Opinion: 10 rules for a great road trip

We love road trips here at CMG, and from all the feedback we get from readers, we know you do too. There’s always somewhere new to explore, and it’s always best when it’s discovered with two wheels.

This week, we’ve put together some How To advice for touring with a motorcycle so you don’t have to make the same mistakes as us when you’re out on the road – all of our lessons were hard-learned over the years, and most of them repeated several times. Keep a digital record of your credit cards! Carry a pair of pliers! Don’t store the kickstand puck at the bottom of the saddlebag!

But perhaps more important than the practical advice is the philosophical, fundamental advice for making the most of your journey. This is why, a few years ago, I put together my 10 rules for turning a ride into a true road trip. They’re just as relevant for a journey by car, and I first published them in Maclean’s magazine, and then in my book Canada’s Road. As I wrote then, there are a few rules to ensure the success of any good road trip.

1. You must drive for a while on a road you’ve never driven on before.

2. You must stop for a coffee or for lunch at a place you’ve never stopped before.

3. You must travel in both darkness and light, so either leave at dawn or arrive after dusk.

4a. You must have an alternative, easier, or quicker route that you do not take, or

4b. You must have been able to take transit or fly, but chose not to, and

5. You can drive fast, but you must not hurry.

Those elements alone will turn a drive into a good road trip. They ensure a bit of adventurous exploration while also offering some sort of challenge. You don’t have to go far; you can drive away now and return this evening with a sense of accomplishment. This is one welcome occasion when length doesn’t matter.

Road trips should cross water, and are often better when they’re shared with somebody.

But do you want a great road trip? Then you also need as many as possible of these:

6. You must cross water, preferably by ferry.

7. You must face some form of adversity, like a flat tire or heavy rain.

8. You must discover something about yourself, such as finding a relative in a graveyard or fixing a breakdown on your own.

9. You must be surprised by something, and

10. You must share at least some of the journey with somebody else.

Do you have any advice to add to this? Add it in the comments below.


  1. Sometimes, push yourself to ride way longer than is sensible. Leaving Sarnia at +3 and rain and arriving in St. Louis at +30 was gruelling; but I crossed the Mississippi, and started thinking “hmm, one more day and I’m near California”. And be ready for disappointment; I thought it would be cool to visit Cairo, IL, the junction of the Missouri and Mississipi; it was a scary hellhole.

    As my dad alluded to, do it while you can. “I wish I”d done (that European tour) when I could have” is not something you want to think.

    When in doubt, head to Pennsylvania.


    • I rode through Pennsylvania in 2013 and somehow managed to completely miss all the good stuff. I’ve read the Fall Tour and Spring Tour pieces from down there many times, but have never done those routes. I’d like this to be the year, but I suspect I’m headed to Overland Expo East if I can find the time this fall … maybe in 2019.

  2. If possible, try swapping bikes with another rider. Switching from an ADV to a cruiser or sport tourer can break up some monotonous miles.

  3. Taking point 2 one step further, I strive to not eat at any places I can “back home”. That means seeking out the local food joints… even when the fast food chains are much easier. Having said that, McDonald’s is a great spot to stop for reliable, free WiFi when touring around in another country on the cheap. (and when the bike is parked for the night, ya gotta drink the local beer!)

    • McD’s has the best generic coffee, so +1 for them. As for their food, blech.

      As for another rule: Try to stay in a small-town motel.

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