East or West?
East or West: that is always the first question we Midwesterners ask ourselves when planning a road trip. Do you have to choose just one? For the past two years, my mom and I have taken a road trip in her Mini Cooper convertible. Two years ago we went west, last year we went east. Each trip was two weeks, we traveled through nine different states each trip, and the trips couldn’t have been more different.
States visited while going west: MN, IA, NE, CO, NM, UT, ID, WY, SD
States visited while going east: MN, IA, MO, IL, KY, TN, NC, IN, WI
Driving in a convertible has its perks; but it also has its downfalls. Each trip was taken around the same time of year: fall. Going west, it was drier. We had sun every single day, and had to put the top up because it got TOO hot and sunny for us. Going east, it rained almost every day. Very few times were we able to have the top down during our travels. On both trips, during the sunny days we had, we drove as much as possible with the top down and let me tell you, you can see more, hear more and smell more (yes, smell) in a convertible.
The best part about a road trip is being able to stop and visit roadside attractions along the way. If we saw a cute cafe or antique store; we stopped. Going east, we decided to take a slight detour and hit up Hannibal, MO to visit the birthplace of Mark Twain.
It wasn’t quite along the route to Gatlinberg, TN which was our final destination; but it wasn’t out of the way. Going west, we decided to visit the Four Corners Monument. Neither my mom or I had any idea what was in store for our visit - and that made it even more fun. Lots (and LOTS) of tour buses, vendors selling tchotchkes, and one stand selling authentic fry bread (yes please!) We could only laugh and follow the herd when we saw the line to take a picture at the actual four corners was over 30 people long.
That’s a benefit of a road trip, really there are no wrong turns. I mean, we were very thankful for Google Maps to help us get to our destinations!
Seeing National Parks is a big bonus when taking road trips. I’m lucky to have a family who cherishes visiting National Parks at any chance they can get. I remember going on road trips and camping as a kid. I remember seeing mountain ranges and the Great Lakes early on. I wanted to revisit one of my favorites as a kid - Grand Teton National Park.
Our trip out west was originally planned because of a relative’s wedding in Albuquerque, NM. Why fly when you can cruise through the southwest and hit multiple National Parks along the way? My mom was into it, so off we went. We ended up seeing Mesa Verde National Park in CO, Canyonlands National Park in UT, Arches National Park in UT, Grand Teton National Park in WY, and Badlands National Park in SD. There’s not a better feeling than driving through the park with the top down, listening to nature and stopping wherever you’d like to go hiking. The main goal of our trip out east was to visit the Great Smoky Mountains. While we only visited one National Park that trip, we got to spend multiple days hiking and exploring. We even hiked part of the Appalachian Trail.
Plus we did one side trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina on the day it was raining all day. Another perk of a road trip - no rental car necessary!
Trying to decide whether to go east or west can be incredibly difficult. The best tips to remember when planning a road trip of your own are these: Whose car can pack on the miles? Be flexible with your expectations. Don’t pack too many activities into each day. And most importantly, which snacks are a must? For us, it’s Twizzlers. Happy travels.