What Could Be Simpler?

What delivers good value for dollar on vacation? Atlantic editors and contributors share their thoughts

By Benjamin and Christina Schwarz

October 1999 ATLANTIC

9910carGOOD value comes to those who procrastinate. Sometime in late June we’ll realize that we never managed to plan a summer trip, so we’ll toss the cat into the back of the car and drive out of town. Of course, we have to avoid all popular destinations (notoriously bad values), because they’re already booked, so we travel back roads through the kind of places that wouldn’t rate one star in the Michelin guide. In this way we’ve gotten a sense of our country — seen the light change abruptly in the middle of Oklahoma from the soft, hazy glow of the East to the brilliance of the West, and seen architectures, populations, and accents shift in the South as we travel from low country to wire grass to piedmont to highlands.

If the purpose of a trip is not just to see something new but actually to feel somewhere else, this kind of travel fulfills it perfectly. Sometimes we’re forced to eat in Pizza Huts and sleep in unairconditioned cinder-block motels, but more often, as we slip in and out of the everyday life and distinct pleasures of rural towns so markedly different from the urban center where we live, we discover sights and tastes and charms we would never have anticipated: fireworks over the fields of Great Bend, Kansas; a concert on the village green of Oberlin, Ohio; the huge yellow hills of the Walla Walla Valley; the best fried chicken in Arkansas (and therefore probably the best in the world); the shady courthouse towns of mid-Georgia; blue-ribbon pie in Middlebury, Indiana; and tasteful old hotels, sometimes surprisingly grand, in towns like Arcata, California, and Marathon, Texas, and Harrodsburg, Kentucky. No one would think of making a special trip for any of these experiences, but in the end they’re the things that make a trip worthwhile.

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