Culture > Roam

Why we need to take more road trips

It’s more than just going to the beach or out of town

When was the last time you went on a road trip? PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Road trips aren’t just a great way to explore new places and escape our everyday lives. They can also be calming, give us time to think, and provide closure.

I’m writing these lines while sitting on a ferry back to the island where I live. It’s the last leg on what was an epic 2,400km, six-country, five-day drive across Europe.

This time I wasn’t needlessly rushing anymore, like during my last trip to the Heimatland. This was a slower and more thoughtful drive to be there when my dad was finally being laid to rest. I could have chosen to fly, but somehow I knew that this had to be a road trip.

The author embarked on a five-day drive across Europe in his trusty old CLK280. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Driving on my own gave me a lot of time to think. Not just about my own life and the memories of the (way too few) road trips I had gone on with my dad when I was little, and how my love for cars originated from this wonderful and caring man, but also how rare it is that we get such moments these days.

In our hyper-connected world, where we are constantly on our phones, and where cleverly designed social-media apps are relentlessly vying for our attention during every waking hour, just being alone with your thoughts has become a rarity.

A convertible is an ideal car for making the most of the scenery while on a road trip. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Just you and the road, connected by a machine. No Facebook notifications to distract. No Netflix movies to numb the mind. Only the sound of the engine and the odd radio station disrupt the silence while the odometer keeps steadily going up, kilometer by inevitable kilometer.

A rarely experienced feeling of freedom comfortably cocooning you as your eyes scan the open road in front of your car. I can’t remember the last time I had this much time alone with my thoughts, and I suspect it’s the same for many people.

Visiting new areas and clearing your mind on the open road is one way to help your mental health. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

A proper road trip is also very different from your daily commute, which might also see you sitting behind the wheel for hours, but your mind will be busy thinking of work and trying not to crash.

This was hours of cruise-controlled highway driving, and my trusty old Mercedes-Benz CLK280 with its big V6 performed flawlessly. It even turned out to be quite economicalapart from the Vmax stints on the German autobahn, of course.

The bemused looks of other drivers while I flew past them doing 240km/h with the roof down on a frosty March morning were totally worth it, though. This was a sad trip at its core, but I’m sure my dad would have appreciated fun moments like this.

At the risk of sounding cliché, the journey is the destination for road trips like these. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all ones lifetime.”

Mark Twain was spot-on when he observed this, and you don’t even need to venture far to broaden your mind. Just getting out of your daily routine by hitting the open road is good for your mental health. It’s like a meditation on wheels. Airing your soul and exercising your brain at the same time.

When was the last time you just picked a spot on the map and said, “Let’s go there on the weekend?” Somewhere new where you’ve never been or always wanted to go. A beach, a restaurant, or just a place that always piqued your interest?

Road trips are among the reasons why many people enjoy driving. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Next time, don’t just think about itdo it. See it as an investment in your own well-being. Enjoy the excitement of getting up early to beat the traffic out of town, and take in the sunrise while you cross the countryside. Breathe freely while you stop for a coffee. Just enjoy the feeling of being on the road.

And that’s what driving should be about: enjoyment. We don’t get it often enough in our everyday lives, where driving can often feel like a choreespecially if you’re trapped in a 20-million-people megacity.

Getting out of town and cruising along happily is also good for your car, especially if most of your day-to-day journeys are normally quite short. The engine gets to work at optimum temperature for longer periods of time, clearing out some of the gunk that may have accumulated during short city trips in the process.

Just like your mind, your vehicle needs to stretch its legs once in a while. Alone or with others, road trips are the perfect way to do this, and something we wouldn’t want to miss. Now stop reading this and plan your next one.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.