I Went on a Daylong Road Trip to Shake Free of the Monotony of Quarantine

I figured it was the safest way to both see the sights and escape the confines of my home while in the midst of a global pandemic

Over the last month, I’ve baked, a lot — including a lemon poppy seed cake, cheesecake blondies, and as of this weekend, Instagram’s favorite focaccia. I’ve also planned victory gardens, pressure-cooked whole bo ssam and installed bookshelves and towel racks. I’ve completed multiple puzzles and learned how to play dominoes. I’ve rediscovered old TV shows. And I’ve probably consumed more alcohol than I did in the previous six months combined — not so much a humblebrag as a sad, sad fact. 

I bring all of this to your attention if only to illustrate that I’ve done just about everything I care to do within the confines of the four walls I call home.

And so, recently, I’ve found myself longing for the open road — or, at least, anything having to do with getting the fuck out of the house. Admittedly, at first, I was like, “Well, where am I going to go? What am I going to do?” But then I realized, IT. DOESN’T. MATTER. Anything beats being locked up like a caged tiger, provided you can get outside without putting anyone else at risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

In fact, the least crazy thing about it is, it’s the perfect time for a drive, if you think about it. 

The Problem: Being on lockdown really sucks, y’know?

The Potential Solution: A drive, but not like a drive to the supermarket for more snacks, or to pick up dinner instead of getting it delivered just for the hell of it — trust me, I’m doing all of that already. I’m talking about a Long-Ass Drive (clinical term), the kind that puts a lot of miles on the odometer, but doesn’t actually take you anywhere.

Three Reasons Why a Long-Ass Drive Makes Sense During Quarantine (A List):

1) There’s No Traffic, Anywhere. This is a big one for anyone living in a city (especially my city — L.A.), because we’ll probably never see the streets like they are right now ever again. There is no traffic to speak of, with an April 1st report from the University of California, Davis showing a likely 60 percent drop in the number of cars on the road during quarantine. Ever wanted to make Cannonball Run-time across town? Now’s the time to do it. 

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2) Distances Mean Nothing. Just because you have errands that might only require you to be in your car for a short time (or not at all), doesn’t mean you have to be in your car for a short period of time. Think about it: The whole reason you go to the nearest grocery store is because everyone hates being in their car more than they need to be, likely because of traffic. But traffic, like I just said, doesn’t currently exist. Ipso facto, why drive around the corner to the store when you can hit up a supermarket two hours away for that gallon of milk — and in the process, get some sun on your face and some wind in your hair? Nice little Saturday if you ask me.

3) It’s Economical. “What about gas?” you’re probably saying right now. Have you checked oil prices recently, though? They’re practically paying us to fill up. According to AAA, the average price nationally for a gallon of regular unleaded is $1.77. Only 12 states currently have gas that’s more than $2. Here in Southern California, long one of the most expensive gas cities, the price is $2.76. Which, yeah, that’s a dollar more than most places, but keep in mind that we haven’t paid less than $3 a gallon since February 2017. In other words, if you want to drive two hours out of your way for a jar of pickles, the cost of gas might be cheaper than the pickles themselves.

But Don’t Take My Word for It — Trust a Psychologist: All good theories require some sort of review process, and I wasn’t going to take to the road without getting a second opinion. Enter Jeanette Raymond, licensed clinical psychologist, who had this to say when I asked her why driving now — versus before the pandemic — seemed like such a grand idea. “It’s because you don’t have to drive around that driving around is pleasant,” she explains. “Whenever you feel forced into a routine, it becomes a chore. But now, driving takes on a whole different tone. You can do it out of spontaneity and choice — not because it’s an obligation or a necessary means to an end.”

More largely, though, Raymond adds, “Nature and the elements make you feel real and solid. The experience reduces the level of stress hormones that accumulate during the lockdown. Plus, doing things that are ‘normal’ to you can help you to feel safe. Driving around gives you back that sense of control, of movement, of passing things in less crowded and noisy times.”

And so, it’s settled, at least 1 out of 1 doctors agree: It’s time for a road trip.

The Experience: My girlfriend and I spontaneously decided to take the car out for a little spin at 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. The way I saw it, I desperately needed to give my car a wash, we were both hungry for some lunch and there just happened to be both a burrito stand and one of those self-serve car washes open in… San Diego — 130 miles away from my home in L.A.

So we piled into the car and headed out, about as matter-of-factly as if we were driving down the street. I wanted to test my theory, and this was as good a reason as any. Would there be any traffic? Nope. It only took us 90 minutes to make the trip, and a little more than that on the way back — at the start of rush hour, no less. 

Would putting 260 miles on my car in an afternoon set me back very far in the wallet department? Not really. Sure, it ended up costing me about $22 in gas round trip, but considering it had been a month since I filled the ol’ girl up, it all felt very worth it to escape my house for an entire day.

Look! It’s me after driving 130 miles for a car wash! Dumbest car trip ever?

There were unexpected benefits, too: The way down afforded my girlfriend and I a chance to talk — like really talk — for the whole hour-and-a-half. About family shit, about what it’s actually going to take to care for the dog we’re in the process of rescuing, about other state-of-the-relationship topics one tends to gloss over when their daily routine merely takes them from the bed to the workstation to dinner in front of the TV to the bed again (rinse and repeat, day after day after day).

Another unexpected benefit was a chance to indulge in one of my not-so-secret obsessions with ships and planes. About 30 minutes outside of San Diego, around the USMC base at Camp Pendleton, we got to see the USS Makin Island — one of the country’s largest conventionally powered aircraft carriers — performing exercises just off the coast. We also saw a hovercraft doing some cool shit nearby, and on the way home, I watched a V-22 Osprey do its thing.

Not exactly Ansel Adams, but you get the picture.

What to Eat In San Diego (When You’re Only in Town for 30 Minutes): A burrito. My girlfriend prefers Mike’s Taco Club on the water in Ocean Beach, while I prefer Ortiz’s. It’s cliche, but either way, get the California burrito. *chef’s kiss*

The Result: I’ll say this about our four-hour midweek jaunt: There’s no better way to break up the monotony of isolation. There might also be no other way to escape for that long a period of time. 

That said, anything over three hours in the car might be pushing it. By the time we got home, I was glad to be off the road. Sure, we got to see some cool stuff, ate a nice little lunch and cleaned off most of the bee shit on my hood, but a new type of confinement sets in when you’re on the road for too long. Thus, it’s best to keep things to two solid hours, which should give you all of the mental-health benefits without proving taxing on the other end.

Still, and I can’t emphasize this enough: Now’s the time, people. We might never see as perfect a storm as we’re currently in for getting in our cars and going for a nice Long-Ass Drive (again, I want to be sure to use the clinical terminology here). And in case you need something to listen to while you’re out there on the open road, here’s some perfect driving music:

See you on the highway.