Story by Nicole Keck
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
Road trips have always been a sweet part of my life. When I was young, our family travelled much of the country. We named Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” as our family anthem; sometimes my dad still breaks out into song just for nostalgia. As an adult, I still relish a good road trip, but now my memories include trips that my husband and I have taken during the course of the 22 years we’ve known each other. Most of them were B.C. (before children) and in a little black 1993 Ford Escort hatchback. I got it when I was eighteen as a Christmas gift from my parents, complete with the new-car smell and a huge red bow. I was so grateful and appreciative, I used toothpicks to keep all the interior crevices clean. Routinely, I donned my tie-dyed bathing suit, popped a mixed tape into the cassette player and sang along to ’90’s favourites from Pearl Jam, The Cranberries and Smashing Pumpkins while I gave it a top-to-bottom detailing in the driveway.
For the rest of my senior year, that car carted my friends around on the weekends like clowns stuffed into a Volkswagen Beetle. It suffered some neglect while I was in college, but it’s life started looking up in 1994 when Bob and I began taking it on long road trips. We crammed it with gear to go camping and backpacking anywhere our hearts would lead us. It took us places we shouldn’t have gone, too, like the dark, desolate, “closed for the season,” logging roads that lie beyond Copper Harbor at the northernmost tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We nearly got stuck in the enormous ruts in that road, but the Escort didn’t seem to know that it wasn’t a two-tonne logging truck, and it faithfully brought us back to camp that night to see the Northern Lights amid the black wilderness.
We took that little car all across southern Ontario and east into New York, all through the southern United States, and westward through the plains; over the heights of the Rockies during snowstorms, and through the deserts. We had many poignant conversations on those trips as we contemplated what we wanted out of life. To this day, certain albums can bring me right back to specific times and places. In 1999, the Escort brought Bob, by now my husband, to Durango, Colorado and back on a solo road trip as he scouted a place for us to live. The air conditioner was broken by then, and we didn’t end up moving, but only Bob and that car know the enormity of that fateful trip.
There are always some proverbial “bumps in the road,” and the unexpected often happens when you’re out there — that’s half the fun. Those wrong turns usually become opportunities for adventure, and chances to discover hidden gems and oddities. Turn off the GPS and do your own “re-routing.” The allure of road trips is the sense of freedom. Unlike flying, an excursion by car lets you set out whenever you want, while seated beside whomever you want, to see whatever you want along the way, and all on the schedule and pace of your choosing.
You can plan ahead, deciding how many miles you will cover each day, and making reservations at carefully selected stops along the way. Or, if you prefer, you can throw the itinerary out the window (figuratively, of course; I’m not endorsing littering) and just let the journey be the only real destination. Either way, the required sense of adventure, along with the anticipation of what may lie ahead, makes a road trip feel reminiscent of the early pioneer days, when families set out to tame unknown lands — on horses, no less.
Today, we travel in climate-controlled comfort with arguably the best travelling companion money can buy — our car, which can become our living room, our dining room, and even our bedroom, in a pinch. Cars don’t need our conversation, don’t care if the air conditioning is too cold, don’t mind if our bare feet rest on the dashboard, or, dare I say, out the window, and never insist on having their own way.
Our little car saw a lot of road, ate a lot of bugs, left behind its share of roadkill, and never gave us trouble until 2004 when the odometer reached 225,000 miles and it finally raised the white flag. We never gave it a name, like some car owners do with their vehicles, but it felt like part of our family.
Bob and I now have three young boys, and our beloved hatchback has become a beloved minivan. I swore I would never drive a minivan, but honestly I wouldn’t go back (at least not until the kids are grown) because everything about a minivan is built for family road trips. Although the vehicle we drive has changed, our love of the open road has not. Thankfully, our kids are good travellers, (“good” becomes “great” if you include a DVD player) and I see many more road trips in our future, broadening the kids’ horizons and exposing them to new geographies, climates, and cultures. Besides, as it turns out, being trapped together in about 50 square feet is actually a really good thing.
So when you’re making your vacation plans, I suggest taking a break from searching the Internet for flight deals and walking into your driveway to see if you can’t envision your vehicle as the perfect travelling companion for your family.