8 Reasons Why You Should Drive Across the Country

Moonlight State Beach, Encinitas, California
Moonlight State Beach, Encinitas, California (photo: Photo by Justin Bell)

I blame, or rather credit, my parents for instilling in me the love of a long road trip.  Growing up in the American Southwest, we took some epic trips across the land — the most Odyssean being a two-week journey from Denver to Orlando and back, the summer before my 4th grade year.  Among many memories, these trips formed significant portions of my mental map of the United States.    

Recently, I drove over 2600 miles from Watertown, Massachusetts to Scottsdale, Arizona.  After a day’s rest at the home base, I was off to a buddy’s wedding in Malibu, California and I'm now back in Arizona. 

When seeking directions for a long trip on Google Maps, the handy service also shows an arc with an airplane icon and flight options.  Resist this if you can. Here are eight reasons to click on the car symbol and map it out for the road trip — an ongoing American legacy.

1. The Feeling of Finally Hitting the Open Road

The oil has been changed, the tires checked, a prescription filled. You have set your email accounts to auto-reply. The car has a full tank of gas. Snacks and water are packed.  And twenty minutes into your trip, something or three will probably pop into your head that has escaped your to-do list and you’ll become anxious.   Don’t worry. Modern technology has made it easier to correct these oversights, just as modernity has made our to-do lists more involved.  But once you finally reach the highway, with your regular pathways of life shuttered for awhile, the pioneering freedom of the open road settles in.  Enjoy this moment and the journey ahead!

2. Time for Prayer

It’s always wise to begin a trip with a prayer of safety and for long hauls on the road. Allow time for silence and contemplation.  On a stress-free stretch of driving, start a period of silence with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to direct your mind for a bit.  Here, you can converse with our Lord, pray for the people who surface, reflect on matters and admire God’s handiwork in creation.

The Rosary can be a great road trip prayer, albeit with some caveats. For a road Rosary, I recommend praying it with companions in the earlier part of the travel day, again during stress-free open driving, when the driver can pause or opt out if necessary. The Rosary with near-drowsy driving or in high traffic conditions are not good combinations. Better to wait until a time when you are stationary. The same goes for the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

3. Mix it Up

When putting in some serious miles, you are going to appreciate an assortment of listening material: conversation, CDs (or playlists these days), silence, recorded talks, radio, etc.  One thing you should certainly add to this mix is the audio book.  Before setting off, visit your local library and select some books you would like to read, then get a head start by listening to them on your trip.

For my last trip, I continued with the Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Goodwin Kearns. I was intrigued to find out that TR’s first wife and mother died within 24 hours in New York and one way the future president coped was an extended stay in South Dakota.  You could also listen to various political perspectives on news and talk radio, until it’s time to find the Catholic radio station and are uplifted with national and particularly interesting local programming. When the radio signal falls out of range, time to mix it up again! And for safety's sake and from personal experience, pull over, or have a friend change the CD.

4. Visit your Aunt Mary

It seems that many of us have an Aunt Mary or an Uncle Joe — you know of whom I speak.  And there is a really good chance you have not seen them in a long time.  When mapping out your travels, go ahead and visit a distant relative or two and hopefully stay with them for a night, even if it takes you off your main course.  Indeed, I do have an Aunt Mary and an Uncle Brian who live in Evansville, Indiana, and I was blessed to stay with them en route out West.  We passed an evening in leisurely and shifting conversation, and I was happy to try out a local brew. For those of us who live near a coast, the derogatory term, “fly-over country”, includes states where you probably have some relatives who would love to see you.

5. Meet a Colleague You Know Only Digitally

In our digital age, much business is conducted between people who live far apart via email and telephone calls. Why not meet some of these folks in person?  Over the last couple of years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to be interviewed on the Son Rise Morning Show about various stories and events I have covered. Traveling through Cincinnati, I was able to meet the show’s news director, Anna Mitchell, and also see the studio where she and host Matt Swain asked me questions.  It was wonderful to chat with her and I look forward to my next interview where I can now visualize their operating space. By the way, their studio is in the Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Center, which you should certainly check out for some Eucharistic Adoration time and compelling saint statues.

6. Depend on God’s Providence

If you’re like me, you don’t like paying for a hotel rooms, so it’s rewarding to coordinate stopping points in your travels with friends and family. On some legs of the journey this might not be possible, so try arranging accommodations at a retreat center, or a monastery or convent that accepts guests.  On this last trip, through Facebook I contacted a faithful co-worker in the vineyard whom I know.  She works in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and set me up with a budget room in the conference center of their pastoral center, all within the day. Praise God! Few of us are called to live the traveling lifestyle of the Franciscans of the Primitive Observance, but not having your trip so tightly planned and allowing God to provide shelter and adventures will give you stories to share for years to come.

7. Eat at New Places

On the evening when I rolled into Holbrook, Arizona, after a particularly beautiful stretch on the road, I sought sustenance and familiarity at a franchise Mexican restaurant chain that also bears my last name. It was featured on a highway sign that tell of the available eatery options at the upcoming exit.  But alas, I could not find it. Stopping at a McDonald’s for help, a gracious worker informed me that this taco establishment was closed for reconstruction. However, she did recommend to me Aliberto’s Mexican Food and that, my friends, made all the difference for dinner. If you are ever in Holbrook, be sure to stop by.

8. Enjoy God’s creation, his inspiration, and jump in the ocean.

The invaluable experience of motoring across the U.S. is the mental mapping, seeing God’s handiwork and man’s inspiration — crossing the mighty Mississippi and seeing the transition in the land from Oklahoma to New Mexico to Arizona, driving through and stopping in violent summer showers, gazing at a relaxed moonlit lightning storm, seeing the Pacific.  And honestly, you will also see disturbing things that need prayer.

But back to beauty. In the American Southwest, you will see many images of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A mural in Encinitas, California was the first time I remember seeing her on a surfboard, her feet balanced to ride the wave and her hands still clasped in prayer. Up the California coastline, if you are ever in Malibu, be sure to visit the Serra Retreat Ceter for a mountain view of the ocean. Now this would be a place to stay for a couple of nights. Catching a daily Mass at a new church is a wonderful way to start a travel day.

Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas is a convenient place to hit the beach and dip in the ocean.  Whether wading, body surfing, body boarding, surfing, or simply diving beneath the incoming waves, you feel the power of the water and grow in awe of the Creator who made heaven and earth.

“You rule the raging sea, you still its swelling waves... yours are the heavens, yours the earth; you founded the world and everything in it.” (Psalm 89:10,12)