For many of us, going places is one of the wonders of flying. Many instructors like to take potential flight students on a short cross-country flight during the initial introductory flight in order to whet their appetite for the reward that awaits after they complete their primary training. Getting kicked out of the pattern is a bit like getting kicked out of the nest. With enough preparation, you are ready to literally try your wings and go somewhere. Except for the "long" required cross-country flight, most of your early trips were relatively short.
Some pilots are content with short out and back flights for a hamburger or to watch the sunset. That's fine if that's what you want to do. But if you're planning to use your airplane for transportation, I recommend a long, long VFR cross-country flight to hone your aviating skills. A long trip crosses political and geographic boundaries, typically exposes you to weather differences, and requires you to consider fuel consumption and availability and deal with the unfamiliar. Making a real long cross-country after getting your private rating is like earning a graduate degree.
Once the strategy, the preflight planning for the trip, is completed it's time to tackle the tactics and make the flight.
I'd have to bury my head in the sand not to recognize that the planning and flying of a VFR cross-country flight have changed a great deal in the last several years with the advent of GPS navigators and moving map displays. But things happen, so it's still important to learn and practice to navigate by the basics - even if it isn't required by the PTS (Practical Test Standards).
Traditionally, there are three ways of navigating: deduced reckoning, pilotage and radio navigation. Dead or ded reckoning is the most primitive, but a surprisingly accurate method of navigating. Essentially, you adjust your magnetic heading to make good the course to your destination by calculating the effect of the speed and direction of the wind on your track across the ground.
Pilotage is probably the most satisfying form of navigating because in addition to tracking your course across the ground, it requires that you observe the world "beneath your wings." With a line drawn on a sectional chart between your departure and destination airports, you mark checkpoints along the route and measure the distance between each. Flying from one checkpoint to the next will get you to your destination. By recording the time between each checkpoint and knowing the distance, you can calculate your groundspeed and confirm you'll have sufficient fuel. From your preflight planning you'll know the anticipated wind correction angle and your estimated groundspeed. Working out the time-speed-distance problem between each checkpoint will confirm your calculations.
In picking checkpoints, it's important to recognize that some things marked on the sectional will be easier to see than others. Railroad tracks and small rivers can be hidden below trees in summer; small rivers and lakes can freeze in the winter and may be covered with snow. Select checkpoints off to the left side of the course line drawn on the sectionals. Trying to time your passage over a checkpoint directly under the nose of the airplane won't be as accurate as it will be if you note when the leading edge of your wing passes over a checkpoint out your side of the airplane.
If there are highways going my way, or ridgelines or rivers, it makes it much easier to stay on course. The more obvious the checkpoints are - and the better the visibility - the farther apart you can make them. When looking for checkpoints you've chosen, it's important to remember that everything on the sectional should be on the ground, but not everything on the ground will be on the sectional. Tactically, instead of peering into the distance to watch for the next checkpoint, you should be constantly following along on the sectional.