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How to make driving across Texas more fun

Our latest road trip required a long drive across Texas, a state I repeatedly wish I didn’t have to drive across. But if you live in Phoenix and your intended destinations are in the Southeastern US, then driving through Texas is simply the Price of Admission you pay for your trip.

We ended up staying in hotels more than usual on this trip, and given the shorter winter days, that meant more time in a hotel room. Luckily, we brought our laptops on this trip as part of a new travel journaling practice we are experimenting with.

I thought it would be fun to chart the roads I’ve driven in the US, but that seems like a nearly impossible task. That’s because I routinely veer off the obvious route to drive a road that might be more scenic, or detour for an inconsequential roadside oddity, or to “get lost and ask for directions,” or head off to an obscure campground for the night.

In short, I really don’t know where all I’ve been since I haven’t really tracked that over all my trips. But I could start doing that now, for this trip at least. So I brought along some AAA state maps and a sharpie to trace our route. And then I promptly forgot those in the car each night.

So, with my laptop in the room, I instead cracked open a website devoted to counting the counties you’ve visited. I could probably figure out the counties I’ve visited much more easily than the specific roads I’d traveled anyway. Over the next several nights, I charted out a somewhat complete map of my county visits.

Visiting all 3,143 counties in the US is a more popular quest than you’d imagine. Indeed, thousands and thousands of people are tracking their county visits, and at least 70 people have completed them all! I had no such quest goal. In fact, one of my friends has been working on this quest for two decades now and I’ve always thought it was a somewhat crazy one. Most counties aren’t very interesting. I wasn’t adopting the quest, I just wanted to see where I’ve been—or rather, where I still need to go. I wanted to see what “holes” I still had in my domestic travel.

But, of course, after filling out my county map and realizing that I was already past the 50% mark, I started wondering what a good county quest goal for myself might be. When would I feel like I’ve closed those holes? Was it 2000 total counties? Or maybe >50% in each state? Or both? Or just when I’d finished the whole damn thing? I’m still not sure, but I think it’s clear…I have some sort of county quest now.

And indeed, so does Jen, who filled out her own map during our hotel hours. So, for the last few days of the trip, we made sure to take the longer route to some of our destinations, bypassing the quicker route that we had already done in favor of driving through some new-to-us counties. Every time we passed a little green “Entering So-and-So County” sign along some rural highway, there was now reason to exclaim “YAAAAY!”

This is the main goal of questing—inspiring you to go to more places you haven’t yet been.

One of the other big (and unheralded) benefits of questing is that it can make “unfun travel” more…well, fun. Even if your quest objective is less enjoyable than you had anticipated, or maybe the weather was awful, or you broke your expensive new camera, or some other sucky thing happened…well, at least you marked the damn place off! Getting something done makes you feel a bit better about that trip than if you had the same bad experience but hadn’t simultaneously completed a goal. Put another way, if you mark off a quest item, you always have a bright spot on the trip. Or, on a smaller level, you have a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster vacation day.

And we re-discovered that on the drive home, when we were faced with driving across Texas. Because now we had a new purpose for the drive: we would mark off some random counties! Texas seems to have eleventy zillion of them, each of which is generally small and thoroughly unremarkable. If we took a slightly longer way home, we’d be able to cross off 15 of them on our drive, and thereby permanently remove them from our list of places we have any reason to visit. We were getting stuff done. And sometimes never having to return to a place is a pretty good travel outcome.

And that’s exactly what we did. We actually extended the drive we were dreading because of this new quest, converting a boring and unfun endeavor into a series of small “yays” and some new blue squares on our county map. We traveled through country we hadn’t seen before, which resulted in some interesting observations. It didn’t magically elevate the trip into one of my all-time favorites, but it did reduce the cost of that Price of Admission rather substantially.

Many people shy away from big quests that have what seems like an unreachable number of objectives. But the benefits of questing are all found in the journey, not in completion. Will I ever finish all the counties? Probably not. But sometimes having a huge quest—even one you don’t expect to ever finish—simply gives you more possible ways to make those long drives less boring.

→ Start your own US Counties quest (#GoQuesting1640)