The great American summer family vacation season is winding down. No longer will magazine covers be festooned with pictures of national parks, beach cabanas and advice on how to “beat the heat.” Cooler evenings and advertisers will help turn our thoughts toward “back to school,” fall sweater weather and the “secrets” to savoring the last days of summer.
But before I let my head go there I need a vacation. It’s not that I didn’t get one this summer; I did have a wonderful one. It’s just that I need a vacation from my vacation. Let me explain.
Every year we pile four kids and the family dog into our mini-van for a requisite road trip from Seattle to Ketchum, Idaho. My husband and I love the open road.
The kids — not so much. We set out to amuse our kids during the journey with books, audio entertainment and games. We bring a cooler filled with bribery snacks of candy, soda and chips. There is also a promise of ice cream stops if they don’t fight too much.
Our offspring believe they suffer greatly since we do not have a movie player in the car like “every other civilized family.” We prefer that they look at the scenery and talk. That means we are old-fashioned, righteous or simply idiotic for doing a 12-hour-each-direction road trip every summer with our self-imposed constraints.
Once, after a particularly long stretch in the car, we stopped by the Oregon Trail Museum to break up the travel monotony and provide a little learning. I also hoped that after seeing the hardships of travel in a covered wagon, the Spartan mini-van would seem luxurious. Unfortunately, the lesson was lost on my brood. At that particular moment I felt like Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, in the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Clark, on a long calamitous car trip, screams “Well I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun. We’re all gonna have so much f#%* ing fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our godamn smiles.”
Why, then, the enforced family “fun” of automobile transportation? Well, besides the obvious economic value of driving six people instead of flying them, I love the flexibility. I can leave when I want. I can stop as often as I want. There is no firm schedule. I get the freedom from routine that I crave on vacation and whether the trip is fantastic or infuriating, it is burned into our family lore.
As my kids have gotten older and have moved on to summer jobs and other obligations there are fewer road trip warriors. Yet I still believe, without apology, that this is a great way to go.
Family travel is rarely as relaxing as a great retreat with adult friends and I look forward to my girlfriend trip this fall when I won’t be Sherpa, chef and referee. However, family bonding over long drives, adventures and mishaps have made these trips a treasure.
Carol Lewis Gullstad August 8, 2011