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Core Memories Unlocked!

June 2024

Your Kids' Summer Road Trips Are All Wrong

It’s that time of year again – road trip season! With kids out of school, people across the country are taking to the roads for some good old-fashioned bonding, complete with sing-a-longs and great car snacks. At least, that’s how it is for many families today. The journey is so relatively painless, that the trip really is more about the destination these days, especially with everyone in the back seat on their own electronic devices. Without the convenience of GPS, the internet, speed limits over 55, and modern seat belts, road-tripping definitely looked a bit different for us. Back in the day, the destination was only a part of the trip. The journey was another deal entirely. Join us, as we reminisce on the typical 70s/80s/90s road trip and all the chaos they embodied.

Our road trips started out with a bang. Once everything was packed overpacked, the whole family somehow packed in, too. And by “everything”, we mean everything. Coolers, food, drinks, beach/lake gear and more sporting equipment than anyone should rightfully own, let alone pack into the station wagon or minivan. Many times, there was a canoe or Sears X-Cargo on the roof and bikes barely hanging on to the back. And if all our stuff wasn’t enough, we then put at least three generations of humans into the vehicle. With everyone in, we buckled in trying not to 3rd-degree burn ourselves on the seat belt metal that was the temperature of the sun (if there were seat belts at all) and set off to our destination!

Once the trip was truly underway, things really started to get fun, especially for the co-pilot or designated map person. Without the convenience and accuracy of GPS, we relied on paper maps that were likely too old to be correct. With big maps comes big responsibility, such as trying not to yell at the family member in the back seat asking if the map is upside down.  Eventually, inevitably, dad’s road rage would take a break from the other cars on the road, and direct its energy on his co-pilot. This arguing often left him getting off at the completely wrong exit, sometimes states away from the intended exit. If you were lucky, the trip eventually made its way back to the road you were supposed to be on. If you weren’t lucky, you had to keep driving until you found a working payphone on the road to ask for help.

When the family wasn’t getting lost, or arguing over maps, there were plenty of other things to keep everyone occupied! Shoddy air conditioning meant your hands always had something fun to do waving wrappers, napkins, or anything else that might give you a slight breeze. There were family sing-a-longs, where no one could sing on key. Note, these sing-a-longs could only occur once the entire family had agreed on a cassette tape, radio station, or the dreaded self sung tune like B-I-N-G-O or Old MacDonald. You could play on your Gameboy, or take a break from your parents' music and listen to your Walkman, if your siblings were in a sharing mood. But these distractions only lasted as long as your batteries did. There definitely weren’t outlets in the car to charge anything! You could also take a cue from the grandparents and snore your way across the country. And, once nightfall hit, we had new things to keep us occupied, like looking for a hotel to stay in for the night solely by finding flashing neon “VACANCY” signs lit up along the highway. Hotel/motel stays were frequent for a while there! Because of the 55pmh speed limit country wide, no one was getting anywhere very quickly.

Finally, however, we did reach our destination! Though, without the ability to look up accommodations on the internet, this did not always go to plan, either. Without access to reviews, or even pictures oftentimes, you really never knew what you were getting until you got there. Back then, all we had was the address!

While road trips before the convenience of today’s technology were certainly chaotic, they were also a great adventure! The whole family might have wanted to kick someone out of the car at points, but something always led us to take these trips year after year, and we now somehow remember them fondly. So much so, that some of us still take the same trips we did as kids with our own kids or grandkids now. We also really miss our fellow passengers no longer with us, but it makes us happy to reminisce and regale the next generation with those tales.

Of course, today’s road trips typically go a little more smoothly, since we have smartphones, quick chargers in the car and actually know where we’ll be staying, but they aren’t totally devoid of their unique challenges. OK, who just opened that bag of sour cream and onion chips in the car?! Family road trips seem to be that slightly chaotic summer tradition we’ll never let go of!

Have any road trip challenges to add or personal tales of your trials-by-fire? Email us back, we’d love to hear them! 

- Maddy


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