By Erin Ryan
September 11, 2018
Credit: Getty Images

There are moments when life becomes a postcard, noisy thoughts giving way to silent stretches of road in spectacular country. Every sense dials up, even as your mind and body relax into the simple action of getting somewhere. It’s no wonder so many want a piece of #vanlife’s bohemian mystique.

Everyone isn’t cut out to make it a lifestyle, but the endless supply of sun-dappled, windswept, campfire-smelling Instagrams has electrified the idea of the road. Especially the romance of it. Couples planning honeymoons can look at parts of the world they’ve dreamed of traveling and just add wheels, whether a luxurious RV, souped-up van, or basic car for touring between quaint vacation rentals. Given its vastness and variety of scenic firepower, America was made for ‘roadymooning.’

Before busting out maps and making reservations, engaged couples should consider the particular demands of road tripping, along with the rewards. If you don’t intimately know your partner’s travel style and expectations, “a road trip might be the most taxing way to find out,” said Megan Edwards, a Las Vegas-based author and cofounder of RoadTrip America.

In 1994, two years before she and husband Mark Sedenquist launched the site, they started a road trip that changed everything. The prior year they had lost their home to a California wildfire, and this trip was supposed to be a six-month reset before coming back to reality. With their dog, Marvin, they ended up spending more than six years in an RV smaller than their old walk-in closet. They could wake up, pick a direction, and drive. They found wonders down dead-end roads, and in states they had abandoned to negative stereotypes. The things they lost in the fire were replaced with a profound feeling of lightness and possibility.

Credit: Florence Helmberger; Sean Taylor

That doesn’t mean it was all romantic.

“It took us six months to figure out how to live on the road and not kill each other,” Sedenquist said, with a chuckle.

Most honeymoons being a week or two, and steeped in wedding afterglow, such heavy growing pains aren’t likely. Tension is. Sedenquist and Edwards, who’ve covered 500,000 miles together on wheels, say a lot of it stems from lack of communication before a trip. That might concern major elements like budget, activities, and mileage per day, or small details like music. (This is not the time to reveal your obsession with rock opera.)

One vital thing to discuss is comfort with changing the plan, because you might face detours both unavoidable and intriguing.

“If you stop in a cafe and you’re still trying to cover 300 miles before dark, then you’re not open. But if you’re like, we don’t even know how far we’re going today, then when someone tells you, ‘You should really drive up the road and see so-and-so’s garden because it’s really beautiful right now,’ you can,” Edwards said.

“You’ll see a theme [on]. We’re always talking about time,” Sedenquist said. “There’s no point in driving so fast you can’t stop and look at anything.”

The website offers many tools for hopeful roadymooners, including expertise from a globe-spanning core of travel advisors. Edwards wrote a couples’ guide to romancing the road, and Sedenquist says the site’s custom mapping application generates optimized routes based on points of interest. While some of his favorite finds have come from getting off-track, he appreciates that honeymoons are often planned around must-see sights and dream experiences.

“It’s fine to be myopic as long as your partner shares that point of view. There’s nothing wrong with zig-zagging around and missing everything else,” he said. “A road trip is more about what goes on in your head than what’s outside your windshield.”

Taylor McGilbra and Stephanie Ortega have logged a lot of miles in different places and headspaces, sharing snapshots and bits of their hearts through their intersectional travelogue Lesbinomadic. Nearly 12,000 people follow their Instagram, which has been featured on major platforms such as Cosmopolitan and Where Love Is Illegal. Swoon-worthy photos in exotic landscapes blend with earnest commentary about personal struggles and broader social justice. They don’t edit out the painful layovers and bee stings, or the raw insights about visiting countries where their love is considered criminal. They want others, especially queer people of color, to be emboldened to travel and armed with knowledge about risks and barriers that remain.

Credit: Courtesy of Lesbinomadic

Their first trip together was three months of backpacking in New Zealand and Thailand. They quit their jobs and sold everything in preparation, and the journey was messy and amazing.

“It’s still one of my favorite trips we’ve been on, but it was also one of the most difficult as far as our relationship goes,” Ortega said. “Those times together backpacking and dealing with new challenges every day really brought out the true colors of who we are. It showed our shortcomings.”

From an air mattress in Taylor’s brother’s room in central Texas, back from living in Spain and on the road to Northern California, they share vivid memories of their travels: Stephanie’s proposal on Mont-Saint-Michel’s iconic beach. Road tripping in Portugal’s green mountains around Coimbra. Cold, muddy fun exploring the coast between Seattle and Portland in the offseason. It is obvious they’ve learned a lot about each other, and even more about themselves.

“If you can be with me through all of this, from racism to a flat tire — if I can sit on the side of the road and watch the sunset with you, or stand on a cliff and get caught in a hailstorm and we’ve never seen hail before — if we can take all the good and the bad,” McGilbra said. “That just grows our love. ’Cause we know it ain’t just about the good with us.”

That is the promise of a good marriage, and the right attitude heading into a roadymoon. For couples trying to plan one, McGilbra and Ortega emphasize research. Not just in terms of defining the dots on the map, but connecting them in ways that support your collective vision of the best trip ever.

How to Plan a Honeymoon Road Trip

Be Realistic

Whatever it might be, Sedenquist says, you’d be wise to cut the wishlist in half. “Every single person who takes a road trip has the same problem: way more expectations than time,” he said. “Be really tolerant. Be loving of your partner, but also of the experience.”

‘Google and go’

“I’m a person who’ll say, ‘I want to go here, Patagonia,’ and she’ll come up with some elaborate plan,” Ortega said. “One of our mottos is Google and go. We know our Point A and Point B, and for the most part Taylor plots the in-between.”

“I’m obsessed with Google Maps,” McGilbra added, explaining that once she finds “the pretty stuff” in the form of bodies of water, mountain ranges and wilderness areas, Ortega pinpoints related activities.

Beware Day 3

Sedenquist sees downtime as essential to roadymoon plans, especially on the third day after the Big Day.

“Right after the wedding there’s gonna be a halo effect, where the stress is gone. But then the fatigue is likely to hit on Day 3,” he said. “So you don’t want to have to drive 600 miles that day.”

“Think about taking the whole day off and staying two nights in one place,” Edwards said.

Honeymoon Road Trip Ideas

Point A: New York, New York
Point B: San Francisco, California

Good for: Couples with ample time to wander a road that is the attraction
Recommended by: Mark Sedenquist
Miles: 3,000+

“The trip that has eluded me is Times Square to San Francisco on the Lincoln. It was the very first transcontinental highway. There are sections that were never paved. Some of it is brick. Some of it has been taken over by modern highways, but it goes pretty much straight across the country,” Sedenquist says of the Route 66 of its time. Named for President Abraham Lincoln, it was dedicated in 1913, bonfires and fireworks blazing in hundreds of cities along the line going right through America’s middle. In 1915 the completed roadway ushered in a new era of coast-to-coast travel. Its original length was 3,389 miles. The Lincoln Highway Association maintains an interactive map of drivable sections for history buffs willing to connect the dots.

2. Outdoor Adventure

Loop: Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon and back
Good for: Nature lovers working with less time and money to honeymoon
Recommended by: Taylor McGilbra and Stephanie Ortega
Miles: 650

To celebrate two years together, McGilbra and Ortega loaded a long weekend in February with Northwest beauty. Flying into Seattle early Friday, they explored Pike Place market, then gay nightlife in the surrounding neighborhood. Saturday began with a scenic drive around Puget Sound to Olympic National Park’s old-growth forests and cloud-tickling peaks.

“There was nobody there. It was raining and it was muddy and it was perfect,” Taylor says. From there, they hopped on U.S. 101, hugging the coast to Astoria and its collection of beaches and sea lions. Sunday morning took them to Ecola State Park, famous for backdropping One-Eyed Willy’s pirate ship in The Goonies. Then they dug into Portland’s vibrant scene, ending the day with a hike and a dip in a hot spring just outside the city. Monday morning, they boogied up Interstate 5 back to Seattle for a flight home.

Point A: San Diego, California
Point B: Los Angeles, California

Good for: Hunters of weird and wondrous details who prefer an urban-rural mashup
Recommended by: Erin Ryan
Miles: 500

Commuting in Southern California, not so romantic. Roadymooning through its coastal cities into farm fields, desert swaths, and an alternate planet of outsider museums, artist enclaves and glorious kitsch, the love is stoked by the demand for all the selfies. Going inland near the Mexican border and curving back around the Salton Sea, airport to airport, this route can stretch as far as your imagination. You will find museums dedicated to velvet paintings, flying saucers and lbananas; a 3,000-pound lemon; farms cultivating dates and camels; a living kaleidoscope in an L.A. backyard, and the Official Center of the World in the nearby desert. Fly in, rent a car, and ignore the clock, because this part of the map is a pincushion for wild creativity.