Recently the Wall Street Journal carried a review of a book called, Don’t Make Me Pull Over, by Richard Ratay, which puts the American road trip into an entertaining historical perspective. The online version of the article had 45 comments, recalling nostalgic memories of family road trips back in the days when cars lacked seat belts, air conditioning, and video players. Although Ratay suggests that cheaper air fares have made long-distance road travel less common now, several readers reported that they still enjoy the spontaneity of hitting the road. This summer I realized that I am one of them.
The family road trips in my life seem to occur at 30-year intervals. They are concentrated in decades about a generation apart starting in the 1950’s, jumping to the 1980’s, and now, in 2018, they are unaccountably starting again. They are all different, and yet in some ways they are all the same.
By the mid-nineteen-fifties, our family was living abroad. Eagerly my dad would get out his maps and take us out to see the sights wherever we happened to be. I remember a trip from Tehran to Isfahan where we picnicked in small shelters or gardens along the way and spent the night in a hotel where we were warned to shake our shoes for scorpions before putting them on in the morning. Dad’s colleague, Javad, traveled with us and we stayed in his family’s home in Shiraz, making a side trip to Persepolis.
A few years later we had moved to Geneva and our road trips took us through cool mountain passes. Most memorable was a spring break drive that took us through France to the Costa Brava in Spain. I remember how my little brother was carsick during the winding drive through the Pyrenees and how insufferably proud I was that I wasn’t.
Grade school is prime time for taking children on the road. In the 1980’s, when our four children were young, we spent vacations exploring the southwestern United States, camping in national parks and seeing historical spots like Fort Ross, California, and Tombstone, Arizona. Like my dad, I planned these trips meticulously figuring out miles per day and tracing routes with a yellow marker on maps from the auto club. But by the late 1990’s the kids were applying to college and family road trips were over—or so I thought.
Last April I took my first solo road trip up north to visit friends and family in Davis, Napa, and Lincoln. It was actually easier than I expected. But when my oldest son suggested that he and I take his kids, my four youngest grandchildren, on a road trip in July. I was skeptical about taking four children between the ages of 5 and 12 on the road. Would they tease and whine and drive us crazy?
But they didn’t! And I was really impressed with how fun it is to plan trips in the 21st century without even leaving home! It’s so convenient to plan and print out our routes between destinations, make reservations, and look up the hours and prices for sights we want to see. I made a binder so that we could all see the information along the way. I looked at road games on Amazon and ordered road bingo, road Mad Libs, and Big Picture Apples to Apples. I put the games in a box along with snacks and water and a first aid kit to have with us in the car.
The kids were so excited they were in the car 20 minutes early and we had to persuade them to get out for a group photo. They finished one round of Road Bingo before we even got to the freeway.
This 4-day trip took us from Rancho Santa Margarita to Mission San Miguel, about 30 minutes north of San Luis Obispo. We kept the drives short and the lunches fun. We visited 6 missions, the Danish village of Solvang, and the Ostrich Farm, staying at motels with swimming pools and breakfast buffets, and ending with a family barbecue at my daughter’s house. The trip brought back so many memories of road trips past that I wanted to do it again.
I’m such a fan that I’m already planning a 3-day trip after Christmas to take them to Joshua Tree National Park, staying at a KOA this time. My third generation of road trips has begun.
References and Additional Information:
“ ‘Don’t Make Me Pull Over!’ Review: Station Wagon Memories,” reviewed by Daniel Akst, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 9, 2018.
Harris Ranch: https://www.harrisranch.com/home/
Joshua Tree National Park https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm