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There’s nothing better than a good road trip. In fact, there are few things I love more than a loose itinerary and the possibility of the open road.
I first met Theresa Goodrich of The Local Tourist almost two years ago at a travel conference. Essentially as soon as we met, I knew that she was a kindred spirit. We quickly bonded over craft beer and a mutual love for roadside attractions. So when she embarked on two cross-country road trips in as many years with the end goal of writing books about her adventures, I knew I couldn’t wait to read them.
Two Lane Gems, Vol. 1: Turkeys Are Jerks and Other Observations from an American Road Trip came out late last year and chronicles Theresa’s adventures from Chicago to San Diego and back again with her husband, Jim. Now her second book, Two Lane Gems, Vol. 2: Bison Are Giant and Other Observations from an American Road Trip is being released and I was lucky enough to snag an early digital copy.
Quite frankly, I couldn’t put this charming book down. I was constantly chuckling and nodding along as I read. I found myself making notes of places I need to add to my to-visit list and scribbling down names of people and places I wanted to read more about.
After I finished reading, I couldn’t wait to share Theresa’s humor and road trip insights with all of you. I scribbled down all of my burning questions and Theresa was kind enough to hop on the phone to chat about how she plans her trips, her biggest travel advice, and where she’s headed next for Two Lane Gems.
Q: One of the things I love most about your writing is your ability to capture such lovely stories of the people you meet and places you visit. How do you pull those vignettes from people you just met?
A: It’s just talking to them. My parents jokingly call it the Carter curse. Jim calls it the Goodrich curse now. People just talk to us. We smile at them. We say hello. If they have a name badge, we use their name. We listen and are interested in what they have to say. People want to share their stories.
Q: I’m a note taker. But when I travel I still struggle to remember all of the details of what we saw and did, especially on a long trip. How do you have such a stellar memory?!
A: I do take notes, especially when we have conversations. When we get back in the car I would jot down notes. I take a ton of photos. I took a lot of video as well. When we were driving, I would take video so I could review it and put myself back in the situation. I took more than 9,000 photos and there are only 150-some in the book. I feel like the stories are more important. The photos aid but I wanted the story to be the most important.
I also journal so I would get up in the morning and try to record thoughts. I find writing it down helps trigger it later, and things stick in my mind better than when I’m typing them up. When I’m talking to someone I always write things down [by hand] so I can look them in the eye and experience the whole story in a more tactile way.
It’s amazing how once I’m starting to write that everything comes back to me. I feel like I’m back there. The crazy thing was when I was sick on the trip and writing about it i was sick at home. When I was feeling irritable on the trip, I would start feeling irritable at home. I was really just like I was reliving the whole thing. Same with when I ecstatic and happy. It was a mild roller coaster, kind of like a kiddie coaster.
Q: You mention quite a few times that part of the point of this trip was to not plan out every single solitary moment. You have more willpower than I do! How did you manage that?
A: It was easier than I thought it would be. The last trip had really prepared me for that though because we had such incredible experiences when we hadn’t planned anything. That gave us the opportunity to see things we wouldn’t have seen if it had been regimented.
We embraced the mindset of we’re here so we have to do it, and trusting in that we’re going to be ok. We’re comfortable sleeping in uncomfortable places. For us, it’s a place to sleep and we just need some rest and to get up to be that much closer to Craters of the Moon National Monument or something else amazing.
The hardest part is times like when we were at Cannon Beach, and couldn’t find a campsite. We knew we couldn’t spend $200 for a motel because that’s five to 10 nights of camping. The next time I’ll do a little more research in advance, but overall this worked out well. Just like finding out that Crater Lake was opening the weekend after we visited, instead we found the most beautiful campsite I’ve ever seen. I was testing my own optimism and that was definitely reinforced.
Q: For the parts you did plan, how do you find the off-the-beaten-path places you want to add to your itinerary?
A: Some were obvious like Yellowstone and the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. I use Roadtrippers, too. When we started looking at the mileage, when I first started planning it, I had this crazy idea we would dip down into California and even go through northern Utah. Then I scaled it back and picked a more reasonable route. Roadtrippers does a great job of letting you see how you can get from one point to another. You can also say you want to take interstate or not, which helped us figure out our route.
I also use Trello for trip planning. When I know I’m going to be in a place and I see something close to where we might be driving, I add it to my board. I create lists for each state and then add it to the larger trip board. You can even add dates to certain ideas as you plan.
Q: What are your road trip essentials? I honestly had never thought of bringing a pressurized growler until I was reading Volume Two and now I think it might be a must-pack for me.
A: Alright, must-have items: A good rain cover. It’s always good to have the compact chairs. Our bare minimum camping kit is a tarp, air mattress, tent, iron skillet, and bare utensils. We have a really good cooler (a Coleman Xtreme), which is important. We got a bunch of brats from the Brat House in Kenosha, Wisconsin before we left. They were still frozen in the cooler a week later. Then, of course, the pressurized growler. It was great because Jim isn’t a huge beer drinker so I could get a growler and it could last me awhile.
I have to say, having the bucket of trail mix helped a lot. I made my own trail mix before we left and put it in snack bags and threw them in a huge Tupperware. We rarely stopped for lunch because we were driving mid-morning to mid-afternoon so that helped a lot.
Q: What’s your best advice for someone planning their first long road trip?
A: Be flexible. Something is going to go wrong. It’s like a wedding—something is going to go wrong and how you react to it will dictate your experience.
I’m fortunate that this is now my job. But if this is something you do once every five or ten years or just once, it’s not worth it to get upset about something going wrong. If all the motels are full and you have to sleep in your car, it’s just one night. It really is just being flexible.
Q: Now that you’ve finished writing Volume Two, have you started planning out your adventure that might become Volume Three?
A: Next year we’re doing a northeastern route clover-leafing from Chicago. I didn’t have the second half of the first road trip planned out, and this one was very much the same. We knew we were going to see Jim’s family and there were some destinations but I didn’t plan a lot. For the next one, we have friends in all these different northeastern states so we’ll be staying with more friends. It’s also so much more dense there. We’ll have a lot fewer miles to cover and more time at destinations. It’ll be a little different because we won’t spend as much on the road.
Get Your Own Copy of Two Lane Gems
Two Lane Gems: Vol. 2 is now available online from Bookshop.org, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Plus, when you purchase a print copy of the book on Amazon, you’ll receive the Kindle version for free through Amazon’s matchbook program.
Share Your Thoughts
I would love to hear from you! Are you a two-lane traveler? Have you read Theresa’s Two Lane Gems series?