Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ben Hur Does The Grand Canyon

Too often, in our haste to get where we’re going, we overlook an art form. A longstanding American tradition is dismissed without consideration. A tradition which requires forethought and dedication and which rewards the artist with majesty and rich experience.

I speak of the road trip.

As Spring approaches, I find myself with a wanderlust, as, no doubt, many do. Spring break will be upon us and parents around the country will look for something to do with their kids. For many, this will involve cashing in days off and taking a quick vacation.

While planning, most people tend to want to get where they are going fast, spend time there and then get back home quickly. Instead, I say, take your time. Drive. Let it take you a while to get to your destination. You’ll have some time to ponder where it is you’re going and the drive back will give you time to reminisce on the memories you have just made.

I understand the trepidation of some to pack into a car for a long trek. Especially those with young children. But there is no need to fear your minivan, SUV, station wagon, or chosen vehicle. It will only be a box of high speed woe and shrieking misery if that is what you allow it to be. When planned properly, a family road trip can transform your automobile into a shining golden chariot that shall transport you on a journey of wonder.

Too dramatic? Well, allow me to come back down to Earth and offer a few points to remember when planning your road trip anyway.

First things first: Prepare your vehicle. Not packing. Dedicate certain spaces within your chosen vessel to specific purposes. Create space to keep activities, games, or movies for the kids. In a minivan or larger vehicle, seats can be moved around or removed completely to make space and stretch out a little. Take advantage of this. Think ahead to what the people who aren’t driving will want to do. Keep in mind extra batteries or a cigarette lighter adapter so electronic items can be sustained through longer trips. Small pillows and blankets are also good. A nap is an activity.

I encourage a good cooler. If you have the space and can keep it accessible, a party cooler works wonders for providing snacks. It can serve as a table in the rear of a minivan while closed. I was always one to tote plenty of junk food on a road trip. You know, the kind that makes you want to barf after nervous eating it for several hours straight. I felt it was a rite of passage sort of thing. My wife then pointed out that fruit was a much better option for small stomachs and the cooler keeps it fresh.

Water and Gatorade are also essential. The wide necks of the Gatorade bottles can be useful for those of you with boys by prolonging the time between bathroom breaks. Just make sure you put the cap back on tight and keep a rool of paper towels nearby just in case.

Music is a major issue to a good road trip as well. This is where the iPod (or any MP3 player) is a blessing. I need road trip standards like Springsteen and Bob Seger around (try beginning your road trip with “Roll Me Away” - It’s glorious), but you need some variety. If everyone but you is sleeping, especially if you’re bold enough to try the over night expedition, you’re going to want some upbeat music to keep you awake. You hit shuffle, a song like “Everybody Hurts” comes on and the next thing you know, you’re in the opposite lane scene from Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

Also, set some ground rules regarding music. I personally say the driver picks the soundtrack, but perhaps you’d like to determine a rotation before departure and take turns.

This brings me to my final nugget of advice. The driver, whether it’s a title to be held by a single person for the whole trip or passed like a baton, is to be treated with consideration.

The best way to ensure this is with the assignment of a co-pilot. This is a designation my father used when I was younger, probably in a big way to appease me, but it’s a system that I firmly believe in. It can rotate just as easily as can the driver. Assign someone who knows how to read a map (be sure to provide them with one) to sit up front. Have them update the driver periodically, see if he or she needs anything from the cooler mentioned above and control the music selection. This is a huge help and makes the whole car seem to work as more of a team.

So, brave explorers, see more than just what lies waiting at your chosen destination. Enjoy better scenery than clouds on your excursion. Make some extra time to revisit the honorable tradition of the road trip when planning your next vacation. You’ll be glad you did.


  1. I heartily agree! Some of the fondest memories of trips we took as a family come from the drive,especially the drive there. (Drives home, on the other hand, tend to suck. Probably because they lack the element of anticipation the drive out has.) I am coming to realize that, if the destination is within two days of my home, I would much rather drive it than fly it. I find it more comfortable and I like the sense of control. I also don't have to share the car with a 5 and 7 year old :)

  2. "Sense of control," is a great way of describing it. I'm jealous i didn't include that. As for driving with kids, one still has more control when driving. You'd be surprised to know the, "I will turn this car around," threat holds some credibility (at least the first four or five times your use it). This is something that can't be said 3,000 miles in the air. Even young kids know you have no control over where that big contraption is going to take them once you take off. Plus, you can stop and stretch your legs whenever you want or just say, "Hell with it," we're sleeping here tonight."