From the Introduction:
As I write this in February 2022, I’m sitting on a hotel balcony in Biloxi, Mississippi. A ribbon of white-sand beach and, beyond it, the azure Gulf of Mexico stretch out before me as far as the eye can see. Between my balcony and the beach, cars zoom along US 90, a 1633-mile road laid out in 1926 that links the northeast Florida coastal city of Jacksonville with the dusty west Texas town of Van Horn. I can see three dozen cars in the parking lot below, bearing license plates from at least 20 states, from California to Michigan to New Hampshire (that last one’s mine). I’m in the middle of an extended road trip, and so are tens of thousands of others.
Travelers have been captivated by automobile touring since the very invention of “horseless carriages” in the mid-1880s. Throughout North America, the popularity of road-tripping has maintained a fairly steady rise over the past 120 years, booming at times (the 1920s, the mid-’40s, and the mid-’60s) to coincide with the construction of new highway systems and an ever-growing selection of services and attractions, from driveup motels and campgrounds to roadside diners, scenic national park roads, drive-in movie theaters, and kitschy dinosaur statues and neon-lit souvenir shops. It’s hardly surprising that this photogenic way of exploring the world has enjoyed a boom in recent years—it lends itself perfectly to our growing love of documenting our adventures on Instagram and other social media.
And then came the pandemic. Following the initial lockdown, when some people gingerly began to take trips again, they mainly did so by car. Driving allowed greater autonomy and easier social distancing. At this moment, road-tripping around the US and Canada has never been more popular. Anyone who’s visited a major national park or driven a famous scenic road during the pandemic can attest that this upsurge in cartouring has led to certain challenges, namely overcrowding. But there’s a lot of blacktop out there—about 4 million miles of public roads in the US and another 650,000 miles in Canada. If you look a bit beyond the high-profile landmarks, you can still find plenty of incredible places that aren’t swarmed by fellow road trippers, even on high-season weekends.
I’ve been hooked on road-tripping since I was a kid in the ’70s. Vacations for our family involved clanking around New England and upstate New York in a wood-sided 1969 Ford Country Squire station wagon. This gas-guzzling tank of a car had only an AM radio and neither air conditioning nor power windows, but I remember loving every minute of those summertime drives through the Adirondacks, coastal Maine, and Cape Cod. Two years out of college in 1993, I quit my job in New York City as a low-level editor with a travel guidebook publisher to embark on a freelance career. I decided I could more easily afford payments on a car than rent on an apartment, so for the next seven years I lived nomadically, crisscrossing the United States and Canada, crashing on sofas, house-sitting, and further solidifying my love of road-tripping. I eventually landed in northern New Mexico for several years and then Portland, Oregon for a decade. And now my partner, Fernando, and I divide our time between a flat in the historic
Coyoacán district of Mexico City and a lake house in rural New Hampshire. But exploring by car is still my catnip—my absolute favorite kind of travel experience.
And so here I am in Biloxi, 16 days and 15 states into yet another road trip. The latest Omicron-driven COVID surge is receding and I hope it will be far, far behind us by the time you read these words. I won’t try to guess what lies ahead for the pandemic or the state of travel. What I do feel certain about is that people will continue to find ways to explore the world, and that road tripping offers an ideal way to do so. You can go at your own pace and tailor your itinerary to your interests, budget, and level of comfort.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve driven nearly every mile of roadway I’ve described in this book, and I’ve revisited the majority of these itineraries since the start of the pandemic. As a US citizen, I decided against returning to Canada during the pandemic, but I’ve fact-checked every chapter of this book and only recommended attractions and businesses that I could confirm were open in early 2022. Still, we’re living in changing times, and I highly recommend that you call ahead to confirm that places are open, especially if you’re driving out of your way to visit them.
I’ve tried to create itineraries that offer high points for a diverse range of tastes and styles—foodies, families, hikers, retirees, LGBTQ folks, history buffs, art lovers, budget adventurers, and luxury seekers. But above all else, I’ve designed the drives in this book with the aim of helping you connect North America’s must-see road trip experiences—Hwy 1 in California’s Big Sur, the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper, the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia—with hundreds of less visited gems, from Saguenay Fjord in Quebec to Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona to the blues music towns of the Mississippi Delta.
Enjoy the drive, and if you see a silver 2008 Toyota Highlander with New Hampshire plates that’s badly in need of a car wash, be sure to wave hello . . .
Reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant.