by Samantha Hartman
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard.
To most, that is a quote that belongs in a nice, white font and slapped on a picture of the mountains, but to me, it runs deep. I am infected with a serious travel bug and there is no denying that. My travel map is cluttered with pins and my Instagram is full of odd roadside attractions and cheap motels.
The first time I went on a trip that was completely unplanned, I was hooked. I had just started dating someone and we decided on a spontaneous trip to Maine — in March. What better way to get to know someone than take a completely random road trip twelve hours away in winter. Without a plan, we got in the car and headed north. Two hours later, we stopped for a hotel in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, only to find my car had run out of gas the next morning. The perks of having a car with a gas gauge that did not work, right? So began our journey with a very cold and windy walk a mile uphill, to the only gas station in town. That was a nice first impression on my part. Needless to say, he took over the driving from there. During the last leg of the stretch, my lead foot got the best of me and we got pulled over by the Maine state police, who was very confused at what someone from Pennsylvania was doing in the middle of their state in winter. First impression, number two: fail.
With the speeding ticket safely tucked away in the glove compartment, we eventually made it to our first stop in Portland, where it was late and we needed a hotel. We pulled up to a Knight’s Inn that had a parking lot full of cops and decided to venture to the next cheap motel down the road. So far, we weren’t off to a very good start, but the next day would make up for it. Since neither of us knew anything at all about the place we were in, we set out to find a lighthouse, the obvious choice. The day was spent hiking along massive cliffs, jumping to avoid huge waves, and exploring old buildings. I was in love. Once we finally made it to the lighthouse, it was closed. Go figure. Ordinarily I would have been disappointed, but the day I had totally made up for it. I had spent a total of twelve hours in Maine and it still remains one of my favorite places. Scaling huge rocks full of tide pools and bits of snow was breathtaking, and I cannot wait to get back up there for another day or two… or ten.
It was time to move on to our next stop, snowboarding in Massachusetts. We ended up at a cabin that offered a discount to the ski resort, and as per our usual, finished off the stay with a trip to the local diner. There is no doubt in my mind that I will base a vacation solely off of the diners in the area. I go to one in practically every city I visit. An exhausting but exciting day snowboarding in the mountains led us to Boston, where staying in the cheapest hotel in the city ended up being one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. Our room had a door straight out of the Titanic, porthole and all. I was swooning. We spent the day walking around trying to find Paul Revere’s house, only to realize it was way too cold for that kind of adventure so we took a detour and found ourselves along the shore by tons of piers and boats, my favorite. We looped around to a huge, greenhouse looking building full of little kiosks and shops to buy all sorts of things, where we stopped for lobster rolls. A lobster roll from a stand? For $15? I was skeptical. I am glad I took a chance on that because it was, hands down, the best one my taste buds have ever experienced. I have dreams about that baby, it was that good.
After another day in Boston, we headed down to New York City for our final leg of the journey. Having never been there, we booked a cheap hotel in Queens and began our walk. If it is possible to park the car and never get in it again until the end of the trip, I am perfectly okay with that.
The mornings were spent at the Van Dam Diner, which quickly became one of my favorites on my lifelong diner tour. Everyone in there spoke a different language, shouting out the orders instead of using tickets, in a fast pace that was hard to keep up with. The food was delicious and the surroundings were surprisingly welcoming.
Staying in Queens meant a walk over the longest bridge ever to the city. That was fine in the day but at night, I definitely regret that walk. There have been few instances where I have actually been afraid of my surroundings and that was one of them… we used the subway the next day. Without a map or guide we wondered all around the city, taking stupid pictures and people watching in Times Square. I went to Mood and drooled over all the expensive fabrics and then window-shopped at the Lego Store. We saw the city from the top of Rockefeller Center and had excellent burgers for dinner. After asking our waitress of something non-touristy to do, she suggested we go to East Village, where we saw a filming of Louie right on the sidewalk. We ate super cheap, delicious baked goods from a store in Chinatown that had a post office in the back, a store that was definitely not on someone’s guide to visiting NYC. Our last day was spent visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, which was honestly the only part of the trip I did not like. It turned out to be an entire day of ferry rides and waiting in lines and I got a better picture of the Statue from the shore. Lesson learned.
Just like that, the trip was over. An eight-hour car ride back to my normal life, to dream up my next random road trip. Going to a few places in one trip made the vacation seem like it was a month long, when in reality it was only a week and most of it was spent driving.
Before that vacation, I had never gone somewhere without booking a hotel in advance. Having a plan, an itinerary, an actual destination. Now, I don’t even bother with any of that until I get there. I realized I could stay in one city as long as I wanted without having to worry about a hotel I already booked in the next. What if I wanted to stay an extra day? What if I wanted to go somewhere else instead? I could do that. It has only worked against me in one instance, I would say that’s a pretty good ratio.
Next time you go on a trip, read the billboards for the roadside attractions. Base your dinner off the most random restaurant you drive past. Odds are, that one has the best food.
But most importantly, do something you would not ordinarily do.