OPINION | WOODY BASSETT: When it comes to travel, road trips pack a lot into every mile

Road trips are treats from beginning to end

Editor's note: Woody Bassett wrote of his affection for road trips four years ago. This is an updated version of a column that appeared in 2019.


My wife and I enjoy long road trips through this vast, beautiful country. Like millions of others, we find the open road liberating, with endless opportunities to experience much of what America has to offer.

We are a country without roadblocks. The allure of the road is how there's something always ahead. As the horizon unfurls, one wonders what's over the next hill or around the next curve. You can't be sure what awaits.

A vehicle represents freedom and mobility, giving the occupants a feeling of control over their destiny and destination. Fueled by curiosity and a sense of adventure and discovery, one out of four Americans get behind the wheel each year to take a road trip across a section of the United States.

Long embedded in the American fabric, road trips have had an almost universal appeal since the invention of the automobile, partly because they are about escaping restrictions and seeking a respite from the pace and familiarity of everyday life.

Travel begins with thoughts, even dreams, of where you'd like to go. So where should you go on your road trip? There's no wrong answer and that's the beauty of it. Part of the fun is studying a map of the United States and putting a plan together.

Destinations matter, of course, but what matters most is the journey because the classic American road trip is an end in itself, with the real joy found in its spontaneity and unpredictability. No matter what route you take or where you stop and spend time, you won't forget what you saw, where you saw it and how it made you feel.

Each person will experience the road differently, but motoring around America provides a chance to learn about our country and perhaps a little about ourselves, too. It's an opportunity to see the natural beauty and breathtaking scenery to be found in many parts of our nation.

It's enlightening to drive around the country, getting to better know its places and history. Each region of the country has its own identity with its own distinctive geography, food and culture. Road-trippers gain a deeper appreciation for our country's diversity and a more informed understanding of what everyday life is like for those who live elsewhere.

Along the way, you will meet and engage with friendly and interesting people from every walk of life, reminding you that Americans from around the country have a lot more in common and are far less divided over the important things in life than the politicians, the loudmouths on cable television and social media or some in the media would have us believe.

Many tend to think of the United States as a country of big cities and suburbs and an agrarian middle with farms and fields stretching far and wide. But the majority of America is rural, small towns and empty or sparsely-populated countryside. Though containing only around 20% of the nation's total population, approximately 95% of the land in the United States is classified as rural. Some call it "flyover country" but if you never drive through it, you'll never know how much you are missing.

The road will take you to countless places throughout the country, especially in the West, where natural settings will take your breath away. From border to border and from coast to coast, there is much for the eye to perceive and the mind and soul to absorb: our national parks and monuments, museums, mountains, forests, rock formations, deserts, beaches, oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls, hiking trails, sunrises, sunsets, night skies and so much more.

Depending on where you go, traveling by airplane is often the most efficient, sensible way. But if you can find the time, an occasional road trip is a refreshing alternative. You won't need a ticket or boarding pass, you won't have to check your luggage or clear security, and you won't have to stand in a lot of long lines.

Just throw your stuff in your vehicle, gas up and take off. It's your trip and you are the pilot. All that matters is making memories, having fun and making the most out of each day on your journey.

Everyone has to live somewhere, and if you are lucky it will be a place you want to be. While a road trip is a gift to be enjoyed, the greatest gift of all for me and my wife is coming back home to Fayetteville when the trip is over, returning to the place we love the most and the place we want to live.