Collage of a car ride, cruise ship and airport security line

The ultimate guide to a perfectly imperfect getaway

Just roll with it 

Story by Gregory P. Thomas

Whether by land, sea or air, the secret to a perfect getaway lies in embracing the imperfections. After all, you’re not just traveling to reach a destination; you’re gathering stories for the next family get-together. So buckle up, ship out and fly away — adventure (and misadventure) awaits!

Behind shot of two people in the front seat of a car on an open road

By land: Road trippin’ rhapsody

Ready for an epic road trip? Before you hit the gas and cruise down the freeway, there’s an art to preparing for the perfect car journey — a blend of overpacking, over-snacking and overwhelming your passengers with diverse tunes. Whether you’re gearing up for a weekend getaway or a cross-country expedition, mastering the logistics of road trip readiness can elevate your adventure from mundane to memorable.

Don’t leave home without it … literally: Begin your packing by tossing in everything but the kitchen sink. Yes, seriously — everything. Sidestepping emergency pit stops at Walgreens or the nearest Walmart keeps the momentum going strong. As for maps? Consider them optional. After all, getting lost is not just part of the fun; it doubles the adventure.

Snack-attack strategy: Embrace diversity in your snack selection. Stock up with enough treats to feed a small nation — blend salty, sweet, crunchy and, yes, even that indescribably stale cracker hiding in your pantry. A varied snack stash keeps everyone in the car content. Plus, remember the golden rule of road-tripping: calories consumed in a moving vehicle magically vanish (scared off by road bumps, no doubt). 

Entertainment essentials: Craft the ultimate playlist, spanning every imaginable genre. Toss in some opera to serenade the highways, and add a dash of polka to energize the prairies. Thinking about audio books? Opt for the longest, most monotonous ones — they’re perfect for lulling passengers into a peaceful slumber so you can enjoy your Wawa coffee in peace. 

Roadtrippers’ report

LOCAL Life staff picks for the cleanest restrooms, best gas stations, most scenic drives and more.

Gas stations with the cleanest restrooms

1. Buc-ee’s

2. Parker’s Kitchen

3. Wawa

Hit or miss: RaceTrac, QuikTrip, Pilot Flying J, Spinx, Love’s Travel Stops, Murphy USA, Maverik

Avoid: Horror flick restrooms, under-construction, storage areas, damaged doors, overflowing trash cans, fragrance festivals, single-ply torture chambers, artistic expression stall walls

Gas stations with the best food

1. Buc-ee’s 

2. Wawa 

3. Parker’s Kitchen

Hit or miss: Sheetz, RaceTrac, QuikTrip, Circle K, Pilot Flying J

Avoid: Suspicious sushi, forever pretzels, sad salads, incognito eggs, roller-grill relics

Great restaurants off the Interstate 

1. Loveless Cafe off Interstate 40 near Nashville

2. Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que off I-35 near Kansas City

3. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant off I-10 in New Orleans

4. Lambert’s Cafe off I-55 in Sikeston, Mo. 

5. Dixie Crossroads off I-95 in Titusville, Fla. 

Avoid: Tourist traps, ghost town diners, desperation buffets, one-star wonders, theme-overload cafés 

Best rest stops In the Southeast

1. I-75 Welcome Center in Georgia, north of the Florida border

2. I-10 Welcome Center near Pensacola

3. Alligator Alley Rest Stops, along I-75 in the Everglades

4. Dale Earnhardt Sr. Memorial Rest Stop along I-85 near Charlotte

5. Tuscaloosa Rest Area in Alabama

Most scenic drives in the Southeast

1. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

2. Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi to Tennessee

3. Overseas Highway, Florida Keys

4. Cherohala Skyway, Tennessee and North Carolina

5. Great Smoky Mountains Drive, Tennessee and North Carolina

Seabourne Ovation cruise ship of the company Seabourne leaving the port of Barcelona. October 23, 2018.

By sea: Cruising toward catastrophe

Ahoy there, ye brave souls ready to conquer the undulating seas! Embarking on a cruise isn’t just about sipping Mai Tais while basking under the equatorial sun.  It’s an odyssey peppered with unexpected thrills, exquisite pains and the art of maritime survival. Whether you’re a salty sea dog or a cruise cub, navigating the treacherous waters of cruise planning is no small feat. 

Cabin fever feats: When booking your cruise cabin, bypass the top-deck opulence and the bottom-deck spookiness. Opt for the Goldilocks zone in the middle decks — high enough to avoid the eerie engine hum but low enough so the ocean remains a pleasant mystery. When choosing a cruise line, consider one that matches your style and spirit of adventure.

Nautical elegance: Packing for a cruise isn’t just throwing clothes into a suitcase — it’s an art form of sartorial precision. Ensure your wardrobe is prepared for every event the high seas might throw your way, from the captain’s formal dinner to a pirate-themed mixer (because, why not?). As for footwear, while traditional style dictates shoes as the foundation of an outfit, why not embrace the barefoot chic look that’s all the rage on luxury decks? Not only is it fashion-forward, but you’ll also find it surprisingly practical for tiptoeing around those deceptively slippery ship decks. 

Embrace the waves: Think of seasickness as the sea’s way of keeping things interesting — just another splash of character in its vast, salty personality. While it may sway your equilibrium like a pendulum, consider it a natural part of your immersive oceanic experience, like a dance with the waves where you don’t always lead. Embrace these rollicking moments as your badge of maritime resilience and a chance for impromptu social clubs at the ship’s railing.

Know your boat

The best cruise options tailored to suit different preferences.

Ultimate luxury

  • Regent Seven Seas
  • Silversea Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Hapag-Lloyd Cruises


  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Royal Caribbean


  • Carnival Cruise Line
  • MSC Cruises


  • Hurtigruten
  • Lindblad Expeditions


  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Viking Ocean Cruises

River cruises

  • Viking River Cruises
  • AmaWaterways

Solo travel

  • Norwegian
  • Holland America

Sailing and yachting

  • Windstar Cruises
  • SeaDream Yacht Club

Culinary delights

  • Oceania Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line

Passengers check-in line at the airport on vacation

By air: High-flying hijinks

Welcome aboard our flight into the lofty world of air travel, where the skies aren’t just friendly — they can be outright theatrical. From the ground up, your journey is an art form. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for takeoff. 

Baggage blunders: The art of packing transcends mere necessity — it’s about preparedness and poise. Always treat your checked luggage as though it might take a separate vacation. Curate your carry-on with the essentials: all medications, a designer swimsuit for impromptu dips in exotic pools and a tailored ensemble for spontaneous gala dinners. A well-prepared traveler embraces spontaneity with style.

Security line limbo: The security line is the real pre-flight entertainment. Practice your “taking off shoes while balancing on one foot” routine. Bonus points if you can unpack your laptop, disassemble your carry-on and chug that forgotten water bottle simultaneously. Transform the security checkpoint experience into a display of precision and flair. 

In-flight finesse: While the middle seat might be seen as a chance to get up close and personal with humanity, let’s be honest: nothing screams “luxury” quite like a bit of elbow room and a window or aisle seat to yourself. As for emotional movie moments, keep the tears classy — a single, silent tear is chic; a sobbing mess can be less so. 

Exceptional airport dining 

1. One Flew South — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL)

2. Tortas Frontera — Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

3. The Salt Lick BBQ — Austin-Bergstrom International (AUS)

4. Legal Sea Foods — Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)

5. Cotto — LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

6. Cask & Larder — Orlando International Airport (MCO)

7. Bud and Marilyn’s — Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

8. 1897 Market — Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

9. Root Down — Denver International Airport (DEN) 

10. Classified — Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

Great airport bars

1. The Centurion Lounge (13 airports including CLT and ATL)

2. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge — Nashville International Airport (BNA)

3. Reilly’s Daughter — Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) 

4. Book & Bourbon — Louisville Muhammad Ali International (SDF)

5. Portermill — Des Moines International Airport (DSM)

6. Bar Sazerac — Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY)

7. Boulder Beer Tap House — Denver International Airport (DEN)

8. Deep Blue Sushi — John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

9. Great Lakes Brewing — Cleveland Hopkins International (CLE) 

10. Captain Jack’s Tavern — Charlotte Douglas International (CLT)

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