We’ve taken four road trips this year, and their quality has varied a lot. Some were absolutely incredible, while others were comparatively frustrating. After growing up in the West — where road trips are almost a way of life — we didn’t think we still had much to learn about road tripping, but these four trips proved us wrong. Here’s the first big thing we learned:

Drive in a loop, rather than doubling back on the same route.

We’ve done two “loop” road trips — or, trips that used different routes for coming and going — and two “there-and-back” trips, which involved doubling back on the same route. The loops were vastly better.

Here’s our Southern California trip:

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And here’s our Oregon trip:

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The thing these two trips have in common is that we did very little doubling back. Even though we ultimately had to end up in the place we started — Los Angeles and Portland, respectively — we used a different route for the return.

We’ve both been on dozens and dozens of road trips in the past, but these two trips may well be the best we’ve ever taken. They were absolutely incredible. In part that was because we were constantly stopping, and because the environments were particularly extreme. But it was also because we were always seeing something new; there was never that feeling of getting to the end of the trip, then facing a lengthy and exhausting drive home along a route we’d just seen.

By contrast, we also did two road trips in which at least half of the driving involved doubling back. First we did the Florida Keys:

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Later, we did a short trip up and down the California coast:

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(Our California trip involved a slightly different route back, but it was through familiar territory.)

These two “there-and-back” road trips were fun. But they pale in comparison to the two loop trips. I think a big part of that was because after we reached the end of the line in one direction, we knew we had to go all they way back — which felt more like a chore than an adventure.

Reflecting on a lifetime of trips — both by car and train — I’m struck by how much the value of a loop generally holds up. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey to and from Yellowstone, for example, and I did it in a loop. Most of my trips to Europe also have involved some sort of rail loop.

There are a lot other factors that go into making a good road trip, but the take away is that doing a loop is a way to sustain that feeling of wonder you get when pressing further into the unknown.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


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