Being mostly homebound for the past year has kept my family’s travels limited to our car. And, I have to admit, there’s something about a road trip that is comforting. Something nostalgic, and at the same time immediately thrilling … but also kind of boring.
Growing up in Greater Flint, car travel made up the majority of my childhood vacations. We were always going “up north.” Up to Tawas, Oscoda, Traverse City, Petoskey, Mackinac Island – always north – even if sometimes, we were actually heading mostly west toward Holland, or south to Ohio. We would pack a cooler with sandwiches, chips, cookies, fruit and cut veggies – a veritable snacking smorgasbord. My brother and I would play travel editions of board games or travel bingo and of course fight, yell and complain about whose “side” of the car the other was encroaching upon. We passed a lot of time just staring out the window at the trees and roadway flying by.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve spent much less time on road trips – much less time in the seat of a car in order to reach my vacation destination. My partner and I are more likely to fly to Europe and then travel by train and metro to get around rather than rent a car. We don’t often travel around Texas, as it is so unbelievably vast, and if we want to travel somewhere in the United States, it’s usually an airplane ride away, rather than a drive in the car.
But during this pandemic, we haven’t had much choice, and so our trips have been relegated to wherever
we can get to by expressway, Main Street or country road. And it has awakened memories of trips gone by and vacations from my past. There’s something kind of lovely about putting on some music and singing loudly and badly along with your family. There’s something kind of fun about having an “in-car picnic,” gobbling down sandwiches, jerky, almonds and potato chips. There’s also something freeing about being able to stop whenever you want. Pull off from the traffic and grab a bite to eat, fill up the tank, stretch. Check out a roadside shop that sells fudge or peaches, or just a taco truck parked off to the side. You might have a destination, but the drive is part of the vacation, too.
So, we have found ourselves singing duets like “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin (to our son’s delight), and reliving our teen years listening to boy bands or Britney Spears. We’ve had the chance to see a lot of beautiful sunsets all around Texas or when driving into New Orleans. We’ve really tested our son’s potty training at rest stops around the state, lots of close calls and “Hold it, Sweetheart. Just hold it one more minute!” My partner and I have taken turns at the wheel and as navigator. I’ve driven while he had Zoom meetings for work in the car, and he’s pulled off on the side of the highway when our screaming toddler had to have mama in the back seat RIGHT NOW.
Over the past year, the road itself became a kind of destination. We sang, talked, joked, reminisced, stopped for breakfast tacos, stopped for a detour, went an extra mile or two for an antique store or to spend a few more minutes enjoying a sea of bluebells. It’s been wonderful to relive some of those childhood memories, to make new ones with my family – but also, it’s been kind of boring.
I’m definitely ready to hop back on a plane and let someone else have a turn at the wheel.