A purposeful road trip can be a truly enlightening and unforgettable experience. All you have to do is pick a theme and climb into the car.

The first themed road trip I went on was in the summer of 1998. I was 9 years old and obsessed with roller coasters. So my dad packed me, my younger brother and my 15-year-old cousin into our minivan, and we visited five theme parks in a week.

We headed north from Atlanta and hit Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; Kings Island in Cincinnati; Kings Dominion in Richmond; Busch Gardens in Williamsburg; and Carowinds in Charlotte. In total, we covered almost 2,000 miles of picturesque Appalachian country in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina.

The Volcano coaster at Kings Dominion. (Photo Wikipedia)

The Volcano coaster at Kings Dominion. (Photo Wikipedia)

It was on this trip that I learned an early lesson in patience when I waited with my cousin for more than five hours to ride a recently opened and wildly popular coaster called the Volcano at Kings Dominion.

Looking back, I hardly remember the long wait or any of the other 30-plus coasters I rode during that trip, but I remember all one minute and 10 seconds of that ride like it was yesterday.

Take a Ride

If roller coasters aren’t your thing, try these road trip ideas for a fresh spin on summer travel.

Baseball

What’s more American than baseball and the open road? The classic baseball road trip is one that involves a bit of planning, but a well-organized trip can’t be beat. You can visit all 30 major-league stadiums in 30 days or just cruise a specific region to catch a few games. Baseball-roadtrip.com’s road trip planner tool can be used to find the schedules of all 30 big-league teams and the dates each will be at home. Feeling adventurous? Add a few of the 244 minor-league baseball teams to the trip.

National Parks

There are 58 national parks spread out across America, and although it might be hard to visit all of them in one trip, picking out two or three is a winning approach for all of you outdoor enthusiasts. Try the drive from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone. It’s one of the most scenic in the country and can be planned to include stops in Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

Go West

Nowadays, the American West is a lot less treacherous and a lot more family-friendly than it was in the 1800s. Capture the grandeur and wide-open spaces with a road trip from El Paso, Texas, up to Deadwood, S.D., and visit the bar where Wild Bill Hickok was shot during a poker game.

The worlds tallest Easel in Goodland Kansas is a breathtaking site. (That's me in the photo...)

The worlds tallest Easel in Goodland Kansas is a breathtaking site. (That’s me in the photo…)

Along the way, stop at the multitude of ghost towns along Interstate 25 and finish your trip at the iconic Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Another fun jaunt around the West includes a loop around the Four Corners area (Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico).

Roadside Attractions

Looking for something off the beaten path? Plan your trip around quirky tourist attractions like the “future birthplace of James T. Kirk” in Riverside, Iowa; chained rock in Pineville, Ky.; and the world’s largest office chair in Anniston, Ala.

In my travels I have visited a few of these attractions, but my favorite has to be the world’s largest easel in Goodland, Kan. I was on my way across the country from Los Angeles to Atlanta in 2013 when I spotted a sign for the easel off I-70.

Standing 80 feet tall, the easel, atop which rests one of Van Gogh’s “Sunflower” paintings, is a breathtaking sight among the flat Kansas plains.

Roadsideamerica.com has a full database and maps of odd tourist attractions in all 50 states.