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The planning, the booking, the looking forward. The oil and the water checks, the last-minute weather checks and the four seasons you pack in your bag. You know you will forget something crucial anyway, but it’s great to go with the illusion of being prepared.
Or perhaps the best thing about a road trip is the setting off. Early morning, wagon logistically packed. A hint of something fresh in the air. You’re teetering between home and free, so you make a travelling coffee even though you know you’ll stop for another an hour down the road and caffeine and traffic aren’t ideal companions. But for now, everything is in balance.
Unless the best thing about the road trip is the road itself. Not the physical pot-holed meandering two-lane hair-pinned bitumened chipseal. Though that’s all right for the most part. More the possibilities of go-stop-go it offers, the close proximity to beach, paddock, mountain, track, river, swimming-hole, dairy and the Pavlovian provocation of those little blue signs with a skirt person and a stick-leg person separated by a vertical line. There are so many places to go exploring here that are literally just along the road. If you stopped everywhere interesting, spectacular, signposted and curious, in any direction, on any of our highways, it’d take a full day, at least, to travel less than 100km.
And the best thing about a road trip is almost certainly the company. People on a similar mission and everyone has an interest in having a good time, sharing the road and keeping the peace.
Or could the best thing about a road trip be road trip games? What does your little eye spy? Do you have a favourite tricky road-thing, like p for the paint on the lines on the road? L for leaves. G for grass. Everyone does g for grass. Car cricket, the Minister’s Cat and that game where you try to count to 21 and anyone’s allowed to speak but you can’t interrupt. That game should have a name. Does it have a name? You can discuss that to your heart’s content as the games dissipate into road trip talk and looser tongues and everyone knows that what’s said on the road, stays on the road in the sealed vehicle of shhh.
Trendingly, the best thing about road trips could be the changing landscape of takeaways. That travelling coffee cup you snuck from home — every cafe wants to fill it up for you instead of using a throwaway coated plastic offering. Your free-range egg and free-range bacon gluten-free bagel with homemade aioli comes in an uncoated brown cardboard box and you fill your water bottle as you go.
Randomly, the best thing about road trips might not be the known destinations, but the unexpected happenings. The steam engine tractor you pass on the other side of the highway, the two dudes pushing a woman wearing sunglasses, blanket-tucked, in a sofa chair on caster wheels, right along the road part of the main street. The old guy who stops for a yarn. The helicopter hovering low over suddenly spreading deer.
Of course, the best thing about road trips is ticking off the things you’re road-tripping for. Done. Done. Done. The car gets fuller, half-dry swimming togs spilling into recent purchases and the free newspapers from further back on the road. It seems impossible to remember how all the bits and pieces packed together so neatly in the first place, or how you ever had a fixed daily routine, but it doesn’t really matter because there is forward motion and things are getting done and seen.
Ah yes. And seen. The best thing about road trips maybe used to be postcards that got there weeks later, but now the best thing is clearly the opportunity to be blatantly skiting through social media updates. Road tripping, in it for the "likes".
And ultimately, if you’re fortunate and when you’re tired and wired from the time away, the best thing about a road trip is pulling back into familiar surrounds, to the people and place you call home.