The Best Road Trip Books
By Kim Merryman
Like many of you, I was stoked to get out on the road over spring break. I had a sweet 9-day road trip itinerary mapped out through Utah and New Mexico with a few campgrounds already reserved and some entrance fees paid. I had spent a lot of time in February and March daydreaming (read: making spreadsheets) about my camp dinners, dog friendly hiking options, and archeological sites to see along the route. Then like many of you, I was super bummed to have to cancel my plans due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While I’ve accepted this trip just could not happen this March, I know I’ll get to go this fall or next spring.
In the meantime (and there’s a lot of extra meantime right now), during breaks from deep cleaning my apartment and attempting recipes I have no business attempting, I’ve been keeping the spirit of my planned trip alive by reading about others’ road adventures. Maybe you too had to cancel your travel or maybe you are keeping busy and your hopes up by planning your post-COVID-19 trip. Or maybe you need to escape your apartment if only in your mind. Whatever your reason, check out four of the best books about road tripping.
Travels with Charley in Search of America
by John Steinbeck
This (supposedly, but questionably) autobiographical account of John Steinbeck’s 1960 road trip with his poodle, Charley was one of his later published works. Steinbeck outfitted his truck with a custom camper (that sounds to me a lot like an old-timey Escape Newport model) and looped from the east coast to the west coast and back again. The story is both an uplifting and sad portrait of 1960 America and of the aging author, but Steinbeck’s humor holds up and lightens the load. Many of the author’s road tripping fans have taken his route or parts of it. Charley is a lovely read whether you’re on the road anywhere in the U.S. or just wish you were.
Outlandish: Fuel Your Epic
by Morgan Sjogren
Outlandish is part travel essays, part cookbook, part guidebook, part photo essays. The author, a self-proclaimed “running bum,” is a professional runner, writer, and public lands and environmental activist. She broke out of her old life and lived out on the road and in the wild in her Jeep. She offers creative and relatively easy camp recipes along with the adventuresome and often humorous stories that led to their creation. The book also provides all kinds of vanlife how-tos, like maintaining a leave-no-trace kitchen and how and where to sleep in a Jeep. Plus, the photos will make you want to get to the American southwest as soon as you’re allowed not to shelter-in-place. This is a great book to read in preparation for and then to take with you on a road trip to Utah, Colorado, Arizona, or California, especially if you’re thinking of renting one of Escape’s new Jeep campers.
by William Least Heat-Moon
This book is a memoir about the author’s solo life out on the road in 1978 following some major and life changes. He avoids freeways and big cities, choosing to drive backroads through small towns. The reader gets to experience the author’s conversations with characters he meets from all walks of life, learn historical bits about towns with odd names, as well as observe the author’s growth through hard times. Vanlife enthusiasts will appreciate the descriptions and photos of Least Heat-Moon’s custom outfitted van that he named “Ghost Dancing.” I find this book is most pleasurable to read on a solo road trip while cozied up in the campervan before falling asleep. However, in these times of social distancing, it might still feel like you’re on a solo road trip if you read it cozied up in bed wherever you’re sheltering in place.
On The Road
by Jack Kerouac
Surely you’ve heard of this classic novel of the Beat generation. It’s about two friends traveling the United States in the 1950s and documents their wild and formative experiences. On the Road exudes the same sense of freedom and possibility as the view through your windshield of open road. It might be best read (for the first time, at least) when you’re in your 20s. This book is perfect for road trips with friends to city destinations, particularly Denver, New York, and San Francisco.
If you’re stuck at home like me, order a copy of one or all of these books, download them to your eReader, or listen to the audio versions while you do your spring cleaning. They’ll keep you inspired to hit the road in an Escape campervan when the world opens back up.