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On the Magic of the Road Trip

“The institution of the All-American Road Trip. As long as we have had automobiles, we have yearned to see other places. You can look at driving as the time wasted to get somewhere (boredom) or an adventure. I’m peering into other cars as we pass them, and I see other passengers propped up against pillows for comfort, their empty Frappucino cups nestled in the console. We’re all going somewhere.”

This was an entry in my travel journal when I was riding in the back seat, headed to Death Valley with friends. I haven’t taken a ton of road trips, but the ones I have taken have always been memorable. Road trips are a gift to us in many ways.

You Can See the Sights

I have met several Europeans in the last few years who have taken extended road trips across the US. Recently, I met a hybrid American/British family living in France who was taking a year to see America. But Americans rarely spend days or weeks on the road to see what our great country has to offer. And yet, flying to a destination means you miss out on a lot.

When I moved to San Diego in 2010, my mother, son, and I drove along Route 66 (technically I-40, which parallels much of the old highway). We stopped at every cheesy gift shop (Clines Corners is not to be missed!), vintage gas station, and roadside attraction. Doing so made what would have otherwise been a very tedious 3-day trip a lot more fun and memorable.

You Get to Bond with Loved Ones

About 15 years ago, my best friend, Rachel, who lives in Wisconsin, and I drove from Arkansas to Wisconsin straight through. We talked about boys and belted out tunes. We were so delirious from not sleeping that everything was hilarious. Recently, we re-enacted the experience with a shorter road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs. Little had changed.  We talked about boys and belted out tunes. It was an amazing opportunity to really tune into one another and connect without the distraction of our phones or life.

You Experience Changing Landscape

When my family rented an RV and drove to the Grand Canyon, I’d marvel at how the landscape changed so rapidly. Leaving San Diego toward Phoenix, we quickly hit flat desert and 100+ degree weather. A day later, we had the windows down and let the cool mountain air in around Flagstaff. This country (any, really) is filled with diverse landscape changes, and you can’t experience them any way except by driving through them.

Learning Opportunity for Kids

I think Max has developed an expectation of instant gratification. Being of the Digital Age, he can access a book, movie, or game with the touch of a button. If he wants to see family on the other side of the country, he just has to sit on a plane for a few hours. But a road trip is different. He always moans when we take one, but then I watch as his eyes open and he sees the world around him. He’s learning that it’s about the journey, not the destination. Excellent lesson for us all.

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