What is summer without an epic road trip? You and your friends hop in your car/van/vegetable-oil-powered bus and hit the highways of America.
But we know that in order for a road trip to be epic, it needs a theme. And some planning.
That’s where we come in. Whether you’re a culture snob, a spiritual seeker or someone with social activism at the forefront of your mind, you’ll find tips for your dream summer jaunt. And if you want, you can even combine stops—really, the choice (and destination) is yours. After all, isn’t freedom the best part of a road trip?
For the bookish types, a summer of Six Flags, beaches and barbecues just ain’t gonna cut it. Where do you travel on vacation when your ideal weekend includes curling up with Camus or attending an Ozu retrospective at the local arthouse theater? Here are a few ideas for how the erudite, artsy types might experience culture on the road.
Literary Adventures: Fans of American literature have nearly unlimited possibilities when it comes to literary-minded roadtrips. You could do a Cormac McCarthy tour of Texas or a New England poetry tour. You could retrace Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, or do something meta like read Walden on the actual Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Or you could just pick an author and do a little literary pilgrimage to their native locales.
Brooklyn Hipster Band Watching: Take a seat at a café on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and throw a stone in any direction and you’re liable to hit a member of a “Brooklyn It Band of the Week” passing by on their fixie. If that doesn’t work, just do a little digging and find out where your favorite Pitchfork artist lives. Sufjan Stevens, Dirty Projectors, TV on the Radio, the National, The Antlers, MGMT, Yeasayer, and many more hail from this famous New York borough.
Directors and Their Cities: Pick a favorite director whose films you associate with a particular city, and visit the city sites featured in the films. Ideas include: New York through the films of Woody Allen; Michael Mann’s Los Angeles, John Hughes’ Chicago, Wes Anderson’s Texas, Gus Van Sant’s Portland, etc.
For those wayfaring souls looking to go deeper in their faith, see God’s goodness in the diverse geography of His creation, or just to “find themselves” on the road, there are ample options for your summer road trips. You don’t have to go far or spend a lot of money to make your spiritual journey a literal one; just pack the right books (books by Jesuit theologians!), make an appropriate music mix and find that perfect place to get your 21st century pilgrimage on.
The Church Hop: Experiencing the breadth and diversity within God’s church is always an experience of growth, so why not incorporate church visits into your summer road trip? Plan an itinerary so you attend a variety of denominations (everything from Anglican to Vineyard), worship styles (liturgical, Pentecostal), and cultural contexts (African-American church, Korean church, etc.) over the span of your journey.
The Monastic Retreat: Whether alone or with a friend, a weekend or extended retreat at a monastery can be quite the enriching experience. Wherever you are or wherever you’d like to go, chances are there’s a monastery nearby where you can go to quiet yourself, read, pray and bathe in solitude and liturgy for a time. Retreat to the Rocky Mountains at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colo., or in the bluffs of Missouri at the Conception Abbey, or follow in the footsteps of Thomas Merton by staying at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Ky., where he lived for 27 years. Check out HYPERLINK "http://www.osb.org/retreats" www.osb.org/retreats for a directory of Benedictine retreats across the country.
The Christian Kitsch Pilgrimage: A pilgrimage doesn’t always have to be an entirely serious endeavor. Sometimes it’s good to make fun of ourselves a little bit and explore the gaudy, ostentatious world of Christian kitsch—a world where, against all odds, spiritual epiphany can actually be found. A few spots across America where you might consider experiencing God through maudlin aesthetics and Jesus bric-a-brac: the Holy Land Experience, the Creation Museum, the Precious Moments Chapel, the Great Passion Play and the TBN Headquarters. Especially the TBN Headquraters: For fans of Christian kitsch, this is the Holy Grail. Take a tour of the TBN headquarters and let Sandi Patti serenade you down the re-created Via Dolorosa, or just marvel at the Lawrence Welk-meets-Liberace-meets-Baptist megachurch aesthetic of the place.
The Goodwill Tour
The historical landscape of America is marked by a spirit of activism and reform. And today it’s easier than ever for the average person to get connected with national and globally minded causes. For the movers and shakers out there, here’s the road for you. You’ll be visiting landmarks, meeting up with the people behind several organizations, and getting your hands dirty, so pack up your tent and don’t forget your video camera for this hands-on journey across America. Your trip might even make a great mini-documentary you can share with friends when you get home.
Gettin’ Dirty: Put your passion for social activism into practice by turning your road trip into a multi-site effort to help people.
Attend the Green Festival in Seattle, WA, June 5/6, which is the nation’s largest green event focusing on creating a sustainable community for people, businesses and the environment.
Visit the Hopi Native American reservation in Polacca, Ariz., where you can engage in construction projects for their community and other outreaches through the Restoration program. Etiquette tip: No photography or recording allowed during visits. (hopi.org)
Stop by Global Exchange in San Francisco, Calif., and sign up for a Reality Tour or apply for an internship to help promote social, economic and environmental justice around the world. (globalexchange.org)
Sign up for the ONE’s Reach Across America Tour event in Denver, Colo., on July 15. You will participate in lobbying for change at the Capitol Building.
While in Denver, check out the African Community Center, where you can help out with things like after school programs, new refugee arrival support and community dinners.
Participate in the Walk.Run.Fight AIDS! event in Memphis, Tenn., on July 24. Proceeds benefit Friends for Life Corp, which helps people affected by HIV/AIDS.
Get your hands dirty on the farm. Investigate butchering practices and poultry processing at commercial farms across the Midwest.
Gather with other pro-lifers at the National Right to Life Convention in Pittsburgh, Pa., on June 24-26, where you will hear from national experts and other activists.
Volunteer with charity: water in New York City, N.Y. Sign up online for information and scheduling your time there.
Spend some time with the Simple Way community in Philadelphia, Pa. There’s always something they’re doing for their community that you can get your hands into.
Make an appointment with your member of Congress in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues you care about (ONE Campaign, Invisible Children, Pro-life action, Fair trade, etc)
Attend the Water for People Big Easy Bash fundraiser in New Orleans on October 4.
Landmarks: One of the great things about doing a road trip is seeing where incredible events of social activism and change have taken place. Don’t miss these sights all over the country.
—Haight Ashbury District, San Francisco, CA
—The Alamo, San Antonio, TX
—Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, AL
—Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, AL
—Abraham Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Springfield, IL
—Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
—Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
—Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C.
—Martin Luther King Junior National Memorial, Washington D.C.
This article originally appeared in RELEVANT. Check out the full article for more to do on your roadtrip, like books to read, music to pack and even more places to go.