Don't be in such a hurry! Here's why you should slow down and visit the quirky landmarks that so many small towns have to offer.
Years ago, when I was 13, my parents took me and my siblings on a month-long camping trip across Canada. A parting gift from my piano teacher was a book called Gigantic Canada, featuring oversized roadside attractions that we could find along the Trans-Canada Highway. My family laughed at it, but those quirky and bizarre landmarks became a major part of our trip. We saw the giant nickel in Sudbury, the enormous Wawa goose, Max the Moose in Dryden and his buddy Mac the Moose in Moose Jaw, and the biggest dinosaur in Drumheller, to name a few.
Ever since that trip, and remembering the glee with which we encountered these quirky sights and checked them off in our book, I've made a point of visiting roadside oddities whenever I'm traveling with my own kids. It led to us discovering a number of fun places, including the world's largest truck in southern British Columbia, an event that my young sons still talk about with awe in their voices.
So, it was with great delight that I stumbled across Trent Hamm's article on roadside attractions for The Simple Dollar. In it, he argues that visiting quirky local sights while on a family vacation makes sense for a number of reasons: (a) It is fun and breaks up an otherwise tedious car trip, and (b) it's usually far cheaper than visiting major landmarks in urban areas, if not free.
Hamm's vacation routine sounds a lot like my own family's traveling routine. They plan their route each day, consulting online sources such as Atlas Obscura and Roadside America to find out what they could see and discuss as a family. Then they shop at a grocery store in the morning to stock their cooler with food for the day. This sets them up nicely for a picnic at a town square somewhere that's often near a playground, splash pad, or landmark. Along the way, they stop in at the sights that have sparked their interest:
"It creates a strong sense of days filled with endless possibilities. It can feel like we have tons of options, and the truth is that we’ll often stop at too many things on a road trip day like this and end up getting to our destination quite late at night because the day of road tripping was so fun and fulfilling."
Sometimes the final destination isn't all it's cracked up to be, or it's expensive, or crowded with people. It doesn't hurt to take a day or two off the final destination and add it to the journey, allowing yourself time to explore landmarks along the way. Small towns benefit from the attention and you'll go away with a memory that stands out. Sometimes it's cheesy, sometimes it's fabulous. It doesn't really matter. The point is, you'll have something either to appreciate or to laugh about, and isn't that what a good vacation is all about?