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Reads to get you US road trip ready

Published February 2nd, 2016

An epic road trip of any kind is one of those must-dos for any traveler. There is nothing more freeing than giving the finger to the norm, and taking off on an epic adventure over kilometres of untamed landscape. With its varying topography, the United States is one of the best and most renowned places on earth to enjoy a road trip holiday. Think Route 66 and Big Sur.

Whether traveling along the famous coastline from LA to San Francisco, or visiting the quirky towns in the middle, cutting through the guts from LA to Chicago, you will find yourself rewarded with a unique American experience at each stop.

Mural in the Mission San Francisco. Photo: Vanessa Norlander

A road trip is the equivalent of a choose your own adventure story, some routes may lead you to wistful scenery full of beautiful yellow and green cedars in endless rows, or you could wind up zipping through the desert sands swigging from a tequila bottle. That’s why the U.S.A road trip is so brilliant, there’s no wrong decisions, just different experiences awaiting.

Pier 23 San Francisco. Photo: Vanessa Norlander

If you are considering a USA road trip (freaking amazing idea… run with it!), then you might want to organise yourself a good playlist, and get yourself inspired with some road trip reads. It’s also probably a good idea to take a few of them with you as there will be plenty of long stretches of endless space, and there is only so much self reflection a person can take.

Point Labos California. Photo: Vanessa Norlander

After a good chat with a few friends about the best of the classics, and the not so classic, I have come up with these reads for U.S.A road trip prepping:

On the Road: Jack Kerouac. Classic. Beat generation. I borrowed this from my school library when I was 16, and it still sits on my bookshelf now (I didn’t steal it, I have just taken a very long time to return it). If I am completely honest, I have never read it all the way through. I simply thought it was one of those books I had to read as an adolescent. Nevertheless, this is one of the most quintessential US road trip reads ever. From what I gather, the gist of the story is about two guys and their adventures as they travel around America. Themes of constant change and personal growth are at the heart of the tale. However, I have also heard from a reliable source that it’s actually more about them finding the best piece of pie on their travels. I guess you will just have to read it to find out.

Lands End San Francisco. Photo: Vanessa Norlander

Travels with Charley: John Steinbeck. 1960s. Depicts the partly realistic, partly fictionalised account of Mr Steinbeck and his pet poodle Charley, travelling approximately 10,000 miles through the American countryside in a camper van. It’s rumoured that Steinbeck knew he was dying, and had planned the trip as one last hurrah. If you really enjoy the book, you can actually view his camper van at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. I personally think it would be more impressive if you could view the poodle.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco. Photo: Vanessa Norlander

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Hunter S. Thompson. Published in 1972 but based in the 60s. Drug-hazed absurdity and hilarity is the only way I can describe this book. Most people have probably seen the movie with Johnny Depp playing Raoul Duke, so if you enjoyed it, the book is even better. As long as you are happy to accept that not everything in this iconic novel makes sense, then you will laugh your way to the final page.


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Great Highway Beach San Francisco. Photo: Vanessa Norlander

One for the Road: Janelle McCulloch. Now-ish. Bit out of left field, but I thought I would include it anyway. I read it recently and found it quite the delightful book. Janelle is an Australian journalist who is searching for happiness. When the opportunity arises for her to review swanky American hotels she decides to go on a happiness searching road trip. With a lack of anyone to go with, she ends up taking her parents along for the ride. Other than the fact I feel that Janelle should really broaden her social circle so she wouldn’t have to holiday with her elderly parents, it was an inspiring read.

Central Park NYC. Photo: Vanessa Norlander

Girl on a Train: Just kidding. Everyone already seems to have read it anyway. However, some good thrillers/dramas are never amiss for long car rides so you might as well cram a few on the e-reader.

Once you’ve sorted your reading selection, all that will be left to do is find yourself a sleeveless flannelette shirt, pop on Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, and begin your own road trip odyssey.

NYC. Photo: Vanessa Norlander

If a self drive holiday across the US seems a bit much to contemplate then you can join one of the group tours - check out Contiki or Top Deck. This way, you can still have the road trip experience, whilst enjoying it with other like minded people. No matter how you do it, it’s more than worth it, it’s a must.

Odette Des Forges

I am a travel nut that is always looking for the next big adventure, and the next cheap cocktail. Once the plane hits the landing strip on a return journey, I’ve already mapped out an upcoming trip in my mind. And in my mind it is miraculously free somehow, which helps as travel makes me chronically broke.