When I was young, my parents frequently packed all eleven of us kids in a wood-paneled station wagon loaded down under the weight of my dad’s handcrafted car top carrier and headed for my grandparents’ farm near Wisconsin. These were the days before seat belt laws and 24-hour gas stations. A pack of children was free to run amok in the rear seats of family vehicles quite legally. Somehow, I always ended up sitting in the middle seat, my spindly legs straddling the transaxle floor hump with no door to fall asleep against and no window to gaze out of. My older brothers weren’t keen on me falling asleep on their shoulders. And no, there were no iPods, iPads, DVD players, wireless devices, or other forms of digital entertainment.
But luckily, somehow despite the cramped quarters and hot, sticky vinyl seats, I grew an appreciation for getting in the car and heading out. My husband and I took our first road trip in college. We packed up my little white Chevy and headed south to Charleston, South Carolina, to visit my best friend who was stationed there in the Air Force. Twenty-one hours in the car passed surprisingly well with the help of Twizzlers and Coca-Cola.
The following year we loaded up his Honda Prelude and spent spring break in Boston. But we had learned a thing or two the year before. This time, we were ready for both the toll booths as well as the long hours. A stop at the library provided us with a variety of books on cassette tapes. We had entered the high tech world of travel entertainment!
A lot has changed since then. Our kids have never witnessed us squabbling over the correct way to fold a map (although they have heard mom get short-tempered with “Luna,” the GPS). They’ve never had to think to themselves that it would sure be nice if the family’s next car had AC. They sit in the back and watch “Harry Potter” on DVD or use our smart phones to play games until I tell them it’s time to look for license plates or gawk at the scenery for a while.
“What do you think about us doing Route 66 someday?” Ryan asks. Hmm. “In a convertible,” he adds. Hmmmmmm.
There’s something very American about long road trips. My German cousins came to the States and were shocked by the long stretches of road here. I can vouch for their culture shock – I’ve driven countless miles around Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria. I can say I never experienced the miles and miles of open road in Europe like we have here. Car trips in the States require some creative time-passing skills, and at times, a dose of patience. But the thrill is in the journey, and seeing the vast differences in scenery our great nation has to offer. From the thick green forests of the Pacific Northwest to the swamplands in Louisiana, the hazy beauty of the Smokies to the sun-drenched splendor of the Southwest, and every mountain range and field of rolling hills between the two coasts, there are countless motorways of routes to be explored.
Hopefully your travel plans include hopping in the car from time to time and celebrating life on the open road. Grab some money for the toll roads, a stack of maps or your GPS, and your camera. There are splendid sights to be seen, amber waves of grain, purple mountains’ majesty, and so much more.