When the waitress says try the fried chicken, try the fried chicken

Alma, Georgia (Photo by Todd DeFeo / (c) 2012)

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August 21, 2012, 9:00 am EDT

Alma, Georgia (Photo by Todd DeFeo / (c) 2012)

JESUP, Ga. -- So often, when it comes to taking a trip, the GPS rules the day.

Concrete Corn in Dublin, Ohio (Photo by Todd DeFeo / (c) 2009, 2012)

We turn to this little electronic device as though it’s some sort of omniscient power that will guide us and watch over us. We override our gut instincts and blindly follow a device with outdated maps that might actually lead us off the side of a cliff.

But, we will make great time in falling off the cliff.

In a way, it makes sense; it’s hard enough to break away from the office, and smart phones keep us connected in real time on a 24/7 basis. Traveling has become all about finding the quickest route to the final destination so we can maximize the amount of pool or beach time.

What if, for a moment, we took a literal and figurative detour?

While it might sound cliche, there is something to be said about that age-old adage: “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Or, as Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”

Making a journey a little more the experience and a little less the ... journey isn’t that difficult; it just takes stepping back and re-thinking what it means to travel. With that in mind, here are five tips for making the most of any journey where time isn't of the essence.

  • If the GPS offers up two routes: one with interstates and one without, take the one without. Back roads are the backbone of this country; there are a thousand stories waiting to be discovered, and they aren't along the interstates of this great country.
  • If there is a random roadside oddity -- i.e. a field of concrete corn, a surplus Titan I missile from the Cold War or a Cobra attack helicopter mounted high above a war memorial -- stop and explore.
  • Read the monuments scattered throughout town or on the courthouse lawn. Chances are, they tell of interesting stories that helped shape the town or the local heroes who fought in wars in faraway lands.
  • There is nothing wrong with chain restaurants. But, don't be afraid to wander into that locally owned roadhouse and order outside of your comfort zone. You might actually enjoy the eats.
  • If the waitress in the locally owned eatery says to try the fried chicken, try the fried chicken. It’s a good bet she knows what she’s talking about. If the fried chicken is all it’s cracked up to be, tip well.

Experiencing the country from her back roads, and making unexpected detours through small towns, is an experience unlike any other. The interstate only offers glimpses of the sprawling farms, rolling hills and historic towns, but the back roads bisect them.

As the late great Levon Helm once said: “I never subscribe to the stay-at-home policy. I'm not sick of the road or sick of eating in good restaurants around the country. I like to travel.”

That’s a philosophy we should all follow.




Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is also editor of Railfanning.org.




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