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: Legend: 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. Experienced. Insane. 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’…

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  2. 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!

  3. 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)


  4. 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)

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. 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.