Ten Songs To Help You Find Fun Places While Traveling

Golden Gate Bridge

Tatooine. The courthouse in To Kill A Mockingbird. Prada Marfa. The Key West bar where Ernest Hemingway drank mojitos. Stephen King’s house. The spot where Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Those are just a few of the places I’ve sought out in my years of full time travel. Finding them has not always been easy but part of the adventure of being a nomad is (as Sheryl Crow might say) Every Day Is A Winding Road, right?

When I first hit the road in July 2015 I had a loosely defined defined five year strategy. What I quickly discovered is that there is so much more to see and do that I may need fifty years rather than just five to be able to declare (like Johnny Cash) that I’ve Been Everywhere. In (almost) four years of travel I’ve put roughly 85,000 miles on my rig, the Millenium Falcon. Some days it feels like Foghat’s Slow Ride and others it feels more like I’m on Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train.

While I cannot pretend to have the ultimate travel strategy, here are a few hits (and misses) that have helped me find some very fun places – paired with a song to help you remember them.

10. Hit the Road Jack (Ray Charles)

When I first hit the road in July 2015 I headed to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. My total plan was to start there for an epic three month trek down the west coast from Cape Flattery to San Diego. I had never RV’d before and wasn’t completely sure I’d like it enough to keep traveling full time. I hadn’t booked a single campsite before I left.

There was so much I didn’t know. But I went anyway.  And you know what? It all worked out. What I learned was to just GO and figure it out along the way. 

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9. Don’t Worry / Be Happy! (Bobby McFerrin)

In those first few weeks I worried every day about not having campground reservations set up in advance. I thought if I hadn’t booked a place to stay (especially in the summer months) it was gonna be trouble. I stressed about it every day! Until one day I took a chance and parked off a dirt road somewhere on the Hoh River, just outside of Olympic National Park. One day turned into two and then four before I finally moved on. 

But it wasn’t until about a month later when I couldn’t find a spot on the Oregon coast and, in desperation, ended up pulling into at a rest stop after dark. Even though I knew Oregon rest stops usually allow you to stay for up to 12 hours, I was still half expecting to get rousted by police in the middle of the night. I woke the next morning to a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean with gray whales frolicking just offshore. (Cuz if they’re onshore, that’s kinda bad.) 

It turns out that apps like Campendium are your friend! And that even when campgrounds have a “No Vacancy” sign up, they still may have a spot available.  Plus, there’s always a Walmart or rest area that might work. So, quit stressing about where you’ll sleep. You got this!

8. Should I Stay or Should I Go (The Clash)

Once I learned to be more “in the moment” things got easier.

If you’re traveling north on US 1 along the California coast through San Francisco (and who wouldn’t want to drive an RV through San Francisco?) you’ll eventually cross the Golden Gate Bridge. The first exit after the north end of the bridge is for the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point Rest Area. It’s a busy spot where lots of travelers stop to take in a close up view of the bridge and the San Francisco Bay.  If you time it right and are feeling adventurous, you might want to consider spending the night in this rest area!  California law allows vehicles to park in a rest stop for up to 8 hours; just enough to catch a sunset, get a decent night’s sleep (albeit in a noisy rest area parking lot) and wake in time to see the sun hit the bridge. You’d pay a fortune for a hotel view like that but this one is totally free! 

Should you stay or should you go?  In this case, stay.

7. Runnin’ Down A Dream (Tom Petty)

Before I began my travels I knew I wanted to visit a number of the historic sites of the civil rights movement; places like Selma, Little Rock, Birmingham and Atlanta. So, early last year I began bookmarking some of those places in Google Maps. Some were easy: Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for example.

Others were more challenging and required a fair amount of research before finding the actual spot. The general store where 14 year old Emmett Till had an encounter with a woman that resulted in him being kidnapped, tortured and murdered, wasn’t easy to find. Once I did, I marked the GPS location on Google Maps.

After I had tagged about 15 to 20 places, I plotted a crazy circuitous route from Little Rock, Arkansas, through the south and ending in Washington, DC on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have A Dream” Speech. The research paid off.  Visiting these places over a two week stretch last year was life changing.

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6. Whoomp! There It Is! (Tag Team)

While traveling down the east coast of Florida I stopped in Titusville for the night. I’ve gotten in the habit of checking Google Maps (and apps like V for Wiki) when I get to a spot and this time I discovered I was very near Cape Canaveral!  As a kid growing up in Oregon I’d gotten up early, before school, to watch the launches of the Gemini and Apollo missions.  (Yes, I am that old!) 

On my way into the Kennedy Space Center the next morning I saw signs along the highway about a launch that day.  Turns out SpaceX was launching a Falcon 9 rocket and, for the price of admission, you could also stay to watch the launch. 

It was a literal childhood dream come true! Sometimes you’ll be surprised by the cool stuff that’s just right nearby!

5. Danger Zone (Kenny Loggins)

It’s good to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.  Most RVers (me included) do not relish driving through big cities but I knew I wanted to be able to say I’d driven to New York City in my RV. So I did. I arranged to stay at an RV park just across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. I was only there for two days but managed to squeeze in a visit to one of my favorite bars (McSorley’s), hit Times Square at night and score a ticket for a same day performance of Hamilton.

It was pretty nuts driving into (and especially out of) the city but it’s also one of my favorite memories. Live dangerously!

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4. Highway to Hell (AC/DC)

After my stay in NYC I headed north to New England.  However, I had decided to try my hand at navigating the east coast without traveling on toll roads. (I strongly advise against this strategy, by the way!) Part of what makes it so hellish is that when you avoid toll roads it makes it tough to avoid the numerous low underpasses in the northeast!  It took me six hours to go 72 miles and I still ended up having to pay a toll ($48 to cross the George Washington Bridge). I may also have driven my 11 foot tall RV under a 10’8” overpass.

By the time I made it to Massachusetts I was more than done for the day.  But I did get to see the spot where Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had their famous duel. Still, maybe not worth it.  Lesson learned!

3. Heard It Through The Grapevine (Marvin Gaye or Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Even though I am a hermit by nature, one of my favorite pastimes has been to strike up conversations with random people I meet – often in brew pubs or campgrounds – and pick their brains about cool places they’ve been. It’s amazing what you can learn by asking casual questions like, “Where is the single coolest place you’ve ever been?” or “Where is the funnest place you’ve ever hung out with friends?” or “What’s an underrated restaurant you think more people should know about?” You’re likely to learn about some great places you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.

A related strategy is to check out magazine articles and blog posts. About a year ago someone gave me a copy of Southern Living Magazine that had a series of articles about epic road trips through the south. I discovered a couple of routes that I would have otherwise missed. There was also an article about the best BBQ places in each southern state. I marked them in Google Maps and visited several of them along the way. Or maybe a bit out of the way in some cases. (I’m looking at you Southern Soul BBQ in Georgia.)

Another favorite trick is to rewatch episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown or No Reservations.  In addition to great ideas for bars and restaurants, he has often visited the same kind of quirky, off the beaten path places I love to see as well.

2. Where The Streets Have No Name (U2)

Winding gravel roads are your friend. Mostly. When I am in a national park / monument I have often asked a ranger about places they know that allow “dispersed camping.”

When I asked a ranger at the North Rim visitor center in Grand Canyon, she pulled out a map and said, “Let me show you my all time favorite place to camp!”  She directed me to a spot just outside the park boundary that required taking my rig down 13 miles of gravel roads. About halfway out there I wondered if I was really on the right roads or if I would just end up lost.  Turns out her directions were perfect (cuz she’s a ranger) and I was rewarded with a 270 degree (and 9,000 foot) view of the Colorado River stretching from Glen Canyon Dam to the North Rim. This is my single favorite boondocking site and totally worth traversing nameless roads to get there!

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1. Life Is A Highway (Tom Cochrane)

Before hitting the road, one of my goals was to travel to the extreme corners of the United States. This is not as easy as you might think and may require a bit of compromise as there are different sites in different locales vying for your attention.  While you might quibble at my choices I’m still proud to say I have made it to four of the spots often referred to as the four extreme corners of the continental U.S. Cape Flattery in northwest Washington, San Ysidro on the southwestern border near San Diego, Key West, Florida and the West Quoddy Head lighthouse in Maine.

Since your gonna be on a lot of roads and highways anyway, you might as well add some of these quirky spots to your list! They’re kinda like mini-quests in a role playing game.

There are lots of other tips you could employ.  Caravan with friends, because the synergy of traveling together often helps you find cool new spots.  Stay in one place for a while so you can explore the surrounding area. Or be impulsive and move every day or two. Unlike life back in the real world, life on the road is meant to be different. Just do what you wanna do, when you wanna do it. And as Michael Jackson might say, Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough!

 

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Ten Quirky Places I Love

Here are a few places I’ve been in my travels that are just weird and/or off the beaten path enough that you might want to check them out!

Buttercup Sand Dunes (Tatooine)
(32.7396443, -114.8773290)

Devils Tower
(44.5886461, -104.6985456)

Fallingwater
1491 Mill Run Rd, Mill Run, PA 15464

Jester King Brewery
13187 Fitzhugh Rd, Austin, TX 78736

Marfa, Texas
(30.3094622, -104.0206230)

McSorley’s
15 E 7th St, New York, NY 10003

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Monroeville County Courthouse (To Kill A Mockingbird)
31 N Alabama Ave, Monroeville, AL 36460

Owen Cheatham Grove (Site of the speeder bike scene in Return of the Jedi)
(40.4829076, -123.9631199)

Salvation Mountain (Near Slab City)
(33.2541809, -115.4729102)

Southern Soul Barbecue
2020 Demere Rd, Saint Simons Island, GA 31522

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Author

Peter Milliron

Peter Milliron has been traveling full time in his RV (affectionately called the Millennium Falcon) with his dog Rudy since July 2015. If you’re nuts enough to want to follow him, you can find him on Instagram @FaithTheFinalFrontier and also on Facebook.

5 Responses to “Ten Songs To Help You Find Fun Places While Traveling

  • I really enjoyed your article. Thanks for the insight.

    • Peter Milliron
      Peter Milliron
      6 months ago

      Thank you so much. I had fun writing it. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • It turns out that guys like Peter are our friend! Thanks for the mention. 🙂

  • Loved singing along with each and every suggestion, especially #4. We’re planning a few weeks in upstate NY and the surrounding states in late summer, and had the same idea about trying to avoid toll roads. Now we’ll know to consider our routes extra *extra* carefully, as we’re rolling at 13’6″. Thanks, Peter!

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