So, you've decided to sight-see in rural New England. Congratulations! This is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, with huge swathes of unspoiled wilderness, an abundance of natural wonders, widespread public access, and where most development is whimsical and agrarian. Engaging in tourism in these parts is a unique and satisfying experience.
You probably already know that population density is relatively low, and that most roads follow traditional routes established decades or hundreds of years ago. The terrain in much of rural New England means that even major routes are often winding, single lane roads that rarely follow the fastest route as the crow flies. Here are some tips for navigating the area.
1. Drive 15-20 miles under the speed limit. This is especially important in clear, sunny weather with dry roads. Most heavily traveled routes will have periodic passing lanes, also called truck lanes. They are very clearly marked well in advance. When you enter a passing lane, the best approach is to stay in the passing (left) lane, and accelerate up to or beyond the speed limit, being sure to keep as much of the traffic behind you as bottled up as possible. There will be signs clearly indicating that the right lane (the slow lane) is ending. When you see these signs, be sure to immediately ride the center line all the way up to the merge.
2. Another notable exception to maintaining an irresponsibly slow speed is when passing through a town or village. Even if you've been happily doing 35 in a 50 for the last 30 miles, as soon as the village speed limit signs (typically 35 miles per hour) appear, take care to travel at a minimum 10 miles over the limit, although 15 or 20 is typically more suitable. If you pass through a town or village that has traffic control devices, such as stop signs or even the occasional traffic light, it's best if you either ignore it, or stop far enough into the intersection to block cross-traffic.
3. Most roads have a narrow shoulder, often only barely wide enough to accommodate a pedestrian or give just enough room to squeeze by a road hazard or stalled vehicle. These are excellent places to park when you feel the urge to get out and photograph the scenery, or help yourself to a walk through the privately owned forests and farm fields that make up most of the landscape.
4. Also in regards to parking, take note if you are driving an unfamiliar vehicle, such as a rented oversized glamping van, or if you have attached a sixpack bike carrier to the back of your car. As a welcome visitor, you have the privilege and right to simply make one attempt at pulling into a parking spot and call it good. In the case of bike racks, hitch mounted cargo baskets, or trailers, don't worry if you're blocking part, most, or all of the road - other drivers will simply make use of the oncoming lane with poor visibility.
5. When your GPS tells you to turn up a road, you should have no reservations whatsoever about doing so, regardless of what your eyes or ears tell you. Many parts of New England are scattered with unmaintained roads that are used by locals for walking, horseback riding, or the occasional dirtbike or heavy duty offroad vehicle, but even if they're clearly treacherous, narrow, two-track mud pits bracketed by dangerous fallen trees and the occasional massive granite rock, they are still the fastest route as calculated by mileage and the assumed speed limit. If you do have reservations about taking one of these roads, it's usually best if you continue until you have no cell service before abandoning your vehicle. WIth regards to the narrow shoulders found on most paved roads, on dirt and gravel roads, there may or may not be a soft shoulder between the road surface and the steep ditches necessary to deal with heavy snowmelt. If you feel the need to pull onto a soft shoulder, try to get one or more wheels into the start of the ditch, especially if you're in a two wheel drive vehicle or don't know how to use the 4WD or AWD features of your rental car.
6. New England towns have a tradition of "Green Days" or "Town Days", where residents get together and pick up roadside litter and maintain town parks, greenways, and other public spaces. By leaving your garbage, especially beer cans, on trails and in ditches, you are helping to give continuing purpose to historic local traditions.
7. Gas stations and road stops very often feature country stores, where you can get local baked goods, last minute groceries, and even souvenirs and other gifts. The "town store" is often a fixture in the local scene, so if you have complaints about anything you've seen, heard, or experienced anywhere within a hundred miles, the best way to make sure the locals know is to complain loudly and insistently at the town store to whoever will listen. The clerk, often the owner or a family member of the owner, will be duty bound to remain behind the counter for as long as you feel like talking, and the patrons in line behind you will be happy to listen patiently and with great attention, and each of these people will be personally sympathetic to your issues and also able to enact immediate, permanent change on your behalf.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but there is one piece of general advice to keep in mind when you have a question about the way you should go about your stay. Remember - by being here, you are not only doing a service to everyone who lives and works here, even if their lives are not even tangential to the tourist trade, but you are also entitled to the full, unrestricted, and self-directed use of any space, resource, or service that you encounter. By keeping this in mind, you will enjoy your stay to the fullest, and be welcome with open arms everywhere you go. Remember, it's not necessary to be aware of or avail yourself of any of the well-marked, well-publicized, and easily accessible public parks, trails, campsites, and attractions that litter rural New England - just stop by wherever you want and enjoy whatever you find!