Travel Essay: The Value of a Road Trip

Since I’ve been a dad, I’ve taken some fabulous vacations with my family. We visited Disneyland & Disney World (where we attended an exclusive preview party), Universal Studios (where we had behind-the-scenes access), toured Washington, DC, and took a Caribbean cruise.

These trips were once-in-a-lifetime experiences and we thoroughly enjoyed them. But when I asked my kids what were their favorite vacations, they all said it was the road trips we’ve taken.

I’ve always enjoyed road trips. When I was a child, my family couldn’t afford “real” vacations like many of my friends took. Instead, we’d take road trips to Louisiana to visit our extended family.

I didn’t mind the six-hour journey because it was always an amazing adventure for me. We’d get to eat at restaurants along the way (something we never did at home). I loved listening to the server’s Cajun accents and tried to mimic them when I got back in the car.

We’d also travel through farmlands and small towns which were totally different from the urban environment I was used to.

summer road trip

But the best part of the trip was spending quiet time with my mother. As a single mom, she was usually busy with work, school, or taking care of my sister and me. On these trips, we got to place our hectic lives on hold.

For six hours, I had my mother’s undivided attention and she had mine.

My kids said that they also enjoy this aspect of our road trips. They like having long conversations away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

I didn’t realize that they craved this type of interaction until we took our first road trip. We planned a 20-hour journey from Houston to Key West (Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?).

To prepare for the trip I installed a DVD player in the minivan and bought several movies to keep the kids occupied.

google maps texas to florida

At the time, my kids were 1, 5, and 8 and I figured that a full day in the car would be too much for them to handle without some form of entertainment.

On the day we were scheduled to leave, I loaded the kids into the van, popped in a DVD, and hit the highway. Things were going great until my daughter spoke up from the backseat.

“Daddy, something’s wrong with the movie?

“What’s wrong,” I asked.

“It just stopped playing,” she said.

I told her to fiddle with the controls to see if she could restart it.

“I’ve tried everything and it still won’t work,” she said.

“I’ll pull over at the next exit and see what’s wrong,” I said.

I exited the highway, parked in a McDonald’s parking lot, and went to the back of the van to inspect the DVD player. After a few minutes of tinkering with it, I realized that there was nothing I could do to revive it.

“Bad news, honey,” I said to my wife. “The DVD player is broken.” A look of serious concern came across my wife’s face. We were only two hours into the 20-hour trip, and we had no way to keep the kids busy (this was before we had iPads).

My wife and I fretted about what to do. We contemplated stopping at an electronics store and having a new unit installed. Then I remembered the road trips with my mom. I didn’t have DVD players.

My only entertainment was talking to my mom and observing the passing scenery. I turned to my wife and said, “We’re just going to press on. When we get to Key West, we’ll replace the player.”

My wife and kids expressed disappointment at this decision and begged me to get it fixed.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Everything will be okay.”

And guess what? Everything was okay. In fact, it was better than okay. It was marvelous. On the way to Key West, we talked, laughed, sang songs, and played travel games such as “I Spy,” and “Spot the License Plate.” The kids also got to learn about geography as we drove through several states.

key west bridge

When we finally arrived at Key West, everyone was exhausted, but my kids were eager to explore the hotel. Hotels hold some special allure in their eyes. I think they’d be content to just stay in a hotel for a whole weekend even if it were just a few miles from our house.

We spent three days in Key West and made the most of our time there. We explored the island, tried new restaurants, and spent many hours relaxing on the beach.

My daughter and I collected seashells while my 5-year-old son played in the water. My 1-year-old was a bit unsure about the beach. He didn’t like the sand, but he did like splashing in the water with his mother and brother.

key west beach

The most exciting part of the trip was when my 1-year old son took his first steps. We were relaxing in the hotel room when he pulled himself up on the couch, let go, and started walking. We all cheered him on. He seemed to enjoy the attention because he couldn’t stop laughing.

On our last day in Key West, I told my wife that I was going to find an electronics store to have a new DVD player installed.

She thought for a minute and then said, “Nah, we’re good.”

The journey home was even more enjoyable because we could share our favorite vacation memories along the way. This was perhaps, the best 20 hours of my life.

Now that my kids are 15, 12, and 8 this type of interaction isn’t always easy to come by. That’s why I schedule short road trips with each of them.

The trips are usually 2-4 hours, but it gives me time to spend with each child individually. Sometimes we stay overnight in a hotel. Sometimes it’s just a quick day trip.

I cherish the time that we can spend together. They will soon be grown and have their own families to take on road trips.

I just hope that they remember the fun times that we’ve had even when their kids are asking, “Are we there yet?”

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