Let’s go on a road trip

Today we are taking a trip.

Not just any trip.

A road trip.

Not just any road trip, but the obligatory road trip of my childhood.

My family was obsessed with the road trip.

It was a well-oiled machine of efficiency.

There were basic rules to the family road trip. These rules are set in stone. Any deviation is strictly forbidden:

I need to emphasize that you need to re-read rules #1 and #3. If you are unprepared, it could be disastrous.

Now way back in the 1970s my family had 3 options for our travel vehicle:

Vehicle A: Family car. Purple Citroen. Great looking car. Cool inside. Drives approximately 167 miles between break-downs. Looks great sitting on the side of the highway.

Vehicle B: 1969 Pontiac. Car given to my family by relative. Large car. Lots of power. Can sit approximately 12 people comfortably in the bench backseat. Reliable. Gas tank capacity rivals a tanker truck.

Vehicle C: Late 60s “conversion van” that can be borrowed from my grandparents. Has a full kitchen and bathroom. Advertised to sleep 5. Actually can sleep one comfortably (and not that comfortably). Down-side is that family has to drive to West coast to pick up vehicle.

Let’s pick Vehicle B!

Now let’s choose a route:

Please make note that all car routes require around the clock driving. Please note that all arrival times must be between 2 and 5 am because relatives that we were visiting loved when we, a family of four rolled into their driveway in the middle of the night.

Let’s drive to California!

We aren’t pansy travelers.

We are weathered.



So what are we going to eat along the trip?

Howard Johnsons?

Big Boy?

Wall Drug?

Puuuuleeeeease people! We have already forgotten rules #1 and #3. Eating out requires a stop of the vehicle. Eating out costs money. And for your information, money doesn’t grow on trees.

So mom is going to pack a cooler:

We are ready to roll!

We have filled our rectangular suitcases full of necessities and dad has placed them with precision in the trunk with skill that rivals an experienced brick layer.

The trunk is full. So full that a piece of notebook paper placed on the top of the suitcases would cause the trunk to pop open. A few extra things are placed on the floor of the back seat because children don’t need legroom.

In my family suitcases were NEVER tied to the roof. My dad would have seen this as a sign to the world of packing failure. That would be unacceptable.

Let’s show a little road trip pride!

Even though the backseat measures about 72 feet in width. This is necessary:

Within an hour this will happen:

Tears were the ONLY drink available because of rules #1 and #3. Unlucky was the child who realized pee urgency within the first few hours post fill-up.

Dehydration was the goal.

Who needs drinks when the sandwiches are of the floating variety?

And then this would happen:

To keep the kid’s minds off their full bladders game mania ensued:

I spy.

The license plate game.

Punch bug.

We were road warriors!

No amount of crying, screaming, bladder explosion or road trip songs would make my dad turn around and head back for home.

Nerves of steel.

We didn’t need a portable DVD player!

We could occupy ourselves the old fashioned way with whining and fighting

But every once in awhile there was a quiet moment that I wish I could recreate with my own kids:

OK, not exactly this quiet moment since in the 1970s it was perfectly acceptable for children to lay in the back window of a moving vehicle.

But something close to this. A moment of complete road trip bliss when the kids are quietly listening to dad making up stories about road signs.

A moment filled with family road trip magic.

My favorite story was the ‘Legend of Falling Rock’…


  1. Momma Dot says:

    Holly… LOVE THIS POST! And the animation! Girl… I remember road trips like this. Did you guys also play the ABC game? Having to find signs with the letter A… all the way to Z wins! Ha ha… and the NO CHILD SEATS back in the day… I remember sleeping across the back part of my parents car, too! Loved the 70’s! ha ha!

    Dot (pan) Ramirez

  2. Halftime Lessons says:


    Wait. Yes. I do.

    I think your husband must be triing to wrestle the markers away from you as my wife is trying to drag me from the computer.

    Whatever. They dont get it.

  3. wow…the only difference in your roadtrips and ours was that we had 3 kids in the backseat –same rules though. too funny!

  4. love the pictures! amazing artwork! we had four kids. and a station wagon that had seats that popped up on each side. usually only one kid got to go back there though. and really got isn’t the best word to use. sitting sideways watching the trees fly by usually made that person carsick. dad was totally stopping when we were throwing up. then we could pee on the side of the road. yeah…not fun at all!

  5. the planet of janet says:

    we had 3 kids in the back and one (the baby) in the front, sitting between the parents on the bench seat.

    critical mass was reached after an hour of having to sit in the middle of the back seat … on the bump. much hair was lost while fighting over who had to sit there.

  6. Are we there yet?

    That was WAY more fun than the actual road trips I remember as a kid! = )

  7. WeaselMomma says:

    Didn’t you or Fred ever figure out that one properly timed bladder explosion would mean stopping and taking a break to clean up the car and soggy kid and most likely time to stretch your legs and get a bite to eat, just so your parents had time to cool off and take a breath? Plus Dad would not would never again call your bluff when you pulled the ‘I have to pee’ alarm.

  8. Manic Mommy says:

    We had the giant white station wagon with the wood on this sides, three kids, one LARGE dog who drooled, no A/C, the luggage, and the cooler full of soggy sandwiches.

    Back in BS (before seatbelts), my parents would fold the seats back and we’d lie on sleeping bags. Which was good, because it was ALWAYS THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!

  9. InTheFastLane says:

    We had the station wagon with the back seat that faced backwards. Perfect for getting car sick. But, we ALWAYS made my dad tell the Legend of Falling Rock. As soon as we saw the sign the story began.

  10. oh good golly! i am laughing soooooo hard right now because our family road trips had the exact same rules! when my mom would start squirming and sweating because SHE needed to pee should would start refilling my dad’s coffee from his thermos as often as possible!

    we drove from arkansas to houston (8 hrs) several times a year with no more than ONE stop. and i remember one time right after we got a new minivan that we actually didn’t make a stop because the gas mileage was so great. i think my mom made sure that we never left arkansas on that full of a tank of gas again!

    oh and when we were little we had one of those “potty training” potties in the back of the van to use if we absolutely had to pee! yuck! all i can think now is… my poor mom.

    and THANK GOD for portable DVD players!!!

  11. Jenn @ Juggling Life says:

    I Datsun 240z, 4 girls. On our backs. Heads together at the top. 2 parents smoking. I couldn’t make this up.

  12. ComfyMom~Stacey says:

    I think your dad might be related to my dad, but I have one question. Were your parents also chain smokers who would never ever roll the windows down because by god they had a/c in the car and they were going to enjoy it? And they accused you of lying about the smoke smell bothering you because they had a pine tree scented air freshener dangling from the rear view mirror that got rid of the smoke smell?

  13. Mrs Lemon says:

    Oh my word – you are a genius.

  14. jill jill bo bill says:

    OMG I went on those trips. Throw in a couple bouts of raod sickness and you were me. Or I was you, only fatter.

  15. We drove from TX to CA every year or so when I was a kid because that is where my mom’s family is. We did the cooler thing every time. We always stopped to eat in Kingman, AZ (on route 66!) at the park with the train. My dad was a packing ninja. 3 kids in the back seat of various models of Pontiacs. My dad would tell us we were missing the scenery as we read or slept our way through the dessert. We kept reminding him it looked the same as last year. I loved it and can’t wait to do it with my kids.

  16. SuburbanCorrespondent says:

    I remember my brother lying on the back “ledge.” Haven’t thought of that in years, though…

    And I know the legend of Falling Rock.

  17. OMG that falling rock sign, I remember that when I was young, I always thought they were liars. And I miss the days you could travel in the back window without the glares of judgey parents.

  18. Holly at Tropic of Mom says:

    Hahaha! So funny. I remember road trips exactly like this. That invisible line of death!

    Did you also make up puppet shows for the cars driving behind you? No? Anyone? No?

  19. Happy Campers says:

    OK WAIT. WHERE is the story about the Legend Of The Falling Rock?

    Leave me hanging why don’t you…

  20. Happy Campers says:

    I remember no seatbelts, lying on the floorboard of the passenger seat of my dad’s HUGE Oldsmobile tanker car. Brown, of course.

    I remember using the air vents and pretending to “wash my hair” in the “water” that was coming out.

    And Neil Diamond 8-track played the whole way. I love Neil.

    I think Hubbs is continuing the fine tradition of roadtripping with our kids. We drove back from Tennessee this summer (14 hours) and he drove the WHOLE way back because he didn’t want to stop somewhere along the way…he just wanted to get home. Got home at 3am. At least we stopped on the way there 🙂

  21. Elaine A. says:

    We had a Buick like your Pontiac. I loved sleeping in the back seat of that thing. I miss that car, sagging healinder and all…

    Thanks for the animated post, I’ve been missing them! : )

  22. Momo Fali says:

    Thanks for the road trip down memory lane! I loved my mom’s 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. The back seat was like a twin bed for me and my cousin to sprawl out on…pillows and all. Seat belts be damned!

  23. amelia bedelia says:

    I think our Dad’s are related!!!! So true. Loved it!

  24. MoziEsmé says:

    My childhood vacation life, down to the cooler and the itinerary. Except we had 5 kids in the back seat. And we spent one night in a motel because our relatives very clearly weren’t expecting us in the middle of the night when we called upon arriving in town. But it was just one room for all 7 of us.

  25. We were spoiled. My parents always put a crib mattress in the back seat (a ’76 Caprice Classic) so we could bounce around and sleep comfortably. When we started punching each other, one of us would get to sit between our parents in the front. And somehow, we survived.

  26. Elizabeth says:

    LOL funny.
    I am now the packing professional…my DH knows better than to try to put ANYTHING in the back of the minivan…that’s MY JOB!!! My parents didn’t make us go too far too often, but we dray our kids to Illinios at least once a year (@15-16 hours)…Thank the Good Lord for the invention of the portable DVD player!

    My father always bought those horrible little filtered cigars for the 6 hour trip to my grandmother’s house…he didn’t smoke (usually) My mother did, though…maybe he did it to get back at her for making him breathe the smoke filled air!
    Thanks for the giggle..and the animated post!

  27. hip chick says:

    My mother used to threaten to “Pull over to the side of the highway and kick us out of the car if we don’t stop fighting right now…” One time she did it to my brother. I’ll never forget the look on his face as she drove away…she didn’t drive far though. She stopped and he got in…very quietly.
    I love the commenter who had a Neil Diamond 8 track playing…that is to funny.

  28. Love the cooler graphic and the floating sandwiches.

    Do Mom and Dad read the blog?

  29. Alicia (aka Dr. Mom) says:

    best. post. EVER. i can relate to much of it. we traveled in a bright orange VW station wagon with no seatbelts and no A/C. roll down windows, baby. cross country. PA to Cali. A family of 6 with an aspergers-ish dad and a mom with a flare for melodrama.

  30. OMG!!! We had the same line of death if ever crossed! AND the window ledge in the back – we were so lucky not to have died! Naw, it was way more fun then the boring road trips we go on now. I mean every.single.child. has something to keep them entertained, and the van doesn’t even have a ledge. Our childhoods were so much better than our kids, no? 🙂

  31. Colleen - Mommy Always Wins says:

    I {big puffy heart} Holly’s animated life.

    When there were three of us, we had a third lay across the floor.

    Once there were four we were pretty much doomed to backseat anarchy.

  32. Deborah at Coco Bonbons says:

    Love this article! Love the drawings! My family of 6 also took long road trips in a minivan from Indiana to Florida almost every summer. Very similar rules. One of our games was that “whoever smells the ocean first gets a dollar!” Yeah, my parents were brilliant. Kept us quiet (except for all the sniffing) for at least an hour once we crossed the Florida state line. 🙂

  33. Anonymous says:

    i was smart …. i could talk my mum into switching seats with me so that she could sit next to brother 🙂

    but the rules were still the same (and they still apply today – even when i am driving ….ummm might have to change them for the next trip)

  34. I am absolutely astounded at the similarity of rules, seating configurations and packing pride that our families shared a la the 70’s. It’s uncanny! And I have to say, I was quite surprised at myself, when I began having to road-trip it 700+ miles with our then six kiddos between our old home and the new at how many of these rules and regulations came back to the forefront of my travel strategies…

    (absolutely LOVE this post)


  35. Or to Little Nicki, Little Donna, Little Mark and Little Scott; then fill up both back seat foot wells and put a twin-size mattress over the entire back seat area; then to maximize the fragile peace, put one child up front with the parents and always place the remaining opposite sex sib in between the two same sex siblings at either window “ this poor child the only barrier to the venom and wrath of the window-siblings. And don't forget to add at least one unique circumstance to pressure the road trip family to the breaking point “ it may be an extra cousin or a grandmother. One summer it was the window-seat box with the family dog and her five 3-week old puppies traveling across the summer desert to California with open windows as the car air conditioner, the three back-seat siblings squeezed into the space for two, mopping puppy-heads with melted ice-chest water to cool them and stop their otherwise incessant high-pitched yipping complaints. Oh, those were the days that confirmed we Americans still had the pioneer spirit!

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