When I have the time, and a little gas in the car, I love to play “let’s get lost.” Of course I don’t want to get so lost that I can’t ever find my way home, but I like the adventure of traveling new roads, seeing different scenery, and generally just wandering.
The idea of exploring back roads without a pre-determined destination is easily adaptable to family vacations. Even if you have to rush between some of the points on your trip, allow time for a day or even an afternoon of unpredictable exploration. On lazy afternoons you can try this near home.
I have to confess that the idea is not original... I learned it from my mother. Although we were not much alike, this was one of the things that we did well together. While driving the main roads near home she might suddenly ask, “Shall we see where this road takes us?” I always answered, "Yes!"
Of course it’s good to have maps of the local area on hand, but for the best adventure, don’t use them until you need to. With a basic sense of the local topography in your head you may be able to travel a long way before you need to verify your location. In fact, time restrictions may create a more severe limit on the adventure than geographic concerns about your physical location. Consult the maps if you must to return to your base. Turn off the GPS to play. Those annoying machines think that you can’t possibly want to use any but the most direct route to a destination.
Begin with any road that looks appealing. It may head up a hill, around a lake, or just off at an odd angle. Take turns as desired, following your whims and enjoying the sights. A back road might lead you past a lovely old farm, over an interesting bridge, or over a ridge with a view. Of course, it might head through a run-down area, or to a dead end, but those are all parts of the adventure.
This activity can also be educational. Kids can learn map reading skills, determining directions by the sun, judging distances, understanding watersheds and other topographical features, etc. It’s a great way to help them realize that the journey can be as interesting as the destination. Several generations of children grew up in cars without DVD players and video games, and survived.
I’ve often managed to turn a 4-hour drive into one of 6 or even 8 hours. Sometimes when traveling home from the other side of my state, I’ve just headed north and west on whatever road took my fancy. Sometimes I’m blocked by lakes, or unbridged rivers, and need to backtrack. But I’ve seen interesting places that I never would have known existed just by taking the interstate. I’ve found that driving this way can even be relaxing.
In fact, this game has become one of my “life rules:” Never take the interstate if you have time to take the back road. I suggest giving it a try.