Driving and Dining: 5 Do’s and Don’ts of a Road Trip

Rolling, rolling, rolling. Image from kcci.com via iStock/Bosca78.

Just a few short days ago I landed in my new home of Dallas, Texas. Before that move was a relocation from Rochester, NY to Philadelphia, PA, my hometown, where I stayed for two weeks before the big hike down to the Lone Star State. Because my boyfriend and I have a fairly large collection of things and two cars, we decided to drive. At the culmination of a four-day journey through six states, I’ve compiled a list of some do’s and don’ts for this specific road trip and ones like it.

DO bring a friend.

The idea that my boyfriend would drive one car and I would drive the other all the way down to Texas was oh-so-fleeting. I know myself, and I know that I get bored and sleepy (read: irritable) in cars. I wanted this trip to be epic and enjoyable, and so it only made sense to find a pair of drivers that was up for an all-expenses-paid trip south. Thankfully, I have two cousins almost exactly my age with flexible work schedules and a love of exploration.

Cousins and me on the steps of the Parthenon (Nashville, TN). Photo by Steve Ladavich.
My cousins and me on the steps of the Parthenon (Nashville, TN). Photo by Steven Ladavich.

The ability to switch off drivers once or twice each day made the whole trip so much more enjoyable. So skip the pressure of being the only driver on a long trip and opt to bring someone who offers good conversation (or equally as satisfying silence) and companionship.

DON’T bother going to Mt. Vernon.

It pains me to say this. As someone who loves touring old, historic mansions, I was thrilled to visit the home of our forefather George Washington. I am sad to confess that I did not enjoy the experience. Granted, it was February, cold, and a little gloomy, but the whole atmosphere fell flat.

View of Mt. Vernon. Photo by Melinda Clemmer.

Despite a very friendly and informative tour guide, it felt as though we were only presented with one side of our first president: the presidential side. Instead of learning about his childhood, his work as a gentleman farmer, or his love of Martha, we were given, primarily, Washington as a hero and a soldier, aspects of the man which, while accurate, can tend to get tiresome.

DO explore Belle Meade Plantation.

Located just outside Nashville, TN, Belle Meade Plantation was a surprise and a pleasure. Lovers of Downton Abbey, this house is for you. Began in 1820 and home to five generations of the Harding and Jackson families, Belle Meade witnessed a Civil War battle on the front lawn and gained its fame through Thoroughbred horses. The style of the mansion is stunning. Just one look into the late 19th-century kitchen will have you fantasizing about bygone eras. Our tour was intimate, and our tour guide was funny, entertaining, and informative.

Belle Meade
Photo from architecture.about.com via Belle Meade Plantation press photo.

Two fun facts about the property:

1. The light bulbs in the house are kept at a specific low wattage to imitate the feel of the gas lamps used during the family’s time. Combined with the steady rain and dreariness on the day we visited, it felt like we had stepped back in time.

2. The plantation’s winery is one of the only non-profit wineries in the United States. All of its proceeds go straight back to maintaining the house and grounds. We took home a bottle of ­­­­­­­­Red Muscadine, which we have yet to open but are very much looking forward to.

DON’T neglect to check your sheets.

Traveling on a budget but still in need of shelter for four nights, we booked stays at fairly well known but reasonably priced hotels. While we were generally satisfied with the level of cleanliness, my sheets had to be changed in three out of four of the hotels due to hair and what looked like snot. It may be true that beggars can’t be choosers, but I’ll opt for a good once-over and perhaps a new set of sheets the next time I pay to stay.

DO approach dining with a little bit of mystery.

Unfortunately, much of our dining was done in chain restaurants. And while some were familiar (Chipotle, Dunkin’ Donuts) and others were not (O’Charley’s), they basically all served the same greasy, over- or under-seasoned food. In Nashville we opted for local dining. A quick search of Google and Reddit turned up a place called Arnold’s. Without knowing much more than that it was recommended, we put it in the GPS and showed up for lunch.

IMG_0747
Food at Arnold’s. Photo by Melinda Clemmer.

Eleven AM was just in time because just after we were served (cafeteria-style) and had found a seat, a line formed almost out the door. The food was heavy and buttery and delicious. Chix n’ dumplins, pecan pie, sweet tea, and the friendly twang of local greetings sat with us for the rest of the day like a hearty “Welcome to Tennessee.”

So now I sit in a new apartment with half of our furniture assembled, a great city view, and a cowboy hat on the mantle. I don’t know what’s to come, but I can say for sure that I enjoyed the trip.

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