Friday, 31 August 2012

My road trip shame

The freedom of the open road, heading out on the highway, flooring the gas...  none of this has a scrap of meaning to me, as I've never taken a proper road trip.

Apparently some people use these funny boxes
for transporting themselves around. Odd.
Pic by Amanda Slater, CC Attribution-ShareAlike
How can this be? A travel addict without a single road trip to her name? But it's true, I'm rarely the one behind the wheel, and I've certainly never powered through a full-blown road trip.

I came to the driving party a little late, not learning until I was comfortably in my 20s. Then I based myself in London, a notoriously pricey capital city where car ownership involves burning vast amounts of money just so you can be wheedled into being the designated driver for all your pub-going, car-free friends. Driving is a mug's game here, where the rickety but ever-reliable Tube meets everyone's transport needs (and you can ride on it drunk). And my shoestring tendencies extinguished any possibility of driving on my travels: should I hack away at my budget by hiring a car, or hop onto a bus for a couple of zloty? Complete no-brainer, for a tight-wad like me.

'Amalfi Coast' by Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup,
CC Attribution-ShareAlike

American and Aussie friends sigh in amazement at my road trip virginity. To them, I'm a motor-skill-free-zone, a slave to bus timetables, with all the autonomy of a school kid ('Mom, can I get a ride?') I'm losing out on roaming the world under my own steam (hey, do my bike-riding skills mean nothing?), they mutter.

European friends, on the other hand, whisper back about their own driving shame: mates who learned at 17 but haven't touched a steering wheel since, and the surprisingly large pool of those who don't drive at all. It's the long-term Londoner's dirty secret.

Tackling my road trip shame is way overdue, as there are some destinations that ache to be driven: exploring the Amalfi Coast or spinning around Iceland's Ring Road. Certain landscapes come alive at high speed and lose their magic if you have to change buses in middle-of-nowhere towns or wait for hours at a train station whose only amenities are a locked toilet and a broken vending machine that steals your last bit of loose change.

But I can't just launch myself out there with rusty driving skills and with experience of only ever driving on the left. So I'm in driving boot camp, whenever I can get my hands on a car: begging, borrowing and, well, it hasn't come to stealing yet.

Iceland's Ring Road - see you soon...
Pic by Mei Burgin, CC Attribution
Long-suffering travel buddy Normal Matt has been whimpering quietly in the passenger seat as I reverse awkwardly up country roads, ask him if I'm in the correct lane, and occasionally sing out 'I'm driving, I'm driving!' He nods patiently when I exclaim how incredibly fast it is to be going at 50 mph, and occasionally loses his rag with my parking technique (slow and steady wins the race, I always say).

So can I hit the highway without hitting anything else? The time draws ever closer, so look out for me on the road. I'm coming up behind you - that is, if you're going less than 50 mph.