February 23, 2004
A frequent topic of discussion on the Great American RoadTrip Forum centers around whether or not to make lodging or camping reservations when on a road trip. For me, the only difference between a "drive" between two points and a "road trip" is the shift in perception by the participants. In my world, a "road trip" is synonymous with freedom and adventure and the constraints imposed by having reservations en route is antithetical to that process.
Back in March, 1994, Megan Edwards, Marvin the Road Dog, and I hit the road with no destination and no definite return date. During those early months on the road, we gained an appreciation for living "an unsliced life," a term Megan coined and discussed in her first book Roads From the Ashes. One component of that lifestyle was the ability to choose directions and routes based on the whim of the moment. Such whims made it impossible to arrange for lodging reservations, since we never really knew where we would be the next night.
These days, our road trips and those of just about everyone we know are governed by a variety of constraints, not the least of which is time. In the words of frequent RoadTrip Forum poster "Uncle Bob," " Lessee how far can I go before I have to turn around and head home." Other common constraints involve health issues, the comfort needs of fellow travelers, recreational preferences, availability of cash, and tastes in food and lodging. Sometimes, reservations are the best way to ensure a comfortable experience for all participants. We often travel with our dog, for example. When we do, we make reservations at motels that welcome critters, since many don't.
We also make reservations when we know we'll be in the vicinity of an establishment we know and love. After nearly a decade roaming the roads of America, we have a number of favorite hotels, motels, and campgrounds. When I know that a planned trip could include stopovers at these favored spots, I'm on the phone to make sure there'll be "room at the inn." What I avoid is making reservations just to "feel safe." It's just too much fun to see what's available on the spot. Sure, we might get a disappointing meal or a lumpy mattress once in a while, but reservations don't prevent that. What they can prevent is unexpected delightful discoveries. These have been, in our experience, far more plentiful than the unpleasant kind.
It's really a matter of assessing how much risk you enjoy taking. If you know you'll spend all day worrying if you don't know where you're going to stay at the end of the day, by all means make reservations. But if the thought of letting the road, the weather, and your mood be your guide sounds the least bit appealing, why not try a reservation-free road trip next time? You're guaranteed to meet new people, discover new delights, and keep a feeling of adventure at the forefront of your wanderings.