Summer Vacation Road Trip!

Time to Hit the Road for Summer Vacation

Remember the movie “Vacation,” which chronicled the hilarious escapades of the Griswald family as they journeyed in the family truckster from Chicago to Wallyworld in California? While my family’s summer road trip in the late ‘60s doesn’t have movie potential, we started from the same place and headed west — and we had our share of adventures along the way.

To set the stage, things were a lot different when it came to modern conveniences back then. There were no SUVs, no electronics — music, movies or screens — to distract bored children, and no cell phones. We had a station wagon without air conditioning and in-car entertainment was limited to car bingo and the license plate game. Our luggage was tied to the roof of the car, as a cooler took up a large part of what indoor storage there was; it was filled with cold cuts and other perishable items for our rest stop lunches.

Our family of five consisted of three children; I turned 9 during the trip — in Des Moines, Iowa — and my younger sisters were 6 and newly 4 years old. Despite our youth, my parents thought it would be a great idea to trek across America without a finite destination in mind — every day was the same: drive until about 3 until we saw “our sign” (Holiday Inn), spend some time at the pool, eat dinner, sleep, and then start all over again the next day.

I vaguely remember being in the Texas panhandle, and seeing the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon; I bet my sisters have no recollections at all.

Our journey started out on a sour note — we are entering Griswald territory. On our very first day, my dad realized something was dragging under the car as we cruised toward Mount Olive, Illinois. He pulled over and saw the muffler had come loose. Now remember, there were no cell phones back then; there was no way to call someone to help.

The muffler had to be tied to the undercarriage so we could drive into town and get a longer-term fix. It was too hot to do right away, and to my horror, I was told I had to be the one to get under the car and do it. Mom and dad were too big, and my sisters were too small. I have no memory of doing it — but obviously I did — since we got to Mount Olive and have it repaired.

I only know now how freaked out my parents must have been, because we were on a very tight budget, and the car repair was certainly unplanned. And this was just day 1!

Undaunted, we motored on, sweating our way through the west. Remember, no air conditioning! The only other major mishap is straight out of “Vacation”; our luggage flew off the car at some point in New Mexico or Arizona! Dad noticed it because the shadow cast by the car was wrong — nothing was on top. Again, I don’t remember this, but I know from being told that we went back and collected everything (and on subsequent trips, my dad thought it prudent to use paper bags as luggage that could be stowed inside the car).

Many years later, dad lamented that Walkmans hadn’t been around for that trip. He figured, probably correctly, that if we’d each been able to listen to music, the endless squabbling — “she’s on my side,” etc. — would have been eliminated. I think he might also have wondered how different it would have been with three boys instead of three girls, since he was fond of telling us how boys weren’t as petty.

That trip was the longest we ever took, but it didn’t dampen my parents’ enthusiasm for traveling by car with us, as we made many treks down to Florida, mostly in the winter — seeing countless signs for Lookout Mountain — but that’s a story for another blog.

Today’s Traveling Families

While the price of gas is exponentially higher now than it was when my family was taking road trips, modern conveniences have made travel with even young children much easier. (OK, I’m not a parent; maybe it’s still a challenge, but you have technology available to help.)

In addition to non-tech items like food, water, bug spray, tissues and a first aid kit, most checklists for family road trips now include things that didn’t exist in “my day”:

  • Electronic devices — iPods, iPads, Kindles/Nooks, cell phones and/or laptop computers

  • Headphones — so each passenger can enjoy his/her own entertainment and let the driver have control over the car’s radio

  • Power cords and batteries — those devices don’t run on magic!

  • GPS navigation unit — so you’re not at the mercy of spotty cell reception

  • Downloaded music or CDs — in case your streaming service doesn’t work and/or radio selections are questionable

  • DVD player — ‘nuff said; today’s families do have it a lot easier than we did!

Where To Go

Most families’ summer vacation road trips are planned based on the available time and how much driving is involved. If you’re big on scenery, you might want to consider one of these 12 best, most scenic road trips in the U.S., courtesy of

  • Alaska Highway — The historic Alaska Highway actually starts in British Columbia and winds its lonely way through the Yukon Territory all the way to Fairbanks. The trip is about 1,459 miles.

  • Blue Ridge Parkway — This 469-mile drive connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

  • Canada to Mexico — The author of Road Trip USA recommends this trip from the Canadian Rockies to the Sonora Desert, through Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona.

  • The Deep South: Charleston to New Orleans — This trip allows you to take in the history and cultural traditions of the deep South.

  • Denver to Glacier — You can get scenery overload on this epic journey from the Mile-High City to Yellowstone National Park.

  • The Loneliest Road: Colorado to Lake Tahoe — This 1,066-mile trip from Pueblo, Colo., heading west to Lake Tahoe will satisfy your scenery craving.

  • The Oregon Trail — This designated national historic trail traverses west across six states for 2,000 miles, starting in Independence, Mo., and ending in Oregon City, south of Portland.

  • Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West — This is a short road trip, just 150 miles from Miami through the Florida Keys on Route 1, ending in Key West.

  • Olympic Peninsula-Pacific Coast Washington/Oregon — Starting in Olympia, Wash., in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, you'll head north on Hwy. 101 to drive the loop around the Olympic Peninsula, and then turn south down the coast toward the Oregon border.

  • Pacific Coast Highway, California — Driving the entire coast of California from Crescent City to San Diego is over 1,000 miles and takes you to some of the most famous and scenic places in the state.

  • West Virginia’s Midland Trail and the New River Gorge — Leave the interstate behind on the 180-mile Midland Trail, which traverses west to east, border to border, across West Virginia on historic Route 60.

  • Route 66: Chicago to California — At over 2,500 miles, Route 66 may well be America's most iconic highway, evoking memories of the early era of the automobile, steeped in the nostalgia of roadside motels, mom-and-pop gas stations, and open expanses free of strip malls.

Ready to pack up and go? Share your adventures with us!

No tags yet.
  • Facebook Basic Square