I’ve added quite a few miles on my odometer: two round trips from Michigan to the east coast two weeks in a row. And as I undertook these perambulations, I had some eye opening experiences. I’d recommend these to my road tripping friends:
- Try to wean yourself from GPS. I really knew where I was going the most part, from New York to Philadelphia to suburban DC. I decided not to play on my phone for safety’s sake, and I used old fashioned printed Mapquest sheets of paper as a back-up, which I only grabbed when I wanted to see how much further. The result was a safer drive, but also a more engaged one. When you don’t relay on some disembodied voice telling you where to turn next, you engage more with the landmarks. I find that when I use GPS, my brain feels smaller and I feel less like I know where I am. This has been corroborated in a New York Times article about our innate sense of navigation. Did you know that London taxi drivers have more developed brain pathways in the areas of the brains where imaging and mapping take place. Read more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/magazine/the-secrets-of-the-wave-pilots.html?_r=0
- Walk to your meals. I am a regular walker, but it’s in my neighborhood, or sometimes a friend’s or a hiking trail. But that city experience of walking everywhere helps me learn my way around an area in a way that driving does not. You notice every landmark, the smell of the bagels, the location of the trash cans, the sound of the banter from the salon and barber shop.
- Look in all directions. It’s easy to keep your eyes forward, but the part of vacations I like is the ability to look everywhere. Even so, I almost missed something significant. I couldn’t figure out why the Walgreen’s I went in was so busy; it was crazy in there in the middle of the day. Then I came outside and happened to look up. It was the Walgreen’s in the Empire State Building.
- What is location? If people use their Google Maps or Apple Maps to find their way around and miss the landmarks, what happens to the perception of those landmarks? If we don’t say, “It’s just past the Coney Island”, will we “lose” the understanding of the location of the Coney Island? I’m not sure, but our cognitive and visual maps seem to be slipping from us.
- The Long and Winding Road. I am still not a creature of silence. I’ve got about five minutes of meditative mindfulness in me per day and that’s about it. So I need noise, distraction and entertainment during a drive (especially during the two long legs where I was driving alone for 8 hours). Every technological entertainment channel helped from Sirius Radio to Itunes to Pandora to Podcasts to my 30 disk set of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 which I was determined to “read” prior to watching the series on Hulu along with a Ken Follett novel set in the late 1800’s in Great Britain.. I told the teenagers that for the most part I was hijacking the car stereo. Interestingly, they were happy to use their headphones, but the 17 year old would tune in to the books on CD (and would ask fur updates for the parts she missed.)
- More Daylight! I’m getting too old to drive at night. It’s not the visual acuity; it’s the feeling of wanting to go to sleep.
Road trips are still a great experience. There are so many beautiful sights even from the interstates: the bridges over rivers, mountains and hills, lakes, rivers, creeks, downtowns and suburbs, monuments and malls, and family members in far-flung places. With gas prices fairly low, it’s an economical way to get around and it might be good for your brain, too!