Family Travel: Nostalgia for the Family Road-trip

It’s warming up, at least here in Texas, and it’s making me think about summer vacation. Even if you are someplace where the snow is still falling, join me for just a moment and daydream of summer. Travel along with me into the memories of our childhood summers. When I was a kid summer meant long lazy days out playing with my friends, and arguing with my mom it was too soon to come in for dinner.

Summer also meant the annual family road trip. At various points in my childhood I lived in New York, Amsterdam and Vienna… and while the destination of the road trips naturally varied accordingly to their starting points, much about each trip remained the same; dad squeezing one more bag into the intricate Tetris puzzle that was our car’s trunk and never stopping for directions; mom smearing suntan lotion on our faces; and my brother and I bickering in the backseat.

Vintage American Family Travel

Which leads me to this summer. I’m the dad now, with a wonderful wife and a sweet daughter who’s just become a teenager. Is it some sort of amnesia that makes me forget or at least minimize the challenges our parents faced on those long family road trips? Instead it’s all a blur in my head of slightly faded, white-edged photos of us at National Parks, European landmarks and road-side diners. Am I crazy to feel the urge to hit the road for days in such close proximity?

Sure our daughter may not fully appreciate National Park ranger talks or the historical markers, and may not even remember them when she gets older. But we, the parents, will remember. And someday these soon-to-be halcyon tinted memories will be all we have of these times when our daughter still wanted to spend time with us… the days when she still thought dad’s a kinda cool guy. So, the teen-age eye-rolling  at my dad jokes notwithstanding, let’s go on a road-trip!

Ah, but then that leads to the question where should we go on a trip this summer? I know my wife’s first vote would be Disney World. And if my 13 year old got a vote she might pick that, too. Still there’s a part of me, and I know it has to do with my childhood trips, that just wants to head out across America; get on old Route 66 and follow the blue highways west. Summers in Texas are very hot, so the allure of Colorado’s cool mountains is strong. Maybe a cabin rental on a creek?

Family Travel

I remember one childhood trip where for hundreds of miles we encountered road signs every 20 miles or so exhorting us to stop and “SEE THE AMAZING THING!” That sort of thing is quite irresistible to little boys. So as the miles went by and we passed more and more signs for the “AMAZING THING” my brother and I begged for my dad to stop when we got there. And to his credit, he did. It turned out the AMAZING THING was a bit less than amazing… but that’s not the point.

The point is that in life it’s not all about destinations nor is it just about stopping and smelling the roses… sometimes you have to stop and smell see the amazing things. My late father raced through his life, his eyes firmly fixed ahead on the next milestone… except sometimes, the rare sometimes, he stopped and let us see some pretty amazing things… things that surround us if we only pause and look. So, I’d like to do an old fashioned road trip sometime soon.

How about you? What are your plans this summer? Do or did you travel with your kids? What generated the best memories? Was it thrilling theme parks, amazing mountain vistas, playing in the surf, or perhaps jetting to far off places? They say “life is about the journey, not the destination.” I think they are right in many ways. So, whatever you choose for your next family trip, please if you can, try to make time to stop and SEE THE AMAZING THING! You can bet I will.


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  1. A couple of years ago, I took my family to disneyworld from New England. Everyone thought we were crazy because we drove. But along the way we saw amazing things which we wouldn’t have seen if we flew. Like the beautiful coastline in Charleston SC, and the Haunted Houses in Savannah GA. Disneyworld was fabulous, but my kids still remember the stops we made.

    1. That’s quite encouraging, Deborah. Thank you. I had actually considered doing basically the same thing, except from Texas. Thus giving my wife and daughter Disney World, but also make a road trip with dinners and motels with pools and such along the way?

      1. Sounds like a perfect idea to me…you come across the most amazing things when you least expect them sometimes 🙂

        1. Thanks Deborah. I’ve been dreaming of a family trip to the mountains for a long time. Can’t wait!

  2. I sit in awe. What an excellent post my dear friend. You have left me speechless. Not always an easy task. I do agree that life is indeed about the journey and so much finer when one stops to see the amazing things for they are indeed many. (ok maybe I wasn’t totally speechless)

    1. Thank you so much, Mitzi. I’ve known you for a long time and vice versa, so your kind words mean a lot. As for the thought of you speechless… might have to check with your DH for confirmation of that. How are the three grandkids? I still have a hard time with that. You’re too young to have grandkids. 🙂

  3. Well thank you for your kind words as well. I feelthe same way Feel free to check with my DH any time. I read your post & comment to him & he like me chuckled at the “DH” reference. The grandchildren are well. There is more to that story, but one best told in another venue. I so loved this post…warmed my heart.

    1. Email me and I’ll give you my cell number if you want to talk sometime. And do give my love to your DH. You need to get him to Scarby sometime.

  4. Nothing big… last year my husband and I had a chance to take a trip to Honduras without the kiddos and that was super cool… so this year we are just going to take a few camping trips and hit the Texas coast.
    You talked about what your kid will remember… You’ll be surprised… my now 3 year old still remembers a trip to the beach when she was one and a half. Maybe it’s just the photos she’s seen… but she is excited to go back.

    1. How was Honduras? My wife and I would like to do a trip sans child at some point, but not sure any of us are ready yet. 😉 Camping and the beach sound good, but I can’t imagine camping in the Texas heat? Great to hear she remembers early trips. Thanks so much for dropping by.

  5. As a kid we used to go on a lot of road trips to all types of different places. Sometimes camping, the ocean, the redwoods, kid places, every summer it was something new. As a parent so far I haven’t done much traveling with kids because my youngest is still a little too young to vacation with. But we are starting to plan some summer trips for the kids. I hope they will enjoy them.

    1. I’m sure you all will have a great time, Jessica. Sounds like you have some great memories of a variety of family trips of your own to draw from in planning. I love the Pacific Northwest redwoods. Have fun planning those trips… and even more fun on them!

  6. Wow, did you unravel some memories from my child hood and also brought up the sweet memories of traveling with my children and looking for that amazing thing. We did many road trips with my children and made sure to stop and take the time to see the amazing thing. We have pictures galore, and like you said even thought they were young and may not remember, We will remember, that was an amazing story. Thanks for sharring.

    1. Awww… thanks for the sweet thoughts, Mary. I’m so happy it brought up happy memories of your own childhood as well as trips with your children. My wife is great about snapping lots of photos, so we’ll definitely do that. And you’re right, even if our 2 year old is too young to remember, we’ll remember. I’m so happy you stopped and took time to see the amazing thing.

  7. My parents waited until we were all over the age of 8 before starting yearly trips, so I was 13 we never really ventured far or anywhere terribly exotic (mainly to Arkansas, Kansas City, and Southern IA, from Oklahoma) but the trips were always well anticipated, well enjoyed, and a lot of fun, despite the fighting that goes on with 4 kids within 5 years of each other.

    I’ve only been to DisneyLand once, when I was 18, and have vowed that after my wee one is 5 I’ll go again. I’ll never drag another toddler through Disney if I can ever help it again, and the child wasn’t even mine that was in our small group.

    I started taking long ‘family’ road trips when my son was just 2 months old, and it was just the two of us. Unfortunately since my current marriage began and ensuing pregnancy with my daughter 4 years ago the only road trips we’ve taken have been to move from Austin to NE OK and now to Nashville.

    We’re starting back up the habit of going on yearly vacations, driving both directions. This summer we’re going to Gattlinburg only 106 days to go (but who’s counting) and spending a week out there with a large group of local friends (to cut costs for all of us). We’ve rented a huge cabin in the mountains, with a private pool, pavilion, hot tub, game room, nearby horseback riding, amusement parks, museums, and anything along the way that strikes my fancy. I can’t wait, not only for this year’s vacation, but every year’s vacation afterward!

    I personally feel that small escapes from the pressures of life, even for the kids, is absolutely worth the price of gas, regardless of the distance traveled. The bonding, conversations, and memories made while being ‘stuck’ in a vehicle, with no external devices (really hoping to pull this one off, since our portable DVD player died), etc for hours on end is priceless to me.

    1. Gattlinburg only 106 days, eh? I’m pretty sure that’s one of the places my wife is looking into us renting a cabin. 🙂 Have a wonderful time. Yeah, in larger families travel starts later for the oldest. i was the oldest in my family, but we lived in Amsterdam and Vienna (besides New York) so even staying home was pretty cool. I was very lucky, and know it. I can’t wait to share trips near and far with my wife and little girl. Thanks so much for sharing with us, Stephi!

    • kelley Simpson on at
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    Go, don’t wait till your baby girls is older. Plan “shorter” things, smaller trips. It’s how you create good little travelers. All three of my girls were in the backseat and down for the “across the state trips” since I was pregnant with them. They are all great travelers and we can easily hit a 10 to 12 hour day in the car and know they’ll be fine. (That’s only if we have to)

    My middle girl remembers going to disneyland before she was two. Even taking pictures at all these places reminds them or fills them with excitement later because they saw that you did cool stuff with them when they were little. Nothing is waisted.

    You have me wanting to do a route 66 trip from the coast to who cares where. What a great photo opportunity it would be. Maybe a girls trip with my 15 and 18 year old is in order. Just the open road, chicks, music, snacks, coke, and a camera. I can just imagine all the amazing things we’ll see, old dinners, broken down signs, and tumble weeds. How fantastic does that sound?
    I have to go write up the job proposal right now so I can write the trip off…

    Thank you for reminding me of sweet summer that’s peeking around the corner.

    1. Building up to longer trips makes a lot of sense. Maybe we should start this weekend? 🙂 You definitely should take the girls on a road trip just you “chicks”! Blaze a path across old Route 66, Kelley. And as a photographer think how much amazing material you’ll find. I’ve got tons of shots in the back of my head I need to make time to go shoot just here in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Summer’s coming. Plan something fun!

  8. I definitely agree… it can be so hard to get caught up in life, etc… but we have to take some time out to see some amazing things. I’m not sure where my son and I are heading to this summer, but in two weeks, we’re heading to Disney World. He’s 3 and I think he’ll love it. Plus, I’ve never been there so it’ll be fun for the both of us.

    PS: Can’t wait for summer!

    1. I can’t wait for summer either, Alicia! One can get caught up in day to day stuff, and get focused on some future event or destination. But we need to take time to see the amazing thing(s). My wife is going to be so jealous to hear you are taking your three year old to Disney World. I’m sure it will end up one of our first non-family-related trips. My grandparents lived in Orlando, so as a kid I often spent summers (down from New York) with them, so became quite familiar with Disney… and also the beaches there. Great memories I look forward to sharing with our wee one! Have a wonderful trip to Disney World.

  9. Summer holidays as kids I remember getting scolded a lot for playing on the road with the melted tar drawing in it could draw all day long and maybe meet one or two cars awh they were the days 😛

    I guess because there was 5 of us we didnt get to really go away on holidays too far as a kid, I remember a great week in Co. Kerry where my parents rented a house or staying with relatives in Limerick but otherwise just remember my dad always working but on a Sunday would make up for it by driving places and on the way home buy us a big ice-cram cone! 🙂

    Now Disney world that would be something even now in my 30’s Id be dead excited to go! My Sister has beena couple of times and the last time brought Ciaran and he loved it had his photo taken with Snow White. 🙂

    1. Hello, Ann. Yea, I imagine large families do find it harder to travel. Liked what you said about your Sundays, “my dad always working but on a Sunday would make up for it by driving places and on the way home buy us a big ice-cram cone!” sounds like a nice memory. I was lucky to travel every summer with my family… only have the one brother. I’ve no doubt Disney will be one of our first family vacations (I’ll be out-voted on that one I’m sure). But on the way we’ll be sure to stop and smell… I mean see the amazing thing(s).

  10. We head to a family reunion. There are several battlefields a long the way. They are perfect for toddler boy to run around and explore.

    1. Oh, that would be fun for a boy. I remember stopping at places like Gettysburg and Waterloo with my family as a boy. Unfortunately our family reunions require flying, which can get awfully expensive, but we’ll be doing them anyway. 🙂

  11. Stopping by from the “Mom Loop Comment Follow” and wanted to say how much I enjoyed your retro pictures! Have a great Friday!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. Yeah, there’s something about those old photos and the lure of the blue highways that lead to an earlier time. It’s nice to get off the super-highways sometimes. I’m following your blog and sent you a twitter follow request, too. Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  12. We are heading to PEI for a month this summer. I grew up there, so we will get to spend some time with my family and hopefully get some beach and lobster in too. Can’t wait!

    We got our vacation time off to an early start, we are in Hawaii right now. If you can swing it, Waikiki is totally awesome, especially when traveling with small kids. We get to swim everyday and there is a zoo and aquarium close by.

    I have heard Disney land, world, whatever, should be avoided at all costs until your children are out of diapers. We are keeping our distance until at least next year.

    1. Hi Theresa. My wife is going to be very jealous to hear about your being from and visiting PEI. When she was on bed-rest pregnant with our daughter I bought all the Avonlea DVDs for her. I’ve only been there once myself, and she’s never been. Yes, Hawaii is lovely. Our 2 year old is potty trained, but I’m holding off on Disney World for a bit yet. Maybe next year, we’ll see. First we have to go see the amazing thing.

  13. I love road trips! We moved from WA State to NY about 11 years ago, drove all the way across country. It was a lot of fun! And speaking of the sign along the way… WALL, South Dakota was that town that from the time we entered SD there was a sign practically every 1,000 feet talking about Wall and all the cool things ahead! I have been to Disneyland with my first set and it was fine, but honestly all their fond memories from childhood trips were the major road trips!

    1. Really, Jennifer? It seems to me my favorite memories were of the road trips, too. Wow… WA to NY… now that’s a road trip! Driving from NY to FL when I was a kid there was a big rest-stop tourist trap as you crossed from North to South Carolina called “South of the Border” with a Mexican theme. I’ll bet there were at least a 100 huge signs for it! 🙂

    • Allison Beasley on at
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    I hope to get to go back to Kauai this summer with my fiance! I am so looking forward to the trip! 🙂

    1. Hawaii is lovely (the islands in general I mean) and Kauai is just so lush and relaxing. It would be a great place to go with your fiance. Have a great time, Allison!

    • Alessandra@ Tribal Times on at
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    We were just discussing this last night. We took a road trip last summer across the country in an RV and for a 9 and 10 year old that was quite exciting. The best thing about it- we had no destination. The RV allowed us to drive where our little hearts desired and we ended up in some pretty amazing places. Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, and Elvis’ basement to name a few.

    1. Wow, Alessandra! That sounds like an amazing trip. I love that you had no destination… it was very much the Stop and Smell See the Amazing Thing kinda trip I’ve been dreaming about. Did you rent the RV. How was that part of the trip. Sounds really cool. Great to see you again, btw. I’ll be dropping by your blog again soon. Have a lovely weekend.

    • Jess@Straight Talk on at
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    I love road trips–but only when you can stop at the random shops and restaurants and attractions along the way. There’s something bonding and enjoyable about that for me. Even with a 5 year old in the back seat asking, “ARE WE THERE YET?!”

    1. LOL… Are we there yet, Jess? I’m probably crazy for looking forward to all of that, but I do. It’s probably some sort of nostalgia seen through a sepia tinted memory filter, but I can’t wait! And I agree… you have to stop at the funky little roadside shops and restaurants. There’s a charm to be found off the main highways that hearkens back to an older simpler time, and perhaps that’s part of the appeal?

  14. My family plans to travel next month. Your post makes me feel excited 😀

    1. Have a great trip! We’ve made our summer travel plans already and I keep finding myself daydreaming about it. 🙂

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