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The summer road trip? As American as baseball, apple pie and Willie Nelson

Aspen and cottonwood trees along the June Lake Loop on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
(George Rose / Getty Images)

Sure, road trips are not for everyone. If you’re into interminable airport security lines, road trips are not for you. If you enjoy being treated like cattle, go ahead and board that stuffy airplane.

But if you appreciate brassy threads of sunlight the color of French horns streaming across an Idaho highway, a Western road trip might be just for you. If you cherish the way a summer thunderstorm hugs the Cascades, then saddle up the SUV, alert the bank, hold the mail and hit the open highway.

A lazy summer road trip is as American as Willie Nelson. And surely we each possess a spritz of wanderlust, or we never would’ve made it all the way to California, the wanderlust capital of the world, last call for hobos and wagon trains, hitchhikers and anyone else craving new horizons.

Road trips: where to go and what to know

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“The road is life,” Jack Kerouac said.

“Once a bum always a bum,” John Steinbeck noted.

“I don’t remember feeling this awake,” Thelma insisted to Louise.

All original thinkers, all symbols of cowboy perseverance, of an insatiable American spirit.

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And all advocates of the open road.

I don’t know of any other nation with so many road stories in books, in movies, in the mind’s eye. Here, car trips are a textural part of growing up, a rite of passage. In America, you haven’t really had a childhood until you’ve had a major road trip.

My kids mock our legacy of family car trips, but when you bring up past adventures, taken when they were 10 or 12, they laugh, then recall in detail crossing the Continental Divide or marveling at a lightning storm in Wyoming.

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There was also the demolition derby at the county fair in Utah, as well as the crushing experience of hearing their father’s favorite Fleetwood Mac song 30 times in four days. (Really, no one should suffer that. Or should they?)

A road trip gives us perspective, it gives us touchstones, and for Californians, a sense of the great delicacies of the West, whether it’s oysters in Oregon or the vivid scenic splendors of Bryce and Zion, or the old-growth redwoods in Muir Woods.

Best of all, it gives us — in the sweet time warp of hours spent hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder — a hearty camaraderie and an appreciation of the American way of life.

We hope this special issue of Travel — with its focus on destinations, routes and survival tips — will inspire you to plan your own adventure.

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Now go.

Have an incredible road trip story or a useful tip? Share your memories and suggestions with us in the comments.


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