Gas prices continue to climb, but with the sky-high fares airlines charge, families are still taking to the open road to stay connected with far-flung family or for one last haul before the kids get too old. Whether camping or booking into a Ritz, everybody is out of their usual comfort zone, but remember: you are building memories to embarrass each other for a lifetime.
It's a delicate balance, bringing several people together in one tiny space for an extended time period. Not only are interests going to vary wildly, predicated by age and attention span, the road trip captains in the front seat are going to have to also keep road safety at the front of their minds.
All the usual reminders apply: have a real map as well as your navigation system if you use one, stop often to avoid driver fatigue, keep pent-up kids occupied and entertained, bring along way more money than you think you'll need, tune up the car a week or more before you head out, and expect the unexpected. If you've never travelled much, ask a road warrior for pointers.
The checklist for a car trip is necessary and long. It's tough to plan for every eventuality while recognizing that the best-laid plans of mice and men sometimes end up with a dead mouse. The best thing you can bring along? An open mind, a sense of adventure, and a lot of wet wipes.
If you're planning a week or two on the road, consider a variation on the usual Point A to Point B trek: make the journey part of the goal, and think about selecting the road less travelled. A road trip is about far more than pavement and drive-thrus; consider the history, the geography and the culture that is yours for the taking, if you take the time to grab it.
Dave Hunter has been writing a book called Along Interstate 75 for 17 years. This highway is the most direct vector to Florida from central Ontario and Detroit, and Hunter and his wife have painstakingly mapped every inch of it, having checked out every restaurant, museum and attraction. Updated annually, points of interest, historical facts, local lore and regional gossip are woven throughout. You can discover where in Georgia you should stop for homemade jams and jellies; where in Kentucky to look for barn quilts; where frontiersman Kit Carson was born; the best area for wildflowers in Tennessee; speed traps; gas stations; lodgings. Every exit fully expounded upon, every phone number and price and contact information (often, simply, "ask for Diane") compiled for a virtuoso travel performance.
Where Hunter has produced a clear and concise manual that will ensure you will never get lost, Mark Richardson has produced a different kind of travel book, Canada's Road. Tracing the Trans-Canada Highway from St. John's to Victoria, it's a definitive study of how this enduring symbol of Canada came into being. Swirling the historical foundations of the road with its current incarnation, Richardson digs into the best trove of information for a road trip: the people. Studded with the stories of how we got from there to here, Richardson goes back to 1912 to the first cross-Canada trek, and soaks up the stories of locals along the way – who were often witnesses, if not midwives, to the birth of this national icon.
In both books, history bursts to life with the realization we haven't been here that long, and for North Americans, at least, we are frequently defined by our ability to wander from one coast to another.
Take a leaf from these two books as you head out. In an era where everybody has a camera, make a record of your trip. Encourage your kids to be more than seat belt hostages. It's easy to pick a theme – wildlife, flags, cyclists, best road names, worst spellings – and remind them as the road unravels beneath the wheels, they have the option to passively let it fly by, or engage in it and maybe – maybe – find something everyone else has missed.
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