With the Country Reawakening From a COVID Slumber, It’s the Perfect Time for a Photo Road Trip

I have always appreciated the photo road trip. While there’s always a little bit of photo in every trip I take with family and friends, nothing beats time spent on the road in the middle of nowhere, with no one else but your camera and the scenery dictating what to shoot.

But such a trip takes some preparation. YouTube and landscape photographer Adrian Otero Vila shares some of his tips from his experience traveling across the country for the express purpose of taking photos.

One of the things that Vila can be seen doing in the video, but strangely never talks about, is plotting a course on a paper map. As someone who still keeps a road atlas in the back of each car’s seat pocket, I can’t recommend this enough. Google Maps and your car's GPS will always take you the most efficient way, but having a bird’s eye view of the route you are going to take will always let you see where “off the beaten path” truly lies. I did this several years ago when I was driving across several states in the south, and just meandered my way through Georgia and Tennessee, where I not only found the best deep-fried pie in the country (Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, Georgia) but was also to find odd tiny-sized animals and lots of strange vehicles abandoned in the middle of nowhere, like this school bus:

An abandoned bus in the Chatahoochee National Forest in Tennessee. 

Truly it pays to go off the interstate to find the more interesting photos that other photographers aren’t getting.

But I digress. Vila’s other tips, aside from the paper maps, are important if you’re a rugged, outdoors type. He suggests organizing your car for the long trip, packing light so that you can have all your gear on you at once, and carrying a sleeping bag and pillow in the car (which tends to work better in larger cars, such as SUVs and minivans). There are also some winter and summer-specific tips in his video.

That said, after spending one week in the woods for a wilderness survival camp for a photo/video story I did, I can honestly say that camping in a tent is not for everyone. But that doesn’t mean road trips are always economically out of reach. As Vila suggested, AirBnB is a decent go-to to find cheap lodging, and then I’ve more recently found cheap hotels on the same days I’ve needed them by using HotelTonight.com, where hotels offer discount rates to fill up empty rooms before the night ends.

I’ll also add that if you’re going to rent a car for the trip, splurge for the fun one. I did my first experience driving the length of the Pacific Coast Highway in California in a rented Chevy Cruze, and while it got the job done, I had to go back and do it again in a Mustang convertible. It just made the miles that much more fun and gave me an easy subject to add to otherwise boring landscapes. Worth it.

Do you have photography road trip tips to share? Leave them in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

Log in or register to post comments

FYI: Covid had nothing to do with our travel. We traveled like normal without any interference. In fact many states we traveled to and through never imposed mask or any other restrictions. Let's not blame covid for NOT being able to travel.. we did and we survived.

Thanks for taking your personal situation in your country and applying it to the rest of us, as far as it goes where I live, COVID had everything to do with not being able to travel.

Just ask Southwest Airlines. They cancelled my photo travel plans last summer due to the pandemic. Luckily, the hotels were accommodating and didn't charge me a penalty. But, those plans are back on for this summer!

United did the same to me--5 years ago. Why blame the pandemic for the behavior of bad actors in the airline business?

No, last year during the pandemic was the best time (within the US anyway). Probably the best ever. Things just weren't all that crowded, and it was a joy to travel, if a little eerie in empty airport lounges with all the services closed. But now? It's more crowded than ever, with campgrounds booked solid, park closures due to capacity, etc.

I'm of the opposite opinion, it's a terrible time for a photo road trip because everything opened back up. I'm actually missing the way things were during lockdown when I head out to take photos.

Last year April-June was amazing for driving around and taking photos. Gas dropped to $1.29/gallon and I could drive all day for $10. Roads were empty, rush hour felt like 3am on the interstate because no one was going anywhere, even truck traffic greatly diminished. I drove numerous scenic byways making stops at countless historical markers. Pulled over to photograph random things. Visited numerous small towns just to walk the empty streets. The absolute best part was the state parks were deserted, I could hike for hours without passing another person.

Now it feels like there are more people everywhere I go than there ever was before the lock downs and personally don't like it.

Crowded <> Perfect