The gay-travel angle made the research challenging in the reddest states, but I’ve always found plenty of kindness -- and kinship -- in even the tiniest rural communities. In teensy Oktaha, Okla., my then-boyfriend and I bought gas from a teenage goth girl wearing interlocking rainbow rings. She looked surprised to see us and asked, “I don’t know where you guys came from or where you’re going, but can you please take me with you?”

As a former New Yorker living in Santa Fe, N.M., on 9/11, I felt edgy and disconnected for days afterward. I soon remedied my anxiety about the state of our nation by driving across it. After four weeks of motoring over the Colorado Rockies and across the South Dakota Badlands, then gliding beneath the gleaming skyscrapers of Minneapolis and Chicago and past Amish farmsteads in Ohio and Pennsylvania, I finally arrived in lower Manhattan -- via the Brooklyn Bridge -- my optimism greatly restored.

I can’t exactly explain why road trips still always revitalize and reassure me. But there’s something undeniably intoxicating about exploring a land so vast and diverse, one incremental mile at a time, free to follow whichever fork in the road appears the most enticing -- or happens to be marked with a sign that reads “Homemade Ice Cream -- This Way!” 

Tags: Travel