals. Private transformation over social status and bragging rights. Basically, being on the road is the ultimate freedom to explore and discover on your own schedule. You won’t get the same cache as talking about your vacation to New York – in fact, many people think we’re sort of crazy for wanting to get in the car and drive for a week – but you’ll discover parts of America most people never get to see. Which brings me to the final point…

5)Understand how amazing America really is.

Almost four million square miles. Does that mean anything to you? Can you even comprehend that size? We have states that are bigger than most European countries. You’ll never understand the vast size of the United States until you start driving across it. You’ll measure out a day’s drive and realize that it would take you at least a week to drive at a reasonable pace from coast to coast. (For the record, the fastest official coast to coast drive stands at 32 hours and 51 minutes).

You can look at maps and read all the travel guides you want, but there’s nothing like first hand experience over expert opinions. Take a look at some of our stunning national parks and realize that in one country, America encompasses vast canyons, snowcapped mountains, miles and miles of rivers, arid desert, rainforest, swampland, and more. It’s flabbergasting. I can’t describe “my” America to people I meet from other countries. I have to ask them to narrow down what part of America they want to know about. The rocky New England coast with grey Atlantic waves and gorgeous fall colors? Or the barren open area of west Texas, where the Rio Grande’s muddy waters bend around Mexico and you can hear wolves up on the scrubland? How about the unbelievably alien landscape of Utah, where flat desert is punctuated by strange, awesome stone formations in crazy shapes and colors? It’s all there for anyone to explore – you just have to get in the car and do it.

Add a US road trip to your RTW trip

While it’s true that you can have a great indie travel experience on a US road trip, if you’re looking to take it up another notch, then add a US road trip to your RTW trip itinerary. The following RTW trip adds in a month and half road trip from Denver to Los Angeles, giving travelers the opportunity to see a beautiful part of the United States.

If you’re thinking about planning a round the world trip, sign up for our free service – Plan Your RTW Trip in 30 Days. If you’re a traveling family, check out the Family Edition for RTW 30.

To read more about road tripping and traveling in the US, check out the following articles and resources:

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BUDGET $80 per day

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Photo credits:  koocbor, Ray Rasmussen, all others courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission

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  • Terri Lynn Merritts said at 2013-07-01T19:30:52+0000: We've road tripped all over the USA (including Canada and Hawaii though those two involved boat travel and rented SUVs) but are somewhat annoyed at the suggestion that the large cities are somehow not American. There are more people in those cities than in little towns and the city people- ourselves included- are REAL Americans too.
  • Laura Ann Klein said at 2012-05-18T16:51:13+0000: Driving across the US Midwest and discovering the almost forgotten small towns was as much fun as climbing up the steps of a wat in SE Asia or stumbling on a beautiful old church in Greece. Being grounded for almost a year is teaching me that travel adventures don't have to take place 1500 and 36 hours away from my own home.
  • Jeanette Vieira said at 2012-05-08T20:51:48+0000: Great post. Our list keeps growing as we continue to 'discover' new spots and see great photos/post of amazing destinations right in our own backyard. We've been on the road (traveling around the US) for two and a half years now... still haven't scratched the surface!