The summer months are fast approaching, which means it’s time to start planning some road trips! Kim Wright, author of Last Ride to Graceland, is no stranger to them. In fact, she took one herself to reach her newest novel! Now an expert on the subject, Kim gave us her top eight tips for taking your own road trip.

9781501100789When I was researching my novel Last Ride to Graceland, I took a five day road trip from Charlotte, NC, to Memphis, TN.  Why would it take five days, you might ask?  Because I meandered.  I sashayed.  I drifted.  The plan was to get the taste of the backroads in the Old South for my novel, all those magnolia-and-sweet-tea small towns you’d never find on the interstate. 

Taking your time to explore always changes you.  A pilgrimage can make you more contemplative on one hand and more spontaneous on the other.  By the time I hit Memphis, I not only had a sense of my characters but a greater sense of myself, or at least who I can be when I’m pulled out of my comfort zone and usual routines.  Now I make it a point to take a solitary trip for every book I write.

So here’s my list of eight tips to help you enjoy your own self-discovery road trip. 

1.  Go alone. 

Bringing friends, lovers, or relatives along with you on your sabbatical is just another way of dragging along the dynamics of your existing life.  And guess what?  You’ll find you’re the exact same person in Buffalo as you are in Tampa.  You can only open the door to real transformation by being alone.

2.  But you might want to bring your dog.  Maybe.

My half-wit half-breed terrier Thad came along for the ride to Memphis.  He was great companionship, especially on those long lonely stretches of Delta road, but traveling with an animal does limit your choice of hotels.  I ended up at a lot of La Quintas, a pet friendly chain, and they all look like.  By the third day I was totally turned around, forgetting my room number and where I’d parked the car, and trying to stick the wrong key in the wrong door. 

3.  Keep a notebook or recording device close at hand.

What good are flashes of inspiration if you don’t save them?

4.  Pack light.

I’m always amazed at my friends who are driving to the next state, but pack like they’re trekking through Nepal.  If you run out of panties or toothpaste, you can always find a Target.

4.  Hungry?  Look for college towns. 

They have the best little cafes and burger joints, usually with a friendly vibe and reasonable prices.

5.  Hotel bars are the bomb.  Even if you’re not a hooker. 

If you’re in a bigger city, have dinner at your hotel bar.  It’s an easy way to strike up a conversation and I’ve met the coolest people over the daily drafts and guacamole specials.

6.  Give yourself some mood music.

Come up with a playlist for the road – anything from beach music to inspirational to jazz to country  – that puts you in the headspace you’ll need for this particular terrain. As an alternative plan, bring an audio book that matches the mood you want to create as you travel.

7.  Forget online maps.  They just show you the fastest way to get somewhere, not the most interesting way. 

Buy an old fashioned Rand McNally Road Atlas – maybe even one of those swell book-style kind that show one state to a page.  They’re like crack to me!  A detailed map can point out back roads that lead to charming small towns and zany roadside “attractions,” not just interstates and fast food.

8.  Stop at a funky landmark.

On a trip to a writing colony, years ago, I was running early for arrival and decided to stop at the Kinderhook, New York, home of our eighth president, Martin van Buren.  That’s how you know you’re REALLY running early, when you think “Gee, I’d to see the birthplace of Martin Van Buren.”  But it was there that I learned that Van Buren customarily signed official paperwork with the initials of his nickname, which happened to be “Old Kinderhook.”  Get it?  He wrote “OK” on all government documents and that’s how the phrase OK first came into international parlance.  (And believe me, everyone everywhere knows the term.  Cab drivers in Seoul and Pretoria say “OK.”)  This remains to this day my all-time favorite fun fact, and I learned it on a road trip—along with about a thousand other things.

Last Ride to Graceland is available now from Gallery Books!