Summer doesn’t officially start until June 20th, but for most of us, the months from Memorial Day until September mean one thing: summer is here. Warmer weather and longer days, barbeques and beach combing, 4th of July parades and fireworks, camping and hiking, swimming and so much more. What’s not to like? (Well, I could list a few things, like hurricanes, mosquitoes, sunburn….) But be honest–we all love summer. Now is a very good time to start thinking about where you might go.

Make all the plans you can, but don’t be so worried about getting to your next destination that you miss out on the fun of being together with family and friends.Over the 30-plus years that I’ve been traveling around America, I have found that, as much as I love the serendipitous discoveries and unexpected moments that road trips often bring, much of my pleasure comes from the anticipation. I love looking forward, and by that I don’t mean “keeping my eyes on the road”, which is always excellent advice in these days of distracted driving. What I mean to say is that spending time planning and thinking about the journey, long before you set off, is perhaps the single best investment you can make.

Advance planning can obviously cut down on disappointment; for example, the more you plan ahead the better the odds are that your favorite hotel, like the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, will have a room for you when you visit. But doing research has less tangible benefits as well. The more you’ve learned about the places you pass through, the more likely you are to notice and appreciate subtle aspects of the local character. Knowing a little about local history, for example, will clue you in to the fact that that the many “Mound City” signs you see in Ohio and Illinois are not advertising parts of baseball fields or coconut-and-chocolate candy bars, but are pointing you toward some of the most remarkable pre-Columbian remnants anywhere. And if you get familiar with local literature, you’ll know that the Frost Place in New Hampshire is not just another ice cream stand; it’s the former home of the region’s poet laureate, Robert Frost.

But anticipation isn’t everything. Internet websites, search engines and sundry smartphone apps may have made access to information easier than ever, but no matter how intelligent you are in anticipating all possible permutations of your road trip experience, remember what Robbie Burns said about the “…best laid plans of mice and men.” He wrote that such plans:

…Gang aft agley,
An’ leave us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

The Scottish translation is “things sometimes turn out differently than you had planned.” Not always worse, in my experience. Just different. And isn’t having new and different experiences what travel is all about? So relax. Make all the plans you can, but don’t be so worried about getting to your next destination that you miss out on the fun of being together with family and friends. Smile for the camera, be “in the moment,” and make sure the answer to that eternal on-the-road question, “Are we there yet?” is a resounding “YES!”

Photo © Jamie Jensen