Roadtrippin’ with James Joiner

Fall’s gold light and crisp air is pushing another summer into the past and we’re trading sandals for shoes and sun tan lotion’s oily envelope for a sweater’s warm embrace. As a shoulder season, autumn is the colorful assimilation of summer’s lushness back into the earth’s cycle, change hanging in the air, triggering a near-constant sense of nostalgia. Luckily, the perfect complement for nostalgia is adventure. There’s no better time for a road trip to create new memories and stories to tell over the coming winter.

Actually, in my opinion it’s always a good time for a road trip, but you know what I mean.

Road trips are a travel staple for me. A fossil-fueled birthright whose carbon footprint is theoretically offset by the good they do temporarily springing us from the glowing screens of our self-inflicted digital solitary confinement. From books such as On the Road or Into the Wild to movies like Easy Rider and even National Lampoon’s Vacation, hitting the road is a narrative lens that speaks to our cultural heart and soul. Here’s a quick list of pro-tips cobbled together from my own experiences piling too many miles onto unsuspecting vehicles while wandering aimlessly. Whether you’re cruising a quick fifty miles for a scenic picnic or grinding two thousand on a cross-country epic, riding solo or with a posse, these are just a few easy things to make everything run that much smoother.

Food. Obviously. Stock up a small cooler with some healthy snacks, or, if it’s a longer trip, the building blocks of a few decent meals and you’ll escape a truck stop fast food rut that’ll leave you feeling as gross as the thick cheap meat musk that’ll greet you every time you open the doors afterwards. Not eating out also saves cash, something you’ll be thankful for when you crack those extra beers at the end of the day.

Camera. Sure, your average smartphone can muster up enough megapixels for social media updates, but there’s something to be said for capturing a scenic vista with a dedicated device. Even the more basic point and shoots will take better pics than the flashiest iPhone, and why not save the most vivid memories you can?

My dog. Okay, so Basil isn’t gonna fit in any bags. But if I’m not flying, he’s coming. The perfect travel companion, he’s happy just to be along for the ride, is always up for anything, makes friends easily, isn’t picky on where we eat or what we listen to, and is a great cuddler on cold nights. He does get miffed if someone else steals shotgun, though. I usually let them work it out for themselves.

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Hoodie. More than just a means to keep warm as the sun goes down, a good hooded sweatshirt or fleece can double as a blanket, pillow, towel, tourniquet, even a last minute disguise. Not that you have anything to hide from, of course. But you never know what’s gonna happen on the road.

Travel Mug / Water Bottle. By 2050 our oceans will contain more plastic than fish. Don’t shell out your hard-earned cash for a plastic bottle of tap water produced by a massive agricorp when you can just refill an insulated metal bottle for free. Plus, it’ll keep your cocoa or coffee hot for way longer and make less of a trash pile in your vehicle. Having a set of real silverware is a solid move as well.

Swiss Army Knife or Multitool. Open cans, pull corks, cut cheese, whittle a stick, whatever. You never know when you’ll need a knife or screwdriver or even those weird little pull out tweezers, but you’ll always be glad you have ‘em when you do.

Music. This is the big one. A soundtrack is key, and no one wants to spend all day chasing the fading signals of local talk radio and generic pop stations. And don’t just play the same stuff over and over again. Ask anyone who’s coming to make a playlist in advance, you can even have them tailor it to a specific landscape or stretch of road, and go from there. Podcasts are great, too, but good tunes set the vibe, keeping spirits high if white line monotony sets in, and who doesn’t love singing along to a favorite song at highway speeds? Long drives/walks/rides are the best time to check out some new music, so with that in mind I’ve thrown together a quick playlist of my own for you to check out, with a mix of my current favorites and more than a few longtime classic songs.