Are We There Yet?: The 21st Century Road Trip

In 1981, my family moved from the east coast to the midwest and thus began our twice annual (some years more) tradition of the 12-hour road trip. We’d leave at o-dark-thirty and drive east on I-80 until evening. We sat in the back seat of our pea green Buick Skylark playing games like “the alphabet game” (finding words that start with each letter of the alphabet), “the license plate game” (finding the license plates from all 50 states), and “the lifesaver game” (where everyone takes a Lifesaver candy and the person who makes it last the longest wins). We also had tape players, coloring books, and Twizzlers. That’s how we rolled.

Flash forward thirty years, and I’m loading my own crew up in our Town & Country minivan. The 12-hour road trip is one where the virtues of the minivan really come to light. Once you’ve thrown everything in for your trip, you load up your passengers. Chances are, there will be a few empty seats. Chances are, my kids will never be squished, three across, in a backseat that’s been compromised by a front bench seat pushed all the way back.

Here are a few fun things you can bring on your road trip that we couldn’t have even imagined in 1981:

1) Portable DVD player ““ Movies on a little TV? No way!
You might have a DVD player built into your vehicle, or you may need to purchase one. They aren’t very expensive, and they can make at least 120 miles pass rather painlessly for backseat passengers. Tip: Check out how to attach your player before you actually have a passenger expecting a movie. Trust me on this one. Depending on the movie, you may also want to bring headphones along.

2) Hand-held video games ““ Atari has to hook up to the TV, how can I play it in the car?
There are tons of options here depending on the age of your passengers. For the younger set, the Fisher Price iXL is a good choice. It’s got a few games, an MP3 player, and a paint program. Headphones can plug in, and it takes simple AA batteries. For elementary-aged kids, a Nintendo DS or an iPod Touch should keep them busy. Make sure you’ve got a charger or battery source or whatever’s needed to keep the power fresh.

3) GPS ““ A map inside a computer that talks? Not even Knight Rider had that!
A GPS cuts down on the number of wrong turns and can answer the question,”Are we there yet?” for you.

4) MP3 Player ““ Where do you stick the cassette?
The great thing about a digital music player is that you can load scads of music before you go and nothing gets lost. No jack to plug your MP3 player directly into your car’s stereo system? Get an AM/FM adapter and use the radio waves to play your music. Make playlists before you go with something for every family member and watch the miles roll by.

I wonder sometimes if all of these inventions cheapen the great American road trip. Will our kids laugh and shake their heads when they think of family vacations like my brothers and I do? I hope so.

After all, even with the ability to watch movies and play video games, kids are still stuck in the back seat. They are still at the mercy of their parents when it comes to pit stops. They still get the roll-away bed at the hotel (if they’re lucky), and they still get told to lie about their age to save a few bucks when necessary. Yes, even with modern inventions, the great American road trip is still one filled with close quarters and compromise. Just like it should be.

6 replies on “Are We There Yet?: The 21st Century Road Trip”

My husband and I are hard-asses and we resist this kind of stuff. I realize this is completely crazy. The husband especially wants the kids to enjoy the scenery of the ride. This makes our annual drive out to the West Coast incredibly difficult. We usually cave and pass out the iPhones or stick a DVD on one of our laptops (which we always travel with — just because our kids are deprived of technology doesn’t mean we are). I might break down and buy some video game action this summer, but with the caveat that they’ll be for car rides only.

Yeah, I think having to use our imaginations whilst on long car trips was a big part of what bonded my older brother and I. I’m not sure we would have been so close as kids if we’d spent all of our childhoods staring at seperate screens. But at the same time, I’m probably just remembering the good times and not all the times that we drove my parents absolutely insane.

….in conclusion, I’m old.

I can’t imagine my childhood without all the stuff my little sister and I invented on long car trips! We actually made a rock band with our stuffed toys (this was at the height of the beanie baby craze) and wrote several original songs, most of which were quite terrible and probably drove our dad mental. He remembers all the songs to this day! We did spend a lot of time listening to our own walkmen – showing my age – but I think with DVD players we *really* wouldn’t have interacted as much as we did.

Apparently my sister once got a little tipsy and decided to tell her boyfriend the story of our rock band, including renditions of some of the songs… It endears him to me very much that he doesn’t think she’s insane after that!

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