Do you prefer to drive highways or back roads?

Photography Credit: Florian Steciuk (Highway), Brendan Steeves (Back Road)

Growing up, my parents always took the scenic route when we went on road trips, preferring meandering back roads and frequent stops at roadside attractions to the direct, fast-paced highway system.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I are getting ready to spend the weekend in St. Augustine, a trip that’s roughly 2 hours by highway or 3 hours if you stay off the interstate. I ask if it’s fine if we take back roads, since we’re not in any rush.

Much to my surprise, she asks why anyone would want to do that.

She then explained that when it came to her family, they took the most efficient route when traveling by car–primarily highways. The point was to get there as soon as possible, only stopping for gas or a bathroom break.

She didn’t understand why taking a longer, slower route could be more enjoyable. In her eyes, the destination is where the fun is, so why not take the highway and get there as soon as possible?

I countered that, yes, there are instances where I prefer to take highways–like going to and from work–but when it’s a vacation, it starts when I get in the car, not when we get to the destination. So why not make the drive more enjoyable by avoiding the stress of taking Florida highways?

[You can’t convince me that I-4 isn’t the worst road ever]

There’s also a lot of stuff between where we are and where we want to go, and some of the most fun I’ve had on vacations is stopping at random attractions and shops along the route. If we took the highways, I never would have had those experiences with my family. (Side note: Atlas Obscura is a fantastic resource for finding oddball and kitschy locations.)

In our time together, my wife has warmed up to the idea of taking back roads, though I’m willing to compromise if she just wants to get where we’re going.

But what about you? When you drive–be it a cross-country road trip, a short drive on the town or something in between–what do you prefer, highways or back roads?

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Blog, Back Roads and Highways articles.
More like this
Comments
J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
12/13/23 11:26 a.m.

Back roads nearly any day. Unless it's bad weather - then the Interstates have a little more wiggle room for error, which i prefer. Otherwise, back roads - better scenery, livlier driving and many times it's not much longer than taking the Interstate.

harrdware
harrdware New Reader
12/13/23 11:33 a.m.

Back roads, whenever possible. Unless the weather (or the fellow travelers, or the rental car) is miserable. Lots of unexpected Roadside randomness to experience. Getting there & back are also part of the memories.

Andrew Reagan
Andrew Reagan
12/13/23 11:50 a.m.

"Well, the road didn't cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn't drive on it to make a good time. They drove on it to have a great time." -Sally Carrera 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/13/23 1:23 p.m.

The first three hours to my parents’ house is all interstate and, yes, it stinks: cars, potholes, police running radar.

But then we get off the highway and head due north through the backroads: turns, hills and cool stuff to look at. New and exciting things for our dog to poop on. And also deer and little to no cell service. 

We figure it’s a good mix. 

ChrisTropea
ChrisTropea Associate Editor
12/13/23 2:55 p.m.

It depends, most of the time I will stick with the highways. But if I have some time to spare and we are taking our time on a trip I will look for the back roads. Going on the Classic Motorsports Road Tours has really opened my eyes to how many cool roads and attractions can be off the beaten path here in Florida. 

lagunamike
lagunamike New Reader
12/13/23 3:20 p.m.

I have driven from Austin Texas to Road America more than once.  If you follow Mapquest, they tell you to drive North to Dallas and turn right on I 30. . . If you take the roads less driven, you angle across East Texas and Arkansas on highway 79 all the way to Memphis.  Lots of interesting scenery and small towns with sights you would never see off the Interstate. 

The drive from Memphis through Illinois is the most boring and radar infested highway I have ever been on.  It is the only way to get through to Chicago and up t0 Road America.

On the way back I have driven through the Arkansas mountains on a beautiful four lane highway all the way to Paris, the one in Texas.  Then back to slogging down I 35 to get back home!

Sarah Young
Sarah Young Copy & Design Editor
12/13/23 3:46 p.m.

Living in Austin, it's difficult to drive anywhere in town without getting on a highway, but I definitely try to avoid it whenever I can. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
12/13/23 4:14 p.m.
lagunamike said:

On the way back I have driven through the Arkansas mountains on a beautiful four lane highway all the way to Paris, the one in Texas. 

Fantastic film, by the way–Paris, Texas.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
12/13/23 4:15 p.m.
harrdware said:

Back roads, whenever possible. Unless the weather (or the fellow travelers, or the rental car) is miserable. Lots of unexpected Roadside randomness to experience. Getting there & back are also part of the memories.

You perfectly summed up my thoughts on the matter. I get a little too excited when Google Maps suggests a non-highway route I've haven't been on yet.

gbarker
gbarker New Reader
12/13/23 8:22 p.m.

Of course, it depends on the amount of time you have to get from Point A ot Point B.  Luckily, this last summer I had 3 full days to drive my '69 E-Type Jag from Le Mans Classic back to the Portsmouth ferry at St. Malo.  I already had lodging book in Chinon and a Chateux nest Rennes.  Instead of taking the most direct and shortest routes, I turned on the Garmin GPS and checked the "NO Highways" and "No Ferries" opinion and let MIss Garmin tell me the way to go.  It was great and got to see a lot of the Loire Valley I would have missed on the mortorways.

You'll need to log in to post.

Our Preferred Partners
4b9N4tziRh9XAJyHegjKCfpvyTV3gc4KxMHjzPRFjl5niXg53AEYRaVIRX9kGR2h