Tips For a Long Drive

It’s the holiday season, and for me that means racking up 1,000-plus miles on the odometer. I always head home to Michigan, that fabulous mitten-shaped Great Lakes State, for holidays.

It might be easier to swim across.

Our neighbor state is a surprisingly long way away. You’ll never understand how inconvenient Lake Michigan is until you have to drive around it. What would be a 50-mile drive turns into 450 miles because of that gigantic lake. (Don’t get me wrong – I love that lake.)

That long drive has made me a road trip expert. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way to help you get through your holiday trips:

Before you go, visit the library: Stock up on audio entertainment. Nobody else can hear it, so pick up your favorite guilty pleasure album, turn it up and sing along. Mine is Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere, circa 1997.

Try something new, a genre or artist you’ve never heard before. Sounds of North Africa might be your new jam. Make sure to shy away from soothing tunes and go for something that rocks and rolls to keep you awake on the road.

Don’t just stick to music. Check out an audiobook or an anthology of old whodunit radio programs to get you through the drive. Just a warning – the four-disc collection of A Prairie Home Companion’s Joke Show episodes is a little much.

Give AM a chance: Embrace the soothing static of AM radio. It’s a haven for the lonely and the strange in radio programming. As you flip through AM stations, you’ll come across sports call-in shows, fire and brimstone sermons, Spanish novelas and conspiracy theory “news” broadcasts.

Get out of the car: Every few hours, pull over and get out. Look for the signs that point to state parks, trails or recreation areas, and give yourself an hour to explore a new place. You’ll get back in the car refreshed, and your joints will thank you.

If you don’t have time to stop, flex your leg and butt muscles while you drive to help your blood move. Buns of steel, baby.

Eat some local cuisine: For me that means pasties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They’re like hand-held pot pies, meat and root vegetables tucked into a crust that you can eat on the go. They’re originally an English dish, but miners in the U.P.’s copper and iron ore mines embraced the convenience of a hearty lunch you can keep in your pocket and the tradition stuck.

My favorite pasty stand is just out of St. Ignace, Mich. near the Mackinac Bridge. You drive up, pet the dog playing outside, and walk up to the counter. There’s no menu so don’t bother looking. Just hand the kid behind the counter $5 and he’ll hand you a pasty. I’m not sure what kind of meat is in it, but that’s part of the fun.

When picking a restaurant along the drive, look for one that looks like it hasn’t had a fresh coat of paint since about 1976. The sketchier the looks, the better the food.

World Famous. Photo from:

Embrace a tourist trap: You’ve driven past the billboard for The Mystery Spot – Open Rain or Shine a zillion times, and it’s time to see what it’s all about. You might be out a couple of bucks, but you’ll have a great story.

Love your car: Clean cars with fresh oil run better. You’ll enjoy driving more if your passenger seat isn’t full of CD cases, food wrappers and the work you plan to do on vacation.

Find the best and worst billboards: On long drives you’ve got time to enjoy some of life’s simplest pleasures, like cheesy billboards. My personal favorite is for the dentist with a big sparkly grin who’s rated the #1 Office in Michigan…by his staff.

Safe travels, Door County!